GRAYHORSE

Manataka® American Indian Council 


 

THE STORY OF
CHIEF BENITO ALTAHA GRAY HORSE
By Marcus Phillips and Sandra Long

 


With the coming of white settlers in the early 1800s, Hot Springs [Manataka], which had been a Mecca to Amerindians since before the dawn of history, changed forever.  The hunting grounds were overrun by the newcomers, and the Valley of the Vapors became a reservation controlled by the "Great White Father" in a place called Washington.  The tribes that had lived nearby journeyed westward to other lands, but the Place of the Healing Waters [Nowasalon] was embedded in the collective mind of the Native Americans, whose ancestral legends told of its magic and beauty.

As the years went by, Indians remembered and continued to visit the springs, sometimes coming in groups to camp in Gulpha Gorge or other outlying areas.  One notable Choctaw Chief, Louis LeFlor, visited Hot Springs and died here in the early 1830s.  With the discovery of oil on western Indian lands, many, especially the Osage, became affluent and were able to make frequent visits to the spa as tourists.  During the 1920s and 30s, elegantly dressed groups of Quapaw, who had profited from lead and zinc mines, arrived in limousines to enjoy the "good life."

A number of Native Americans even returned to make their homes in the area.  The most memorable of these later residents was Chief Benito Altaha Gray Horse, a member of the Chiricahau Apache tribe, who made an important contribution to the Resort City as a reminder of its rich Indian heritage.  During the colorful period of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, the Chief was in great demand among various civic organizations as a speaker on Indian history and culture.  Having fought against the United States Calvary, he was an authority on Indian wars.  Wearing colorful regalia, he led or participated in many of the city's parades and often visited in the schools to play his harmonica for the children and to tell Indian stories and talk about the merits of education.

During the 1920s, the Hot Springs Business Men's League was eager to promote the early history of the area by restoring some of the Indian trails as tourist attractions.  After the Boy Scouts placed markers along these trails, hiking clubs and riding academies were formed.  A trail guide was published, and guides were employed to lead tour groups along the sometimes lengthy routes.

Chief Gray Horse became the most colorful of these guides.  He laid out a favorite trail, which made a loop leaving town through the Red Fox Pass, circling through the North Wildwoods, and returning through Bonanza Gorge.  On the way out, he would stop at a farmhouse in the morning to inform the lady of the house, Mrs. Susie Terry, of the number of riders he was leading in the group and to make arrangements for her to have their dinner prepared when they returned.  Along the way, Chief Gray Horse, who was a cultivated and highly educated man, demonstrated his many talents by discussing the points of interest along the trail, telling stories, and explaining Indian lore.  [One of the legends he told is included on these pages - see "The Legend of the Twin Springs"]

In later years, the Chief established his home in Gulpha Gorge where he lived, Apache style, in a tent.  Sightseeing buses used to stop there, and Chief Gray Horse would come out to thrill the tourists by telling an Indian story or reciting one of his many poems.  Later, his children danced down the narrow isle of tourist buses holding out an old straw hat for donations.

At the site of the Chief's original tent, just west of the National Park campground, a teepee was constructed in his memory.  This memorial, which was on private property, could be seen from the road… [The memorial was torn down and the property is now controlled by the U.S. Park Service.]

With the death of Chief Gray Horse in 1945, Hot Springs lost one of the most colorful and influential characters to live in the community during the twentieth century.  The following obituary, which was printed in several Arkansas newspapers at the time, provides a brief history of his remarkable life:

Obituary of Chief Benito Altaha Gray Horse

Chief Benito Altaha Gray Horse, 95, for the past 18 years a colorful figure on the streets of Hot Springs, died yesterday afternoon at 4 o'clock at the Salvation Army.  He had been in ill health for the past four months.

He was a familiar character to both residents and visitors, with his long braided hair and his easy manner, and true to Indian code, he was a great lover of nature.  He wrote poetry and was an accomplished musician, performing for local civic clubs on several occasions in years past.

Born in Arizona on January 3, 1850, Chief Gray Horse served with the noted Apache Chief Geronimo from the time he was 19 years old to his 36th year.  At Fort Marion, Florida he was selected scoutmaster of a group of Indian boys and sent to Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, where he became patron of the boy's dormitory.  He began to study at Carlisle and learned to read and write.  He later won a four-year scholarship offered to the Quakers and attended school in Germany, specializing in medicine.  While in Germany, he was forced to serve one year in the German Army, relatives said.

For six years following graduation, he practiced medicine in Cuba and served in the Army during the Spanish-American War. 

From Cuba, he went to Galveston, Texas, where his first wife and two children were drowned in the Galveston flood.  His only surviving son, who was with him at a Dallas fair at the time, served in aviation and was killed during World War I.

By natural instinct, he was a linguist, speaking from five to seven languages; among them Cuban, Mexican, Apache, German, and English. 

His second wife, Louise Henrietta Gray Horse, resides in Hot Springs.  They have three children; one son, Benito Geronimo Gray Horse, and two daughters, Teewahnee and Napanee Gray Horse, all of Hot Springs.

Funeral services will be held Thursday afternoon at 2:30 o'clock at the Gross Chapel, with the Rev. Jesse Reed, pastor of Park Place Baptist Church, officiating.  Burial will be in Memorial Park Cemetery.  The Chief will be buried in his Indian regalia.

 


Credits: The Story of Chief Benito Altaha Gray Horse by Sandra Long and Marcus Phillips are from the  "Indian Folklore Atlas of Hot Springs National Park" (1994).   


 

Indian Folklore Atlas of Hot Springs National Park

by Marcus Phillips and Sandra Long 

The Valley of the Vapors, Manataka -- The Place of Peace was never told as well before this excellent resource guide was written.  Well researched with dozens of references, this book contains the colorful history of Hot Springs and Indian legends of this sacred site. The Indian Folk Lore Atlas also serves as a tour guide with seven individual walking tours designed to take the visitor back in time to the actual locations where history was made.  This book is endorsed by the American Indian Center of Arkansas, the City of Hot Springs and the Garland County Historical Society.  Experts of the Caddo, Quapaw and Cherokee nations consulted on this book. A wonderful addition to any library.  Great for the coffee table. Dozens of maps and illustrations. 195 pp. Soft Cover.  $37.95 

 

 

 

 


 

The following story/poem, was written in 1991
by Arkansas Poet Laureate
Verna Lee Hinegardner
Winner of the prestigious
SYBIL NASH ABRAMS AWARD


AN INDIAN IS AN INDIAN
Chief Benito Altaha Gray Horse
1850 - 1945

 

An aura of tomahawk truth surrounded Chief Gray Horse who wagoned his way across mountains and plains to Man-A-Ta-Ka, Valley of Peace.

His path had been long; and now he who came from where the sun-ball drowns, sought peace in our valley.  Indian tribes had long traveled to healing Hot Springs waters where, regardless of tongue, they laid their weapons down to smoke pipes-of-peace.  And here  Chief Gray Horse, an Apache,  became a part of our hearts.

Solid as a sequoia, though nearly seventy, he became a ready-and-able public-spirited part of our valley.  Quick as a pine knot, this multi-talented man with thick jet-black braids and slow even ways, lit a flame that fed fresh friendships and gentle trust.

While traveling with a medicine show, he met his young wife, Princess Napanee. They drove his Model T across a pontoon bridge at  Dardanelle; and often laughed about "Doodle-de-do" playing all night their first night together. Teewahnee (buttercup), their first child, was born in Malvern; Benito Geronimo was born in Eureka Springs; and Napanee (water lily) was born in Hot Springs.

Their colorful teepee off Gulpha Gorge became a tourist stop.  Often Chief Gray Horse boarded the bus to recite a poem.  Asked why he lived in this primitive way, he would say,  "An Indian is an Indian."

He charmed civic clubs and schools by playing his harmonica, reciting original Indian poetry, demonstrating Indian artifacts and telling Indian legends and stories.  We listened. Bit by bit, we fit together fragments of his memories.

Because Apaches could not read the smoke of paleface campfires, his father Cochise, chief of the Chiricahua Band and four other bands were caged in reservations.  Gray Horse, brother to sunshine and storm,  brother to buffalo and deer, fought with Geronimo from age seventeen until his thirty-sixth year.

But vain was the terror of war whoops. His ancestors, who had seen other people rise tall - - and fall, now fell as flowers of thistle poppies on desert land.  When asked why he fought against USA,  he would say, "An Indian is an Indian."

Swift as an arrow his life catapulted from Indian to White Man culture.  In one of his poems he said,

"I love our old traditions
I love our golden west
I love our old traditions
But I love my country the best."

He became a doctor, then a lawyer, this Indian Chief who spoke five tongues.  This educated gentleman and accomplished musician, now no longer young, and tired of it all, joined a Wild West Show and, billed as The Apache Kid, performed a sharp-shooting act.

Here in the land of pine and hardwoods, following old moccasined trails, Chief Gray Horse aided by Boy Scouts, helped re-open eleven walking and riding trails which led to the Hot Springs.  He acted  as guide on the Gray Horse Route which went across Sugarloaf Mountain and out  Wildcat Road.

This man of many moons who left his shadow on our trails and on our hearts, was laid to rest in full Apache regalia. "An Indian is an Indian," we said.

But oh, I wish I had run and jumped on his horse the day he led our National Park Centennial Parade. I wish I had touched his braids.

 


YOU READ THE STORY OF GRAY HORSE ABOVE

Now Read The Rest of the Story...

THE UNTOLD STORY OF GRAY HORSE   
 

 


Credits:

 

The Story of Chief Benito Altaha Gray Horse by Sandra Long and Marcus Phillips and the poem, "An Indian is an Indian" by Verna Lee Hinegardner are from the  "Indian Folklore Atlas of Hot Springs National Park" (1994).  

 

Material for 'The Untold Story of Gray Horse' was provided by Napanee Louise Henrietta Gray Horse as given to Takatoka.

 


Indian Folklore Atlas of Hot Springs National Park

by Marcus Phillips and Sandra Long 

The Valley of the Vapors, Manataka -- The Place of Peace was never told as well before this excellent resource guide was written.  Well researched with dozens of references, this book contains the colorful history of Hot Springs and Indian legends of this sacred site. The Indian Folk Lore Atlas also serves as a tour guide with seven individual walking tours designed to take the visitor back in time to the actual locations where history was made.  This book is endorsed by the American Indian Center of Arkansas, the City of Hot Springs and the Garland County Historical Society.  Experts of the Caddo, Quapaw and Cherokee nations consulted on this book. A wonderful addition to any library.  Great for the coffee table. Dozens of maps and illustrations. 195 pp. Soft Cover.  $37.95 

 

 

 


 

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