The Comanches were exceptional nomadic horsemen who dominated the Southern Plains. Buffalo provided food, clothing, and shelter. Because of their skills as traders, the Comanches controlled much of the commerce of the Southern Plains.
Democratic principles were strongly implanted. Each tribal division had both civil or peace chiefs and war chiefs. Tribal decisions were made by a council of chiefs presided over by the head civil chief. Comanche society permitted great individual freedom. This autonomy complicated relations with European cultures.
The armed and mounted Comanches became a threatening force in Texas. Spanish officials, lacking the resources to defeat them militarily, decided to pursue peace. They used trade and gifts to promote friendship and authorized military force only to punish acts of aggression.
When Texas won independence from Mexico in 1836, the Comanches controlled the Texas plains, conducting raids everywhere. President Sam Houston wanted to establish peace and friendship through trade.
President Mirabeau B. Lamar abandoned Houston’s peace policy in favor of war with the Comanche nation. When Texas officials attempted to arrest a Comanche peace delegation in 1840, thirty-five Comanches, including twelve chiefs, were killed. Comanches launched a retaliatory raid, devastating two towns and killing twenty-five Texans. The Comanches escaped northward, but they were caught and defeated by Texan forces. This tremendous loss of leadership and manpower led the Comanches to move out of Texas. Lamar's policy had succeeded in removing the Comanches from the borders of Texas, but at a terrible cost to both sides.
Texas was annexed to the Union in 1845, and the U.S. government took over the administration of Texas Indian affairs. Federal agents and Comanche leaders attempted to preserve peace despite frequent outbreaks of hostilities. White settlement continued to encroach on Comanche hunting grounds. In 1849 the army established a line of forts to protect the frontier, but settlers rapidly moved beyond the established barrier. To protect both settlers and Indians, two reservations were established in Texas in 1854.
In 1859, the reservation Comanches were moved to Indian Territory, where they were given a tract of land. Tribes not on reservations increased their raids during the Civil War.
When the war ended, the federal government renewed frontier defenses and its treaty-making with the Plains tribes. In order to open the region to white settlers, they wanted to relocate the nomadic tribesmen to reservations. An 1867 treaty established a reservation for the Indians. The treaty did not greatly improve conditions in Texas, however, because the Comanches would not stay on the lands allotted them. They continued destructive raids.
By 1875 the Comanche population was reduced to 1,597. Reservation life forced a complete restructuring of Comanche society. The federal government attempted to transform the hunters and warriors into farmers and stockmen. Their cultural values and beliefs were under constant attack as they were encouraged to take up the white man's ways. Unable to support themselves and receiving little support from the government, Comanches suffered terribly.
Source: Comanche Indians
Copyright © Texas State Historical Association