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Lords of the Southern Plains

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The Comanche originated relatively recently. Around 1700 a group of Southern Shoshoni broke away from the Eastern Shoshoni and traveled to the south as the Eastern Shoshoni moved west into the mountains. Both groups moved as a result of pressure from the Sioux who themselves had only recently moved under pressure onto the Northern Plains. It was the introduction of the horse that enabled the group that came to be known as the Comanche to move south.

Before European contact, the Comanche had lived near the upper reaches of the Platte River in Eastern Wyoming. After acquisition of the horse, additional groups broke away from the Shoshoni up to about 1830. For the next 50 years most groups of Comanche were located between the Platte and Arkansas Rivers in eastern Colorado and western Kansas. In the 1740s they began to cross the Arkansas River and established themselves on the Staked Plains, an area that extended from western Oklahoma across the Texas Panhandle into New Mexico.

By 1790 population estimates for them ran as high as 20,000. By 1870 there were less than 8,000 and the 1920 census showed less than 1,500. The culture of the Plains Indians was so expanded after their introduction to the horse that they were able to resist the encroachment of the white intruders better than other Indian tribes. The Comanche observed the Spanish methods of training and handling domesticated horses and so began to acquire horses as well as develop horsemanship. The Comanche became the finest of horsemen. Thus enabled, the Comanche could carry out raids deep into Mexico.

1640 to 1880 has been called the era of the Indian Horse Culture. To put it in perspective, so far, the United States democracy has lasted about 30 years less than the Indian Horse Culture. In this era, the Comanche acted as brokers to the northern tribes, providing horses fully domesticated including ready to ride. While hunting was still a necessity of life for the Indians, acquisition of horses brought endurance, mobility and speed. Following the herds of buffalo was greatly simplified. Children and elders who in the past slowed the tribes progress were mounted or tied onto saddles. Belongings were loaded onto other horses and as many as 50 miles could be covered in a day. The size of the horse allowed the Indian to acquire larger lodges and more possessions than was possible when dogs were used for transportation.

Multi-colored horses created a flamboyant effect that the Indians liked. A particular type of pinto was developed by them and was known as the Medicine Hat or War Bonnet because of the markings over its body. A special mystique surrounded this horse and a Comanche warrior believed himself invincible if he rode one into battle. A simple color phase of the Spanish mustang, this war-horse was desired by all the Comanche, who considered them sacred and possessed them in great numbers.

Horses became a source of trade for the Comanche, who exchanged them for such items as exotic furs and white buffalo skins from the Northern tribe, to guns and powder from the first white traders and trappers who entered the region. The Spaniards refused to trade with these merchants, thereby putting the Comanche, who viewed the traders as friends, in the role of middleman. Indian camps were surrounded by horses of every shape, size and color.

In 1719 the Comanche were mentioned under their Siouan name living in what is now west Kansas. They were friendly with Americans generally, but became bitter enemies of Texans, who dispossessed them of their best hunting grounds and waged a relentless war against them for 40 years. They have been allies of the Kiowa since about 1795 and in 1835 they made peace with the Government. By the treaty of Medicine Lodge in 1867 their assigned reservation was between the Washita and Red rivers, but it was not until the last outbreak of the southern plains tribes that they finally settled on it.

They were long noted the best horsemen of the plains and bore a reputation for dash and courage,. a high sense of honor and held themselves superior to the other tribes with whom they associated.

In 1876 General Sheridan sent a telegram to the War Department requesting permission to sell Indian ponies that had been either captured or surrendered and the funds from the sale to be used to buy cattle for the Indiajns at the proper time. His objective was to get the horse away from the Indians, as had been the government policy when horses had been confiscated illegally from several Northern tribes to bring those tribes under control. This, along with the slaughter of the buffalo brought the Comanche Horse Culture to a halt and ended the era of Comanche Rule over the Southern Plains.

Probably the best known chief of the Comanche was and is Quana Parker. He was the son of Nokoni and Cynthia Parker a white girl captured when she was 12 and later married to Nokoni. .Quana was born in about 1845. Cynthia with a younger infant was captured thereafter and returned to Texas where both soon died. Quana grew up with the tribe and with the death of his father rapidly rose to commanding influence.

The Kwahadi band, the wildest and most hostile portion of the tribe, refused to enter into the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867 and continued to be a disturbing element until 1874 when in consequence of the depredations of an organized company of white buffalo hunters Quana led 700 warriors against the buffalo hunters. The hunters had a small field piece which they used to such good effect that the Indians were obliged to retire with considerable losses. The war continued along the border south of Kansas until the middle of the next year, when, being hard pressed by troops, most of the hostiles surrendered. Quana, however, however, ke4pt his band out upon the staked plain for two years longer, when he also, came in.

Recognizing the inevitable, he set about making the best of the new conditions and still being young and with the inherited intelligence of his white ancestry, he quickly adapted himself so well to the white man’s way as to become a most efficient factor in leading his people to civilization as seen by the white man. Because of his influence, his confederated tribes adopted the policy of leasing the surplus pasture lands, by which a large annual income was added to their revenues. He popularized education, encouraged house building and agriculture, and discouraged savage extravagances, while holding strictly to his native beliefs and ceremonies in his tribe. Polygamy being customary for men in his tribe, he had several wives and a number of children, all of whom received a proper education.

For nearly 30 years he was the most prominent and influential figure among the three confederated tribes, the Comanche, Cheyenne and Kiowa, in all leases, treaty negotiations and other public business with the government, and in this capacity made repeated visits to Washington. Beside his native language, he spoke both English and Spanish.


Ambrose, Stephen E. Undaunted Courage, Simon & Schuster, 1996

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An OEN Editor. Born-03/20/1934, BA Pol. Sci.-U of Washington-1956, MBA-Seattle U-1970, Boeing-Program Control-1957-1971, State of Oregon-Mental Health Division-Deputy Admistrator-1971-1979, llinois Association of Community MH (more...)
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