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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

SANAPIA (1895‒1979).

Comanche eagle medicine woman Mary Poafpybitty, known as Sanapia, was born in spring 1895 in a tipi in a Comanche encampment near Fort Sill, Oklahoma Territory (O.T.). The family had traveled there from Medicine Park, O.T., to receive federal government rations. She was the sixth of eleven children born to David (Comanche) and Chappy (Comanche and Arapaho) Poafpybitty. When Sanapia was a child, her maternal uncle healed her from influenza. He made her promise to become a medicine woman and named her “Memory Woman,” so that she would remember her responsibility.

Sanapia had a strong relationship with her maternal grandmother, who lived with them. Believing that Sanapia would have a long life and that she needed to save her feet, her grandmother carried her for many years. Sanapia learned about Comanche history from her grandmother, who repeated oral stories that had been handed down from previous generations.

Sanapia’s father embraced Christianity and white culture, while her mother was a medicine woman and kept the traditional Comanche ways. As a child Sanapia attended Cache Creek Mission School. During summer breaks her mother and maternal uncle taught her about herbal medicines. As a teenager she received training in the knowledge and ethics of becoming a medicine woman as well as diagnosing illnesses. To attain supernatural powers she endured long periods of solitary meditation as well as spiritual nurturing from her mother. Through several rituals using red cedar, eagle feathers, and a medicine song, Sanapia’s mother transferred power to Sanapia to become a Comanche eagle doctor.

An arranged first marriage to Clayton Bert Weryavah on June 14, 1911, produced two sons, only one of whom reached maturity. The marriage ended unhappily. In 1918 Sanapia married Jerry Saupitty, with whom she had several children. Saupitty died on August 10, 1948. Sometime after 1948 she married Joey Neido, a Comanche. They had no children together.

By tradition Sanapia could not begin her healing practice until she reached menopause. She utilized both botanical and nonbotanical medicines. Prominent among her botanicals were sneezeweed, mescal bean, rye grass, iris, and broomweed. Nonbotanicals came from dead animal parts such as beef fat, porcupine quills, white otter fur, and fossilized bone. She also used peyote and the Bible in her practice. Thus, she combined elements of her mother’s traditional Comanche medicine methods, her father’s Christianity, and her maternal uncle’s peyotism from the Native American Church. One of her specialties was healing people suffering from “ghost disease,” which was caused by contact with a ghost. Sanapia believed that ghosts were the spirits of evil dead people who were destined to eternally wander the earth.

Before her death Sanapia allowed anthropologist David E. Jones to write about her life and medical traditions. Jones’s book, Sanapia: Comanche Medicine Woman, was published in 1972. He estimated that she treated approximately six patients with ghost sickness and twenty patients with various other maladies per year. She was expected to accept what the patients could pay, which included money, food, tobacco, and dark green cloth. The last two were used in her healing rituals.

Known as the last Comanche medicine woman, Sanapia died on January 23, 1979, in Lawton, Oklahoma, following a long illness. She was buried in Cache Creek Cemetery where her parents and most of her siblings are buried. Her obituary stated that she was a member of the Mount Scott United Methodist Church.

Linda D. Wilson


Gretchen M. Bataille and Laurie Lisa, eds., Native American Women: A Biographical Dictionary (NY: Routledge, 2001).

David E. Jones, Sanapia: Comanche Medicine Woman (NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1972).

David LaVere, “Friendly Persuasions: Gifts and Reciprocity in Comanche-Euroamerican Relations,” The Chronicles of Oklahoma 71 (Fall 1993).

Claudeen E. McAuliffe, “Sanapia,” in Sharon Malinowski, ed., Notable Native Americans (NY: Gale Research, Inc., 1995).

Timothy E. Williamson, “Sanapia,” in Phyliss G. Jestice, Holy People of the World: A Cross-cultural Encyclopedia (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2004).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Linda D. Wilson, “Sanapia,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=SA031.

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