Thursday, September 10, 2015

Chief Placido, a Local San Marcos Legend

The sculptor placed wolf hairs in the medicine
bag around the neck during casting; because, the Tonkawa
believe they were formed in the earth then a wolf dug
them out and breathed life into them.
San Marcos has a long history and with that comes folk tales. Today, locals have a little known legend about the statue of Chief Placido. Many believe he is still looking over the San Marcos area and brings the rain during our driest months. This idea took root in the locals of San Marcos and soon a tradition emerged to leave tobacco in the pipe that Chief Placido holds to ask him for rain.

Among the many rich chronicles about influential Texan trailblazers, very little concern the important history of the Tonkawa leader, Chief Placido. Rodney van Oudekerke, a Texas historian, recently sat down with us to discuss the intricate and little known history of the Tonkawa tribe in Central Texas and the journey of constructing the Chief Placido statue in San Marcos.
Chief Placido was a Native American chief, a Tonkawa warrior and an ally to the Republic of Texas during the Texas Revolution.

 But until recently, little was known about this powerful chief or his tribe. In van Oudekerke’s words, “If you want to learn about the Tonkawa, you have to read a little between the lines.” van Oudekerke’s curiosity was only made stronger by the lack of information about the tribe, so he decided to dig deeper into Texas history to learn about the Tonkawa. He repeatedly came across textsindicating that Colonel John Coffee "Jack" Hays, as well as General Edward Burleson, were not only associated with Chief Placido, but had strong comradery with him, depending on his tribe for scouting and fighting against the Comanche. Chief Placido, known in his own language as Ha-shu-ka-na ("Can't Kill Him"), was the last major Chief of the Tonkawa Indians, and had a long lasting rivalry with the Comanche. The Tonkawa made their home near present day San Marcos and were crucial to the establishment of our home town. During Reconstruction, the Tonkawa of Central Texas were moved to Oklahoma with a promise for land in Texas; Post-Reconstruction this agreement went unfulfilled.

 In 2007, Rodney van Oudekerke along with Leadership San Marcos decided to create and dedicate a 
The rag on the arm of the statue is from a historic
recount of the Battle of Plum Creek; the Tonkawa
tied rags around their arms so the Texas Republic
soldiers would know they were fighting alongside
the only statue dedicated to Native Americans in Texas, to honor Placido and the Tonkawa of Central Texas. Eric Slocombe, a talented local artist and sculptor, was commissioned to build the memorial statue, to be placed near the San Marcos River the Tonkawa had lived on for so long.

Rodney searched for remaining Tonkawa tribe members, in order to consult with them on culture and history; but early in his search he had come across records indicating the last surviving Tonkawa had died in Bastrop, Texas, in 1963. At that point, van Oudekerke says he felt he had missed an opportunity to honor the Tonkawa.

The pipe is an almost exact replica of a sacred
Tonkawa ceremonial pipe; only initiated
elders may view the pipe, so one small
detail was changed out of respect of
the Tonkawa.
Later that year, he discovered there was a remaining Tonkawa village, with 550 members residing in North Oklahoma. He traveled to Tonkawa, Oklahoma, to meet a representative of the tribe, Don Patterson. While there, Rodney learned about the Tonkawa and their long history of culture and tradition. He learned the significance that San Marcos still plays in their ceremonies and traditions. Though the Tonkawa have not lived in Central Texas for over 150 years, they still have a ceremony that requires juniper branches from San Marcos. The statue was finalized in 2007 with the careful consideration of the past and present sentiments of the last remaining Tonkawas, who went on to hold a sacred ceremony on the statue grounds.

Whether you believe in the legend of the statue or not, we owe much to the Tonkawa for their vast contributions to our local history. Experience the historical presence of the Tonkawa and their pivotal leader by visiting the Chief Placido statue in downtown San Marcos.

Rachel Willis

1 comment:

  1. Well done, Rodney van Oudekerke. Appreciate your vision to honor Chief Placido + the Tonkawa people. Proud to be a member of the Leadership San Marcos Class of 2007.