Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Isimanica, Comanche

March 28, 1840: After hearing of the fight in San Antonio on March 19, 1840, the remaining Comanches are outraged. Today, Chief Isimanica, and 300 Comanches ride up to San Antonio. Isimanica, and one warrior, ride into the central square and challenge anyone to a fight. The civilians decline, but tell him that the Army is at the San Jose Mission.



On March 28, Chief Isimanica (Hears the Wolf, Howard calls him Isamini) and about 300 Comanches appeared at the edge of San Antonio. Accompanied by one brave, Chief Isimanica, almost naked and painted for war, rode into the square, circled it, and rode down and back up Commerce Street, shouting insults and challenging any one to fight. At Black's Saloon, he stopped, stood in the stirrups, and shouted his defiance. An interpreter told him that the soldiers were at San Jose Mission, to go there and find Colonel Fisher if he wanted a fight.

Chief Isimanica and his Comanches then went to San Jose There they challenged Colonel Fisher, sick in bed, and Captain Read, next in command, to a fight. The captain explained that a twelve-day truce had been made to exchange prisoners and would not be broken. If the Comanches wished to remain three days, when the truce was over, they would furnish them a fight. The chief voiced his insults and then left. The soldiers could hardly be restrained and some were ordered into the mission church to keep them from starting a fight with the Comanches.

Hearing of this, Captain Lysander Wells called Captain Read a coward. The result was a duel in which both men were shot and killed. Read died immediately and Wells, in great pain, died after some days.



On March 28th between two hundred and fifty and three hundred Comanches under a dashing young chief, Isimanica, cane close to the edge of the town where the main body halted and Chief Isimanica with another warrior rode daringly into the public square and circled around it, then rode some distance down Commerce Street and back, shouting all the while, offering fight and heaping abuse and insults upon the Americans. Isimanica was in full war paint, and almost naked. He stopped longest in Black's saloon, at the north east corner of the square; he shouted defiance, he rose in his stirrups, shook his clenched fist, raved and foamed at the mouth. The citizens, through an interpreter, told him the soldiers were all down the river at Mission San Jose and if he went there Colonel (William S.) Fisher wood give him fight enough.

Isimanica took his braves to San Jose and with fearless daring bantered the soldiers for a fight. colonel Fisher was lying on a sick bed and Captain Redd, the next in rank, was in command. He said to the chief: "We have made a twelve day truce with your people in order to exchange prisoners. My country's honor is pledged, as well as my own, to keep the truce, and I will not break it. Remain here three days or return in three days and the truce will be over. We burn to fight you." Isimanica called him liar, coward and other opprobrious names, and hung around for sometime, but at last the Indians left and did not return. Captain Redd remained. calm and unmoved, but his men could with the greatest difficulty be restrained and in fact some of them were ordered into the Mission church and the door guarded.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Cherokee Chief Tahchee (Tatsi)

Throughout his life, Cherokee Chief Tahchee, also known as Captain William Dutch, was known as a fearless warrior. Tahchee was one of the original groups of Cherokees to move west of the Mississippi river. He became a major political force in the "old settler party". He fought many fights with the Osage Indians who leaved near the Cherokees. Eventually, he would become a scout for the U.S. Army, where he reached the rank of Captain. Tahchee died on March 12, 1848, in Indian Territory.

(image courtesy of


The life story of this Cherokee chief (Tatsi is probably the correct spelling) is typical of an Indian who was born shortly after the Revolution and lived in the first part of the nineteenth century. His days were occupied with war, raids, horse stealing, scouting and hunting.

Dutch, as he is known to frontier history, was a child when his family joined the first Cherokee removal from the big Indian village called Turkey Town on the Coosa River in what is now Alabama to the St.Francis River in Arkansas, west of the Mississippi. It was a wild country that had not known the white man's presence.

The casual life of the hunter appealed to him, and at about the age of twelve he joined one of those incredible Indian hunting parties that roamed the prairies for as long as three years.

It was a life of feast or famine. The hunter's constant enemy was the weather. Weary hours were spent on horseback, but the hardships were forgotten in the excitement of the hunt and the occasional clash with other tribes.

Dutch roamed beyond the Mississippi and explored the Red River country. Years later a white man asked him how many buffalo he had killed and Dutch answered, "So many I cannot number them."

He lived with other tribes to study the techniques of their hunters, even the Osage, the traditional foe of the Cherokee, and was among the few of his nation who knew the Osage dialect. He became a legend on the plains and the prairies, a lone hunter with three large dogs running on both sides of his horse's flanks. He explored the Arkansas River to the south of the Grand, or Neosho, River, then traveled on foot for hundreds of miles to the Missouri. When he returned downriver his canoe was almost swamped by beaver skins.

The treaty the Cherokee made with the United States in 1828 so infuriated Dutch that he led several families to the Red River country. They were constantly at war with those superbs horsemen of the Texas plains, the Comanche. To keep the frontier peaceful, the army ordered both nations to stop their raids, an order Dutch refused to recognize. He was finally declared an outlaw, and the army's wanted poster offered five hundred dollars for him dead or alive.

Dutch fought a one-man war with the army for years, even boldly scalping a Comanche [an Osage, according to other sources] in the shadow of Fort Gibson. Both sides finally grew weary of the hound and hare game. The commander, a shrewd man, hired Dutch to form a group of Indian scouts in the army's campaign against the Comanche. Before he retired to his ranch on the Canadian River, Dutch was known throughout the early Indian fighting army as a tireless tracker and "a man to be relied on".

Catlin who met Dutch in 1834 called him "a guide and hunter for the regiment of dragoons.... The history of this man's life has been very curious and surprising; and I sincerely hope that someone, with more leisure and more talent than myself, will take it up, and do it justice. I promise that the life of this man furnishes the best materials for a popular tale, that are now to be procured on the Western frontier."

Friday, March 02, 2007

Oldest Solar Observatory in Americas

NPR has a report on the oldest solar observatory known in the Americas, at Chankillo, Peru. It's dated 2,000 years before the Incas:

Archeologists may have uncovered what they say is by far the oldest astronomical observatory in the Americas: a series of towers near a temple in coastal Peru, built in the fourth century B.C.

The towers at Chankillo mark the sun's progress across the sky, according to a new study in Science. This suggests the sun may have played an important role in religious and political life long before the appearance of the famous Inca sun cult.

Mysterious Towers

In the 19th century, explorers in the area observed the 13 stubby towers dotting a long ridge close to an ancient fortress. The explorers suggested that the towers had to do with the movement of the moon, and left it at that.

A few years ago, Ivan Ghezzi at long last drummed up enough funding to excavate the Chankillo site, and uncover its secrets.

Ghezzi is at the Catholic University of Peru and the national director of archeology. He quickly realized the towers had nothing to do with the moon, but everything to do with the sun. The key was viewing the sky from either of two structures that stood nearby.

"You could actually watch the sunrise align with the northernmost tower during the June solstice," he says. "And with the opposite tower... you could see the sunrise at the December solstice. So we realized that here we had an astronomical device that was designed to keep track of the movement of the sun and therefore keep track of time."

Built 2,300 years ago, the towers are by far the earliest example of an observatory in the Americas.

Sun Worshipers

Ghezzi knows frustratingly little about the people who built the towers and the fortifications at Chankillo.

It is unclear whether they were in any way forerunners of the Incas, the famous sun worshipers who appeared on the scene many centuries after these structures were built.

"We know that the Incas made powerful political statements based on the relationship between the sun and the king," Ghezzi says. "The Inca claimed to be the offspring of the sun. But now we have a society that is 1,800 years before the Inca that is clearly using the sun as a way to make a political, social and ideological statement."

It is clear that the towers were more than just a fancy sundial. For one thing, the fortifications nearby appear to protect a temple.

Anthony Aveni, an archeoastronomer at Colgate University, agrees with Ghezzi's interpretation that the site is of great cultural, religious and political significance, in addition to its practical use for timing plantings and harvests.

The priests who controlled the temple would have used their knowledge of astronomy as part of their mystique and power.

Ancient Astronomy

The question, as always in a situation like this, is whether the towers were really built with an astronomical purpose, or if the layout turns out to be a happy coincidence. Aveni, for one, is convinced this observatory was designed to track solar events.

"It does work, and it works in a way that makes sense given what we know about Andean calendars," he says.

The towers also help mark other solar events and count out a 10-day week used by Andean cultures.

Ivan Gehzzi is working to turn the well-preserved ruins of Chankillo into a major tourist destination.

Oldest Solar Observatory in Americas

Thursday, March 01, 2007


If you did not get to see it in the movie theatres, I recommend you experience "Apocalypto" when it comes out on DVD.

Here is one of the first reviews written about the movie:

The Passion of the Maya

Published: December 8, 2006, NEW YORK TIMES

“I’m going to peel off his skin and make him watch me wear it.” This grisly threat is delivered by one of the main bad guys in Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto.” The promised flaying never takes place, but viewers who share this director’s apparently limitless appetite for gore will not be disappointed, since not much else in the way of bodily torment has been left to the imagination. There are plenty of disembowelings, impalings, clubbings and beheadings. Hearts are torn, still beating, from slashed-open chests. A man’s face is chewed off by a jaguar. Another’s neck is pierced by darts tipped with frog venom. Most disturbing, perhaps, is the sight of hundreds of corpses haphazardly layered in an open pit: a provocative and ill-advised excursion into Holocaust imagery on this director’s part.

Violence has become the central axiom in Mr. Gibson’s practice as a filmmaker, his major theme and also his chief aesthetic interest. The brutality in “Apocalypto” is so relentless and extreme that it sometimes moves beyond horror into a kind of grotesque comedy, but to dismiss it as excessive or gratuitous would be to underestimate Mr. Gibson’s seriousness. And say what you will about him — about his problem with booze or his problem with Jews — he is a serious filmmaker.

Which is not to say that “Apocalypto” is a great film, or even that it can be taken quite as seriously as it wants to be. Mr. Gibson’s technical command has never been surer; for most of its 2-hour 18-minute running time, “Apocalypto,” written by Mr. Gibson and Farhad Safinia, is a model of narrative economy, moving nimbly forward and telling its tale with clarity and force. It is, above all, a muscular and kinetic action movie, a drama of rescue and revenge with very little organic relation to its historical setting. Yes, the dialogue is in various Mayan dialects, which will sound at least as strange to American ears as the Latin and Aramaic of “The Passion of the Christ,” but the film’s real language is Hollywood’s, and Mr. Gibson’s, native tongue.

When I first heard about this project, and later when I saw the early trailers, I halfway hoped that Mr. Gibson might turn out to be an American (or half-Australian) version of Werner Herzog, setting out into the jungle to explore the dark and tangled regions of human nature. Once you get past the costumes and the subtitles, though, the most striking thing about “Apocalypto” is how comfortably it sits within the conventions of mainstream moviemaking. It is not an obsessive opera like Mr. Herzog’s “Aguirre: The Wrath of God,” but rather a pop period epic in the manner of “Gladiator” or “Braveheart,” and as such less interested in historical or cultural authenticity than in imposing an accessible scheme on a faraway time and place.

The setting is Central America before the arrival of the Spanish, when the Maya empire, in Mr. Gibson’s version, was already in the process of collapsing from within. The basic moral conflict — as it was in “Braveheart,” directed by and starring Mr. Gibson, and in “The Patriot,” a vehicle for him directed by Roland Emmerich — is between a small group of people trying to live simple, decent, traditional lives and a larger, more powerful political entity driven by bloodlust and greed. This kind of conservative anti-imperialism runs consistently through Mr. Gibson’s work; whether the empire in question is Roman, British or Mesoamerican, and whatever its political resonance might be, it allows the viewer to root for an unambiguously virtuous underdog.

“Apocalypto” begins with a group of young men out on a hunt and lingers for a while in their happy, earthy village, a place that might double as a nostalgic vision of small-town America were it not for the loin cloths, the tattooed buttocks and the facial piercings. Blunted (Jonathan Brewer) is nagged by his mother-in-law and teased by his buddies because he hasn’t yet made his wife pregnant, but he accepts his humiliation in good humor, like the jolly fat kid on a family sitcom.

Meanwhile Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), whose father (Morris Birdyellowhead) is an admired hunter and warrior, snuggles down with his pregnant wife, Seven (Dalia Hernandez), and their young son, Turtle Run (Carlos Emilio Baez). There’s fresh tapir meat on the grill and an old-timer telling stories by the fire. Life is good.

Needless to say, this pastoral idyll cannot last. The ominous strains of James Horner’s score indicate as much. Before long the village is set upon by fearsome marauders, led by Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo), who rape, burn and kill with ruthless discipline and undisguised glee. The locals resist valiantly, but the survivors are led away to an uncertain fate. Seven and Turtle Run stay behind, hidden in a hole in the ground.

Jaguar Paw’s mission will be to rescue them and also to avenge his friends and kin. First, though, he will accompany us on a Cecil B. DeMille tour of the decadent imperial capital, a place of misery, luxury and corruption, where priests and nobles try to keep famine and pestilence at bay with round-the-clock human sacrifices.

Neither Mr. Gibson’s fans nor his detractors are likely to accuse him of excessive subtlety, and the effectiveness of “Apocalypto” is inseparable from its crudity. But the blunt characterizations and the emphatic emotional cues are also evidence of the director’s skill.

Perhaps because he is aiming for an audience wary of subtitles, Mr. Gibson rarely uses dialogue as a means of exposition, and he proves himself to be an able, if not always terribly original, visual storyteller. He is not afraid of clich├ęs — the slow-motion, head-on sprint toward the camera; the leap from the waterfall into the river below — but he executes them with a showman’s maniacal relish.

And it is, all in all, a pretty good show. There is a tendency, at least among journalists, to take Mr. Gibson as either a monster or a genius, a false choice that he frequently seems intent on encouraging. Is he a madman or a visionary? Should he be shunned or embraced? Censured or forgiven?

These are the wrong questions, but their persistence reveals the truth about this shrewd and bloody-minded filmmaker. He is an entertainer. He will be publicized, and he will be paid.


“Apocalypto” is rated R (Under 17 must be accompanied by parent or adult guardian).

Directed by Mel Gibson; written (in Maya, with English subtitles) by Mr. Gibson and Farhad Safinia; director of photography, Dean Semler; edited by John Wright; music by James Horner; production designer, Tom Sanders; produced by Mr. Gibson and Bruce Davey; released by Touchstone Pictures. Running time: 138 minutes.

WITH: Rudy Youngblood (Jaguar Paw), Dalia Hernandez (Seven), Jonathan Brewer (Blunted), Raoul Trujillo (Zero Wolf), Gerardo Taracena (Middle Eye), Rodolfo Palacios (Snake Ink), Fernando Hernandez (High Priest), Maria Isidra Hoil and Aquetzali Garcia (Oracle Girls) and Abel Woolrich (Laughing Man).