143 years ago, the leaders of the Comanche and Kiowa tribes met with William Tecumseh Sherman at Medicine Lodge Creek, Kansas. The Comanche had dominated the American plains for hundreds of years, and had terrorized the Texans whose Confederacy Sherman had done more to crush than any other man. But this was not a meeting of equals. Sherman told the Comanche they had to give up the plains, to live on a reservation in Oklahoma: "You can no more stop this than you can stop the sun or the moon. You must submit, and do the best you can."
The Comanche were led by Ten Bears, their last great war chief save Quanah Parker. This is what Ten Bears said to Sherman:
My heart is filled with joy when I see you here today, as the brooks fill with water when the snows melt in the spring. I feel glad as the ponies do when the fresh grass starts in the beginning of the year.
My people have never first drawn a bow or fired a gun against the whites. There has been trouble between us. My young men have danced the war dance. But it was not begun by us. It was you who sent the first soldier.
Two years ago I came upon this road, following the buffalo,that my wives and children might have their cheeks plump and their bodies warm. But the soldiers fired on us. So it was upon the Canadian River. Nor have we been made to cry once only. The blue-dressed soldiers came out from the night, and for campfires they lit our lodges. Instead of hunting game they killed our braves, and the warriors of the tribe cut short their hair for the dead.
So it was in Texas. They made sorrow in our camps, and we went out like the buffalo bulls when the cows are attacked. When we found them we killed them, and their scalps hung in our lodges. The Comanches are not weak and blind, like the pups of a dog when seven days old. They are strong and far-sighted, like grown horses. We took their road and we went on it. The white women cried and our women laughed.
But there are things that you have said to me which I do not like. They were not sweet like sugar, but bitter like gourds. You have said that you want to put us on a reservation, to build us houses and to make us medicine lodges. I do not want them. I was born under the prairie, where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no walls and everything drew free breath. I want to die there, not within walls. I know every stream and every wood between the Rio Grande and the Arkansas River. I have hunted and lived all over that country. I live like my fathers before me and like them I live happily.
When I was in Washington the Great Father told me that all the Comanche land was ours and that no one should hinder us from living on it. So why do you ask us to leave the rivers and the sun and the wind and live in houses? Do not tell us to give up the buffalo for the sheep. The young men hear talk of this, and it makes them sad and angry. Do not speak of it more. I love to carry out the talk I heard from the Great Father. When I get goods and presents my people feel glad, since it shows that he holds us in his eye.
If the Texans had kept out of my country there might have been peace. But that which you say we must now live in is too small. The Texans have taken away the places where the grass grew thickest and the timber was best. Had we kept that, we might have done as you ask. But it is too late. The whites took the country which we loved, and we wish only to wander the prairie til we die.
Four years later Ten Bears was dead, and the Comanche were being herded to the reservation. Today there are fewer than 15,000 Comanche left.
But what Ten Bears told Sherman was as eloquent as anything ever said by a man who simply wanted to be left alone. It's a classic of American anarchist thought, as profound as anything written by Lysander Spooner or William Lloyd Garrison. It was an elegy delivered by a man who would not submit.