Comanche history conflicts with the United States expansion so much that “Comanche” was a slang term in boot-strapping cowboy films of old for any Native American. Most notably, The Searchers featured prominent run-ins with this particular tribe. That, of course, is a highly selective historical lens. The real history of the Comanches involves conflict, yes, but culture and mythology as well.
Read on to learn about the real history of the Comanche tribe and how they integrated with the expanding American territories (and how they didn’t). While rife with conflict, this history remains an essential piece of United States history. From it, we can learn and grow if we apply its lessons to today.
Who were the Comanches?
The Comanches roamed the Southern Great Plains in the 1700s and 1800s. The Comanches roamed South across the plains and displaced many other tribes. With as many as 30,000 people, the Comanches ran the Apaches from their territory with organized attacks.
They weren’t solely concerned with fighting, however. Comanches thrived on products derived from buffalo and often formed large groups or bands to acquire them. Their social structure, based on mutual kinship and survival surrounded the buffalo and the goods it could bring them, such as tepee covers and water carriers.
Comanches learned to ride horses before many of the region’s tribes. They even fought from their horses, which very few Native Americans ever learned to do. This meant that the adept Comanche horseman defined the height of Native American power in combat in the region. They would use horses to adopt a more nomadic lifestyle that spread across the Plains through the 1700s and 1800s, influencing other tribes to do the same.
What Happened to the Comanches?
Comanches led violent raids for materials and slaves throughout the plains, even as far South as some upper Mexican territories. Their 5 major bands devoted themselves to protecting their land from settlers.
This came to a head in 1864 when Colonel Kit Carson began a campaign to displace the Comanches. This did not succeed by force, but by treaty. The Comanche were promised territory in Western Oklahoma in exchange for vacating the plains territory and ceasing their raids. The United States did not keep this bargain, however, and fights continued to break out until 1867. At this time, another treaty was signed relegating the Comanche, as well as the Kiowa, to an Oklahoma reservation.
Many Comanche believed they should not sign this treaty, insisting instead on living in the area originally promised in 1865. However, the United States government retaliated harshly against those who tried, leading to violent conflicts for many years to come.
Comanche History: The Takeaway
Comanche history does not end in the 1860s. Today, more than 17,000 people of Comanche descent still live and thrive, whether on reservations or elsewhere. There are many lessons to learn from their story, not the least of which is that a dishonorable government leads to death and struggle. We must learn to co-exist and keep our promises if we have any hope of keeping this particular history in the past.