Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

SANAPIA (1895-1984)

Sanapia (Memory Woman), the last known Comanche Eagle Doctor, was born at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in the spring of 1895. She was one of the most powerful Native women in the Plains during the middle decades of the twentieth century. Her father was a converted Christian and her mother was a traditional Comanche-Arapaho. Sanapia's mother, maternal uncle, and maternal grandmother were Eagle Doctors, and her grandmother reared the girl in traditional Comanche ways.

From ages seven to thirteen Sanapia was educated at the Cache Creek Mission School in southern Oklahoma. Thereafter, she began training with her mother. She was reluctant at first, but her uncle had cured her of influenza as a child and had made her promise to pursue training as an Eagle Doctor when she was older. He named her Memory Woman to remind her of her pledge. Training included learning herbal medicine, healing skills (including sucking), and eagle power. Tradition, however, stipulated that she could not begin practicing until after menopause.

Sanapia was married three times, the first time, briefly, at the age of seventeen. When her second husband (with whom she had two children) died in the 1930s, Sanapia's grief led her to a period of drinking, gambling, and depression. In 1945 she healed a child at her sister's behest, and subsequently she assumed her role as an Eagle Doctor. She eventually incorporated elements of the Native American Church and Christianity into her traditional teachings.

By the 1960s she was the last surviving Comanche Eagle Doctor with maximum powers. Concerned that she would not be able to pass on her powers before dying, she allowed anthropologist David E. Jones to write an account of her life and her healing powers. They produced a book in 1972, which she hoped would serve as a training manual for the future generations.

See also NATIVE AMERICANS: Comanches.

Akim D. Reinhardt Towson University

Jones, David E. Sanapia, Comanche Medicine Woman. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972.

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