Word that the Indians were in the area had not yet reached the Sullivan
farm located at the foot of the eastern slope of Slipdown Mountain.
As Margaret Sullivan prepared to leave the farm to care for a sick
woman, she cautioned her sons, thirteen-year-old Robert Harvey and
six-year-old Thomas Jefferson and their two Blackwell cousins, Joe,
ten, and Fremont, seven, to watch closely for Indians.
Following the instructions of Margaret's sister, Charlotte Blackwell,
the boys went to the garden and began picking peas for winter storage.
As they alternated between playing and picking peas, they forgot to
watch for Indians. No doubt the marauders had been observing for some
time the movements of the family from the south end of Slipdown Mountain
before five of them began to plunder the Sullivan farm. The boys were
alerted to the Comanches' presence by a commotion in the horse lot,
where an Indian was putting a rope around the neck of the Sullivan
family's balking work horse. At the same time, four other Comanches
bore down on the horrified boys in the pea patch. Harvey Sullivan
grabbed Tommy's hand and, with Joe and Fremont Blackwell, began to
run toward the nearby cane patch by the creek. During the chase a
steel-tipped arrow tore into Harvey's arm, and a rifle ball struck
As the Indians gained on the boys, Joe and Harvey were forced to
make a painful decision that grieved them in later years. It was obvious
to both of the older boys that the Comanches would soon capture or
kill them all since, due to their small size and lack of speed, Fremont
and Tommy were preventing their escape. In a desperate attempt to,
at least, save themselves, Harvey and Joe released the hands of their
little brothers and, in spite of their serious wounds, doubled their
speed toward the thicket and plunged headfirst into the cane patch,
where they quickly disappeared from view. As Joe and Harvey cautiously
looked out from the edge of the patch, they saw the raiders swing
Tommy and Fremont onto their horses and leave in a dead run. Long
after the Indians left the Sullivan farm with their hysterical young
captives, Joe and Harvey heard in the distance their little brothers'
piteous cries for help.
As Joe and Harvey lay quietly in the cane patch, the pain from their
wounds became more intense. After a long wait, they heard voices which,
at first, were feared to be those of Indians remaining in the area
but later proved to be calls from their fathers as they searched for
their missing sons. After moving the boys to the house where the arrow
was removed from Harvey's arm and both wounds were dressed as best
they could be, Thomas Sullivan and Upton O. Blackwell, referred to
in local frontier histories as Hugh O. Blackwell, assembled a search
party to rescue their captive sons. The party of neighboring homesteaders
following the trail of the Comanches soon found on the trail a small
cowbell which had been Tommy's favorite toy from which he had seldom
been separated. After following the raiders for about twenty miles
to a point south of Weatherford the horse of the lead rider suddenly
snorted and shied at the smell of blood. At the edge of the timber
lay Tommy's body, "bruised and mangled almost beyond recognition."
Tommy's younger brother, John Wright Sullivan, tearfully recalled
to his children in later years the heartache experienced by his family
at finding that the Indians had taken the little boy's life and mutilated
his body and that the crows had pecked out his eyes. Tommy's body
was buried where it was found, and his clothing was brought home.
Some of the searchers were so disturbed by the grim sight that they
were unable to proceed with the search party. Fearing that Fremont
had experienced the same fate, the others somberly followed the trail
to the Red River, where the search ended.
...Fremont was taken by his captors to the Big Bend of the Arkansas
River, an Indian reservation in Kansas, where he was kept several
months. During these months of captivity, after having been thoroughly
"Indianized," the Comanches accepted him into the tribe.
Fremont freely embraced the Comanche way of life, became proficient
with the bow and arrow, and learned the language of his captors. During
part of the time Fremont was held captive, the band also held two
other captives, a white girl and fourteen-year-old Ole Nystel, of
Norwegian descent, who was captured in March, 1867 from near his home
in Bosque County, Texas, and remained with the band for only three
months before being ransomed.
While visiting the reservation for the purpose of purchasing furs,
a white trader, Charles Whitaker, noticed the three white captives
and notified federal authorities of their plight. When approached
by the federal authorities on the matter, the Comanche chief demanded
a ransom. It is not known what was paid for Fremont, but Ole Nystel
brought $250, paid in part with brown paper, blankets, tobacco, flour,
During his months with the Indians, Fremont forgot much about his
past civilized life, including his name. When the trader asked about
his family, Fremont could remember only his father's first name, Upton,
and that he lived near Weatherford, Texas. With this scant information,
Whitaker wrote a letter to "Mr. Upton, Weatherford, Texas."
The perceptive postmaster at Weatherford delivered the letter to Upton
O. Blackwell, and arrangements were soon made for Fremont's return.
Blackwell was to meet Fremont at Fort Arbuckle, Indian Territory.
He arrived there at the appointed time and waited ten days, but Fremont
did not arrive. When Blackwell returned home without Fremont, his
wife, Charlotte, was broken-hearted. Later arrangements were made
for the federal authorities to deliver Fremont to his grandmother's
home in north Collin County, Texas. Blackwell rode the one hundred
miles on horseback and brought Fremont home. The child was suffering
from scurvy, a common frontier-day malady resulting from a diet excessive
in meat and deficient in vegetables.
Considering himself an Indian, Fremont, like most boy captives, preferred
the carefree life of the savage and balked at returning to civilization.
After returning home he often continued to speak in the Comanche tongue
and attempted to establish contact with his adopted Comanche people
by going to nearby Gourdneck Creek and signaling with calls resembling
the hoot of an owl and the howl of a wolf. He sometimes threatened
to return to the Comanches. When he became angry with the other Blackwell
children he shot them with his bow and blunt-tipped arrows until they
were "blue all over."
Fremont told his family that his captors took Tommy's life because
he cried. While raiding the settlements the Indians could not tolerate
the noise of a crying child captive since a successful raid depended
to a great extent on the element of surprise.