Texas History
The Mystery of Sain-toh-oodie Goombi
Captured as a toddler, woman lives 66 years with Kiowa family

Sain-toh-oodie Goombi was believed to be Millie Durgan, kidnapped at 18 months old.
Archive photo

Among the fascinating stories from the collision of cultures in 19th-century Texas are those about the children of settler families kidnapped by Native Americans. Some, like Cynthia Ann Parker, mother of Comanche leader Quanah Parker, were unable to readjust to “civilization” after adopting native ways. Cynthia Ann, who did not willingly return to the white world, mourned the separation from her Comanche family for the rest of her life.

Other narratives, such as the story of Sain-toh-oodie Goombi, ended more peacefully. In 1930, long after she had married into a Kiowa family in Oklahoma and was blessed with several grandchildren, Goombi became convinced that she was actually Millie Durgan.

Durgan was 18 months old in 1864 when she was taken by Kiowa and Comanche who raided Elm Creek settlements in present Young County in north Central Texas.

Blue-eyed Goombi had been told early in life that she was white, but she adapted so well to Kiowa life that she didn’t think of returning. Later, though, she began to wonder about her birth family.

Goombi in Literature

Sain-toh-oodie Goombi makes a cameo appearance in The Color of Lightning by Utopia-based novelist Paulette Jiles. Britt Johnson’s trek north of the Red River is brought to life in the novel, and the Indians maintain to Johnson and government agents that Millie Durgan is dead.

 

Jiles’ newest novel, News of the World, also about a Kiowa captive, was nominated for a National Book Award.

In a 1955 letter to Dallas Morning News columnist Frank X. Tolbert, Ben Brothers of Mount Enterprise recalled how the Goombi-Durgan connection was established years earlier. In 1930, Brothers, who had been a friend of Quanah Parker, was in Lawton, Oklahoma, for the unveiling of a monument to Cynthia Ann Parker. One of Goombi’s daughters, Mrs. George Hunt, shared a secret with Brothers. She said her mother was a white woman and asked Brothers if he might help Goombi find her family members. He replied that even though it sounded like a tough assignment, he was good at reading signs and following a trail.

After reading up on Indian raids, Brothers decided there was a good chance that Goombi might be Durgan. He learned that a former slave named Britt Johnson had tracked the Elm Creek raiders into the Indian Territory and rescued his family. But the Kiowa claimed that Durgan, taken in the same raid, was dead.

Brothers contacted history-minded folks in Young County and Comanche County, Oklahoma. After consultations with George Poolaw, Kiowa historian and keeper of tribal “picture records,” all agreed that Goombi must be the Durgan girl. Soon, Goombi, who presumably had been carried from Texas 66 years earlier as a toddler, left her home in Mountain Park, Oklahoma, to visit the people among whom she once lived.

In Newcastle, Texas, Goombi and family members were warmly received by the Kutch-Manning Pioneer Association. Son-in-law George Hunt served as interpreter because Goombi could speak only Kiowa. On the stage of the high school auditorium, her grandchildren performed Kiowa dances and songs. The group repeated the program in Archer City and Olney, and Goombi spoke on Wichita Falls radio. Barbara A. Neal Ledbetter, who witnessed the Newcastle presentation, said the Kiowa party also traveled to Austin, where Goombi met Gov. Dan Moody.

Though Ledbetter argued in her 1982 book, Fort Belknap Frontier Saga, that the “leathery bronze-skinned woman” was not Durgan, Goombi toured North Texas annually until her death in 1934, meeting the public and soothing long-simmering interracial enmity with her grandchildren’s smiling faces and performances. While in Jacksboro, she visited Fort Richardson, where she learned about the trials and imprisonment of Kiowa chiefs Satank, Big Tree and Satanta for the Warren Wagon Train Raid of 1871. The Paducah Post reported that the program included “war dancing, round dancing and numerous songs sung in Kiowa and English.”

While later being treated for pneumonia at a Fort Sill hospital, Goombi told Western historian W.S. Nye that she wanted to go home for her “die day.” Because one of Goombi’s late husbands had been a scout for the U.S. Army, Nye arranged for a bugler to play taps, and an American flag was draped over her casket.

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Gene Fowler specializes in Texas history.