The Story of Kesetta and Jack
The U.S. military records
of the era only tell a small portion of the story of the attempted
destruction of the Lipan Apaches. It is easy to forget the suffering of the Lipan people when
reading telegrams breathless with the details of a “hot pursuit” chase. The story of Kesetta and
Jack reveals the personal suffering endured by Lipan families who were targeted, month after
month, by troop commanders who had, just a decade earlier, fought in some of the bloodiest
battles of the American Civil War and brought the same scorched earth tactics to bear against the
Lipan Apaches. During these years, the Lipan people endured more than any people should have
Kesetta, a young
Lipan girl about ten years old, and her brother Jack, a few years younger, were taken prisoner by
a 4th Calvalry soldier during the June 1877 attack of a Lipan camp near Zaragosa in which
nineteen Lipans were killed.1 They were brought back to Fort Clark and adopted by
Charlie Smith and his wife, Mollie. Smith was a member of the regimental band and was
stationed at Forts Clark and Duncan from 1877 to 1880. In 1880, he and his wife were posted to
Fort Hays, Kansas. In March 1880, the children were enrolled at the Carlisle Indian School in
Pennsylvania as Kesetta Lipan and Jack Lipan.
When Kesetta was given a full medical examination upon
her arrival at the school, the staff discovered three large scars—one on her forehead and two on
the front and back of her shoulder. When questioned, Kesetta reportedly told them thee were left
from wonunds inflicted by a stone her mother had used to try to kill her, ‘so as to keep the white
men from getting me in the fight.’ (Fear-Segal, 207, pp. 255-260)|
Jack died of
tuberculosis in 1888, but Kesetta continued to live at the Carlisle School until her death in 1906
at age thirty-nine, earning the sad distinction as the longest-enrolled student. She had a son but
never revealed to him her Lipan heritage. Orphaned, forcibly removed from her Lipan family,
taken as a prisoner of war and forcibly acculturated into the Anglo world, Kesetta’s past was
erased (Fear-Segal, 2007, p. 260).
symbolizes the plight of the Lipan people after 1850. Afraid to publicly acknowledge their tribal
affiliation, they blended like chameleons into the surrounding society. Even Lipans who were
forced onto reservations could not officially celebrate their heritage nor openly practice their
traditional culture. They were “guests” of the Mescaleros, Tonkawas, and Kiowa Apaches. For
that portion of the tribe who did not enter a reservation and thereby escaped death at the hands of
U.S. troops, could no longer represent themselves as “Lipan” to the outside world, for to do
so might reactivate old arrest warrants or spark the interest of a bounty hunter looking to make
$50 for a Lipan scalp (Ord, 1877; Turner, 1877). The non-reservation remnant passed into the Hispanic
world of south Texas and northern Mexico. They had long ago adapted to a Tejano
society, learning English and Spanish and bearing surnames such as Castro, de Leon, Flores, Solis, Gonzales, Villareal, Hernandez,
Telles, and Leal, to name but a few. 2 But the Lipan Apache people never assimilated. Inside their homes
and within their families, one common admonition was passed down through the generations—
“Never forget you are Lipan Apache.”6
part of a larger study of the Carlisle Indian School, Fear-Segal relays the story of Kesetta and
Jack, two Lipan Apache orphans adopted by a member of the 4th U.S. Cavalry band
while stationed at Fort Clark, Texas. Fear-Segal states that the children were orphaned in an
1877 military attack, led by General Ranald S. Mackenzie, against a Lipan rancheria in
Coahuila. She cites email and telephone conversations with Daniel Castro Romero, Jr., in which
Romero claims that Kesetta and Jack were the children of John Castro and were thus his
relatives. She also includes in a footnote the “charming” story of how Romero was going to
travel to Pennsylvania to conduct a Lipan ritual over the grave of Kesetta, but was prevented
from doing so because of illness. The eventual trip in 2009 is later documented in a video.
In her book,
White Man’s Club: Schools, Race, and the Struggle of Indian Acculturation,
J. Fear-Segal relies heavily on information regarding military campaigns against the Lipans that
is historically incorrect. The author states that Kesetta and Jack were captured during an 1877
attack on a Lipan camp by General Ranald MacKenzie (Fear-Segal, 2007, pp. 255-260). However,
Mackenzie was not in Texas for most of 1877, only returning to his command at Ft. Clark at the
end of the year. He never led an 1877 incursion into Mexico. Mackenzie did lead troops into
Mexico in 1878, but a large Mexican Army presence force him to retreat back into Texas without
attacking any Lipan rancherias or taking any prisoners. All historical evidence shows that
if the children were captured in 1877, as Fear-Segal claims and as Carlisle records seem to
indicate, they were taken in an attack led by Lt. John L. Bullis against a Lipan camp near
Zaragosa, Coahuila.(Opler & Ray, 1975)
It must be stressed that there is no
evidence that the Lipan orphans Kesetta and Jack were children of John Castro or that they were
otherwise closely related.
2These are surnames of Lipan Apaches who lived during this era (1850-190)
and from whom some members of the Lipan Apache Tribe descend.
3This admonition is found in so many Lipan oral family histories from widely
varying sources (Lipans on reservations as well as the non-reservation remnant) that it must be
considered standard phraseology used to preface the passing on of oral history, tradition, and
culture in twentieth century Lipan Apache life.
Fear-Segal, J. (2007). White man’s club: Schools, race, and the struggle of Indian
acculturation. Lincoln: Univ of Nebraska Press.
Opler, M. E. & Ray, V. F. (1975). The Lipan and Mescalero Apache in Texas. In An Ethnohistorical Analysis of Documents
Relating to the Apaches in Texas. New York: Garland Publishing.
Ord, E.O.C. (1877). Ord to Adjutant General, Jul 11, RACC. Letters received by Office
of Adjutant General, MP #M666, Roll 208, NA.
Turner, E. P. (1877). Turner to Secretary of War, Jan. 19, RACC, Letters received by
Office of Adjutant General, MP #M666, Roll 204, NA.