Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
On Jan. 15, 2017, the Roswell Daily Record ran an article in Historically Speaking about “Uncle Kit” Carson, a colorful figure around Roswell for many years. The story was titled, “Fact or Fiction: The Story of William ‘Uncle Kit’ Carson.”
For those of you who missed the article or may need a refresher, “Uncle Kit” was truly a local celebrity, and everyone loved his tales and stories, he was an honored guest at many receptions, and rode in many parades.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, “Uncle Kit” was one of the most interesting, colorful, and mystical characters symbolic of the old Wild West. In his life, it was very difficult to separate fact from fiction. He actually did perform in a number of Wild West and circus shows from 1900 to 1930.
He performed five seasons with Buffalo Bill and was close personal friends with Pawnee Bill and Diamond Dick. He claimed that he knew Geronimo.
He lived in Roswell from 1931 until his death in 1957 at age 99 as a local folk hero and celebrity, making appearances at local events and parades dressed up in buckskin and moccasins.
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He represented himself to the townsfolk as Kit Carson’s nephew, William Kit Carson. He told amazing stories about his birth in New Mexico in 1858 to Kit Carson’s half brother, William, and his wife, Maria, about being an Army scout, a cattle driver for John Chisum, a personal friend of Billy the Kid, and a participant with Teddy Roosevelt in the Spanish American War. He claimed to have appeared with Buffalo Bill and Pawnie Bill Wild West shows, and the list goes on. No one around here ever doubted his stories were true. He was greatly mourned when he died just short of his claimed 100th birthday, with hundreds attending his funeral.
It was not until sometime after his death that the known story of Uncle Kit’s life started unraveling. Genealogical research proved that the actual William Carson died in 1853, five years previous to Uncle Kit’s supposed birthdate of 1858 and Uncle Kit was in no way related to the original Kit Carson. Through the years “Uncle Kit” had also been known as Tommy Stringfield, Two Braids, Ora Woodsman and even Kit Carson himself.
Following are some of the personas he took on through the years and their individual life stories.
In a 1906 book by J. L. and Ellen Pucket titled, “ History of Oklahoma and Indian Territory and Home Seekers Guide,” the first account of Uncle Kit’s life is quite an imaginative tale told partly in his own words.
The story says that he was captured by a Comanche warrior named Toey during a raid and was raised in the Comanche culture learning their language, religion, crafts and skills. He claimed that he was given the name “Two Braids” by Toey and then, when the Comanches went to Fort Sill, the soldiers gave him the name Ora Woodman. He worked as a scout at Fort Reno and Fort Sill and then returned to the reservation. He was hired by Buffalo Bill for the Wild West exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. After that, he became a Deputy Marshal of the Oklahoma Territory.
In 1895, he claimed to be elected City Marshall in Chandler Oklahoma, where he had a shoot out with the Bill Cook gang. Next, he toured the Northeast in a “buffalo show” before coming back to the reservation. In 1904, he played the Cummings Wild West Show at the Saint Louis World’s Fair before joining the Younger Brothers Oklahoma Wild West show in Dallas around 1906. The story ends there at the date of the book’s publication.
About this time, 1906, he heard the story of the Stringfield Massacre probably while he was performing in Texas. It had happened in 1870. The Stringfield family was traveling through Texas with their three children. A mixed band of Mexicans and Indians attacked and murdered the parents. The girl, Ida, was lanced and left for dead while the two boys were taken away. One of the boys was found dead and the other was lost, so Two Braids took up the identity of Tommy Stringfield, (the lost boy) probably in hopes of cashing in on the estate or selling a book. Eventually, he met Ida (the sister) and lived with her for several months before being exposed as a fake.
In 1910, Tommy Stringfield wrote a booklet titled “Captured by the Apaches: Forty Years With This Savage Band of Indian’s. A True Story by Two Braids.” He sold them wherever he performed. This account of his life follows the Stringfield story and is somewhat similar to the 1906 book except that this time he was raised by Apaches (not Comanches) in Geronimo’s band.
Following is the newspaper article about the Stringfield story, published in the Ada (Oklahoma) Weekly Democrat on Sept. 3, 1909
Two Braids, Apache Chief, Finds He is Not an Indian
After 40 Years with the Red Man, Thomas Springfield Applies to the Government to Be Restored to Citizenship
WASHINGTON — Two Braids, chief of a tribe of Apache Indians, has made application to the government to be restored to citizenship, and this brings to light a strange story, for this Indian chief is not an Indian at all.
For nearly 40 years, Two Braids has been known as an Indian and has supposed himself to be an Indian, but he has just learned of the fact that he is really Thomas Stringfield, white man, captured 44 years ago by a band of Apaches in a raid in McMullen County, Texas. His father, mother and elder brother were killed in the raid, and his little sister was left for dead, with several ugly wounds from the Apache tomahawk. But the little girl survived, was adopted and reared by an uncle and is now living not many miles from the scene of the massacre. Her name is Mrs. Ida Hatfield, and she and her brother have been reunited.
Two Braids tells an interesting story of that part of his life which he remembers.
Reared in an Indian camp, it was natural that he should fall in love with a woman of his race, and about 13 years ago he married Bright Moon, daughter of another Apache chief, and a niece of the notorious Geronimo. Two children were born of this union, a daughter, Nicki Two Braids, who is now 10 years old and has won fame for her horsemanship and rifle shooting, and Starlight, a bright little son, now 3.
Two Braids first learned the true story of his life from an old Indian named Death Face, one of the most treacherous of Apaches. About a year ago on his deathbed, this Indian told Two Braids that he had not a drop of Indian blood in his veins, and that he was a paleface and had been kidnapped by the Apaches 40 years ago in Texas. Death Face could not remember the name of the place, but he described the incident and the locality.
Two Braids took up the trail which he followed with dogged tenacity for 12 months. When he had found the spot and met old residents who remembered his parents he received permission to leave Fort Sill reservation in Oklahoma, and, taking his daughter with him, he traveled back to the scene of his childhood days. He met his sister, and the battle-scarred uncouth warrior and the gentle paleface woman wept for joy for their recognition was mutual and positive.
Though living with the Apaches for 40 years, Two Braids swears he never took a human life and that he worried about the crimes his brothers committed and the raids to which he was a party. Twenty three years ago, when a band of Apaches was rounded up and captured in western Texas after a long series of depredations including murders, burning of farms and pillage, Two Braids was in the band. They were taken to San Antonio and shipped from there to Florida and later to Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
Two Braids hair is long, but not as black and not as course as an Indian’s. His cheekbones are not high.
With his sister he visited the graves of their parents, who were laid to rest at the mouth of San Jose Creek on the banks of the River Nueces. Two Braids is raising a fund with which to erect a marble shaft to the memory of his parents and the subscription list has grown to several hundred dollars.
The story gets even more interesting, as I was recently sent some photos of the tombstones, Two Braids paid for, and had erected, honoring his alleged parents and brother.
This is truly a mystery and gives one cause for pause. It was said that he actually could speak the Indian language, so where did he learn that? How many lifetimes would it take to live and do all the things, and be related to all the people he said he was? Yet, he was well respected in this town, during his time here. He was looked upon as somewhat of a local celebrity, and honored with many titles. He is buried in South Park Cemetery.
Excerpted from the Bandera County Courier (Bandera, Texas), Dec. 14, 2017
By Raymond V. Carter, Jr. research historian
While working on the Martin Ranch, Grandpa was shown a headstone on a grave surrounded by a small iron fence. Tommy Stringfield had placed this headstone at the site of the Stringfield massacre, which occurred in 1909.
Stringfield, or Two Braids as he called himself, ran a little horse show, which is where Grandpa first met him in 1908.
Two Braids went around trying to raise money to put up a headstone and fence at the massacre site. He claimed to be the kidnapped son of Thomas and Sarah Stringfield and brother to the only true survivor, Ida A. Stringfield. Ida would later marry William Hatfield and live in Medina, Texas, where they ran a general store. Two Braids proved to be an imposter.
During this time, Grandpa said he came upon what he later thought might be the “rock pens.” He was out on one of his normal rides, but with the severe drought and the prickly pear and mesquite trees dying, it opened up the country and revealed what would normally been hidden.
“All the pear died and half of the mesquites died,” Grandpa said. “The deer and coyotes come in on that Nueces River by the tens of thousands.”
As he rode up an arroyo he discovered an area with rocks built in two circles about a half-foot high. Thinking this odd is the only reason he remembered it.
Later, his grandfather, John Whitley, who loved to tell treasure stories, told him about the rock pens.
In 1928, Grandpa Pete worked on the Henry Shiner Ranch, but never mentioned discovering rock pens on that ranch, but he did mention seeing them on the “Pony Jim” Martin Ranch.
I visited the old Martin Ranch in October of 1977 and saw the massacre site where Two Braids placed the headstone. Everything — the Nueces River, the tall hill and massacre site fit Grandpa’s story.
Janice Dunnahoo is an archive volunteer at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.