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 Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Horses enabled Comanches
to rule Texas

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

It's hard to find anyone, young or old, who is not familiar with the term Six Flags Over Texas.

Most would say it is the big tourist attraction in the Metroplex.

Few can name the actual flags or countries that have claimed ownership of Texas since the beginning, which is the real reason for the existence of the term.

Few historians acknowledge another dominating owner of much of Texas for more than 150 years, the Comanche Indian tribes.

The name comes from "Komantieia," a Ute Indian word meaning enemy. The Comanche tribe call themselves "Nermernal," which means human beings.

Comancheria, the name given to the area ruled by the Comanche in 1850, includes approximately one-half of Texas, more than one-half of New Mexico, about two-thirds of Colorado and one-third of the southern part of Kansas.

Their rule lasted almost 150 years as no matter who you were, civilian or military, or how big a stick you carried, when you entered Comancheria, you literally put your life and the lives of those with you into Comanche hands.

In more than five centuries of American history, about 572 Indian tribes have been recorded. Devastated by hunger, drought, harsh winters and epidemics, the tribes were hard-pressed to hold an average population. Continually merging, changing names, winning and losing in combat, and trying to survive disease made it difficult for historians to keep track of and record accurate statistics and names.

The Comanche is believed to have originated from a Northern Shoshone tribe living in the Casper, Wyo., area where harsh winters drove them south in search of warmth and buffalo.

Comanche culture was built around the use of horses for all reasons. Over time they learned that approximately 100 members was the best sustainable group and split the tribes into 12 groups originally for that purpose. Eventually they grew to 4,000 members in their heyday.

Many stories and theories have been written about how the Indians acquired horses. The most practical theory, backed up in Spanish archives, stated horses became plentiful when Don Juan Onate brought 300 mares and colts to the Santa Fe area in New Mexico in 1598.

Spanish domination of horse ownership ended abruptly in 1690 with the Pueblo Indian Revolt. The entire surviving Spanish population fled south for their lives, leaving herds of sheep, cattle and horses behind.

From that moment on horses became the wealth of Indian tribes. Once the Indian obtained the horse, they became a force to be reckoned with throughout the southwestern United States and its territories.

The end of Comancheria came only when Col. Ranald Mackenzie trapped the main force of Comanches in winter camp in Palo Duro Canyon, capturing approximately 1,500 head of horses.

About 365 head were given to the Indian scouts who first located the tribes, leaving approximately 1,000 head to be slaughtered, thus ending the reign of Comanche domination.

Thanks to Carl Williamson of Miami, Texas, for much of the research for this article.


Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
August 11, 2009 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.

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