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Remembering Saupitty

I was saddened to hear about [the passing of] Mr. Carney Saupitty Sr.

I met Carney Saupitty Sr. and his son, Carney Jr., many years ago. I was going into the post office at Big Bend National Park, Panther Junction headquarters, and saw these two obvious Indians sitting in the shade in front of the headquarters building. I looked out at the parking lot and the only car there had Oklahoma tags on it. I stopped and introduced myself and spent the next hour listening to fascinating stories about the Comanche raids through the Big Bend into Mexico.

Carney Sr. told one account of a group coming through and getting stopped by high water on the Rio Grande. After much discussion and frustration, one rider plunged into the current, determined to cross the raging flow. He was immediately swept downstream. The group followed along the river bank as far as they could easily make it on horseback and watched as the river carried him into a deep canyon. They rode along the rim of the canyon, trying to find some way to get him out.

At one point, the warrior was swept over a waterfall and into a large pool where he had great difficulty getting out. Once he was able to breach the edge of the whirlpool, he was again carried downstream a short distance to where a side canyon entered from the Texas side. The group was able to catch the near-drowned man in an eddy and pull him to safety.

As he told this story, I was mentally going down every stretch of river in the park and realized immediately - ''I know where that was!'' I described Mariscal Canyon at flood stage and the Tight Squeeze, where there is a huge boulder blocking the center of the river channel.

At low water, the river splits and flows around each side of the boulder and on the Mexican side, shoots through the Tight Squeeze. However, at flood stage, the water piles up on the boulder and when the river is high enough to completely cover the boulder, there is a waterfall and a huge whirlpool downstream of the boulder. Just downstream not too far is Cross Canyons, where a crook in the canyon forms a big eddy on the Texas side.

Carney Sr. was desperately trying to keep alive the Comanche language and hoped to find young people eager to learn. That day in front of park headquarters, he taught me how to say ''peregrine falcon'' in the Comanche language.

The two Carneys were going to make another trip down and I was going to take them to the location, but we never hooked up to do it. What a shame. We need to take the time to walk with these elders while they are with us.

I have a warm place in my heart for him. I hope he is flying with the falcons along the Holy Road.

- Tom Alex

ArchaeologistAmerican Indian liaisonBig Bend National Park, Texas