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Homeland Security-Part 6

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Homeland Security-Part 6


Before contact with Europeans, the Comanche were part of the southern groups of Eastern Shoshoni that lived near the upper reaches of the Platte River in Eastern Wyoming. After acquiring the horse, groups of Comanche separated from the Shoshoni and began to move south sometime around 1700. COMANCHE HISTORY, Part one, Other groups followed at later dates 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 1740's, they began crossing the Arkansas River and established themselves on the margins of the Staked Plains, which extended from western Oklahoma across the Texas Panhandle into New Mexico. The area they controlled became known as Comancheria and extended south from the Arkansas River to the vicinity of San Antonio including the entire Edwards Plateau west to the Pecos River and then north following the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to the Arkansas.

At the time of their first separation from the Shoshoni, the Comanche probably numbered about 10,000. This increased dramatically as they migrated south and were joined later by additional groups of Eastern Shoshoni. They also added to their population by incorporating large numbers of women and children prisoners. Estimates for 1790 run as high as 20,000, but there was never an accurate count until the 1870's. Although the 1849 U.S. census of Indian tribes also gave this number, it was, at best a guess. Epidemics during the following two years had dropped this estimate to 12,000 by 1851. There were less than 8,000 Comanche by 1870. At the lowpoint in 1920, the census listed less than 1,500. Currently, 5,000 Comanche live near their tribal headquarters in Lawton, Oklahoma. Total enrollment is around 8,000. Of the three million acres promised the Comanche, Kiowa and Kiowa Apache by treaty in 1867, only 235,000 have remained in Indian hands. Of this, 4,400 acres are owned by the tribe itself.

The Comanche name is well-known, but its origin is uncertain. The Comanche language, Uto-Aztecan-Numic, is almost identical to Shoshoni which in turn is related to Ute and Paiute. Comanche were not a unified tribe in the usual sense of the word. There were from 8 to 12 independent divisions, which for the most part cooperated to some degree, but at other times were mutually antagonistic. In turn, each division could contain several semi- autonomous bands. For reasons known only to themselves, Comanche groups changed their names over the years. Division and band names often followed the Shoshoni custom of referring to a type of food.

Comanche are believed to have been the first Indians on the plains to utilize the horse extensively, and as such, they were the source for other plains tribes of the horses that made the buffalo culture possible, even for their enemies. Comanche herds also supplied Americans with mules for the southern cotton plantations and horses used to reach California during the 1849 gold rush. For these reasons, the Comanche were probably the most important tribe of the great plains. In spite of this, they have become something of a historical orphan. Texans do not like to talk about them because the memories are painful. Some writers have deliberately avoided the Comanche because it is a little awkward to describe them as victims; and others because Comanche society generally lacked the elaborate ceremony and ritual attractive to anthropologists.

Most early historical records are in Spanish and this led to "Comanche" being synonymous with "wild Indian". In many ways this reputation is deserved for they stole just about every horse and mule in New Mexico and in Texas. They also captured women and children from rival tribes and sold them to the Spanish as "servants". During the 1800's, they stole thousands of cattle which they sold in New Mexico. During the 17 and 1800's, they fought virtually every tribe on the Plains. Most of these wars were started because of the theft of Comanche horses. In addition to a very long list of enemies, the Comanche fought the Kiowa, Kiowa-Apache, Cheyenne and Arapaho but eventually formed lasting alliances with these former enemies.

It should be remembered that the Comanche were Shoshoni, who after acquiring the horse, migrated to the central and southern plains. The Comanche did not waste time on such as history in their experience, people who thought too much about these things starved. Within a few generations, they had lost all memory of their first horses. The horse radically changed the lives of the Comanche for the better. Beside its mobility, buffalo were easy to hunt, and mounted warriors enjoyed a tremendous advantage in warfare. Comanche skills on horseback quickly reached levels which exceeded those of Europeans. Their adaptation was more rapid and complete than that of their Shoshoni relatives and groups of Comanche began to separate and migrate south in order to get closer to the supply of horses in New Mexico. The practical-minded Comanche were going into the horse business.

They were tremendously successful in this. The Comanche were one of the few Indian peoples to learn how to breed their horses and their riding skills became the standard by which other plains tribes were judged. The Comanche epitomized the mounted plains warrior. Although they had acquired their first firearms as early as the 1740's, they continued to rely on the lance and the bow and arrow. These were not a disadvantage in mounted warfare. As moving targets they were difficult to hit, and if an enemy fired and had to reload, a Comanche could close rapidly with his lance or send six arrows into an opponent while hanging under the neck of a galloping horse. Male prisoners were almost always killed at the scene, but women and children were taken back to the village. Women were usually raped, enslaved and kept for ransom or sale as slaves. Children might also be sold but were often adopted and raised as part of the band. The Comanche made little distinction between natural-born and adopted members.

The staple food was buffalo, but their diet also included roots, wild vegetables and fruits gathered by the women. The buffalo provided just about everything they needed: clothing, tepee covers, thread, water carriers and tools. They definitely did not eat dogs and when the Comanche first encountered cannibalism among the tribes in eastern Texas, their reaction was almost the same as Europeans, except they had a more direct way of expressing disapproval. As a rule, they did not like or use the alcohol offered to them by white traders. The Comanche were a warrior society, and the men dominated. Women were not allowed to speak at council, and often were not free to chose whom they would marry. The men were polygamous, but an adulterous wife could be killed or have her nose cut off. Generally, a chief would not interfere in these private matters, even in cases of murder, unless absolutely necessary.

Of the great Comanche chiefs, Quanah Parker is probably the best known to Americans because his mother, Cynthia Parker, was captured in a raid in Texas, when she was nine years old, in 1836. Raised as a member of the band, she married a Comanche, and they had three children. She was recaptured in 1860, by Texas Rangers, and her husband killed. Quanah escaped and later became a leader among the Kwahada. Reunited with her white relatives, Cynthia only wished to return to her son and the Comanche. This was not allowed and she died in 1864. Among the Comanche, other chiefs were regarded as more important than Quanah. Among these were: Ten Bears, Red Sleeves, Green Horn, Iron Shirt, Leather Cape and Buffalo Hump.

QUANAH PARKER [1845-1890]

[by W. Jean Hurtado]

Quanah was chief of the Comanche Indians, who led his people against white settlers in an attempt to stop the slaughter of buffalo in the tribe’s homeland in Texas. Quanah surrendered to the U.S. Army in 1875. In June 1875, Quanah’s band moved to a reservation near Fort Sill, in what is now southwestern Oklahoma. Quanah encouraged his people to get an education and to farm the land. He also persuaded the Comanche to increase their income by leasing pastureland to white ranchers. Quanah obtained full U.S. citizenship for every member of his band long before other Indian chiefs did so for their people. Quanah was born near what is now Lubbock, Texas. He was the son of a Comanche chief Nokoni and of Cynthia Ann Parker, a white captive. The name comes from the Kwana, meaning fragrant. Quanah, Texas, was named for him.


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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