The Comanche were an offshoot of the Shoshone of Wyoming. They first gained their horses from the Spanish and eventually they gained the name the "Lords of the Plains". They developed very good riding skills and expert buffalo hunters. The Comanche used these riding skills in warfare. Soldiers soon discovered that the Comanche warrior could fire arrows towards an enemy while hanging under the neck of a galloping horse.
The Comanche waged war against the Spaniards in Mexico for over 200 years. Later their main enemy was the white settlers in Texas who had taken their best hunting grounds. The Texas Rangers were organized in the 1840s to deal with the Comanche.
Chief Peta Nocoma and his warriors carried out several raids on local white settlements and in December, 1860, Lawrence Sullivan Ross and a party of Texas Rangers were sent out to find Peta Nocoma. They found his camp on the banks of the Pease River. Peta Nocoma and his two sons, Quanah and Pecos, managed to escape, but most of the party, including sixteen women, were killed. Peta Nocoma's wife, Cynthia Ann Parker, was spared because of her blue eyes and European features.
In 1874 Comanche and Kiowa war parties began attacking settlers in Texas. At first these hit and run tactics were difficult for the army to deal with and be the time they arrived on the scene of the attack the war parties had disappeared.
The battle of Adobe Walls took place on 27th June 1874 when a combined force of Comanche, Cheyenne and Kiowa warriors led by Quanah and Satanta. The defenders of the fort, including Bat Masterson, were well armed and were able to hold off the warriors. After suffering heavy casualties the warriors abandoned the attack.
Over 3,000 troops were brought into Texas from neighbouring states to deal with this problem. Colonel Ranad Mackenzie eventually discovered the winter camp of the Native Americans who had been carrying out raids on the settlers. In September 1874 Mackenzie launched a dawn attack on the camp in Palo Duro Canyon and destroyed the village, stole their supplies and took away their horses. That winter, unable to survive by hunting, the warriors were forced to surrender to the authorities.
Quanah was the most important Comanche chief. However, in 1875 he accepted defeat and surrendered at Fort Sill. Later he accepted that his tribe should live on a reservation in Oklahoma. During the next 30 years he encouraged his people to develop agricultural skills. He also served as a judge on the reservation.
I may as well state, in this connection, that horseflesh is the favorite food of a Comanche Indian. They do devour great quantities of venison and buffalo meat, but these are universally considered as greatly inferior to the steaks cut from the carcass of a mustang. The woods and prairies are covered with wild fowl, and the streams abound with delicious trout and other fish, yet none of these are ever made use of as an article of diet.
It consisted, I should say, of four hundred tents, and covered a space of six or seven acres. In the center of the village was a capacious square, perhaps one acre, and in the center of the square stood a lodge, the largest in the town, being the business tent of the civil chief. Around the square the wigwams were arranged with great particularity. Leading into it on the four sides were regularly laid out streets, the tents standing in line on both sides. Those of the principal men were the largest, and fronted the square; those of their inferiors, according to their rank, diminishing in size, and extending backwards.
The tents are constructed of prepared buffalo skins, the flesh side outward, and, from a distance, an Indian town like this, to the eye of a white man, is novel and attractive. The manner of their construction is as follows: Poles, from ten to twenty feet in length, are driven diagonally into the ground in the line of a circle, at the distance of three or four feet from each other, and at such an angle that their tops will nearly meet. These poles serve the purpose of rafters over which the buffalo hides, firmly sewed together, are drawn and fastened by stakes on the ground, thus forming an impervious cone. The door does not turn on hinges, but is simply an extra pelt, fastened at the top, with a heavy weight at the bottom, and which, when raised or turned aside sufficiently to admit an entrance within, falls directly and closely to its place. Around the outside is dug a narrow and deep ditch, rendering the floor dry and hard, and the smoke of the fire, which is always kindled in the center of the wigwam, escapes through a hole at the apex. These villages are always located near running water, and in thinly timbered groves, which break the force of the north winds in the wintry season, and in hot and sultry weather shade them from the sun.
I have met with few men anywhere that I liked better than Black Wolf. He was a man of good natural sense, and as brave as the bravest, and there was nothing cruel of bloodthirsty in his disposition, and, what is very unusual among the Indians, he was very much attached to his old mother and did everything he could to make her comfortable In her old age.
The old chief to whom I surrendered in the first instance, for some cause had taken a great liking to me, and offered me his sister for a wife, and a home in his own wigwam; but I preferred staying with Black Wolf and his old mother, for, in fact, the chief's sister was not as, attractive as some women I have seen. She was tall and raw-boned and her cheeks looked like a couple of small pack-saddles, and her finger nails were as long as a catamount's claws, and not overly clean at that, and I had no doubt she could have used them just as well "on a pinch" - at least that was my private opinion, though I did not tell the chief so.
When I had been about two months with the tribe, I learned to speak their language pretty well, and Black Wolf never tired of asking me questions about the "white people," and their big canoes, steamboats, railroads, etc., for he had heard about all these things at the trading posts he had occasionally visited. I told him that the white people were so numerous that they had many "permanent camps" in which there were forty', fifty, and a hundred thousand inhabitants, and one in which there was more than half a million.
He said he knew they were a powerful people, but he had no idea before that their number was so great, But he said what I had told him about them confirmed him in the opinion he had had for a long time, that the white people would gradually spread over the whole country, from ocean to ocean, and that the day would soon come when there would be nothing left to show that the Indians had once occupied all this vast territory, except here and there a little mound built over their graves, or a stone arrowhead, ploughed up by the white people where they had once hunted the buffalo or the grizzly bear.
The Comanche Indian in his village is the idlest, laziest being in existence, a sluggard and a glutton. His sole and only pursuits are war and hunting. His wife, besides attending to the domestic duties of the tent, plants his corn and reaps it, cultivates his tobacco, tans his buffalo hides - in fine, performs wholly, without the remotest aid from him, every particle and kind of labor, which, among civilized beings, devolves upon the husband. So now, while the women toiled and strained and lifted, the men moped stupidly around, smoking their pipes, or lolled upon the ground.
While in camp the Indian is idle, listless, sleeping the greater part of the day and all night. He is slovenly in his dress, except when he meets in council or goes on the war path, when he decorates himself with the scalps he has taken, which at other times hang in his tent. His prowess as a warrior is estimated in proportion to the number he possesses.
To supply the necessaries of life, more or less are constrained daily to go out upon the hunt. In this, their only labor, they range within a circuit rarely extending more than four or five miles from the town. Their weapons, on these excursions, are the bow and arrow and the lance, both of which they use with great dexterity and skill, especially on horseback. Indeed, in the matter of horsemanship, I doubt whether there is a race on the face of the whole earth that equals the Comanches. They will lie along the sides of their horses, while under full speed, directing their course at the same time and discharging arrows from under their necks with deadly effect, in a manner astonishing to witness.
If a deer is captured, he brings it in on his horse, throws it to the women whose business is to dress and cook it. If he kills a mustang or a buffalo, he rides into the village and informs his squaw where the carcass may be found, who straightway mounts and goes out in search of it - skins it - cuts the flesh into strips, and returns.
While the men are thus indolent, the women are remarkable for their industry. Besides attending to the menial duties of the camp, working in the fields during the planting and harvesting seasons, they perform extraordinary labors in preparing buffalo hides and bringing them into the soft and pliant condition in which we see them. To do this properly requires about six weeks, and the process may be new to many of my readers.
When the hide is first brought in green, it is placed upon a log so hewed that it presents a flat surface, perhaps a foot in width. With an instrument similar to a common adze, the squaws cut away all the flesh and part of the bulkiest portions of the hide, until the whole presents a uniform thickness. This is a long and tedious operation. They are then stretched upon frames, and rubbed with a kind of pumice stone until the surface becomes furzy. If it should dry in this state, however, it would be hard, stiff and unpliant. To avoid this, they use a preparation composed of basswood bark pounded very fine and mixed with the brains of the deer or buffalo, which is applied day after day until the skin is thoroughly saturated, when it is soft and flexible.
The buffalo robe is the principal, and indeed, so far as I know, their only article of commerce - their only source of wealth. At a certain season every year they are transported to the confines of Mexico, and sold to parties of Mexican traders who annually meet them there, and receive in compensation hatchets, knives, and such other implements as are used by them, together with cheap calicoes, mescal, and a great variety of trinkets.
The institution of marriage is recognized, and governed by established laws. When a young man becomes enamored and resolves to take a wife, he presents himself before the council and makes known his desire. If there are no objections on the part of the maiden or her parents, the council decrees that they may live together in the matrimonial relation one moon. If, at the end of that time, there has arisen no dissension between them, and they are mutually satisfied, they are permitted to continue the relation another moon, and if they live together harmoniously through that, the knot is irrevocably tied. The system of matrimony among them, therefore, seems to be founded on the principle of the rule of three.
Equally peculiar is their mode of burial. When a warrior dies, his body is carried out and laid upon the ground, his head always toward the west. A pen is then built up around him constructed of poles. Into this enclosure is placed his personal effects - his saddle and bridle, his tomahawk, scalping knife, bow and arrows and lance, all the inanimate property he possesses. The enclosure is then roofed with bark and covered with earth. This part of the burial ceremony concluded, all his horses and mules, even if he was the owner of a hundred, are brought to the grave and killed. When a squaw dies, her property, also - her calico gown, cooking kettle, tools for dressing skins - are buried with her, and the horse upon which she was accustomed to ride slain in the same manner.
They are buried with their heads to the west, because they believe at the resurrection, of which they have vague and indefinite notions, they will arise and march eastward, again to take possession of all the country from which the accursed white man has driven them and their fathers. They bury their property with them and kill their horses because they suppose their souls will have need of them in the other world.
They believe in God, a great spirit, who created and governs the earth, sun, moon, and stars. They have an unwavering and undoubting faith in a future state of existence, and in future rewards and punishments. They hold that the soul of the wicked coward or thief, after death, will be driven before the frown of the Great Spirit, afar off into a region barren and cold and desolate, there to wander forever through thorns and among rocks, thirsty, hungry, and in pain; but the good Indian, who has been brave in battle and walked uprightly among his tribe, will be translated to a valley ten thousand times ten thousand fold longer and wider than their own valley of Mannasaw, where the climate is always mild as it is in the moon of plants; where there is cool water, and pounded corn and mustang meat forever at his hand, and where buffalo and deer abound, and the horses are fleeter than the wind.