Comanche Indians

The Comanche tribe is an Indian ethnic group. Their range (the Comancheria) once covered parts of New Mexico, Colorado, Southern Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Today, a majority lived in Oklahoma, though a few are scattered throughout Texas, California, and New Mexico.

The Comanche Indians were part of the Shoshone people until the late 17th century. They acquired horsemanship skills, increasing their mobility and allowing them more success in the hunt. Buffalo were abundant, and their population increased. It is believed that up to 20,000 Comanches were living in the area at this time. Interestingly, they never formed a single unit – they were often divided into several different groups. While they shared the same language and culture, they were just as likely to fight as to cooperate.

The horse was central to Comanche culture. Horses may have been introduced to other native cultures by the Comanches. They became respected horse traders and feared course and cattle thieves. This often lead to war between tribes, as well as with Spanish and American settlers. Since most of these raids took place at night under a full moon, the phrase “Comanche Moon” entered common parlance.

The Comanches and settlers had an uneasy relationship. Comanches were valuable trading partners, yet were feared for the ferocity of their raids. The Comanches successfully maintained their independence long after other tribes had been relegated to reservations. However, outbreaks of disease like cholera and smallpox reduced their population to only a few thousand by the 1870s. Buffalo hunters were destroying the herds, and food was scarce.

The American government signed treaties, moving Apaches, Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches, and more to a 5000 square-mile reservation. This was a far cry from the 60,000 square miles taken by the government. Still, some Comanches refused to go. It wasn’t until 1875 that the last of the Comanches, led by warrior Quanah Parker, surrendered and moved onto the reservation.

Comanche groups each had their own leader; there was never a single leader of all the Comanches. Decisions about war, alliances, and hunting parties were made by a council. In war time, a “war chief” was chosen. The war chief was obeyed by all the warriors, and was responsible for leading them into battle. Once the war was over, so was the war chief’s authority.

Comanche men were responsible for fighting wars, protecting the band, and hunting. They began to ride at an early age, and were respected horsemen. The women were responsible for skinning the animals, cooking, rearing children, and moving and transporting the camp from one location to another.

The Comanche language was almost destroyed by the white man’s boarding school and restrictive policies are natives. Few Comanches can now speak the language, and most of them are elderly. However, attempts are being made to resuscitate the language.

The US army used Comanches during World War II to relay messages in their native tongue. This assured that the Germans could not understand any intercepted message, since the Comanche language only exists in North America. It is a complex language to learn, making it the perfect choice for “Code Talkers”.

Distribution of Comanche tribes, 1740-1850. courtesy Wikipedia.
Comanche camp, c. 1870. Courtesy Wikipedia.