Depicted in the diorama above is the Comanche Scalp Dance. Grown men have been known to quake in fear when they hear the drumming on the tom-tom and the blood-thirsty shrieks of the Comanche braves as they celebrate the acquisition of that most hideous of trophies, THE HUMAN SCALP.
Mercifully, the victim is already dead when a scalping is performed. However, I know of one incident in which a man was scalped while yet alive--and, amazingly, survived.
The man's name was Josiah Wilbarger, an early Texas settler. His story is well documented and entirely true; it is also a horrifing story, and one which touches on the supernatural.
It begins one night in 1833 in the home of Wilbarger's neighbor, Reuben Hornsby, which was located a few miles east of Austin. Wilbarger had gone to Hornsby's to embark on an expedition with four other men--Hornsby, Christian, Haynie, Standifer, and Strother--to explore the country to the northwest.
The men left Hornsby's early in the morning and rode until lunch time, when they stopped near Pecan Spring. While preparing their food, they were attacked by a band of Comanches.
Strother was killed, and Christian wounded. The men ran for their horses to retreat, but Wilbarger did not make it to his horse. He received an arrow in the leg and fell. Hornsby turned his horse to go back for Wilbarger, but before he could reach him, saw the Comanches pounce on the unfortunate Wilbarger and scalp him. Seeing it was too late to help Wilbarger, Hornsby and the other men rode away.
Back at Hornsby's place, they sent for reinforcements, their plan being to retrieve the bodies of Christian and Wilbarger the next morning.
Later that night, Joe Hornsby's mother woke the men. She told them she had just had a dream in which she had seen Wilbarger still alive. She insisted the men go right then to rescue him. But the men assured her there was no possibility Wilbarger could have survived. So they all went back to sleep--only to be reawakened a few hours later by Mrs. Hornsby.
She had had the dream again, she told them, and this time it had been even clearer. She was able to describe the area; there was a tree, she said, but Wilbarger had crawled away from it to a water hole.
The men still put no value on her dream, so they waited till the next morning, when reinforcements arrived, to return to the area. Before they left, Mrs. Hornsby gave them a blanket and told them to make a stretcher with it. "You will need it to bring back Wilbarger," she said. "He is alive, but cannot ride."
When the men returned to the scene of the attack, they saw the tree where Wilbarger had been pounced upon by the Comanches. But Wilbarger was not there. Leading away from the tree was a trail of blood, which Joe Hornsby followed.
It led to a water hole, where Wilbarger lay, alive but gravely injured--and missing his scalp.
The men made a stretcher with the blanket and carried Wilbarger back to Hornsby's between two horses. Mrs. Hornsby was waiting outside the cabin with bandages and poultices of wheat bread and bear grease.
Later, when he was able to talk, Wilbarger described what had happened to him.
After taking the arrow in the calf, he had fallen. Then he had felt a bullet go through his neck. As he lay on the ground, temporarily paralyzed, he felt a Comanche stick a knife under his scalp, twist the hair in his fist, and jerk. The scalp came off with a loud pop, which caused Wilbarger to faint.
When he came to, it was night and there was a full moon. And standing before him was the transparent form of his sister Margaret who lived in Missouri.
She bade him follow her to a pool of water. There, she advised him, he could immerse his head in the water; this would relieve the intense burning of his scalp.
Then she told him to remain where he was. "You will be rescued in the morning," she said. And with that she disappeared.
All through the night he did as his sister's ghost had advised; he dipped his bleeding head in the water over and over. And he waited, till at last his rescuers arrived.
A few weeks later, Wilbarger got the news that his sister Margaret had died in Missouri--on the very night her transparent form had led him to the pool of water.
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