Subject: mounted raider
Culture: southern Shoshone / early Comanche
Setting: New Mexico 1706-1787
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* Hämäläinen 2008 p18
"Despite its modest beginnings, the Comanche exodus to the southern plains is one of the key turning points in early American history. It was a commonplace migration that became a full-blown colonizing project with far-reaching geo-political, economic, and cultural repercussions. It set off a half-century-long war with the Apaches and resulted in the relocation of Apachería -- a massive geo-political entity in its own right -- from the grasslands south of the Rio Grande, at the very center of northern New Spain. The Comanche invasion of the southern plains was, quite simply, the longest and bloodiest conquering campaign the American West had witnessed -- or would witness until the encroachment of the United States a century and a half later."
* Hämäläinen 2008 p2
"For a century, roughly from 1750 to 1850, the Comanches were the dominant people in the Southwest, and they manipulated and exploited the colonial outposts in New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and northern Mexico to increase their safety, prosperity, and power. They extracted resources and labor from their Euro-American and Indian neighbors through thievery and tribute and incorporated foreign ethnicities into their ranks as adopted kinspeople, slaves, workers, dependents, and vassals. The Comanche empire was powered by violence, but, like most viable empires, it was first and foremost an economic construction. At its core was an extensive commercial network that allowed Comanches to control nearby border markets and long-distance trade, swing surrounding groups into their political orbit, and spread their language and culture across the midcontinent. And as always, long-term foreign political dominance rested on dynamic internal development. To cope with the opportunities and challenges of their rapid expansion, Comanches created a centralized multilevel political system, a flourishing market economy, and a graded social organization that was flexible enough to sustain and survive the burdens of their external ambitions."
* Hämäläinen 2008 p65-66
"Comanches' power complex was much more than a military creation; it was also, and indeed primarily, a political construction. Their colonization of the southern plains was a military enterprise built on astute and pragmatic diplomacy. As they swept across the southern plains, Comanches forged a series of strategic alliances, which buttressed their own strength while leaving their competitors variously defenseless and divided. They defeated the Apaches and their Spanish allies in several successive wars, and in all those wars they fought with powerful allies of their own. They sustained their long-standing union with the Utes for decades, only to detach themselves from the alliance in the 1750s, when the collapse of Apache resistance on the Llano Estacado turned Utes from useful allies into rivals. Exploiting existing rifts among Spanish colonists and their subject peoples, Comanches nurtured close ties with Taoseños, who supplied them with horses and weapons even when an open war raged between New Mexico and Comanches. Twice, in the early 1750s and in the early 1760s, Comanches also negotiated highly favorable peace treaties with New Mexico, blending diplomatic persuasion with the threat of violence to force the Spaniards to modify their aggressively paternalistic frontier policy toward a more accomodative approach.
"The pinnacle of Comanches' diplomacy was the sweeping alliance network they forged in the early 1750s with the Taovayas, Skidi and Chaui Pawnees, Tonkawas, Hasinais, and French Louisiana. That cluster of alliances turned the nascent Comanchería from an isolated, militarized landscape into a nexus point of multiple trade routes while leaving the Apaches and Spaniards politically and commercially marginalized. It gave Comanches an access to guns, powder, lead and other European goods and allowed them to play the Spaniards off against their French rivals. It also enabled them to mobilize large multinational military campaigns, which crushed the remains of Apache resistance and forced New Spain to accept a new geopolitical order on its northern borderlands."
* Wishart ed. 2007 p50
"Details of Aboriginal clothing are scanty, but it seems that summer dress was minimal. Men wore perhaps only a shirt, a breechcloth, possibly leggings, and mocassins."
* Paterek 1994 p104
"The men's breechclouts had knee-length flaps front and back and were ornamented with shells, long fringes, bottom tabs, and narrow beaded edgings. Thigh-length close-fitting leggings were gartered below the knees, and had triangular flaps with long twisted fringes and bottom tabs, often with a bunch of eagle feathers at the sides, and were frequently painted blue. Shirts of any kind seem not to have been worn before the traders came ...."
* Jasinski 2008 p8
"Comanche society practiced the art of warfare and held its highest esteem for the young warrior who exhibited aggressiveness and bravery. In battle, they often measured success by the amount of plunder and number of scalps taken. They also attributed great prowess as a warrior to the aid of a supernatural power acquired from spirit creatures during a vision quest. Comanches engaged in frequent raids on other Indian groups and later on pioneer settlements. War parties decorated themselves and their horses with bold shades of red, yellow, black, or green paints to create colorful spectacles that evoked both fear and admiration in onlookers."
* Cisneros 1984 p147
"[T]he report dated 1786 from Commandant General Jacobo Ugarte y Loyola, who was himself an Indian fighter, strikes a curious note. The report is of his own words, delivered in the Indians' own language, to a delegation of Comanches who had come to Chihuahua City to confirm a peace treaty. The Commandant had this to say:
"'All of these Indians are robust, good looking and extremely happy. Their faces show forth the martial, frank and generous character that distinguishes this nation from the others from this frontier. Their dress is decent, fashioned from buffalo skins they provide themselves. They paint their faces with red ochre and other earths, highlighting their eyelids with vermillion. They love adornments and sport them especially in their hair which they wear braided and intertwined with beads....'"
* Weber 2005 p74
"Although the horse made them more robust warriors and raiders, Apaches who hunted buffalo on the southern plains lost ground to southward-moving Comanches in the early eighteenth century. The plains of today's eastern Colorado, eastern New Mexico, Kansas, and West Texas would seem to have ample space for both groups, but in wintertime each depended on narrow river valleys for water, wood, and shelter. In the summer, Apache farmers needed those valleys to sustain their crops; Comanches, who did not farm, needed them for water. Comanches and Apaches also competed in the same markets for trade goods and corn. In the end, Comanches won. More mobile than the semi-sedentary plains Apaches and possessed of larger herds, Comanches drove Apaches south and west, hard against Spanish settlements in Coahuila, Chihuahua, and Sonora. "Comanches prevailed over Apaches because they had greater access to European firearms, which they obtained from the French via Kansas, Wichitas, and other intermediate Indian peoples, and they stood between Apaches and their principal sources of firearms to the east. Guns and ammunition, it would seem, could not gain widespread currency far beyond their sources because Indians depended on Europeans for a steady supply of gunpowder and lead shot. Nonetheless, Indians who lived at some remove from Europeans might obtain guns and ammunition through Native middlemen. At mid-century the governor of New Mexico warned presciently that Comanches were acquiring such large quantities of firearms, powder, and shot that 'they will be greatly feared in this province.' Soon they were. By the 1760s, firearms had shifted the balance of power on the southern plains to the well-armed Comanches and their Wichita allies. 'The old conquistadors,' the leading military officer in northern New Spain observed in 1780, 'fought with peoples who had not seen horses or firearms, but Apaches, Comanches, and the other Indians of the North employ them skillfully.'"