Mar 3, 2021–For the nth time, I’m reading Nine Years With The Indians, the book about Herman Lehmann, the last Indian captive on the Texas frontier.

It tells the story–in his own words–of the 11-year-old German boy who was captured in 1870 and lived with the Apaches and the Comanches for nine years before being returned to his family.

What fascinates me most about this story is seeing the Indians (that’s what he called them) through a teenage boy’s eyes. It demystifies them.

I wonder if it is this way with all we would label as enemies?

We grew up with TV shows and movies portraying native tribes as ruthless killers, randomly striking down innocents and stealing horses. There is no denying they engaged in scalping, torture, and slavery, as Lehmann describes without remorse. But often his descriptions of their escapades reads more like high school-age boys simply searching for some devilment to do, no matter how appalling it seems to us now. Small bands of loosely formed raiders rode out in search of ponies, weapons, and mostly adventure. He tells with glee of stealing a herd of horses and coming unexpectedly upon a camp of buffalo hunters, so they just ran the herd right through the campfires and tents and sent the hunters scrambling into the trees clutching their britches.

At other raids that went wrong, the braves were not afraid to turn and run when the odds favored the raided, leaving behind their own mules and even companions if they ran too slowly. In one episode, Lehmann and his two friends were being chased by hounds, so when they came to a cliff they unhesitatingly plunged down it, scraping hide and leaving hair on thorn bushes and rocks, jumping into a cold river and floating away from danger.

Lehmann addresses the morality of this life, stating, “I have lived as a savage and as a civilized man. When I was a savage I thirsted to kill and to steal, because I had been taught that that was the way to live; but I know now that that is wrong.”

In Lehmann’s world, the tribes didn’t see their white enemies as humans worthy of empathy–only a scourge upon their way of life. They sought and slaughtered, keeping score, scorning braves that returned horseless and singing prairie odes on their successful exploits. Settlers, soldiers, and rangers returned the favor with slaughters of their own.

I wonder if those on both sides of these attempted genocides had known more about the people they fought, they might have tried different strategies, or abandoned ambush warfare altogether?

That is sort of what eventually happened. The more each side learned how those different from themselves actually lived, the more points of empathy arose. This was borne out in the years after hostilities ebbed, as white and non-white mixed, in trades, in marriage, and with captives returning to their families. Former soldiers on both sides who had battled across Texas grew to become friends, swapping stories, laughing at exaggerations, and remembering lost comrades.

Same with our Japanese enemy in WWII. How many events have they held at the Nimitz Museum over the years where former foes sat down to dinner together? The entire Peace Garden was a gift from Japan.

I know it sounds pollyannish, but why is the first impulse upon encountering those with different lifestyles always to fight with the intent to destroy, whether based on skin shade, religious affiliation, or, lately, political preference?

What if instead each lived in the other’s camps for awhile, meeting their families, learning their ways, laughing at each other’s foibles and ululating along in their religious ceremonies?

That is the dynamic that most appealed to me when I first arrived in Fredericksburg from a monolithic culture.

Germans, Hispanics, hippies, goat ropers, two-steppers and hiphoppers, Yankees, and yes, even musicians mixed effortlessly. We all came from radically different backgrounds. But we all liked beer and barbecue, fiestas and rodeos, and appreciated each other’s music. You could experience that melting pot on any given night at Luckenbach.

The more we play dominoes with those not like us, the more we realize we like them.

[Read column with memories from Esther Lehmann, Herman’s niece…]