Off and on since 1988, John Yates has devoted much of his spare time to exploring an olden route once used to bring misery and doom to thousands of people in Texas and Mexico.
Measuring about 1,000 miles from the Arkansas River in Kansas through Texas to the Mexican towns of Chihuahua and San Carlos, the Comanche War Trail is now all but invisible. But from the mid 1700s to the 1870s, it was the route taken by hordes of fierce Comanches to and from their bloody raids in parts of Texas and Mexico. There, they captured countless women and children, decimated the male population of numerous Mexican towns, and stole multitudes of horses, cattle and mules.
"The Comanche War Trail helped define one of the most violent periods in the history of Texas and Mexico," said Yates, the featured speaker at a Lunch & Lecture presentation July 8 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Historic Upshur Museum, 119 Simpson St. in downtown Gilmer. The event is free to the public and includes a light lunch.
"My goal is to escort attendees via a slide presentation on an imaginary journey over the infamous trail, helping them visualize what the Comanches saw and experienced on their raids," said Yates. "There's very little of the trail that's still visible, and a lot of the tales involving it have been lost in history, forgotten except for the descriptions on a couple of Texas historical markers."
Not only has Yates retraced a large portion of the trail, but he also has researched it extensively through books, periodicals and governmental agencies. His travels have taken him through what still is some of the most tortuous real estate in the Lone Star State and Mexico.
"It has been a fascinating, sometimes grueling, experience," he noted. "Many people simply aren't aware of the role that Comanches played in the southwest. They were fierce warriors and very skilled in their ways. Unfortunately, they also were quite cruel, as were their bitter enemies, the Texans, whom they hated with a passion."
Kiowas, too, used the War Trail on raids that extended as far as the Yucatan Peninsula, where they encountered what they called "little men in trees," said Yates, adding that "the ‘little men' were monkeys."
Although East Texas was not an area typically targeted by Comanches for their raids, the region's Caddo Indians were among trading partners at locations along the Red River, said Yates.
A resident of Benbrook near Fort Worth, Yates is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and Columbia University in New York, He retired in 1997, after serving 32 years at the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich publishing firm.
For more information about Yates' Comanche War Trail presentation, call the Historic Upshur Museum at (903) 843-5483.
Current displays at the Museum include fashions from the early 1900s, and law-enforcement items that belonged to the legendary Wilson Speir, an Upshur County native who formerly headed the Texas Department of Public Safety, the agency that includes the famous Texas Rangers.
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