So many legends are not completely explored in Stories from the Road, if only because they were too far off the trail for me to include them. Just following closely along the heart of the old Fort Cobb Trail produced 420 pages, over 300 stories and 103 graphics.
The full story of Tomasa Chandler Conover is included in Appendix 4 of the book because it’s an enduring Indian Territory legend. The maps are not in the book.
Here’s an abbreviated version of Tomasa’s story:
According to Josiah Butler, the first teacher at the Fort Sill Indian School, Tomasa was born into a respectable and well-to-do family in Mexico and was abducted by a Comanche raiding party at a very young age. Several years later, when she was 10 or 12, she was recovered from the Comanche at the Indian Agency on the Brazos River in Texas and returned to Mexico. Tomasa’s family of origin could not be found so the girl was left with an unrelated Mexican family who used her as a servant.
Tomasa and a boy who was also a rescued Indian captive living in the same home made a pact to escape and return to the Comanche. Taking one of their host family’s horses, the two set off, traveling mostly at night to elude any pursuit. When their food gave out, the young people killed their horse, dried the meat and used the hide to make moccasins.
Tomasa and the young man almost starved when their meat was gone but then fortuitously stumbled onto the camp of the same Comanche band with whom they had previously lived.
Tomasa happily resumed her life with the Comanche. According to one likely embellished account documented during the WPA’s Indian-Pioneer project, while Tomasa was still a girl, an old Comanche man laid claim to her with the clear intent of making her his wife. When the time came, Tomasa refused to go along with the plan, announcing she would rather die than become the wife of that particular fellow.
Joseph Chandler, a white man, somehow became aware of this and offered to buy the old Indian’s “interest” in Tomasa. When the Indian man asked for two dollars and a chicken, Chandler paid the price for Tomasa’s freedom and married her himself in 1859. He was also many years Tomasa’s senior.
Joseph and Tomasa established a ranch whose location is shown on the 1873 land survey of T5NR8W (first image below). The main house was located at approximately 34°51’48.08″ North, 98°02’51.11″ West. This site was 9.25 miles southwest of the modern Ninnekah post office at a heading of 230 degrees. It was 12 miles southwest of the Fort Cobb Trail.
Joseph Chandler died in 1872 and when the area was surveyed in 1873, Tomasa was known as the Widow Chandler. She married George Conover in 1875 and the two worked the Chandler ranch together until 1880 when they moved to Anadarko. Many years later, George Conover would pen Sixty Years in Southwest Oklahoma, another must-read book for those interested in Indian Territory history.
The second image below shows the location of the Chandler Ranch in relation to the current site of the Ninnekah post office and I-44. The pink line down the middle of the map is the 98th meridian, an important landmark in Indian Territory history. Joseph Chandler and Tomasa are both buried in a private graveyard on the Chandler Ranch. Because they lie west of the 98th meridian, Tomasa’s bones rest, not in the Chickasaw Nation, but in land originally reserved for her adoptive Comanche tribe.