Indigenous Women Of America - Comanche Girl, 1885. The Comanche are a Native American tribe from the Great Plains, Rockies, Texas, & the Ozarks in the United States. Along with the Sioux, the Comanche often raided the American West from the 1850s until the 1868-1875 Red River War, which destroyed the Plains Indians & forced the Comanche to submit to the US. 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.
Comancheria, the former territory of the Comanche including large portions of Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma & Kansas
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 & 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.) From Natchitoches in Spanish Louisiana, Athanase de Mézières reported in 1770, that the Comanches were "so skillful in horsemanship that they have no equal, so daring that they never ask for or grant truces, & in possession of such a territory that... they only just fall short of possessing all of the conveniences of the earth, & have no need to covet the trade pursued by the rest of the Indians."
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 & 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 may be the location mentioned by Athanase de Mézières in 1772, containing "a mass of metal which the Indians say is hard, thick, heavy, & 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 & the Mescalero Apache to Coahuila.
During that time, their population increased dramatically because of the abundance of buffalo, an influx of Shoshone migrants, & their adoption of significant numbers of women & 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 & culture, & rarely fought each other. They were estimated to have taken captive thousands of people from the Spanish, Mexican & American settlers in their lands.
By the mid-19C, the Comanche were supplying horses to French & American traders & settlers, & 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 & settlers; they earned their reputation as formidable horse thieves, later extending their rustling to cattle. Their stealing of livestock from Spanish & American settlers, as well as the other Plains tribes, often led to battles.
The Comanche also had access to vast numbers of feral horses, which numbered approximately 2,000,000 in & around Comancheria, & which the tribe was particularly skilled at breaking to saddle. In the late 18C & early 19C, 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 & 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, & weapons. The majority of Comanche raids into Mexico were in the state of Chihuahua & neighboring northern states.