Unlike the Caddo and Wichita tribes who lived along the Red River, the Comanche
did not originate from earlier cultures along the watershed. Instead, these nomadic
people wandered into the Texas panhandle from their original homelands in
Wyoming. They reached to the Balcones Fault (near present-day Austin), thus
claiming a very large territory that encompassed over half of Texas. Their relatives
are other Numic speakers, like the Shoshones and the Utes. Their main occupation
was war, and upon coming into their new territory, they pushed tribes like the
Apaches and Wichitas away through sustained warfare. Interestingly, their rise to
power coincided with the rise of the Spanish empire, and they actually piggy-backed
off the Europeans when they discovered how useful horses were. The Comancheria -
the Empire of the Comanches - became a formidable force for both the European and
Anglo American colonizers.

The Nermernuh
In the Comanche language, the word for themselves is Nermernuh, which translates
to simply "people." While they had language in common, the Comanches were
actually much decentralized. Several bands of family clans made up the
Comancheria. Some bands remained friendly with each other, while other bands
might be at war with based on with whom one of the bands allied. The Comanches
named their bands based on an idiosyncrasies. Some band names (translated to
English) were: Yap Eaters, Antelopes, Those who moved often, Liver-Eaters,
Onion-Eaters, Honey-Eaters and Buffalo-Eaters.

In Comanche, the band "Those who moved often" is
Nokoni. This was Chief Peta
Nokona's band. After Nokona was killed at the Battle of Pease River in 1860, the
band's name was changed, as it was taboo to use a dead man's name (Peta Nokona
was the husband of Cynthia Ann Parker; see her history further down this essay).
The Honey-Eaters are the Penatekas. This was a band that sought peace with the
Texans in 1840, but were massacred instead when Texans demanded that the
Comanches release kidnapped people. The Penatekas could not guarantee what
other bands were doing, but the Texans refused to understand the nature of
Comanche decentralization and declared war on all Comanches instead.
Caddos         Wichitas         Comanches         Kiowas
Shawnees        Osages        Tonkawas
 Choctaws        Chickasaws        End of the Trail
The Comanche Nation
A Comanche camp of the Horse-Backs Band at Fort
Sill, 1873. Photo by John Soule, LOC.
Until the end of the Red
River Wars in 1875
, the
Comanches ruled Texas.
In this portion of a much
larger map from 1841,
both the mapmaker, John
Arrowsmith, and the
geographer William
Bollaert mention a
number of features
associated with the
Comanches - including
the Spanish mission at
San Saba, which the
Comanches raided with
the Taovayans in 1757
Comanche Medicine
The Comanche bands existed primarily on the warrior's choice of their leader. Chief
positions were hereditary, though successful warriors not from the leader class
could challenge new chiefs. Another important aspect of the Comanches were
vision questions. Both men and women undertook vision quests by sweating, then
fasting (sometimes; this was not a prescribed regimen), ingesting a hallucinogenic
like peyote, and then retreating to a high place in the hopes of achieving a vivid
dream. The vision they hoped to attain would lead them to their destiny, either as a
great warrior, leader, or healer. Upon receiving a vision that satisfied them, a person
might change his or her name, thus cementing the new identity. If a man had been a
successful warrior or hunter prior to his vision, he could trade his previous name to
another man who might find better luck under a new name.

After a vision question, successful warriors and hunters lobbied other warriors to
convince them to join his destiny in spite of the established chief. This was not
guaranteed; new chiefs had to continuously prove themselves worthy of being
followed, and older chiefs might challenge them. Many boys went to the Medicine
Mounds near Chillicothe, Hardeman County, Texas to undergo this ritual; others
tried their luck on top of Comanche Peak near Granbury, Texas or Mount Scott near
Lawton, Oklahoma. Prior to vision quests as well as during times of sickness or
before a battle, Comanches spent time in sweat lodges to cleanse themselves and
hold prayers.

The Comanche belief system relied on medicine. Medicine men and Medicine
women were the healers and soothsayers who helped individuals if they were sick,
needed some metaphysical assistance (like love potions and the like), or desired
guidance. The medicine people received tributes and in return, offered tokens that
could act as medicine, such as a pouch filled with herbs or a special rock. Like the
Wichitas, the Comanches revered meteorites as medicine. They prayed and offered
tributes to at least three meteorites in the North Texas prairies, which they named.
The largest of these stones was po-a-cat-le-pi-le-carre, a 1,600 lbs iron boulder that
was stolen in 1806 by Henry Glass, an Anglo American trader, whose expedition may
have been paid for by John Sibley, the Indian Agent based in Natchitoches. This
meteorite was also used by the Taovayans for medicine; it's interesting to note that
the theft of the medicine stone coincided with increased disease and warfare for
both the Wichitas and the Comanches.
Cynthia Ann Parker, with her
daughter Topsannah
, cut her hair
as a sign of mourning her dead
A relic from another era: Comanche warrior
shield, 1891. (LOC)
Comanche Women
Both women and men could partake in vision quests to cure sicknesses, learn
healing, or to find guidance, but only men were destined to become leaders. The
Comanches had a highly gendered hierarchy. Since they were a nomadic people who
sustained themselves through hunting and territorial warfare, both male
occupations, men naturally usurped the primary power roles. Unlike the Caddos and
Wichitas, Comanche families were patriarchal. Upon puberty, brothers lived in
separate tipis next to their parents. Unaccompanied brother and sister contact was
strictly taboo in Comanche culture, which had strong aversion to any hints of incest
- cousin marriage was also strictly prohibited. Marriage was arranged between the
fathers of each party; once married, the woman moved to her husband's tipi. As the
couple became successful, the wife built a tipi for her own family, which may include
subsequent wives as Comanche men practiced polygamy. Though a favorite wife
received special privileges, most women were the workhorses of the tribe. They
carried all supplies from camp to camp, set up the camps, made tools, worked the
animals and the hides, and did all manual labor. Anglo men recounted that the
Comanche men treated the women 'like dogs' and laughed at their labors, even
encouraging fights amongst the women.

It is small wonder that in this environment, the Comanche women welcomed slaves.
Comanches, like other Plains tribes, practiced kidnap slavery. This differed from the
southern, plantation-style slave system, because slavery perpetrated by Indians was
temporary; if the ransom was high enough, a kidnapped person was released. Also,
kidnapped children were often adopted into the tribe, and were treated like the
native-born children, except they couldn't take any leadership roles.

Comanche men raided an enemy camp or settlement and killed the men, older
women, infants, and sometimes, the male children. They took with them young
women and children. The young women suffered gang rapes and faced torture
before being put to work inside Comanche camps, where they toiled under the
non-sympathetic eyes of the Comanche women. Young kidnapped children,
however, were raised like Comanche children. They were spoiled (Comanche
children did not suffer corporal punishments), taught the ways of the Comanches,
and learned the language. These practices often occurred between warring tribes,
but after European contact, the Comanches perpetrated these kidnapping raids
against Mexican, Texan, and American settlements.

One of the most famous kidnappings happened near today's Mexia, Limestone
County, Texas in 1836. The Parker and Plummer families had built a protective fort
around their farm, but the Comanches raided it, anyway. They killed most of the men
and women and kidnapped Rachel Plummer, Cynthia Ann Parker, James Plummer,
and John Parker. While Cynthia Ann, James Plummer, and John Parker were
adopted into the tribe and learned to live as Comanches, Rachel Plummer's fate was
horrific. The Comanche men dragged her newborn baby through cactii until it was
dead, and she endured repeated "outrages" (rapes). Once inside the camp, Rachel
was forced to work as a hide tanner. For over two years she moved with the
Comanche band from camp to camp, at times finding kindness and at other times
having to fight for her life. The Parkers and Plummers, with help from Sam Houston,
ransomed for the children they could find, including Rachel. She was successfully
ransomed through a series of traders until finally, she was reunited with her kin. Her
return to Anglo society did not last long, however; she died within two years of her

Cynthia Ann Parker fared much better. She grew up to be a physically strong
woman, a trait that was highly valued in Comanche society. She married Peta
Nokona and had several children with him. During a battle at the Pease River
between Nokona's band and Texas Rangers, Nokona died, the rest of the band
dispersed, and Cynthia Ann was captured when it was discovered that she had "blue
eyes, like a white woman." Cynthia Ann, along with her daughter Topsannah, was
reunited with her Anglo family. However, Topsannah perished from disease, and
Cynthia Ann longed for her Comanche sons, one of whom was the famous Quanah
Parker (they would never see each other again). Cynthia Ann, like her cousin Rachel,
only survived two years after her reintroduction to the Anglo world. She is buried at
Fort Sill.

The Horsemen of the Plains
Their incredible talent with horses kept the Comanches in control of their vast
empire even as the Europeans invaded their territory. The Spanish government left
the Comancheria alone, especially after its defeat at Spanish Fort. Spanish traders
brought goods and ransomed kidnapped people back and forth, and also
inter-married with the tribe; these men became known as Comancheros. They meted
out merciless warfare on sworn enemies, like the Tonkawas, whom they tortured
before killing. Interactions with Anglos and African Americans varied. The
Penatekas, for example, sought peace but were attacked by the Texans at San
Antonio in 1840. Comanche bands staged depredations upon ranches and farms.
According to Texans, raids were continuous and unbearable. Thus, by the 1850s, the
US army established a defensive line of forts along the "frontier" (borderlands)
between the Comancheria, Texan, and Choctaw/Chickasaw settlements: close to the
Red River Valley were camps Johnston, Worth and Cooper and forts Arbuckle,
Belknap and Phantom Hill. The soldiers stationed at the forts, which included Robert
E. Lee and William Tecumseh Sherman, did not see any combat, however. The
Comanche warriors knew to stay away from areas where they could be outnumbered
and outgunned. This is why Texas accused the U.S. government of not protecting
them from Indians in their 1861 secession document.

During the Civil War, Comanche raids in Cooke, Montague, Tarrant, Clay, Jack,
Young, Palo Pinto, and Parker counties, as well as inside Indian Territory and the
Texas panhandle, increased. Texas dispatched troops to deal with this problem -
some men, like Charles Goodnight, served in the Confederate Army as Indian
fighters and in return, received large swaths of land after the war. Interestingly, many
of the supposed attacks in these counties may be greatly exaggerated tales (this is a
topic the Red River Historian will explore further).

War on the Comanches
After the Civil War, the federal government sought to wipe out the Plains Indians in
multiple ways in order to populate the Great Plains with farmers through the
Homestead Act of 1862. One way was that in 1867, the Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty
between the United States and the Comanche, Kiowa, Arapaho, Apache, and other
tribes attempted to assure peace by setting aside lands in Indian Territory. These
lands, by the way, had been part of the Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee
nations; the U.S. government had voided prior treaties with the tribes it removed
from the southeastern U.S. in the 1830s due to their divided loyalties during the Civil
War. Another way was through the merciless hunting of the bisons, which also
assisted in railroad building and cattle driving. Yet another way was by
re-establishing frontier forts: the army built Forts Sill, Richardson, and Griffin, and
Camp Aurgur to monitor reconstruction efforts and enforce Indian removals into
Indian Territory. The Comanches, Arapahoes, Apaches, Cheyennes, and Kiowas
resisted. While some peace-bands acquiesced to the treaties, the war bands
continued their raids. Some of these forays were staged from inside the reservations.

Part of the treaties stipulated that the Plains Indians must give up their nomadic
lifestyle - that meant that hunting and trading was no longer allowed. The tribes were
supposed to stay on their reservations to become farmers and await their monthly
allotments. The men became restless and the women and children started to go
hungry; alcoholism became a scourge in the tribes. Seeing this slow-moving
destruction, soldiers in Fort Sill did not stop the men from leaving the reservation to
go on expeditions. In May of 1871, several hundred Kiowas and Comanches , who
considered themselves on the warpath, left Fort Sill to hide out along the old
stagecoach road by the Salt Creek in Young County. The Indians allowed a
contingent of troops, led by William Tecumseh Sherman, to pass unmolested;
however, they ambushed a group of teamsters from the Warren Wagon Train
Company who were delivering supplies to Fort Griffin and killed seven.

Red River War
Upon returning to Fort Sill, the Indians were arrested and faced a criminal trial. The
U.S. had changed Indian Policy during the Civil War to treat any acts of violence
perpetrated by Native Americans as crimes rather than acts of war. The
consequences of the Salt Creek Massacre had a much father reach: they set the
stage for the 1874-1875 Red River Wars, in which William Tecumseh Sherman
charged Ranald S. MacKenzie to wage a war of attrition - including killing all of the
tribe's horses and bison - to force them onto the reservations.

The Red River War of 1874-1875 coincided with the introduction of the Winchester
Rifle. This repeat-action weapon out-gunned the tribes; the sheer number of troops
out-manned them, too. Famous "last chiefs" participated in this war: Geronimo of
the Chiricahua Apaches, Quanah Parker (son of tragic Cynthia Ann) of the
Comaches; and Lone Wolf of the Kiowas.

After the Battle at Palo Duro in 1875, the war ended. The Comanches, Kiowas,
Apaches, Arapahoes, and Cheyennes trickled into Fort Sill, where the warriors were
arrested and sent to prison at Fort Marion in Florida. Upon their return (if they
survived), they remained on the reservation to become farmers. Their children were
sent to boarding schools to learn the ways of the "Americans." Even their religious
practices were curtailed. When the Ghost Dance Revival movement came to Fort Sill
in 1890, the army outlawed the rituals. Sweat lodges, vision quests, and Sun Dances
became forbidden, too. The U.S. was hell-bent on killing the Indian, and the nation
almost accomplished it. After Oklahoma Territory was carved out of Indian Territory
in 1890, their reservations were opened for land lotteries, which allowed the whites,
who were already chomping at the bit to gain access to Indian Territory lands, to
stake land claims. The Supreme Court upheld the federal government's rights to do
this in spite of the Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty in its decision, Lone Wolf v.
Hitchcock (1903): according to the Supreme Court, the U.S. had the right to abrogate
any and all treaties it signs. It has no obligation to honor any of them.


The Plains tribes were thoroughly defeated. However, the catastrophes of the Great
Depression and the Dust Bowl, which affected the tribes at a much higher rate than
the non-natives in Indian Territory, convinced the federal government to grant
self-control to the tribes. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 stabilized the tribes
and re-established some tribal autonomy. Today, the Comanche Nation still calls
Fort Sill its home; their national headquarter is in Lawton. A revival of Native
American culture from the 1970s onward has helped the tribe hang onto their
identity. While they can no longer claim the Medicine Mounds nor Comanche Peak
as their own, tribal members still attend sweat lodges, go on vision quests, and
participate in ceremonial dances.
Funeral of Quanah
Parker, last of the
warrior chiefs, near
Cache, Oklahoma in
February 1911 (LOC).