The First Comanche
Chevato himself was born Lipan Apache, but, in about 1893, he was adopted into Quanah Parker
's band of the Comanche tribe in an effort to leave the Mescalero Agency reservation. Adoption is a practice the Native American culture has used throughout history to “replenish tribal numbers and care for older, childless members,” wrote William Chebahtah and Nancy Minor in the book Chevato
According to family oral history and the aforementioned book, Chevato enlisted as a scout in March 1883 in Fort Stanton, New Mexico, probably as a way to feed his family. According to a historical report, many of the tribal members on the reservation were starving, as the government did not appropriate funds to pay for their rations. Upon enlistment, the Army gave new scouts each $5 with which to make purchases at the commissary.
Chevato was attached to Troop B, 4th U.S. Cavalry Regiment, under the command of Capt. John Lee. Chevato's first assignment was to accompany Lt. George Gale and his troops on a futile search for Indians who had left their reservations. His enlistment was extended, and a portion of the company was detached to accompany Lt. Thomas Symons, an Army engineer who was tasked with surveying the international boundary between the United States and Mexico. While scouting for Symons, Chevato was asked to serve as an interpreter for Geronimo's parley, one of the military's unsuccessful attempts to get Geronimo and his band to agree to live on a reservation. Chevato ended up not being needed, but the Army allowed him to stay and listen. He then left to finish scouting with the surveyors. This was the end of his first enlistment.
In September 1885, the cavalry sent another scouting party from Fort Stanton to the Mescalero Agency reservation to search for signs of Geronimo's band. Chevato re-enlisted, and, together with four other Indians, served as a scout under Lt. Thomas Cruse, attached to Troop D, 6th U.S. Cavalry Regiment. When the final campaign against Geronimo was launched in 1886, Chevato and his brother, Dinero, helped patrol southern New Mexico, closing off any escape avenues Geronimo might try to use, and marching a total of 493 miles. At some point during his time as an Indian scout, according to his pension paperwork, Chevato was shot in the right hip and shoulder, but the the paperwork provides no dates or other details. He was discharged shortly after Geronimo was captured in September 1886. Chevato then returned to the Mescalero Agency reservation to continue his civilian occupation as a policeman.
According to family history, Chevato is the only Comanche known to have been awarded the Indian War Campaign Medal for service during the Apache Campaign, but because different military officers completed his paperwork, his records were filed under several different names.
“The name Billie Chebahtah was given me by the officer who enrolled me or by the superintendent of the [Mescalero] Agency. That was the name under which I was enrolled,” Chevato was recorded saying Oct. 14, 1926, during his interrogation for a pension. “Chebahtah has been my family name ever since.”
Under this new name, Chevato's descendants have followed his example of service, and at least one person has worn a uniform in every generation since. In fact, the Chebahtah family boasts the most veterans in the Comanche tribe. And as each of us has, in turn, raised our hands to support and uphold the Constitution of the United States, it has been with Chevato's advice echoing in our minds.
“You've got this little thing,” Chevato told his grandsons when they became warriors. “A lot of people call it a conscience. A lot of people call it instinct. I call it instinct. What you have to do is listen to that voice within yourself. If you ever go into combat, you must listen to that voice. And never hesitate.”