Wash Robinson was born in Old Mexico, as nearly as he remembers, about the year 1840. When quite a boy, he was stolen by the Navaho Indians. When he was nearly grown, he was sold by them to the Pueblos. After having been with them for some time, he left, and went to the Wichita Mountains. He was next taken prisoner at the battle of Big Frame on the Santa Fe Trail, and taken to Washington.
He could talk no English at all, but he was proficient in Spanish and in several Indian tongues. He didn’t know what his English name was, or even what his right name was in Spanish, so he was named George Washington. After having been kept for some time as a prisoner of war, he gave his parole, and enlisted in the United States army. He was put in a colored company, and soon learned to talk English. As there were already four George Washington in his company, his name was changed to Wash Robinson, by which he is still known.
In 1869 he came to Fort Reno with his company, and participated in most of the raids after Indians, and took part in the efforts to drive the Sooners out of Oklahoma. Having been raised by the Indians, he was thoroughly conversant with all their manners and customs, so that he was a very valuable scout.
On one occasion, when engaged in putting Oklahomans out of the country, as Wash Robinson tells the story himself, he met the well-known Captain Payne, who had come in from Kansas with about fifty families and had settled on the south side of the Seminole River in old Oklahoma proper. Payne and his men had thrown up breastworks and were prepared for a siege. They said they would die before they would leave the country.
Colonel Grayson was ordered from Fort Reno with two companies of soldiers to put them out. A cowboy working for Campbell, a big cattleman in that country in those days, saw the soldiers coming and warned the Sooners, with whom he had become acquainted.
“All right,” said Captain Payne, when the warning had been given him, “let them come.” The boomers collected inside their fort and prepared for battle. When the soldiers arrived at the breastwork they went into camp. Colonel Grayson went over to see Captain Payne, who told the colonel to pitch whenever he got ready. The colonel laughed and said he wasn’t quite ready for a fight; that he didn’t propose to cause any bloodshed unless it was absolutely necessary.
So the soldiers waited there several days, becoming very friendly with Captain Payne and his men. Said the colonel to one of his officers: “There isn’t any use hurting these people; it’s bad enough to be forced to put them out. I hate to have to do it, but I’m not responsible for my orders, and all I can do is to obey.”
One morning, therefore, when the boomers were all away at their different tasks, and there was no one in their camp but Captain Payne and five or six others. Colonel Grayson took Wash Robinson and six or seven other soldiers and dropped in to see the captain. Said the colonel: “Now, captain, you had better give up; I have to put you out.”
Then the soldiers and the boomers locked horns, and around and around the tent they wrestled, overturning benches, tables and everything else. When the fight was over, though, the boomers were all hogtied. There were several bloody noses and black eyes, though in the latter respect the soldiers had the advantage, for they were all Negroes, and their black eyes did not show.
After Captain Payne and those with him had been tied a signal was given, and the soldiers rushed in, took possession of the camp, and hauled the boomers back across the line into Kansas.
The Indians tell a good story on Wash Robinson, which, though he denies it, is too good to keep. A certain Cheyenne chief took a lot of buffalo pouches, filled them with water and tied them to the ponies of his men. Then the band struck out across the plains. The soldiers, of course, had to follow them. This was not difficult, as the Indians made a broad, plain trail. In order that the soldiers might not overtake them the Indians carefully avoided every water hole. The soldiers had neglected to take any water with them, but, thinking they could do without water as long as the Indians, they kept right on after them. Camp after camp of the Indians was passed, however, and still no water was found. At last the soldiers were away out on the plains, and here the Indians’ tracks scattered.
Accordingly, the soldiers also scattered out. None of them but Wash Robinson, however, could follow a trail, and, as their horses were dying of thirst, and as they themselves were faint, they had to shape their course for the South Canadian river. Robinson, however, kept on the trail. It lead into the brakes, and finally to a canon with timber and a good spring, where the Indians were camped, giving their ponies a rest.
He knew that if he turned back he would die of thrust, so he chose to go forward. The Indians took him prisoner and gave him something to eat and drink, though if he had been a white man they would have killed him. They knew him however, and did not want to kill him. So, stripping him of all his clothes, and tieing him face down across a log, they gathered about him while the old squaws marched past, each one giving him a good spanking with a stick. After he had been punished in this manner, and after they knew that the soldiers had gone away from the neighborhood, the Indians turned Wash loose, still naked as he was. He had to walk the two hundred miles to the fort.
In the eighties Wash resigned from the army, married an Arapahoe squaw, and has raised a family that is an honor to him. He has two grandsons who are nice, quiet young men. The oldest one, named George, has skin as black as his father’s, but his hair is as straight as any full blood Indian’s. When it comes to throwing a rope, playing ball or running foot races, there is no one in the tribe that can beat him.
Robinson owns a good farm on the Washita River at the mouth of Boggy creek, and also conducts a livery stable at Colony, Oklahoma. He is the only man of his color who is allowed to live in Washita county, which, with a population of Texans, Russians and Germans, goes Democratic at each election. No colored people are allowed in the county, and, though I have been there several times, if there is a Republican there I have yet to find him. Some of the agency employees are Republicans, of course, but outside of these officials they are mighty scarce.