The Comanche, exceptional horsemen who dominated the Southern Plains,
played a prominent role in Texas frontier history. Anthropological
evidence indicates that they were originally a mountain tribe, a
branch of the Northern Shoshones, who roamed the Great Basin region
of the Western United States as crudely equipped hunters and gathers.
Both cultural and linguistic similarities confirm the Comanche's
Shoshone origins. Some time during the late 17th century, the Comanche
acquired horses, and that acquisition drastically altered their culture.
The life of the pedestrian tribe
was revolutionized as they rapidly evolved into a mounted, well-equipped,
and powerful people. Their new mobility allowed them to leave their
mountain home. After they arrived on the Great Plains, the Comanches
began a Southern migration that was encouraged by a combination of
By moving south, they had greater
access to mustangs. The warm climate and abundant buffalo were incentives
for the Southern migration. Pressure from the Blackfoot and Crow
Indians also encouraged their migration. A vast area of the South
Plains, including much of the North, Central & West Texas, soon became
Comanche country or Comancheria.
Only after their arrival on the
Southern Plains did the tribe come to be known as Comanches, a name
derived from the Ute word Komantcia, meaning "enemy" or, literally, "Anyone
who wants to fight me all the time." Although the tribe came to be
known historically as Comanches, they called themselves Nermernuk,
or "The People".
The Comanche did not arrive on
the Southern Plains as a unified body, but in numerous family groups
or bands. The band structure of the Comanche society was not rigid,
and bands joined together and broke apart, depending on the needs
and goals of the members. As many as thirteen different Comanche
bands were identified during this historical period, and most likely
there were more. Five major bands played important roles in recorded
The southernmost band was called
Peneteka, or "Honey Eaters". Their range extended from the Edwards
Plateau to the headwaters of the central Texas rivers. Because of
their location, the Penetekas played the most prominent role in Texas
North of Peneteka country was
the habitat of the band called Nokoni, or "Those Who Turn Back".
The Nokoni roamed from the Cross Timbers region of North Texas to
the mountains of New Mexico.
Still farther North was the range
of the Kotsotekas, or the "Buffalo Eaters". Their territory was what
is now Western Oklahoma, where they often camped along the Canadian
The northernmost band was known
as the Yamparikas, or "Yap Eaters", a name derived from that of an
edible root. Their range extended north to the Arkansas River.
The fifth major band, known as
Quahadis, or "Antelopes", roamed the high plains of the Llano Estacado.
The Comanches remained a nomadic
people throughout their free existence. Their predominantly meat
diet was supplemented with wild roots, fruit and nuts, or with produce
obtained by trade with neighboring agricultural tribes.
Because of their trading skills,
the Comanche controlled much of the commerce of the Southern Plains.
They bartered buffalo products, horses, and captives for manufactured
goods and foodstuffs.
The familiar plains-type tepees
constructed of tanned buffalo hide, stretched over 16 to 18 lodge
poles, provided portable shelter for the Comanches. Their clothing
made of bison hide or buckskin, consisted of breech cloth, leggings
and moccasins for men, and a fringed skirt, poncho-style blouse,
leggings and moccasins for women, buffalo robes provided protection
from the cold weather.
By the early 18th century, Comanche
bands had migrated into what is now North Texas. As the Comanche
moved south, they came into conflict with tribes already living on
the South Plains, particularly the Apache. The Apaches, forced south
by the Comanche became mortal enemies.
The first documented evidence
of Comanche in Texas occurred in 1743, when a small band, a scouting
party, appeared at the Spanish settlement of San Antonio seeking
their enemies, the Lipan Apaches. No hostilities occurred, but it
was obvious that the Comanche believed the Spanish and Apaches were
allies. However, 15 years passed before the Spanish learned the true
strength of the Comanche presence in Texas. In 1758 a force of some
2000 Comanche and allied tribes attacked a Spanish mission built
for the Apaches on the San Saba River near present Menard. It was
sacked and burned, and eight inhabitants, including two priests,
When Texans won their independence
from Mexico in 1836, the Comanche and their allies were still in
absolute control of the Texas Plains. In May 1836, they raided Fort
Parker, killed several settlers and took five hostages, including
9 year old Cynthia Ann Parker. She lived with the Comanche for 24
years, Parker became the wife of Chief Peta Nocona and the mother
of Quanah Parker, the last great Comanche chief.
Treaties did not greatly improve
conditions, Comanches would not stay on the lands allotted them and
continued to conduct destructive raids in Texas. The Comanche, who
saw their way of life rapidly vanishing, turned to a young Quahadi
medicine man for leadership.
White Eagle called his people
together for a Sundance in the spring of 1874 and promised victory
over the whites. Inspired by the visionary leader, an unsuccessful
attack was launched. This not only destroyed the Indiansâ€™ faith
in White Eagle, but it also brought retribution from the U.S. Government.
In 1874 the Army began a relentless campaign that became known as
the Red River War.
Once estimated to number in the
thousands, the Comanche population, according to an 1875 reservation
census, had been reduced to 1,597. The reservation period came to
an end in 1901, when the Comanche reservation was broken up into
allotments. Each man, woman and child would receive 160 acres of
land, with additional acreage set aside for church, agency and school
use. Lands not allotted to the Indians were thrown open to the public,
and whites soon out numbered Indians on the former reservation. Many
Comanche could not make it on their lands. Many left the site of
the old reservation to seek employment.
In the 1960s the Comanche, began
to work together to rebuild their society. They seceded from the
Kiowa-Comanche-Apache intertribal business committee, which had served
as their government since passage of the Oklahoma Indian Welfare
Act of 1936. Although ties are maintained, the Comanche established
their own tribal government. In 1995, the Comanche had an enrolled
population of 9,722 scattered across the United States.