“I do not think this legislature should interfere with a man’s religion, also these people should be allowed to retain this health restorer. These healthy gentleman before you use peoti [peyote] and those that do not use it are not so healthy.”– Chief Quanah Parker-(Before the Oklahoma legislature, in defense of the Comanche use of peyote during their religious ceremonies.)
Before contact with Europeans, the Comanches 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, Comanche groups separated from the Shoshoni and began to move south, sometime around 1700. They migrated to the southern Great Plains, the Arkansas River, and to central Texas.
Comanches are believed to have been the first native people 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.
The horse radically changed the lives of the Comanches for the better. Besides its mobility, buffalo were easy to hunt, and mounted warriors enjoyed a tremendous advantage in warfare. Comanche skills on horseback quickly reached levels which, in many ways, exceeded those of Europeans. The Comanche population increased because of the large amount of buffalo, an influx of Shoshone people, and the captives taken from rival groups.
Horses were prevalent in the Comanche tribe, and by the early 1800s, Comanches had horses in numbers beyond the dreams of other tribes, which helped them to become profitable traders.
As the horse with its corresponding buffalo culture spread, Comanches found other markets for their horses. The French from Louisiana were first, followed by the Americans, and Comanches were hard-pressed to keep pace with the rising demand. They began to steal horses from other tribes and settlers, which gave them the reputation of being as formidable horse, and later, cattle thieves. This practice led to many wars with the Spanish, the American settlers, and other Plains tribes.
Although Comanches had acquired their first firearms from French traders as early as the 1740s, they continued to rely heavily on their traditional weapons: the lance and the bow and arrow, and they were formidable opponents who developed strategies for using traditional weapons for fighting on horseback.
Some Important Events:
The Comanche-Mexican Wars refers to conflicts fought from 1821 to 1848 and consisting of large-scale raids into northern Mexico by Comanches and their Kiowa allies which left thousands of people dead. By the time the American army invaded northern Mexico in 1846 during the Mexican-American War the region was devastated.
The First Battle of Adobe Walls (1874) was one of the largest ever battles between United States Army and Native Americans. The Kiowa, Comanche and Plains Apache tribes drove from the battlefield a United States Expeditionary Force that was reacting to attacks on white settlers moving into the Southwest. After forcing the American retreat to high ground the natives assaulted continually until a successful United States counterattack was launched. The battle resulted in light casualties on both sides but was one of the largest engagements fought on the Great Plains.
Adobe Walls was the name of a trading post in the Texas Panhandle, just north of the Canadian River. In 1845, an Adobe fort was built there to house the post, but it was blown up by the traders three years later after repeated Indian attacks.
“The Battle of Adobe Walls took place in the panhandle of Texas in 1874. Comanches, Kiowas and Cheyenne attacked the hunters who were using the abandoned fort in their quest to kill the buffalo for their hides. Although the hunters were greatly outnumbered, the Indians were defeated because of the protection offered by the fort itself and the long range buffalo rifles used by the hunters. The battle was disastrous for the Indians. By 1880 both the buffalo and a way of life for the Comanches were gone.” – B. Gooden
The Jerome Agreement: In 1892 the U.S. government negotiated the Jerome Agreement with the Comanches, Kiowas, and Apaches, further reducing their reservation to 480,000 acres (1,940 km²) at a cost of $1.25 per acre ($308.88/km²), with an allotment of 160 acres (0.6 km²) per person per tribe to be held in trust. New allotments were made in 1906 to all children born after the Jerome Agreement, and the remaining land was opened to white settlement. With this new arrangement, the era of the Comanche reservation came to an abrupt end.
Besides language, Comanches retained other traits of the Shoshoni. Their tepees were distinctive on the southern plains for their use of four (not three) main poles, two of which outlined the entrance. The tepee was always used during winter, but in summer, Comanches frequently used temporary brush shelters.
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. Some have mentioned they never ate fish or waterfowl, but Comanches say they ate them only if they happened to be hungry. As a rule, they did not like or use the “firewater” offered to them by white traders.
They were loosely organized into 8 to 12 divisions, each with several bands. Individuals often transferred between these groups. Leadership was entirely male and not hereditary. It was based on status acquired through a combination of war honors, “puha” (medicine power), generosity, and family relationships.
Its most apparent characteristic was the lack of hard-and-fast rules. The power of a Comanche parabio (chief) could vary from minimal control of his own band to authority over an entire division.
Division chiefs apparently were elected by a general council of band parabios, when required, at large gatherings for that purpose. There does now appear to have been any level of central authority beyond the division level.
Comanches valued good-judgement over speaking skills, and their leaders frequently employed a designated speaker, or orator to speak for them. It was sometimes difficult for outsiders in meetings with Comanches to determine who was the actual leader. It was also almost-impossible to make a treaty with one group of Comanches that would be observed by all.
The Comanches were a warrior society, and the men dominated. Women were not allowed to speak at council, and often were not free to choose whom they would marry. Most observers have concluded their lives were hard. The men were polygamous, but an adulterous wife could be killed or have her nose cut-off.
Tribalpedia’s Questions for Comprehension and Discussion
1. Before contact with Europeans, what group were the Comanches part of?
2. Comanches are believed to have been the first native people on the plains to utilize what animal extensively?
3. The horse radically changed the lives of the Comanches for the better. Besides its mobility, what two other advantages did the Comanches have?
4. As the horse with its corresponding buffalo culture spread, Comanches found other markets for their horses. The French, followed by the Americans. Because of the high demand, what did the Comanches do to obtain more horses?
5. Although Comanches had acquired their first firearms from French traders as early as the 1740s, they continued to rely heavily on what type of weapons?
6. The Comanches were formidable opponents who developed strategies for what?
7. Describe the types of homes, the Comanches used to live in, and what they ate. Also, how were the members organized?
Comanche Code Talkers
During World War II, a group of seventeen young men referred to as “The Comanche Code Talkers” were trained and used by the U.S. Army to send messages conveying sensitive information that could not be deciphered by the Germans.
Comanches Gathering of Nations
Comanches Gathering of Nations
Today, Comanche tribal headquarters is located near Lawton, Oklahoma. The enrollment now numbers 14,557 with approximately 7,763 members residing in the Lawton-Ft.Sill and surrounding areas of Southwest Oklahoma. The Comanche Nation complex is located nine miles north of Lawton, Oklahoma and employs about one-hundred forty-five people. The remainder of Comanches are located in California, Texas, and New Mexico.
Tribal elections are held every three years. The Comanche Nation issues its own tribal vehicle tags. They operate ten tribal smoke shops, a bingo hall, the Comanche Nation Water Park, Comanche Nation Funeral Home, and four casinos, in Lawton, Devol, Elgin, and Walters. In 2002, the tribe founded the Comanche Nation College, a two-year tribal college in Lawton.
There is an annual Comanche powwow where the members celebrate their heritage.
Comanche Myth: Skunk Outwits Coyote
Coyote was going along one day, feeling very hungry, when he met up with Skunk. “Hello, brother,” Coyote greeted him. “You look hungry and so am I. If I lead the way, will you join me in a trick to get something to eat?”
“I will do whatever you propose,” said Skunk.
“A prairie dog village is just over that hill. You go over there and lie down and play dead. I’ll come along later and say to the prairie dogs, ‘Come, let us have a dance over the body of our dead enemy.’ ”
Skunk wondered how they would ever get anything to eat by playing dead and dancing. “Why should I do this?” he asked.
“Go on,” Coyote said. “Puff yourself up and play dead.”
Skunk went on to the prairie dog village and pretended to be dead. After a while Coyote came along and saw several prairie dogs playing outside their holes. They were keeping a distance between themselves and Skunk.
“Oh, look,” cried Coyote, “our enemy lies dead before us. Come, we will have a dance to celebrate. Let everyone come out and then stop up the burrow holes.”
The foolish prairie dogs did as he told them. “Now,” said Coyote, “let us all stand in a big circle and dance with our eyes closed. If anyone opens his eyes to look, he will turn into something bad.”
As soon as the prairie dogs began dancing with their eyes closed, Coyote killed one of them. “Well, now,” he called out, “let’s all open our eyes.”
The prairie dogs did so, and were surprised to see one lying dead. “Oh, dear,” said Coyote, “look at this poor fellow. He opened his eyes and died. Now, all of you, close your eyes and dance again. Don’t look, or you too will die.”
They began to dance once more, and one by one Coyote drew them out of the dance circle and killed them. At last, one of the prairie dogs became suspicious and opened his eyes.
“Oh, Coyote is killing us!” he cried, and all the survivors ran to unstop their holes and seek safety in the burrows.
Skunk then stood up, laughing at how easily Coyote had worked his trick. He helped gather up some dry firewood and they began roasting the prairie dogs that Coyote had killed.
The cooking meat smelled so good that Coyote decided he wanted to eat the best of it himself. “Let’s run a race,” he said. “The one that wins will have his choice of the most delicious prairie dogs.”
“No,” replied Skunk, “you are too swift. I’m a slow runner and can never beat you.”
“Well, I will tie a rock to my foot,” Coyote said.
“If you will tie on a big rock, I will race you.”
They decided to race around the bottom of the hill.
“While I am tying this rock to my foot,” Coyote said, “you go ahead. I’ll give you a start and then catch you.”
Skunk began to run and was soon out of sight around the hill. Coyote tied a rock to his foot and followed, slowly at first, but he soon kicked the rock loose and doubled his speed. Along the way, however, Skunk had found a brush pile, and he dashed in there and hid.
As soon as he saw Coyote go racing past, Skunk turned back to the fire. He raked all the roasted prairie dogs out of the coals, except for two small bony ones that he did not want. Then he cut off the tails and stuck them back in the ashes, and carried the meat away to the brush pile.
Meanwhile Coyote was still loping around the hill, confident that Skunk was running just ahead of him. As he hurried along, he said to himself, “I wonder where that fool Skunk is? I did not know that he could run so fast.”
He soon circled back to the cooking fire and saw the prairie dog tails sticking out of the ashes. He seized one and it slipped out. He tried another one. “Oh, but they are well cooked,” he said. He tried another one. Then he suspected that something was wrong.
Taking a stick, Coyote raked through the coals, but he found only the two bony prairie dogs that Skunk had rejected.
“Someone must have stolen our meat,” he said, and then ate the two small tasteless ones.
Skunk, who by this time had feasted on the delicious meat, had crept to the top of the hill and was looking down at Coyote. As Coyote began searching all around to see who might have stolen the meat, Skunk threw some prairie dog bones down upon him.
Coyote glanced up and saw him.
“You took all the delicious prairie dogs!” he cried. “Give me some of them.”
“No,” Skunk answered. “We ran a race for them. I beat you. I’m going to eat all of them.”
Coyote begged and begged for some of the delicious prairie dogs, but while he was still pleading, Skunk swallowed the last morsel of meat. He was a better trickster than Coyote.
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