Skip navigation

I was fortunate enough to be able to share this amazing story of a Kiowa captive. Sure, it’s been told before but this was to be the first time told from the Native American side of things. If you’ve ever seen “The Searchers,” this is its source story … but way cooler.



Courtesy photo
A rare photo of Millie Durgan late in her life. She was taken in 1864 from her Texas home at 18 months and lived a lifetime as a Kiowa woman before passing in 1934.

The Legend of Millie Durgan


The tale of Millie Durgan is one woven from the fabric of many stories.

Elements have been told through time, including in the noted book “The Searchers,” which inspired a movie that starred John Wayne.

But Candy Kauley Morgan, a descendant of Millie Durgan, said this is the first time the Native American — specifically, Kiowa — story has been told.

Scott Rains/staff
A historical sign sharing Millie Durgan’s story was put in place on Oklahoma 19 approximately 20 years ago.

“I am the great-great-granddaughter of Kiowa captive Millie Durgan,” Morgan said. “She was 18 months old when Kiowa warriors raided her grandmother’s ranch, where she was living with her Irish family in 1864 near Fort Belknap, Texas.”

The saga begins shortly before the end of the Civil War. It takes place during a peak in the battle between Native Americans who had been living on this continent for centuries and an encroaching new nation.

On Oct. 13, 1864, several hundred Kiowa and Comanche Indians raided home sites in the Elm Creek valley of western Young County, Texas. The Fitzpatrick Ranch was one. It belonged to Durgan’s grandmother and was where the baby was living with her grandmother, her mother and older sister, Charlottie, Morgan said. A family of freed slaves also lived on the ranch.


Courtesy photo
Millie Durgan’s oldest sister, Charlottie following her return from less than a year as a Kiowa captive. She had tribal tattoos on her face and arms but was able to assimilate back into Texas society.


During the attack, the Kiowas killed Millie Durgan’s mother and a member of the ranch hand’s family, then took anything of value and set the ranch house on fire, Morgan said. One of the warriors returned to the house as it was burning and found little Millie crawling out from under a bed.

“That man was Au-Soant-Sai-Mah, a noted Kiowa warrior and a partner of Kiowa chief Set-Ankeah (Sitting Bear) or Satank,” Morgan said. “Both of these men were members of the Ko-eet-senko, a warrior society composed of the 10 bravest members of the tribe.”

Au-Soant-Sai-Mah and his wife were childless, so he put Millie on his horse and took her back to their camp and she became their daughter.

“He picked her up and saw her frightened gray eyes and his sympathy and interest was aroused; he thought of his wife and decided to take the girl home,” Morgan said. “He held her in his arms, took her on his horse and cared for her on the long furious dash back to the Wichitas.”

“Millie’s mother, Sue, and a son of Mary Johnson were killed during the raid,” she said.

Durgan’s grandmother, Elizabeth Ann Anderson Carter Fitzpatrick; uncle; oldest sister Charlottie (Lottie) Elizabeth Durgan; and four people from the ranch hand’s family — Mary Johnson and her three children: Jube, Lottie and John, were also captured by the Kiowas — Morgan said. Millie’s uncle was eventually killed. Within a year her grandmother and Lottie were returned. The girl had tribal tattoos on her face and arms. They assimilated back into their lives as settlers, Morgan said. Durgan, however, became Kiowa.

Public domain image
John Wayne’s character, Britt Johnson in the movie “The Searchers,” was based on Mary Johnson’s husband, a freed slave and ranch foreman, who was instrumental in obtaining the release of the captives other than Millie Durgan from the Elm Creek raid in 1864.

In the movie, John Wayne’s character, Britt Johnson, was based on Mary Johnson’s husband, who was instrumental in obtaining the release of the captives, Morgan said.

“He (Johnson) traded food blankets and other things for the release of his wife and children, Mrs. Fitzpatrick and Lottie (Millie’s grandma and sister),” Morgan said. “That movie is thought to be about Cynthia Ann Parker, but actually the producers researched several stories about captures, including my great-great-grandmother’s story.”

Durgan led a remarkably different existence than most Kiowa captives, Morgan said.

“It was customary that captives lead a rather hard life and were not much better off than slaves — that wasn’t the case for Millie,” Morgan said. “She was adopted into the tribe and treated well by her new family.”

J.T. Goombi, another Durgan descendant, told how Durgan received her Kiowa name of Sain-To Hoodle. “That means ‘She Killed A Cow,’” Goombi said. “Kids stirred up the livestock and they came running through camp and she grabbed one around the neck and, I guess, she killed it trying to hold it still.”

Identity concealed

Durgan was raised among traditional Kiowa customs, and Kiowa was the only language she knew, Morgan said. She married a Kiowa named Goombi and her true identity was not known until three years before her death in 1934. Goombi was a scout with Troop L, 7th Cavalry, stationed at Fort Sill. Goombi — also Goomby or Gumby — was her third husband. He was born in 1849 and died in 1908, and from their union came eight children: Mary, Minnie, Jennie, Lillian, Jane, Ellen, Mary and Joseph. Morgan is a descendant of Ellen. Durgan’s first marriage was to Pe-ahtone-ty. They were married in the Kiowa custom and did not have any children, Morgan said. He died before allotment. Her second marriage was to Maun-kau-pate and he also died. They had one son, Au-tau-bo, also known as George Goomby.

J.T. Goombi said Durgan’s light skin and fair hair color were things she hid about herself through most of her life. She would peel green walnut shells and rub the inside onto her skin to stain it darker. When she went in public to deal with white people, she would cover herself with a blanket to remain barely visible underneath.

The Rainy Mountain Indian Baptist Church near Mountain View is where Durgan’s spiritual legacy was forged for her generations to follow, Morgan said.

“When the Baptist missionaries came to Rainy Mountain she refused to take up their religion,” Morgan said. “She was brought up in the Indian religion and had a firm belief in the old idols and medicines.”

Legacy of faith

The Baptist missionaries wooed her with the sewing circles that took place in the fellowship hall, Morgan said. She enjoyed the activity and she was quilting at the church well before she ever became a Christian, she said. That conversion had an effect on the family line as several teachers, including Morgan’s father, Reuben Kauley, have become preachers.

“All her children adopted the Christian religion and at the death of her youngest son she became a Christian so she could meet her children in the afterlife,” Morgan said. “Her legacy is my family’s faith.”


Scott Rains/staff
Millie Durgan’s grave in the Rainy Mountain KCA Cemetery is shaded under a cedar tree’s broad trunk and hovering canopy that stands as timeless as her story.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Reunion to link long-separated branches of Durgan family tree


MOUNTAIN VIEW — A tale of two sisters will write a new chapter this weekend in the Kiowa homelands near Rainy Mountain.

A reunion more than a century in the making is set for the family of Kiowa captive Millie Durgan Goombi and the descendants of her Irish family. The meeting will take place during the 2013 Durgan Family Reunion, Friday through Sunday, at Rainy Mountain Kiowa Indian Baptist Church near Mountain View.

“When Millie was captured, I guess today you’d call it kidnapping, she had a 7- or 8-year-old sister, Charlottie,” said J.T. Goombi, a descendant of Durgan.

Millie’s grandmother, uncle, sister, and people from the ranch hand’s family were also captured by the Kiowas during a raid in the Elm Creek valley of West Texas in 1864. Within a year her grandmother and sister, Charlottie, were returned. The sisters never reunited.

Descendants of both Millie and Charlottie’s families will have their first personal meeting at the Durgan Reunion, said Candy Kauley Morgan, great-great-granddaughter of Durgan. James Hewitt of Roseburg, Ore., and Jerrianne Meyers of Kernville, Calif., are the great-grandchildren of Charlottie.

 family 2
Scott Rains/staff
Florence Emhoolah, J.T. Goombi and L.B. Poor Buffalo gather around a table filled with old family photos one recent Saturday as they and other family members helped prepare the Rainy Mountain Kiowa Baptist Church and cemetery grounds for this weekend’s family reunion.

A connection via Facebook with Hewitt brought them into contact with their long-unknown kin.

“They have spent years researching their Kiowa cousins and will represent Charlottie’s side of the family at the reunion,” Morgan said. “A full three days of events are planned and family members are encouraged to camp at the church.”

Durgan’s descendants are looking forward to sharing their story — a Kiowa story — with the prodigal brethren.

Goombi, Morgan, L.B. Poor Buffalo and Florence Emhoolah gathered around a table filled with old family photos one recent Saturday as they and other family members helped prepare the church and cemetery grounds for reunion.

“When you talk about her real story, all you have is a collective of stories told by others,” Goombi said. “I never got to see her or interact with her.”

“Old people didn’t like to talk about those who passed on; they considered it taboo,” he said. “We had a lot of taboos.”

The idea of meeting these newly discovered relatives offers hope of learning more about who they are in a different way.

“That’s going to be interesting,” Goombi said. “Maybe there are more pieces to the puzzle.”

Scott Rains/staff
J.T. Goombi remembers the large three story house as being the central hub for his Kiowa family growing up. Crumbling in a wheat field outside of Mountain View, the frame offers flights of thought to visions of a grand structure bustling with life not so many decades ago.

They remembered a large, three-story house on the other side of Rainy Mountain. In the traditional ways, cousins were considered siblings and elder relatives were parents.

“That’s where we all come from,” Poor Buffalo said. “We were there all the time, getting caught by Grandma getting into the cellar or sneaking into the attic — kids didn’t go up there.”

“It seemed to me to be the biggest house in the world,” he said.

Goombi remembers a big wedding that took place in the large front room, the dining room filled with a Beverly Hillbillies-size table. A bride walked up an enormous staircase into this mansion on the prairie.

In the cut, wet wheat, some Kiowa kids beat Wrigley to the punch and created their own kind of spearmint chewing gum.

“We’d take some of that cut wheat and wild mint that grew out there by the well and chew it,” Goombi said. “We made spearmint gum first. We were creative.”

A trip out to the homestead reveals a crumbling concrete structure in the middle of a field east of Mountain View. The large, columnar walls rise exposed amid a sea of freshly harvested wheat, its rusty rebar red from exposure to time. You can still imagine its grandeur when you walk up to it and take in its full scale.

The stories live on through the elders and the younger generations finding who they are. In the age of the Internet, some connections are more easily made than in the past.

Scott Rains/staff
The Rainy Mountain Indian Baptist Church near Mountain View is where Millie Durgan’s spiritual legacy was forged for generations to follow. It will be the site for this weekend’s family reunion activities.

Morgan said it was finding Hewitt online and their following correspondence that kicked the idea of the reunion into gear. He has family history and records to share, as do the many descendants of Durgan. The family now numbers around 500, she said.

As her descendants stood near Durgan’s grave in the Rainy Mountain Cemetery west of the church, a cedar tree’s broad trunk and hovering canopy stood as timeless as this story — a reunion of a family split apart and ready to reunite almost a century and a half later. Following the family split, many from the white side believed the lost girl had died.

“There are stories of Millie dying in infancy, or some variation of that,” Morgan said. “But that can’t be. Look at us, we’re right here. We’re her family.”


One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] The Story of Millie Durgan * Beyond “The Searchers”. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: