Kenneth Looking Glass, a Comanche Vietnam veteran from Apache, Oklahoma, makes the trek to North Texas and elsewhere to drum and sing when called upon.
His drum, made of bull hide, is about 14 inches deep. Looking Glass’ son Jimbo, 40, also drums and sings. Both men have been singing and dancing since childhood.
Sometimes, they’ll drum in ceremonies at Traders Village, at the University of Texas at Arlington and in Waco, but Looking Glass was headed to Albuquerque, New Mexico, over Memorial Day weekend when he talked with the Dallas Observer.
“We powwow Southern style for fancy dancers, women in buckskin. We sing everything,” he says. “Fancy shawl or fancy war dance, Northern traditional men or ladies jingle dress, me and my son and whoever sings with us.”
Looking Glass says they’ve “been around long enough to learn all the songs,” including Comanche, Kiowa, Ponca, Pawnee and Oto. The 72-year-old has about 30 original songs, but they’re not available on CD.
“People want to record us,” he says. “But they want us to be under contract and not sing for nobody but them. I can’t do that. I can’t be isolated to somebody when I go all over the country.”
Looking Glass’ great-grandfather, Big Looking Glass, was also a traveling man. He traveled on horseback along the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast and into the Rocky Mountains and Mexico.
“If a white man seen him, they wouldn’t see him another day because he was wicked,” he says. “People were scared of him — even the Indians were. He was a warrior.”
Although his Native American elders didn’t like talking much about the past, Looking Glass says that by listening to their stories, he learned how his great-grandfather had ridden into Monterrey, Mexico, after it was raided.
“Whenever they got there,” he says, “all they did was bury their dead.”
Big Looking Glass gave a Mexican boy who had survived the raid to Watchacote, one of his braves, and told him to find someone to keep the boy. When no other survivors could be found, Big Looking Glass raised the boy as his son. He was trained as a warrior and became a great horseman. Later, when the boy became a teenager, members of the Kiowa tribe wanted to swap about half a dozen horses for the boy.
“My great grandpa said no,” Looking Glass says. “He’s not for sale. He’s my son. He’s not a captive.”
However, as the Kiowa were leaving, the boy told Big Looking Glass that he wanted him to have all the gifts, and he would go willingly with the Kiowa. After a pipe ceremony, Big Looking Glass accepted the gifts under the condition that the boy be treated well.
“They treated him good," Looking Glass says, “because he was a horse trainer. When he returned a year later, he had a child.”
The child became an educated man and asked his father where he came from because he spoke Kiowa, Comanche and Spanish. He discovered his father was from Monterrey, and his name was Stefan Stabler.
There were also stories of Big Looking Glass killing an alligator in the Mississippi River with a travois pole and keeping a tooth that would be taken out occasionally and ground for use in medicine.
“Because it was a big, powerful animal,” he explained, they would put it in their food and drink to take on the animal’s power.
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Looking Glass says his great-grandfather also rode out a storm with his horse inside a giant sea turtle shell near the Texas coast.
“He told his braves he and his horse went in a turtle house,” Looking Glass says. “This is family history. Nothing in books.”
Later, Looking Glass demonstrated his vocals in a gourd dance song and talked about how he enjoyed telling his stories and jokes at powwows.
“I just like meeting people, sharing my talent, my music,” he says.