“Look up the name ‘Banc Babb,'” Frank murmured, as we sat on “Murderer’s Row” at the coffee house. “I think you will like her story. She died here in Denton in 1950,” he said, “and she was the last surviving person who had been captured by Comanches.”
I love sipping coffee with the locals down at Jupiter House! They always have historical tidbits for me. That one was all it took to send me digging into history. With Google and Ancestry.com at my fingertips, I have spent the last two days unearthing what I could of the tale of Banc (Bianca Louella) and her brother Dot (Theodore Adolphus) Babb.
I didn’t find as much as I want. While both of them later wrote their memoirs, I have to drive to Decatur to read what Banc had to say in the papers that are filed there; her book was never published. Dot’s memoirs can be read on-line, so this story is more-or-less from his perspective.
They were just two children playing innocently in the tall grass of a field near their cabin in Wise County. Hearing a noise, they looked up to discover thirty-five or forty Comanche Indians in full “regalia and war paint.” It was the 14th of September 1865, when the lives of fourteen-year-old Dot Babb and his nine-year-old sister, Banc changed forever.
Realizing their danger, the two children raced to the house with “weird and unearthly war whoops ringing” in their ears.1 They sought the protection of their mother and a friend (“Mrs. Luster,” who was a widow due to the Civil War) who lived with them. There was no real “protection,” because their father and older brother were on a cattle drive to Arkansas at the time, so only women and children faced these fearsome warriors.
According to the reminiscences of Dot, “an eternity of horror crowded into a moment of insufferable suspense for unprotected and undefended women and children.” Although the boy tried to live up to his role as the man of the house, he could not protect his family. The Comanches broke through the unbarricaded door.
Mrs. Luster was seized and bound by some of the Indians, taken outside and put on a horse. When other men reached for Banc, Mrs. Babb interfered, trying to save her daughter. She was stabbed four times with a “big butcher knife.” Dot helped her to the bed, and when the Indians returned from tying up Banc they shot Mrs. Babb with an arrow. Dot still tried to help her, but the Indians insisted he go with them. Years later, Dot would recall:
“Mother, seeing that I too would be killed if I resisted or refused, said, ‘Go with him and be a good boy.’ One of them then grabbed me by the arm and jerked me off the bed.” 2
The last Dot saw of his mother, she was dying in a mass of blood with his baby sister (Margie, who was left physically unharmed) in her arms. Dot was tied on a horse behind a warrior, and the Indians galloped away. Over the next several days the party had little rest, as the Comanche retreated to Indian Territory in Oklahoma, raiding along the way.
Many nights later, as they camped along the banks of the Canadian River, Dot boldly helped Mrs. Luster steal a horse and escape [she was later captured by a band of Kiowa, but made a second harrowing escape]. When the Indians discovered his role in Mrs. Luster’s get-away, they advanced on Dot to kill him, forcing his sister, Banc, to watch. Seeing the distress of his little sister, Dot said, “wanting the scene closed I made signs to them to shoot and end my unbearable suspense.”3 His courage and defiance in the face of death caused the Comanche to spare him, for he had the qualities of a warrior.
A few days later, the group of warriors split into several groups and Dot and Bab were separated.
The children were “adopted” into the Comanche tribe, and treated as children of the tribe, but they didn’t have similar experiences. Dot was trained as a warrior and was taken on raiding and hunting parties. He was even forced to shoot a captive Caddo on one of the raids. He always kept his eye open for an opportunity to escape the band and return to his home. 4
Banc’s life was very different. She was given by “Kerno,” the warrior who had captured her, to his childless sister, Tekwashana. That woman was overjoyed, and on the night Banc arrived there was feasting with a special treat … coffee. Tekwashana taught Banc the “women’s work” of taking down and setting up camp (the tribe moved every three or four weeks), cooking, and curing hides. She pierced Banc’s ears, often colored her hair with a tallow and charcoal mixture, and taught the child the Comanche language. When the time came that Banc was ransomed from the Comanche (for $333, which was a small fortune) by her father, Tekwashana wept and tried to take the child and flee. When she wrote her memoirs in later years, Banc would title it: “Every Day Seemed to Be a Holiday.”
Dot and Banc Babb would not see each other again for two years … until the time they were finally ransomed by their father. Unlike some young captives, who assimilated into the tribes, they were delighted to return to their father in 1867, after their years of captivity. They went on to live the normal life of any settler’s child of that time (although they both admitted they had a bit of “wanderlust” that was, perhaps, instilled during their time of captivity). Both married and had children, and both spoke sympathetically of the Comanche tribes.
Banc married Jefferson Davis Bell in 1882. He was an abstractor of land titles. They lived in many different areas of the country, but the widowed Banc spent her last five years in Denton. Here is her obituary from the Denton Record Chronicle on 14 April 1950:
The home where she lived in Denton is no longer standing, and Banc Babb Bell is resting in peace at the I.O.O.F. cemetery. Perhaps she still has relatives living here, but I don’t know that for certain. I can hardly wait to read her memoirs to see what she has to say about the time during which she was captured by Comanches.
1 T.A. Babb. In The Bosom Of The Comanches. Dallas: Worley, 1912. Open Library.org, https://archive.org/stream/inbosomofcomanch01babb#page/n7/mode/2up. p.20. 25 Mar.2014
2 T.A. Babb. In The Bosom Of The Comanches. Dallas: Worley, 1912. Open Library.org, https://archive.org/stream/inbosomofcomanch01babb#page/n7/mode/2up. p.22 25 Mar.2014
3 T.A. Babb. In The Bosom Of The Comanches. Dallas: Worley, 1912. Open Library.org, https://archive.org/stream/inbosomofcomanch01babb#page/n7/mode/2up. p. 30 25 Mar.2014
4 T.A. Babb. In The Bosom Of The Comanches. Dallas: Worley, 1912. Open Library.org, https://archive.org/stream/inbosomofcomanch01babb#page/n7/mode/2up. p. 42 25 Mar.2014