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Calvert Nevaquaya plays traditional Comanche flute music.
The native North American people known as the Comanche played an important role in the lives of the settlers of west Texas in the 1860s, most notably by raiding their horses and terrorizing their communities. The American colonization of Texas inevitably created war with the Comanche, the Lords of the Texas Plains. White settlement made the Indian way of life impossible; the Indian way prevented American land use, crops and cattle.
The name Comanche is one not chosen by this Shoshone people, but in fact what their rivals, the Ute's called them, "our enemies." They refer to themselves as Nermernuh, or The People. Up until the 1700s, when horses introduced by the Spanish to America had spread throughout the middle of the continent, the Comanche were an obscure Shoshone-speaking tribe eking out a poor living in the Snake River region of southern Idaho and in the mountains of Wyoming. The tribe members were small game hunters and gatherers. The harshness of the country kept their numbers small.
The arrival of the horse created a new lifestyle for the Comanche, allowing them to successfully hunt bison for the first time -- not so easily done on foot. Eleven tribes adopted the "Plains Culture", in other words, a nomadic existence following herds and living entirely off the buffalo. Shifting into a horse and hunting culture, the Comanche moved out upon the plains, then southward into eastern Colorado, western Kansas and Oklahoma, northeastern New Mexico, and above all, northwest Texas, the largest repository of bison on the continent. This placed the Comanche close to Spanish settlement -- the primary source of horses.
During their independent history, no Comanche planted a seed or made a permanent settlement. The Spanish mustang, thriving on grass, allowed them to live off buffalo, their staff of life. Whether by raid or trade, the Comanche became the most successful horse breeders among the Plains Indians. They rode horses, they hunted on horses, they lived on horses. They also made war on horseback. The horse created military power. It made Comanche bands peculiarly effective and deadly. The average warrior had as many as 15 head and a successful war chief might own 150. This mobility allowed long-range raiding, which the Comanche took up early. All the Plains tribes were warlike, but Comanche were more lethal. Other peoples such as Apaches or Lakota or Cheyenne rode horse to battle but dismounted to fight on foot. The Comanche fought entirely from horseback.
The Comanche became predators. They seized other peoples' territories in Texas, fought every other people except the Kiowa and virtually exterminated the eastern Apaches. They raided into Mexico to steal horses at first, found it paid off, and made it a way of life. This was never for territory, just fame and loot. Each warrior took along several mounts, allowing war parties to strike hundreds of miles into European settlements, to kill, burn, steal, and then ride another hundred miles without stopping. Infantry was ineffective against them; heavy European cavalry (with fewer grain-demanding horses) could not keep up. The Comanche use of bow and arrow, also, was so much more effective than black powder warfare that they discarded muskets by 1800. A warrior could loose a dozen arrows during the reloading of a single-shot firearm. A 19th century U.S. cavalry officer called them the "best light cavalry in the world."
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