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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Knife Duel Between Comanches

From Three Years Among the Comanches (1859), by Nelson Lee, a Texas Ranger who was held captive by that tribe:
The most thrilling incident I witnessed during my sojourn with the tribe of the Rolling Thunder was an Indian duel. Among his warriors were two young men, both proud and spirited, between whom there had long existed a deadly animosity. The cause of their quarrel I could never fully understand, further than that it appeared there was a young squaw in the case. Time and time again their differences had been, brought before the Council without any adjustment being satisfactorily effected. At length, when negotiation had become useless, it was determined to settle the matter forever in a most bloody manner. 
It was a pleasant morning towards the close of autumn, when the whole tribe, save the squaws and papooses, assembled on a level piece of ground a mile from the village. Here they formed a large ring, into which walked the Rolling Thunder and Han-na-nos-ko-a, the Prophet. The latter pronounced a long discourse, setting forth, as nearly as my imperfect knowledge of the language enabled me to comprehend, the original cause of the quarrel, a detailed account of its progress, the inability of the Council to agree upon a satisfactory arrangement, and that, finally, it had been referred to the just decision of the Great Spirit, into whose presence their implacable brethren were now about to appear.

Having concluded, the brothers of the young warriors conducted them into the ring. One of them was, perhaps, twenty-two or twenty-three years of age, the other four or five years older. The younger was  somewhat the largest, though both were remarkably athletic and powerful. When they reached the centre of the ring, meeting from opposite directions, their left arms, as far up as the elbow, were firmly lashed together with stout, thick cords of buffalo hide. They were bound so thoroughly that the posibility of breaking away from each other was utterly beyond question.

Into the right hand of each was then placed a hunting-knife, having a heavy buck horn handle, and a blade about nine inches long, evidently prepared for the occasion, by being brought to a keen edge on both sides. The brothers then withdrew some twenty feet from the combatants, drawing from their belts similar knives, when the signal was given and the fight began. After that there was no call of "time" -- no retreating to the "corner" -- no planting the left heavily on the "mug" -- they "toed the scratch" but once, and ended the combat in a single "round."

The battle lasted but a moment, the bright blades, in the mean time, glittering and glimmering in the sun, and the contestants instantly presenting the appearance of men suddenly overtaken by a storm of blood. At length, a mortal thrust by one was followed by a fierce blow from the other, gashing through the side of the neck, from which the purple tide of life spouted up in a high wide arch, when both fell lifeless, to the ground. 
Had either survived the conflict, according to their code of honor, it would have been the duty of his brother to put him immediately to death. Throughout the exciting scene not the slightest partiality was exhibited. The faintest shadow of emotion could not be detected upon the countenances of the savage stoics as they gazed upon it. They were stretched side by side on the spot where they had fallen-- buried in the customary manner--and left to rest together in peace, at last.

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