Most visits to Fort Worth don’t end this badly.
In late December 1885, Comanche leader Quanah Parker and his father-in-law Yellow Bear checked into the Pickwick Hotel (formerly the El Paso) on Main Street.
They, along with several others, including Tsa-Tai, a medicine man who had fought with Parker at the battle of Adobe Walls in 1874, and George W. Briggs, who worked for rancher W. T. Waggoner, had come to Fort Worth from Indian Territory to discuss white men’s grazing leases on Native American reservations.
At some point during their visit, the group went into Agustus R. Mingon’s Fort Worth Art Studio and had their photograph taken. Quanah Parker stands on the left, with George Briggs to the right. Yellow Bear is seated on the left, with Tsa-Tai next to him. Although they didn’t know it at the time, the photograph would prove to be the last surviving record of Yellow Bear’s life.
On the evening of Dec. 19, Parker and Yellow Bear went out for the evening. When the men did not appear the following morning, a bellhop was sent to their room – No. 78 – to investigate. He saw a man on the floor and assumed that the two were sleeping off a drunken spree. Not so.
No one else thought to check on the pair until 2 p.m., when the housekeeper reported that, “a man was lying half naked on the floor of the room and that gas was escaping.” Hotel clerk G. C. Hudgins went up and found that, “Yellow Bear was lying on his face, attired in his leggings and shirt, his limbs drawn up under him, cold and dead.”
Parker was barely alive, presumably because he had passed out and fallen on the floor near the door such that he was able to breathe some fresh air.
Coroner’s inquest foreman John Maddox examined the scene and took testimony. His report, which would be embellished by newspapers from Savannah to Portland, stated that, “the deceased came to his death by the inhalation of gas, the light having been blown out by some one [sic] who failed to turn out the gas.”
Without a flame in the fixture, natural gas filled the room. Colorless and odorless (the unpleasant “rotten egg smell” wouldn’t be added to natural gas until after the disastrous New London School Explosion of 1937 – over 50 years later), the gas killed silently and without warning.
Parker, although still weak, wasted no time leaving town. Indian agent Lee Hall accompanied the group traveling with Yellow Bear’s corpse on the Fort Worth & Denver Railway to Harrold, Texas, the stop closest to the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Reservation in Southwestern Oklahoma.
A group of 25 to 50 Native Americans met the train where they immediately took charge Yellow Bear’s remains. Rites were observed on the reservation close to Parker’s camp, near the present unincorporated community of Cache, Oklahoma.
Parker returned to Fort Worth several times after Yellow Bear’s death, but memories of the incident never left him.
Carol Roark is an archivist, historian, and author with a special interest in architectural and photographic history who has written several books on Fort Worth history.