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Flag of the Comanche
|Regions with significant populations|
|United States (Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico)|
|Native American Church, Christianity, traditional tribal religion|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Shoshone and other Numic peoples|
Flag of the Comanche
|Regions with significant populations|
|United States (Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico)|
|Native American Church, Christianity, traditional tribal religion|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Shoshone and other Numic peoples|
The Comanche // (Comanche: Nʉmʉnʉʉ) are a Plains Indian tribe whose historic territory, known as Comancheria, consisted of present day eastern New Mexico, southeastern Colorado, southwestern Kansas, western Oklahoma, and most of northwest Texas. The Comanche people are federally recognized as the Comanche Nation, headquartered in Lawton, Oklahoma.
Post-contact, the Comanches were hunter-gatherers with a horse culture. There may have been as many as 45,000 Comanches in the late 18th century. They were the dominant tribe on the Southern Plains and often took captives from weaker tribes during warfare, selling them as slaves to the Spanish and later Mexican settlers. They also took thousands of captives from the Spanish, Mexican, and American settlers.
Today, the Comanche Nation has 15,191 members, approximately 7,763 of whom reside in tribal jurisdictional area around the Lawton, Fort Sill, and surrounding areas of southwest Oklahoma. The Comanche Nation Homecoming Powwow is held annually in Walters, Oklahoma in mid-July.
The Comanche Nation is headquartered in Lawton, Oklahoma. Their tribal jurisdictional area is located in Caddo, Comanche, Cotton, Grady, Jefferson, Kiowa, Stephens, and Tillman Counties. Membership of the tribe requires a 1/8 blood quantum (equivalent to one great-grandparent).
As of June 1, 2012, Wallace Coffey is the Tribal Chairman, and Robert Komahcheet, Tribal Administrator. CBC members recalled in April 2012 have been reinstated per an emergency interim order by Judge Phil Lujan, CFR Court of Indian Offenses. Ed Eschiti, Vice Chairman; Robert Tippeconnie, Secretary/Treasurer; Ron Red Elk, Seat No. 1; Yonevea Terry, Seat No. 2; and Darrell Kosechequetah. Seats No. 3 and No. 4 were vacant pending outcome of the Primary Election and Run Off slated for June 30, 2012.
The tribe operates its own housing authority and issues tribal vehicle tags. They have their own Department of Higher Education, primarily awarding scholarships and financial aid for members' college educations. Additionally, they operate the Comanche Nation College in Lawton, Oklahoma. They own ten tribal smoke shops and four casinos. The casinos are Comanche Nation Games in Lawton; Comanche Red River Casino in Devol; Comanche Spur Casino, in Elgin; and Comanche Star Casino in Walters, Oklahoma.
Each July Comanches from across the United States gather to celebrate their heritage and culture in Walters, Oklahoma at the annual Comanche Homecoming powwow. The Comanche Nation Fair is held every September. The Comanche Little Ponies host two annual dances—one over New Year's and one in May.
The Comanche emerged as a distinct group shortly before 1700, when they broke off from the Shoshone people living along the upper Platte River in Wyoming. In 1680, the Comanche acquired horses from the Pueblo Indians after the Pueblo Revolt. They separated from the Shoshone after this, as the horses allowed them greater mobility in their search for better hunting grounds.
The horse was a key element in the emergence of a distinctive Comanche culture. It was of such strategic importance that some scholars suggested that the Comanche broke away from the Shoshone and moved southward to search for additional sources of horses among the settlers of New Spain to the south (rather than search for new herds of buffalo.) The Comanche may have been the first group of Plains natives to fully incorporate the horse into their culture and to have introduced the animal to the other Plains peoples.
Their original migration took them to the southern Great Plains, into a sweep of territory extending from the Arkansas River to central Texas. They reached present-day New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle by 1700, forcing the Lipan Apache people ever southward, defeating them in a nine-day battle along the Rio del Fierro (Wichita River) in 1723. The River of Iron may be the location written about by Athanase De Mezieres in 1772, containing "a mass of metal which the Indians say is hard, thick, heavy, and composed of iron", which they "venerate...as an extraordinary manifestation of nature", the Comanche's calling it Ta-pic-ta-carre [standing rock], Po-i-wisht-carre [standing metal], or Po-a-cat-le-pi-le-carre [medicine rock], the general area containing a "large number of meteoric masses". By 1777, the Lipan Apache had retreated to the Rio Grande and the Mescalero Apache to Coahuila.
During that time, their population increased dramatically because of the abundance of buffalo, an influx of Shoshone migrants, and their adoption of significant numbers of women and children taken captive from rival groups. The Comanche never formed a single cohesive tribal unit, but were divided into almost a dozen autonomous groups, called bands. These groups shared the same language and culture, and rarely fought each other. They were estimated to have taken captive thousands of people from the Spanish, Mexican and American settlers in their lands. Curtis Marez suggests that this contributed to the development of mestizaje in the borderlands, as the descendants of such captives were mixed-race.
By the mid-19th century, the Comanche were supplying horses to French and American traders and settlers, and later to migrants passing through their territory on the way to the California Gold Rush, along the California Road. The Comanche had stolen many of the horses from other tribes and settlers; they earned their reputation as formidable horse thieves, later extending their rustling to cattle. Their stealing of livestock from Spanish and American settlers, as well as the other Plains tribes, often led to war.
The Comanche also had access to vast numbers of feral horses, which numbered approximately 2,000,000 in and around Comancheria, and which the tribe was particularly skilled at breaking to saddle. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Comanche lifestyle required about one horse per person (though warriors each possessed many more). With a population of about 30,000 to 40,000 and in possession of herds many times that number, the Comanche had a surplus of about 90,000 to 120,000 horses.
They were formidable opponents who developed strategies for using traditional weapons for fighting on horseback. Warfare was a major part of Comanche life. Comanche raids into Mexico traditionally took place during the full moon, when the Comanche could see to ride at night. This led to the term "Comanche Moon", during which the Comanche raided for horses, captives, and weapons. The majority of Comanche raids into Mexico were in the state of Chihuahua and neighboring northern states.
In Comanche society there were four levels of social-political integration:
As an example of such political and kinship-based division, the Yaparʉhka identified as a separate division. Because of cultural and linguistic differences from other Comanche bands, they became the “(Yap)Root-Eaters”, in contrast to the Kʉhtsʉtʉhka (“Buffalo-Eaters”). The Yaparʉhka division was composed of several residential local groups, such as the Ketahtoh Tʉ, Motso Tʉ and Pibianigwai.
In contrast to the neighboring Cheyenne and Arapaho to the north, the Comanche never developed a political idea of forming a nation or tribe. The Comanche recognized each other as Nʉmʉnʉ and bands seldom fought against each other; but the Kwaarʉ Nʉʉ pursued policies against the Spanish and Indian settlements in New Mexico independently of the Kʉhtsʉtʉhka. As a consequence, at the time when Comanche society was breaking down, the once respected and feared Penatʉka Nʉʉ provided U.S. Army Indian Scouts for the Americans and Texans against their still fighting and free-roaming Comanche kin.
The band was the primary social unit of the Comanche. A typical band might number about one hundred people. Bands were part of larger divisions, or tribes. Before the 1750s, there were three Comanche divisions: Yamparikas, Jupes, and Kotsotekas. In the 1750s and 1760s, a number of Kotsoteka bands split off and moved to the southeast. This resulted in a large division between the original group, the western Comanches, and the break-away Kotsotekas, the eastern Comanches. The western Comanche lived in the region of the upper Arkansas, Canadian, and Red rivers, and the Llano Estacado. The eastern Comanches lived on the Edwards Plateau and the Texas plains of the upper Brazos and Colorado rivers, and east to the Cross Timbers.
Over time, these divisions were altered in various ways. In the early 19th century, the Jupes vanished from history, probably merging into the other divisions. Many Yamparikas moved southeast, joining the eastern Comanche and becoming known as the Tenewa. Many Kiowa and Plains Apache (or Naishan) moved to northern Comancheria and became closely associated with the Yamparika. A group of Arapaho, known as the Charitica, moved into Comancheria and joined Comanche society. New divisions arose, such as the Nokonis, closely linked with the Tenewa; and the Kwahadi, who emerged as a new faction on the southern Llano Estacado. The western-eastern distinction changed in the 19th century. Observers began to call them Northern, Middle and Southern Comanche.
One of the largest groups, as well as the southernmost, lived on the edge of the Edwards Plateau and east across to the Cross Timbers, and became known as the Penateka, (Penatʉka Nʉʉ) Southern Comanches.
In the eastern part of the Comancheria, between the Colorado and Red rivers, roamed the Nokoni (Nokoni Nʉʉ — ‘Movers’, ‘Returners’). South of them were the strong, associated smaller bands or residential groups of the Tenawa (Tahnahwah or Tenahwit — ‘Those Who Live Downstream’) and Tanima (Tanimʉʉ, Dahaʉi or Tevawish — ‘Liver-Eaters’). Together, the Nokoni, Tenawa and Tanima were called the Middle Comanche. Just north of the Nokonis in the Red River Valley, between the Red and Canadian rivers, lived the numerous residential local groups of the powerful Kotsotekas (Kʉhtsʉtʉʉka — ‘Buffalo-Eaters’); they took their name from the large buffalo herds that were always in their territory.
The northernmost Comanche band was the Yamparikas (Yaparʉhka or Yapai Nʉʉ — ‘(Yap)Root-Eaters’). As the last band to move onto the Plains, they retained much of their Shoshone tradition. Because the Kotsoteka and Yamparika lived in the northern part of the Comancheria, they were called the Northern Comanche. The last large group was known as Kwahadis (Quohada or Kwaarʉ Nʉʉ/Kwahare — ‘Antelope-Eaters’), originally Kotsoteka-residential local groups that moved south out of the Cimarron Valley onto the desert plains of the Llano Estacado. They emerged as a new division in the 19th century. Even though the western-eastern distinction had changed in the 19th century, these people were classified as Western Comanche because of their relative isolation on the westernmost edge of the Comancheria.
All these division names were spelled in many different ways by Spanish and English writers, and spelling differences continue today. Large-scale groupings became unstable and unclear during the 19th century. The Comanche society was slowly overwhelmed and ultimately subjugated to the United States.
Naming practices of the Comanche were flexible, so some of these names are probably synonyms of others on the list. Joking and insulting synonyms were also commonly found in use among rival or allied bands.
In addition, there are several smaller bands:
The Comanche maintained an ambiguous relationship with Europeans and later settlers attempting to colonize their territory. The Comanche were valued as trading partners since 1786 via the Comancheros out of New Mexico, but were feared for their raids against settlers in Texas. and similarly, they were, at one time or another, at war with virtually every other Native American group living on the South Plains leaving opportunities for political maneuvering by European colonial powers and the United States. At one point, Sam Houston, president of the newly created Republic of Texas, almost succeeded in reaching a peace treaty with the Comanche in the 1844 Treaty of Tehuacana Creek. His efforts were thwarted in 1845 when the Texas legislature refused to create an official boundary between Texas and the Comancheria.
While the Comanche managed to maintain their independence and increase their territory, by the mid-19th century they faced annihilation because of a wave of epidemics due to Eurasian diseases to which they had no immunity, such as smallpox and measles. Outbreaks of smallpox (1817, 1848) and cholera (1849) took a major toll on the Comanche, whose population dropped from an estimated 20,000 in mid-century to just a few thousand by the 1870s.
The US began efforts in the late 1860s to move the Comanche into reservations, with the Treaty of Medicine Lodge (1867), which offered churches, schools, and annuities in return for a vast tract of land totaling over 60,000 square miles (160,000 km2). The government promised to stop the buffalo hunters, who were decimating the great herds of the Plains, provided that the Comanche, along with the Apaches, Kiowas, Cheyenne, and Arapahos, move to a reservation totaling less than 5,000 square miles (13,000 km2) of land. However, the government did not prevent the slaughtering of the herds. The Comanche under Isa-tai (Coyote's Vagina) retaliated by attacking a group of hunters in the Texas Panhandle in the Second Battle of Adobe Walls (1874). The attack was a disaster for the Comanche, and the US army was called in during the Red River War to drive the remaining Comanche in the area into the reservation, culminating in the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon. Within just ten years, the buffalo were on the verge of extinction, effectively ending the Comanche way of life as hunters. In 1875, the last free band of Comanches, led by the Quahada warrior Quanah Parker, surrendered and moved to the Fort Sill reservation in Oklahoma. The last independent Kiowa and Kiowa Apache had also surrendered.
Unhappy with life on the reservation, 170 warriors and their families, led by Black Horse, left the reservation in late 1876 for the Llano Estacado. Attacks on buffalo hunters' camps led to the Buffalo Hunters' War of 1877.
Some of the Lipan Apache and Mescalero Apache bands with some Comanche in their company held out in northern Mexico until the early 1880s, when Mexican and U.S. Army forces drove them onto reservations or into extinction.
The 1890 Census showed 1,598 Comanche at the Fort Sill reservation, which they shared with 1,140 Kiowa and 326 Kiowa Apache.
The Agreement with the Comanche, Kiowa and Apache signed with the Cherokee Commission October 6–21, 1892, further reduced their reservation to 480,000 acres (1,900 km2) at a cost of $1.25 per acre ($308.88/km²), with an allotment of 160 acres (0.65 km2) per person per tribe to be held in trust. New allotments were made in 1906 to all children born after the 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.
The Peneteka band agreed to a peace treaty with the German Immigration Company under John O. Meusebach. This treaty was not affiliated with any level of government. Meusebach brokered the treaty in order to settle the lands on the Fisher-Miller Land Grant, from which were formed the ten counties of Concho, Kimble, Llano, Mason, McCulloch, Menard, Schleicher, San Saba, Sutton and Tom Green.
In contrast to many treaties of its day, this treaty was very brief and simple, with all parties agreeing to a mutual cooperation and a sharing of the land. The treaty was agreed to at a meeting in San Saba County, Texas, and signed by all parties on May 9, 1847 in Fredericksburg, Texas. The treaty was never broken. A popular and misleading myth is that the treaty "is unbroken to this day". The treaty was very specifically between the Peneteka band and the German Immigration Company. No other band or tribe was involved. The German Immigration Company was dissolved by Meusebach himself shortly after it had served its purpose. By 1875, the Comanches had been relocated to reservations.
Five years later, artist Friedrich Richard Petri and his family moved to the settlement of Pedernales, near Fredericksburg. Petri's sketches and watercolors gave witness to the friendly relationships between the Germans and various local Native American tribes.
In 1850, another treaty was signed in San Saba, between the United States government and a number of local tribes, among which were the Comanches. This treaty was named for the nearest military fort, which was Fort Martin Scott. The treaty was never officially ratified by any level of government and was binding only on the part of the Native Americans.
One of the most famous captives in Texas was a German lad named Herman Lehmann. He had been kidnapped by the Apaches, only to escape and be rescued by the Comanches. Lehmann became the adoptive son of Quanah Parker. On August 26, 1901, Quanah Parker provided a legal affidavit verifying Lehman's life as his adopted son 1877–1878. On May 29, 1908, the United States Congress authorized the United States Secretary of the Interior to allot Lehmann, as an adopted member of the Comanche nation, one hundred and sixty acres of Oklahoma land, near Grandfield.
Entering the Western economy was a challenge for the Comanche in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many tribal members were defrauded of whatever remained of their land and possessions. Appointed paramount chief by the United States government, Chief Quanah Parker campaigned vigorously for better deals for his people, meeting with Washington politicians frequently; and helped manage land for the tribe. Parker became wealthy as a cattleman. Parker also campaigned for the Comanches' permission to practice the Native American Church religious rites, such as the usage of peyote, which was condemned by European Americans.
Before the first Oklahoma legislature, Quanah testified:
"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 and those that do not use it are not so healthy." [sic]
During World War II, many Comanche left the traditional tribal lands in Oklahoma to seek jobs and more opportunities in the cities of California and the Southwest. About half of the Comanche population still lives in Oklahoma, centered around the town of Lawton.
Comanche groups did not have a single acknowledged leader. Instead, a small number of generally recognized leaders acted as counsel and advisors to the group as a whole. These included the "peace chief", the members of the council, and the "war chief". The peace chief was usually an older individual, who could bring his experience to the task of advising. There was no formal inauguration or election to the position, it was one of general consensus. The council made decisions about where the band should hunt, whether they should war against their enemies, and whether to ally themselves with other bands. Any member could speak at council meetings, but the older men usually did most of the talking. In times of war, the band selected a war chief. To be chosen for this position, a man had to prove he was a brave fighter. He also had to have the respect of all the other warriors in the band. While the band was at war, the war chief was in charge, and all the warriors had to obey him. After the conflict was over, however, the war chief's authority ended. The Comanche men did most of the hunting and all of the fighting in the wars. They learned how to ride horses when they were young and were eager to prove themselves in battle. On the plains, Comanche women carried out the demanding tasks of cooking, skinning animals, setting up camp, rearing children, and transporting household goods.
If a woman started labor while the band was on the move, she simply paused along the trail and gave birth to her child. After a few hours of rest, she would take the baby and catch up with the group.
If a woman went into labor while the band was in camp, she was moved to a tipi, or a brush lodge if it was summer. One or more of the older women assisted as midwives. Men were not allowed inside the tipi during or immediately after the delivery.
First, the midwives softened the earthen floor of the tipi and dug two holes. One of the holes was for heating water and the other for the afterbirth. One or two stakes were driven into the ground near the expectant mother's bedding for her to grip during the pain of labor. After the birth, the midwives hung the umbilical cord on a hackberry tree. The people believed that if the umbilical cord was not disturbed before it rotted, the baby would live a long and prosperous life.
The newborn was swaddled and remained with its mother in the tipi for a few days. The baby was placed in a cradleboard, and the mother went back to work. She could easily carry the cradleboard on her back, or prop it against a tree where the baby could watch her while she collected seeds or roots. Cradleboards consisted of a flat board to which a basket was attached. The latter was made from rawhide straps, or a leather sheath that laced up the front. With soft, dry moss as a diaper, the young one was safely tucked into the leather pocket. During cold weather, the baby was wrapped in blankets, and then placed in the cradleboard. The baby remained in the cradleboard for about ten months; then it was allowed to crawl around.
Both girls and boys were welcomed into the band, but boys were favored. If the baby was a boy, one of the midwives informed the father or grandfather, "It's your close friend". Families might paint a flap on the tipi to tell the rest of the tribe that they had been strengthened with another warrior. Sometimes a man named his child, but mostly the father asked a medicine man (or another man of distinction) to do so. He did this in the hope of his child living a long and productive life. During the public naming ceremony, the medicine man lit his pipe and offered smoke to the heavens, earth, and each of the four directions. He prayed that the child would remain happy and healthy. He then lifted the child to symbolize its growing up and announced the child's name four times. He held the child a little higher each time he said the name. It was believed that the child's name foretold its future; even a weak or sick child could grow up to be a great warrior, hunter, and raider if given a name suggesting courage and strength. Boys were often named after their grandfather, uncle, or other relative. Girls were usually named after one of their father's relatives, but the name was selected by the mother. As children grew up they also acquired nicknames at different points in their lives, to express some aspect of their lives.
The Comanche looked on their children as their most precious gift. Children were rarely punished. Sometimes, though, an older sister or other relative was called upon to discipline a child, or the parents arranged for a boogey man to scare the child. Occasionally, old people donned sheets and frightened disobedient boys and girls. Children were also told about Big Cannibal Owl (Pia Mupitsi), who lived in a cave on the south side of the Wichita Mountains and ate bad children at night.
Children learned from example, by observing and listening to their parents and others in the band. As soon as she was old enough to walk, a girl followed her mother about the camp and played at the daily tasks of cooking and making clothing. She was also very close to her mother's sisters, who were called not aunt but pia, meaning mother. She was given a little deerskin doll, which she took with her everywhere. She learned to make all the clothing for the doll.
A boy identified not only with his father but with his father's family, as well as with the bravest warriors in the band. He learned to ride a horse before he could walk. By the time he was four or five, he was expected to be able to skillfully handle a horse. When he was five or six, he was given a small bow and arrows. Often, a boy was taught to ride and shoot by his grandfather, since his father and other warriors were on raids and hunts. His grandfather also taught him about his own boyhood and the history and legends of the Comanche.
As the boy grew older, he joined the other boys to hunt birds. He eventually ranged farther from camp looking for better game to kill. Encouraged to be skillful hunters, boys learned the signs of the prairie as they learned to patiently and quietly stalk game. They became more self-reliant, yet, by playing together as a group, also formed the strong bonds and cooperative spirit that they would need when they hunted and raided.
Boys were highly respected because they would become warriors and might die young in battle. As he approached manhood, a boy went on his first buffalo hunt. If he made a kill, his father honored him with a feast. Only after he had proven himself on a buffalo hunt was a young man allowed to go to war.
When he was ready to become a warrior, at about age fifteen or sixteen, a young man first "made his medicine" by going on a vision quest (a rite of passage). Following this quest, his father gave the young man a good horse to ride into battle and another mount for the trail. If he had proved himself as a warrior, a Give Away Dance might be held in his honor. As drummers faced east, the honored boy and other young men danced. His parents, along with his other relatives and the people in the band, threw presents at his feet – especially blankets and horses symbolized by sticks. Anyone might snatch one of the gifts for themselves, although those with many possessions refrained; they did not want to appear greedy. People often gave away all their belongings during these dances, providing for others in the band, but leaving themselves with nothing.
Girls learned to gather healthy berries, nuts, and roots. They carried water and collected wood, and when about twelve years old learned to cook meals, make tipis, sew clothing, prepare hides, and perform other tasks essential to becoming a wife and mother. They were then considered ready to be married.
During the 19th century, the traditional Comanche burial custom was to wrap the deceased's body in a blanket and place it on a horse, behind a rider, who would then ride in search an appropriate burial place, such as a secure cave. After entombment, the rider covered the body with stones and returned to camp, where the mourners burned all the deceased's possessions. The primary mourner slashed his arms to express his grief. The Quahada band following this custom longer than other bands and buried their relatives in the Wichita Mountains. Christian missionaries convinced Comanche people to bury their dead in coffins in graveyards, which is the practice today.
When they lived with the Shoshone, the Comanche mainly used dog-drawn travois for transportation. Later, they acquired horses from other tribes, such as the Pueblo, and from the Spaniards. Since horses are faster, easier to control and able to carry more, this helped with their hunting and warfare and made moving camp easier. Larger dwellings were made due to the ability to pull and carry more belongings. Being herbivores, horses were also easier to feed than dogs, since meat was a valuable resource. The horse was of the utmost value to the Comanche. A Comanche man's wealth was measured by the size of his horse herd. Horses were prime targets to steal during raids; often raids were conducted specifically to capture horses. Often horse herds numbering in the hundreds were stolen by Comanche during raids against other Indian nations, Spanish, Mexicans, and later from the ranches of Texans. Horses were used for warfare with the Comanche being considered to be among the finest light cavalry and mounted warriors in history.
Much of the area inhabited by the Comanches was flat and dry, with the exception of major rivers like the Cimarron River, the Pecos River, the Brazos River, and the Red River. The water of these rivers was often too dirty to drink, so the Comanches usually lived along the smaller, clear streams that flowed into them. These streams supported trees that the Comanche used to build shelters.
The Comanche sheathed their tipis with a covering made of buffalo hides sewn together. To prepare the buffalo hides, women first spread them on the ground, then scraped away the fat and flesh with blades made from bones or antlers, and left them in the sun. When the hides were dry, they scraped off the thick hair, and then soaked them in water. After several days, they vigorously rubbed the hides in a mixture of animal fat, brains, and liver to soften the hides. The hides were made even more supple by further rinsing and working back and forth over a rawhide thong. Finally, they were smoked over a fire, which gave the hides a light tan color. To finish the tipi covering, women laid the tanned hides side by side and stitched them together. As many as 22 hides could be used, but 14 was the average. When finished, the hide covering was tied to a pole and raised, wrapped around the cone-shaped frame, and pinned together with pencil-sized wooden skewers. Two wing-shaped flaps at the top of the tipi were turned back to make an opening, which could be adjusted to keep out the moisture and held pockets of insulating air. With a fire pit in the center of the earthen floor, the tipis stayed warm in the winter. In the summer, the bottom edges of the tipis could be rolled up to let cool breezes in. Cooking was done outside during the hot weather. Tipis were very practical homes for itinerant people. Working together, women could quickly set them up or take them down. An entire Comanche band could be packed and chasing a buffalo herd within about 20 minutes. The Comanche women were the ones who did the most work with food processing and preparation.
The Comanche were initially hunter-gatherers. When they lived in the Rocky Mountains, during their migration to the Great Plains, both men and women shared the responsibility of gathering and providing food. When the Comanche reached the plains, hunting came to predominate. Hunting was considered a male activity and was a principal source of prestige. For meat, the Comanche hunted buffalo, elk, black bear, pronghorn, and deer. When game was scarce, the men hunted wild mustangs, sometimes eating their own ponies. In later years the Comanche raided Texas ranches and stole longhorn cattle. They did not eat fish or fowl, unless starving, when they would eat virtually any creature they could catch, including armadillos, skunks, rats, lizards, frogs, and grasshoppers. Buffalo meat and other game was prepared and cooked by the women. The women also gathered wild fruits, seeds, nuts, berries, roots, and tubers — including plums, grapes, juniper berries, persimmons, mulberries, acorns, pecans, wild onions, radishes, and the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. The Comanche also acquired maize, dried pumpkin, and tobacco through trade and raids. Most meats were roasted over a fire or boiled. To boil fresh or dried meat and vegetables, women dug a pit in the ground, which they lined with animal skins or buffalo stomach and filled with water to make a kind of cooking pot. They placed heated stones in the water until it boiled and had cooked their stew. After they came into contact with the Spanish, the Comanche traded for copper pots and iron kettles, which made cooking easier.
Women used berries and nuts, as well as honey and tallow, to flavor buffalo meat. They stored the tallow in intestine casings or rawhide pouches called parfleches. They especially liked to make a sweet mush of buffalo marrow mixed with crushed mesquite beans.
The Comanches sometimes ate raw meat, especially raw liver flavored with gall. They also drank the milk from the slashed udders of buffalo, deer, and elk. Among their delicacies was the curdled milk from the stomachs of suckling buffalo calves. They also enjoyed buffalo tripe, or stomachs.
Comanche people generally had a light meal in the morning and a large evening meal. During the day they ate whenever they were hungry or when it was convenient. Like other Plains Indians, the Comanche were very hospitable people. They prepared meals whenever a visitor arrived in camp, which led to outsiders' belief that the Comanches ate at all hours of the day or night. Before calling a public event, the chief took a morsel of food, held it to the sky, and then buried it as a peace offering to the Great Spirit. Many families offered thanks as they sat down to eat their meals in their tipis.
Comanche children ate pemmican, but this was primarily a tasty, high-energy food reserved for war parties. Carried in a parfleche pouch, pemmican was eaten only when the men did not have time to hunt. Similarly, in camp, people ate pemmican only when other food was scarce. Traders ate pemmican sliced and dipped in honey, which they called Indian bread.
Comanche clothing was simple and easy to wear. Men wore a leather belt with a breechcloth — a long piece of buckskin that was brought up between the legs and looped over and under the belt at the front and back, and loose-fitting deerskin leggings. Moccasins had soles made from thick, tough buffalo hide with soft deerskin uppers. The Comanche men wore nothing on the upper body except in the winter, when they wore warm, heavy robes made from buffalo hides (or occasionally, bear, wolf, or coyote skins) with knee-length buffalo-hide boots. Young boys usually went without clothes except in cold weather. When they reached the age of eight or nine, they began to wear the clothing of a Comanche adult. In the 19th century, men used woven cloth to replace the buckskin breechcloths, and the men began wearing loose-fitting buckskin shirts. The women decorated their shirts, leggings and moccasins with fringes made of deer-skin, animal fur, and human hair. They also decorated their shirts and leggings with patterns and shapes formed with beads and scraps of material. Comanche women wore long deerskin dresses. The dresses had a flared skirt and wide, long sleeves, and were trimmed with buckskin fringes along the sleeves and hem. Beads and pieces of metal were attached in geometric patterns. Comanche women wore buckskin moccasins with buffalo soles. In the winter they, too, wore warm buffalo robes and tall, fur-lined buffalo-hide boots. Unlike the boys, young girls did not go without clothes. As soon as they were able to walk, they were dressed in breechcloths. By the age of twelve or thirteen, they adopted the clothes of Comanche women.
Comanche people took pride in their hair, which was worn long and rarely cut. They arranged their hair with porcupine quill brushes, greased it and parted it in the center from the forehead to the back of the neck. They painted the scalp along the parting with yellow, red, or white clay (or other colors). They wore their hair in two long braids tied with leather thongs or colored cloth, and sometimes wrapped with beaver fur. They also braided a strand of hair from the top of their head. This slender braid, called a scalp lock, was decorated with colored scraps of cloth and beads, and a single feather. Comanche men rarely wore anything on their heads. Only after they moved onto a reservation late in the 19th century did Comanche men begin to wear the typical Plains headdress. If the winter was severely cold, they might wear a brimless, woolly buffalo hide hat. When they went to war, some warriors wore a headdress made from a buffalo's scalp. Warriors cut away most of the hide and flesh from a buffalo head, leaving only a portion of the woolly hair and the horns. This type of woolly, horned buffalo hat was worn only by the Comanche. Comanche women did not let their hair grow as long as the men did. Young women might wear their hair long and braided, but women parted their hair in the middle and kept it short. Like the men, they painted their scalp along the parting with bright paint.
Comanche men usually had pierced ears with hanging earrings made from pieces of shell or loops of brass or silver wire. A female relative would pierce the outer edge of the ear with six or eight holes. The men also tattooed their face, arms, and chest with geometric designs, and painted their face and body. Traditionally they used paints made from berry juice and the colored clays of the Comancheria. Later, traders supplied them with vermilion (red pigment) and bright grease paints. Comanche men also wore bands of leather and strips of metal on their arms. Except for black, which was the color for war, there was no standard color or pattern for face and body painting: it was a matter of individual preference. For example, one Comanche might paint one side of his face white and the other side red; another might paint one side of his body green and the other side with green and black stripes. One Comanche might always paint himself in a particular way, while another might change the colors and designs when so inclined. Some designs had special meaning to the individual, and special colors and designs might have been revealed in a dream. Comanche women might also tattoo their face or arms. They were fond of painting their bodies and were free to paint themselves however they pleased. A popular pattern among the women was to paint the insides of their ears a bright red and paint great orange and red circles on their cheeks. They usually painted red and yellow around their lips.
Because of their frequent traveling, Comanche Indians had to make sure that their household goods and other possessions were unbreakable. They did not use pottery that could easily be broken on long journeys. Basketry, weaving, wood carving, and metal working were also unknown among the Comanches. Instead, they depended upon the buffalo for most of their tools, household goods, and weapons. They made nearly 200 different articles from the horns, hide, and bones of the buffalo.
Removing the lining of the inner stomach, women made the paunch into a water bag. The lining was stretched over four sticks and then filled with water to make a pot for cooking soups and stews. With wood scarce on the plains, women relied on buffalo chips (dried dung) to fuel the fires that cooked meals and warmed the people through long winters.
Stiff rawhide was fashioned into saddles, stirrups and cinches, knife cases, buckets, and moccasin soles. Rawhide was also made into rattles and drums. Strips of rawhide were twisted into sturdy ropes. Scraped to resemble white parchment, rawhide skins were folded to make parfleches in which food, clothing, and other personal belongings were kept. Women also tanned hides to make soft and supple buckskin, which was used for tipi covers, warm robes, blankets, cloths, and moccasins. They also relied upon buckskin for bedding, cradles, dolls, bags, pouches, quivers, and gun cases.
Sinew was used for bowstrings and sewing thread. Hooves were turned into glue and rattles. The horns were shaped into cups, spoons, and ladles, while the tail made a good whip, a fly-swatter, or a decoration for the tipi. Men made tools, scrapers, and needles from the bones, as well as a kind of pipe, and fashioned toys for their children. As warriors, however, men concentrated on making bows and arrows, lances, and shields. The thick neck skin of an old bull was ideal for war shields that deflected arrows as well as bullets. Since they spent most of each day on horseback, they also fashioned leather into saddles, stirrups, and other equipment for their mounts. Buffalo hair was used to fill saddle pads and was also used in rope and halters.
The language spoken by the Comanche people, Comanche (N
um u tekwap u), is a Numic language of the Uto-Aztecan language group. It is closely related to the language of the Shoshone, from which the Comanche diverged around 1700. The two languages remain closely related, but a few low-level sound changes inhibit mutual intelligibility. The earliest records of Comanche from 1786 clearly show a dialect of Shoshone, but by the beginning of the 20th century, these sound changes had modified the way Comanche sounded in subtle, but profound, ways. Although efforts are now being made to ensure survival of the language, most of its speakers are elderly, and less than one percent of the Comanches can speak it.
In the late 19th century, many Comanche children were placed in boarding schools with children from different tribes. The children were taught English and discouraged from speaking their native language. Anecdotally, enforcement of speaking English was severe. The objectives were to ensure safety (in an emergency, it would have been impossible to relay information to the children quickly in every known language and dialect) and to establish a common language between the teachers and administration of the boarding schools, as well as among the children from different tribes.
Quanah Parker learned and spoke English and was adamant that his own children do the same. The second generation then grew up speaking English, because it was believed[who?] that it was better for them not to know Comanche.
During World War II, a group of 17 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.
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