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Comanche Feats of Horsemanship (1834-1835) by George Catlin.

Comanche Tribe History is One of Conquest

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The history of the Native American Comanche tribe includes their move from ancestral homelands in Wyoming to more southerly parts and conquering new lands. They were then in turn conquered, after many struggles, by invading people of European descent.

The Comanche in the 1600s moved from the mountains in the North onto the Southern Plains. They came to dominate their new territory. They adopted the horse into their culture in the 17th century and quickly conquered vast tracts through subjugation and warfare.

The Comanche were a Shoshone tribe when they lived farther north. They speak an Uto-Aztecan language that is still the same as spoken by the Shoshone people of today. Their later territory to the south overlapped with several other tribes, whom they drove out through war. According to some reports, they nearly wiped out the Apache people.

Usually, the history of Native American tribes when they interact with Europeans is a tale of domination, slavery, displacement, and death —of the Indians. In the case of the Comanche, it’s different, at least for a time. They killed or forced out Pueblo, Apache, and Jumano Indians in the southern Plains.

Comanche warriors kept the Spanish from moving farther north in Texas and they kept the French from moving farther west from Louisiana. According to a story on NPR.com featuring author S.C. Gwynne, both coasts of the United States were settled before the central region primarily because of the Comanche.

A group of Comanche watch on a caravan travelling through a Trans Pecos valley in West Texas (1850) by Lee Arthur Tracy. (Public Domain)

A group of Comanche watch on a caravan travelling through a Trans Pecos valley in West Texas (1850) by Lee Arthur Tracy. ( Public Domain )

Comanche Wars, Comanche Torture

By many accounts, the Comanche were merciless in war, killing all adult male captives, killing babies and abducting children between the ages of 3 to 10. They also tortured captives, some accounts say. Comanche torture was described as brutal and included burning people.

The Comanche have been criticized for their brutality, but in many cases, it was no worse than what some Europeans were doing. The late Howard Zinn said in his book A People’s History of the United States that the Dutch introduced scalping to the New World. Also, the Comanche were fiercely resisting Europeans encroachment on their territory. And they succeeded. For a time.

A Comanche warrior named "Ako" and his horse, photographed 1892. (Public Domain)

A Comanche warrior named "Ako" and his horse, photographed 1892. ( Public Domain )

By the 1860s, the Americans had enough of a presence in the region to mount more forceful challenges against the Comanche. U.S. Army Col. Christopher “Kit” Carson made war on the Comanches in 1864 but was repelled.

But in 1865 the Comanche and allied Kiowa tribes entered into a treaty that gave them western Oklahoma. The United States government reneged and war broke out again in 1867. At the end of the hostilities, the Indians of the Comanche, Kiowa, and Kiowa Apache tribes signed an agreement to settle on a reservation in Oklahoma, some of which was stolen.

The U.S. government could not keep squatters off the Indian lands, and violent battles between Comanches and U.S. troops ensued. The wars lasted until the mid- to late-1870s.

Comanches of West Texas in war regalia. (Public Domain)

Comanches of West Texas in war regalia. ( Public Domain )

Comanche Territory

The Comanche were powerful on the southern Great Plains by the early 1800s. Their population then was estimated at between 7,000 and 30,000 people. They lived in several bands (tribes) based on kinship. They lived over a large swath of Texas and neighboring states. This area was known as Comancheria.

As Britannica states:

“Highly skilled Comanche horsemen set the pattern of nomadic equestrian life that became characteristic of the Plains tribes in the 18th and 19th centuries. Comanche raids for material goods, horses, and captives carried them as far south as Durango in present-day Mexico.”

‘Comanche Indians Chasing Buffalo with Lances and Bows’ (1849-1848) by George Catlin. (Public Domain)

‘Comanche Indians Chasing Buffalo with Lances and Bows’ (1849-1848) by George Catlin. ( Public Domain )

Comanche Food

The Comanche subsisted on buffalo or bison, a huge mammal that nearly went extinct because of over-hunting. The Comanche (and other tribes) ate the meat and made their tepee dwellings, clothing, and living utensils from bison parts.

In addition to bison, the Comanche ate elk, bear, deer and wild turkey. The women foraged for roots, vegetables and wild herbs, berries and fruits. If other foods were scarce they ate dried buffalo meat, which was known as pemmican.

‘Comanche tipi and warrior’ (1835) by George Catlin. (Public Domain)

‘Comanche tipi and warrior’ (1835) by George Catlin. ( Public Domain )

They also got involved in the bison-hide trade, through which they earned $3.50 for an individual hide.

Comanche Culture

Comanche weapons included the bow and arrow, knives, war clubs, hatchets or tomahawks and spears. When the Europeans came, they also obtained firearms.

Of Comanche religion, the site warpaths2peacepipes.com says :

“The religion and beliefs of the Comanche tribe was based on Animism that encompassed the spiritual or religious idea that the universe and all natural objects animals, plants, trees, rivers, mountains rocks etc have souls or spirits. The Great Plains tribes such as the Comanche believed in Manitou, the Great Spirit.”

The Comanche, like other Great Plains Indians, did sun dances, vision quests, and used sweat lodges. At sacred ceremonies, they passed the peace pipe with tobacco . It was called the peace pipe because smoking it often sealed a peace treaty. The pipe was also used in religious ceremonies and war councils.

Fort Worth - Original Drawing of Comanche Indians. (Drriss & Marrionn/CC BY NC SA 2.0)

Fort Worth - Original Drawing of Comanche Indians. (Drriss & Marrionn/ CC BY NC SA 2.0 )

Today, there are an estimated 20,000 Comanche people, many of them living in Oklahoma.

Top Image: Comanche Feats of Horsemanship (1834-1835) by George Catlin. Source: Public Domain

By Mark Miller

Comments

Gary Moran's picture

Uninformed readers could be led to believe that Commanches were responsible for exterminating buffalo – not true. They killed ones as needed and utilized almost every part of the carcass as part of their survival. Millions of those magnificent animals were slaughtered by anglo hunters (think Buffalo Bill) for nothing more than their hides. Their bodies were left on the plains to rot until some years later many of the bones were collected and sold for fertilizer.

How much money is sufficient to compensate for the years of suffering, misery, and indignities heaped upon the peoples who populated the Americas before the arrival of Europeans? In many cases, knowledge that was much more advanced than anywhere else in the world was discarded and destroyed, and innumerable wealth and art was plundered and stolen. 

Edward Hanson wrote on 3 October, 2018 - 15:07: Really!!! Post passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, the faux federally recognized Indian tribes have been on the federal welfare rolls. As of 2015, that welfare costs taxpayers $20-billion per year plus gaming and business revenue from the tribes; and yet, all that whining out of these faux Indian reservation is 'victimhood scenarios!' Where does the billions yearly in taxpayer dollars go? Faux Indian tribes receive free housing, health care, education and food paid for by taxpayers that achieves what? Perpetual welfare? No Indian Advocate wants the taxpayer to have any accountability of $20-billion per year nor do any of the Indian advocates want taxpayers to know of this article...the article debunks the myth being foisted off on the taxpayer to keep pouring money into tribal pockets...Mr. Hanson, where does the billions in taxpayer dollars go every year? Secondly, Mr. Hanson, where are the enumerated powers in the United States Constitution for the existence of U.S.C. Title 25-INDIANS?

PAUL R. JONES:
You are quite mistaken in your assumptions about "Indian advocates" and quite arrogantly so.

Mark Miller: Well written article. Of course, you will be vilified by Indian advocates as a heretic. Pointing out to non-Indian readership that many but not all Indian tribes waged brutal wars against other Indian tribes to the point of genocide of the other Indian combatants is not a topic the current Indian advocates want published.

An honest article showing that although native americans have lost land to white people they did the same to other tribes with as must effect ... after all they nearly exterminated the Apache. It is time for all races to realize they are no better than the current enemy of white skins which currently dominate the planet. (and
by the AO why do we have to do seven Captcha exercises to get a submission?)

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