Natives – Native Americans 

ApacheArapahoBlackfeetCarrizo ComecrudoCherokeeCheyenneChickasawChoctaw 

ComancheCrowKickapooKiowaOsageQuapawSioux LakotaSioux Oglala – Tejas


From our vertical files in the historical department: source

Natives “Rawhide Buttes – The Sioux for these buttes is ‘Tahalo Paha’. ‘Tahalo’ means rawhide, and ‘Paha’ is the Sioux word for ‘buttes’ or ‘hills’. The Indians had at one time killed a great number of buffalo, skinned them, and left a great pile of rawhides at the foot of one of the buttes, and when they returned the rawhides were gone, evidently stolen by white trappers.”



Probably the most painful Native American ceremony was the Sun Dance of the Plains people. This involved dancers having skewers implanted in their chest muscles and being attached by
rope to the sacred cottonwood tree. In return for their pain, they hoped for a plentiful supply of buffalo.

The Ghost Dance was a late addition to Native American belief systems, appearing around 1890. It was believed that the ritual dance would help restore the old way of life before the arrival of the Europeans. The dance promised the return of the buffalo and communication with the spirits of the dead. Although the Ghost Dance was peaceful, army authorities outlawed its performance.


The Trails Drovers of Texas


By L. B. Anderson of Seguin, Texas  (1870’s)

The Indians at the Red Cloud agency in Dakota did not bury their dead under the ground, but would erect a scaffold some eight or ten feet high, place the body thereon and cover it with a red blanket, besides placing a bow and quiver of arrows, with a pot of food on the scaffold for the deceased Indian to use on his journey to the “happy hunting grounds.” Every animal the dead Indian owned was brought to the scaffold and killed. I have seen as many as twelve dead horses at one scaffold and several dead dogs.



Effects of the Extermination.

The buffalo supplied the Indian with food, clothing, shelter, bedding, saddles, ropes, shields, and innumerable smaller articles of use and ornament In the United States a paternal government takes the place of the buffalo in supplying all these wants of the red man, and it costs several millions of dollars annually to accomplish the task.

The following are the tribes which depended very largely—some almost wholly—upon the buffalo for the necessities, and many of the luxuries, of their savage life until the Government began to support them:
The Indians of what was once the buffalo country are not starving and freezing, for the reason that the United States Government supplies them regularly with beef and blankets in lieu of buffalo. Does anyone imagine that the Government could not have regulated the killing of buffaloes, and thus maintained the supply, for far less money than it now costs to feed and clothe those 54,758 Indians!This enumeration (from the census of 1886) leaves entirely out of consideration many thousands of Indians living in the Indian Territory and other portions of the Southwest, who drew an annual supply of meat and robes from the chase of the buffalo, notwithstanding the fact that their chief dependence was upon agriculture.

How is it with the Indians of the British Possessions to-day?

Prof. John Maconn writes as follows in his “Manitoba and the Great Northwest,” page 342:

“During the last three years [prior to 1883] the great herds have been kept south of our boundary, and, as the result of this, our Indians have been on the verge of starvation. When the hills were covered with countless thousands [of buffaloes] in 1877, the Blackfeet were dying of starvation in 1879.”

During the winter of 1886-’87, destitution and actual starvation prevailed to an alarming extent among certain tribes of Indians in the Northwest Territory who once lived bountifully on the buffalo. A terrible tale of suffering in the Athabasca and Peace River country has recently (1888) come to the minister of the interior of the Canadian government, in the form of a petition signed by the bishop of that diocese, six clergymen and missionaries, and several justices of the peace. It sets forth that “owing to the destruction of game, the Indians, both last winter and last summer, have been in a state of starvation. They are now in a complete state of destitution, and are utterly unable to provide themselves with clothing, shelter, ammunition, or food for the coming winter.” The petition declares that on account of starvation, and consequent cannibalism, a party of twenty-nine Cree Indians was reduced to three in the winter of 1886.[77] Of the Fort Chippewyan Indians, between twenty and thirty starved to death last winter, and the death of many more was hastened by want of food and by famine diseases. Many other Indians—Crees, Beavers, and Chippewyans—at almost all points where there are missions or trading posts, would certainly have starved to death but for the help given them by the traders and missionaries at those places. It is now declared by the signers of the memorial that scores of families, having lost their heads by starvation, are now perfectly helpless, and during the coming winter must either starve to death or eat one another unless help comes. Heart-rending stories of suffering and cannibalism continue to come in from what was once the buffalo plains.

If ever thoughtless people were punished for their reckless improvidence, the Indians and half-breeds of the Northwest Territory are now paying the penalty for the wasteful slaughter of the buffalo a few short years ago. The buffalo is his own avenger, to an extent his remorseless slayers little dreamed he ever could be.


Piegan, Blood, and Blackfeet2,026
Gros Ventres856
Bannack and Shoshone2,001
Nez Percé1,460
Kiowas and Comanches2,756


The Waterloo Express March 6, 1879

How the Indians Hunt the Bison

Before the horse came into use Indians were obliged to chase the bison on foot, and even at that present day there are many celebrated hunters who are able to run down a bison on foot and kill it with a lance. The mode however, which is generally adopted in the chase by mounted hunters, a chase which offers the greatest results, and exhibits the wildest enthusiasm and excitement. Armed merely with tiny and flint headed arrows, the native hunter mounts his horse, and goes off in chase of the bison.

When he comes up with the animals, he selects one, usually of fat and well conditioned cow, presses his horse to her, and prepares his bow and arrow. The well-trained horse needs no gilding, but keeps close to the right shoulder of the bison, and a little behind it, so that it may not run upon the horns of the animal if it should happen to stop suddenly and turn its head. This plan, moreover, just bring the rider into the proper position to deliver his arrow in the most deadly manner, i.e., directing that just behind the shoulder. When an arrow is discharged by a practiced hand, it often passes entirely through the bison-he falls mortally wounded, and, tenacious of life as the animal is, soon breathes is last. Leaving the arrow in the wound in order to mark the owner of the dead animal, the successful archer dashes on in pursuit of another animal, and does not cease until he has expanded all his store of arrows.

It is the pride of the native hunter to kill a bison with every arrow, and not shoot twice at the same animal. The young hunters are fierce and anxious rivals in this sport, knowing that the results of the day’s hunt will be the talk of the whole village, and that on their success or failure will much depend the estimation in which they are held.
Even in those parts of the country where the bow has been almost entirely superseded by firearms, it is equally a point of honor to kill the bison with a single shot and to claim a slain bison for every bullet. In such cases the hunter takes little pains in loading his gun. He carries his powder loose in his pocket or bag, scoops hastily a random quantity into the gun, drops upon it, without any wadding, a bullet wetted in the mouth, and the loading is complete. The muzzle of the gun is uppermost until the moment for firing when the gun is dropped, aimed and fired simultaneously without being brought to the shoulder.


Intertribal Buffalo Council

ITBC is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) tribal organization that has a membership of 57 tribes with a collective herd of over 15,000 bison. Membership of ITBC remains open.

ITBC is committed to reestablishing buffalo herds on Indian lands in a manner that promotes cultural enhancement, spiritual revitalization, ecological restoration, and economic development. ITBC is governed by a Board of Directors, which is comprised of one tribal representative from each member tribe. The role of the ITBC, as established by its membership, is to act as a facilitator in coordinating education and training programs, developing marketing strategies, coordinating the transfer of surplus buffalo from national parks to tribal lands, and providing technical assistance to its membership in developing sound management plans that will help each tribal herd become a successful and self-sufficient operation.
Public · 5 Collaborators · 9,618 views
Created on Aug 12, 2011 · By Biagio · Updated Jul 12, 2012


Natives Tribal Coucil Google Map

The Intertribal Bison Council was formed in 1990 to assist tribes in returning buffalo to Indian country and now has a collective herd of more than 15,000 bison divided among 57 tribes in the western United States up to Alaska and over to the Great Lakes area of Michigan. The ITBC realizes, however, with only so much time and so little resources, they must limit their focus to what happens on reservations. They want to utilize and restore the bison not only for health and cultural measures, but for economic reasons as well. “At one time they were our entire economy anyway,” said Mike Fox, a Gros Ventre and ITBC member. He oversees the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation’s 400 head of bison in northern Montana. “There’s also a spiritual connection with bison that you don’t have with cattle. This is something we may never be able to explain to non-Indians.”
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Many Thanks to for for allowing us to print the following article

Guest Editorial – 1999
by Carla Rae Brings Plenty, Intertribal Bison Cooperative

Restoring the Bison, Restoring the Spirit

They gathered in the Sacred Black Hills of South Dakota on a cold February day in 1991. With only four days’ notice, nineteen tribes from all four directions braved the harsh Dakota winter to attend.

Lakota representatives from most of the reservations in South Dakota were there, as were the Crow, Shoshone-Bannock, Gros Ventre / Assinoboine and Blackfoot Nations of Montana. Various Pueblo representatives from New Mexico pulled in, and the Winnebago, traditionally called Ho Chunk, from both Nebraska and Wisconsin came. Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and some as far west as the Round Valley of California, arrived, as well.Restoring the bison_restoring the spirit pic 1

Some of these tribes have historically been enemies, but now they unite for a common mission: “To restore bison to Indian Nations in a manner that is compatible with their spiritual and cultural beliefs and practices.” And this is the mission of the Intertribal Bison Cooperative, an organization comprised of 42 American Indian tribes with a collective herd of over 8,000 bison.

ITBC is a non-profit 501(c)(3) tribal organization and is committed to reestablishing bison herds on Indian lands in a manner that promotes cultural enhancement, spiritual revitalization, ecological restoration, and economic development. ITBC is governed by a Board of Directors, comprised of one tribal representative from each member tribe.

The role of the ITBC, as established by its membership, is to act as a facilitator in coordinating education and training programs, develop marketing strategies, coordinate the transfer of surplus American buffalo–also known as bison–from national parks to tribal lands, and provide technical assistance to its membership. The ITBC works collaboratively with members to develop sound management plans that enable tribal herds to become successful and self-sufficient operations.

The bison has always held great meaning for American Indian people. To Indian people, bison represent their spirit, reminding them of how they once lived free and in harmony with nature.
Millions of wild buffalo once roamed North America, grazing the plains and prairies and populating the mountains.
For more than 10,000 years, the indigenous people of this continent hunted buffalo. Historical documents dating to just after
Columbus’s landfall describe the animal’s importance to the people dwelling west of the Mississippi. Recent scholarship reiterates the buffalo’s dominance in the religion, philosophy, and economy of Native Americans. Woven into the fabric of Native American life for millennia, bison were, and remain, the central figure of their culture.

But at the dawn of the 19th Century, a host of changes conspired to redefine the role of the buffalo in relation to mankind, nearly causing the animal’s complete extermination. Along the way these developments corrupted the natural scheme upon which Native American traditions so depend.
Fur traders began to trickle onto the Plains early in the 1800s, soon after Lewis and Clark reported the availability of furs and hides along North Dakota’s Missouri River. Around 1830, Blackfoot country on the upper Missouri opened to white trappers, and slaughter of bison for commercial purposes escalated.

The first railroad to invade buffalo territory, the Kansas Pacific, claimed vast tracts of valuable grazing land. Demand and subsequent consumption of buffalo increased exponentially as trains delivered meat to eastern butchers and hides to far-flung tanners. Before long, entrepreneurial resourcefulness among white trappers and hunters gave way to indulgent excess.

Recognizing the inextricable link between Native Americans and buffalo, the U.S. Army encouraged the animals’ total destruction, as a military tactic, to starve Native Americans into surrender. Once the bison disappeared, the Army reasoned, tribes would have to abandon their traditional ways or die. The extermination of the buffalo is likely the first example in history of an attempt–and a successful one, at that–to eliminate a species for the purpose of achieving a political objective.

By 1880 it was clear that bison were doomed. Men with guns tracked down buffalo even in areas that should have offered natural and political refuge. Poachers infiltrated Yellowstone Park in droves despite regulations prohibiting hunting on park grounds. Lax punishment for the offense, combined with the enticing profitability of a successful hunt, conspired against the majestic animals. When an 1894 inventory in Yellowstone reported only twenty live remaining buffalo, Congress rushed to pass the National Park Protective Act, which imposed stiff fines or imprisonment for buffalo poaching. The U.S. Army now enforced the law in Yellowstone.

Restoring the bison_restoring the spirit pic 2

As the Yellowstone herd struggled for survival, unprotected buffalo outside of Yellowstone National Park were destroyed. In Lost Park, Colorado, poachers exterminated four buffalo in 1897, likely the last unprotected free-ranging herd in the country.

Without the bison, the independent life of the Indian people could no longer be maintained. The Indian spirit, along with that of the bison, suffered an enormous loss. The destruction of buffalo herds and the associated devastation to the tribes disrupted the self-sufficient lifestyle of Indian people more than all other federal policies to date. To reestablish healthy bison populations on tribal lands is to reestablish hope for Indian people. Members of the Intertribal Bison Cooperative understand that reintroduction of the bison to tribal lands will help heal the spirit of both the Indian people and the bison.

Carla Rae Brings Plenty, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, is the Intertribal Bison Cooperative’s Cultural Education Coordinator. She has been with ITBC since 1993, and is currently coordinating the development of a comprehensive elementary and secondary education curriculum concerning all aspects of the North American buffalo.


Most every part of the buffalo was used by the Native Americans.

Plains Indians exhibited great skill and ingenuity in turning the natural materials they found around them into tools and materials to help them survive. They used stones, bones, shells, clay, hides, hair, and wood to make tools and implements. But, one of their greatest natural resources was the bison.

The bison was crucial to the life of the Plains Native Americans. For most tribes here, their lives were centered around the bison hunt.

The Native Americans of eastern Nebraska in the late 1600s and early 1700s developed a system of seasonal travel carefully planned to put them at the right place at the right time to make the best use of the right resource. Between planting in the spring and harvesting in the fall, the tribes left their permanent villages to hunt game, particularly bison.

Each bison provided the tribes with a wealth of different raw materials above and beyond the meat. A bison bull in good condition might weigh more than 2,000 pounds and provide about 800 pounds of useable meat. Cows weighed from 700 to 1,200 pounds, and provided an average of 400 pounds of meat. Horns were fashioned into spoons or scoops. The extra thick hide on the top of the head became a bowl. The heart was used as a sack to carry dried meat. The furry hide was tanned and used by the tribe as the walls of their tepees. Later, these hides became a thriving trade item for them. Even the stomach could be used as a cooking vessel. The stomach would be filled with water, meat, herbs and wild onions. Then hot rocks were placed into the mixture to bring it to a boil. A little later, the tribe had stew.

Although each tribe had slightly different techniques, hunters had two basic ways to hunt the bison. A large party of Indians would often surround a herd and then attack, trying to keep the herd milling yet prevent it from stampeding. Large numbers could be killed using this method. A less efficient and more dangerous method was to run the herd and attempt to kill as many as possible on horseback while the animals fled.

Until the introduction of the repeating rifles in the late 1860s, the use of the bow and arrow was the preferred weapon for communal hunts. If hunts were organized so that each man hunted for his own family, his kills could be identified by the markings on his arrows. Selected hunters were assigned the task of hunting for the poor or those families that did not have an active hunter. Even after French traders began to introduced muzzle-loading muskets as a trade good, the bow and arrow was still used. It was almost impossible to ride a galloping horse and reload a muzzle-loading gun.
Following successful hunts there were days of feasting and hard work. The usual butchering process involved men placing the bison on its belly and removing the hide in two sections, divided along the backbone. Then, the meat had to be cut into long thin sheets and dried in the sun. The dried meat was light, portable, and well preserved.




Working or “dressing” an animal hide was a strenuous job. A woman spent several days preparing the bison hide for use, and the process changed little over the years. First the wet hide was stretched taut and pegged to the ground. The woman then took all the flesh off the hide with a straight, toothed tool known as a flesher. Then, they shaved it to a uniform thickness with an “L” shaped antler or wood scraper. Hides with the hair still on them were used as blankets or coats. If the hair was to be removed, the hide was lacedte of cooked brains that softened the hide. Finally the hide was pulled, twisted, rubbed, and wrun tight in a vertical frame and the hair shaved off with the scraper. The woman then applied a pag out until it was absolutely dry. At this point the robe was snow white and very soft.

For most of their history, bison were killed by the tribes for their needs. But as trade with Europeans became more important, they began killing bison and took only their hides and tongues to exchange for trade goods. By the 1840s, the number of hides prepared for trade was far greater than those used by the Indians themselves. One estimate is that Native Americans were eating only four out of every 100 bison they killed. In 1839, the American Fur Company bought 45,000 buffalo robes and 67,000 the next year, representing a staggering amount of labor by Indian hide workers.



Dressing bison hidesSioux Encamped on the Upper Missouri dressing buffalo meat n robes by george catlin
Sioux Encamped on the Upper Missouri,
Dressing Buffalo Meat and Robes [Detail] (1832) by George Catlin,
oil on fabric: canvas mounted on aluminum
11 1/4 x 14 1/2 in. (28.6 x 36.6 cm.)
Source – Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr. 1985.66.377







Buffalo Chase, Bulls Making Battle with Men and Horses (1832-1833) by George Catlin,Buffalo Chase, Bulls Making Battle with Men and Horses (1832-1833) by George Catlin
oil on fabric: canvas mounted on aluminum 24 x 29 in. (60.9 x 73.7 cm.).
Source – Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr., 1985.66.413






The Lithic peoples or Paleo-Indians are the earliest known settlers of the Americas. The period’s name derives from the appearance of “lithic flaked” stone tools.

Paleo Indians Glyptodon_old_drawing

Evidence suggests big-animal hunters crossed the Bering Strait from Asia (Eurasia) into North America over a land and ice bridge (Beringia), that existed between 45,000 BCE–12,000 BCE (47,000 – 14,000 years ago).[2] Small isolated groups of hunter-gatherers migrated alongside herds of large herbivores far into Alaska. From 16,500 BCE – 13,500 BCE (18,500 – 15,500 years ago), ice-free corridors developed along the Pacific coast and valleys of North America.
This allowed animals, followed by humans, to migrate south into the interior. The people went on foot or used primitive boats along the coastline. The precise dates and routes of the peopling of the New World are subject to ongoing debate.

First Americans Endured 20,000-Year Layover – Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News”. Retrieved 2009-11-18. “Archaeological evidence, in fact, recognizes that people started to leave Beringia for the New World around 40,000 years ago, but rapid expansion into North America did not occur until about 15,000 years ago, when the ice had literally broken.” page 2
H. Trawick Ward; R. P. Stephen Davis (1999). Time before history: the archaeology of North Carolina. UNC Press Books. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-8078-4780-0. Retrieved 29 November 2011


The Buffalo (great read)
Chapter: The Southern Plains: Apache and Comanche,
by David Dary published 1995 of the University of Oklahoma,

In 1541 a small body of Spanish soldiers with a large following of Mexican Indians, all under the command of Francisco Coronado, set out from the Pueblo villages along the Rio Grande to explore the plains country to the East. After the Spanish had crossed the Pecos River they soon found themselves in buffalo country, and from then on, during three months of travel over more than thousand miles, there was not a single day that they did not see a herd.
As they moved eastward along the Canadian River and near the Texas border, they crossed a curious trail. Many small poles had been dragged over the ground, leaving furrows in the dust. The Spanish followed the trail and soon came to a camp of buffalo hunting Indians with their skin tipis set up for the night, the first such structures the Spanish had ever seen. The furrows had been made by the butts of the tipi poles as they were dragged along by dogs.
The Indians were friendly and showed no fear or surprise at the appearance of a body of mounted men in armor: they had heard reports of the Spanish from the Pueblo Indians along the Pecos. The Spanish were the more surprised. They had never seen Indians like these, and Coronado’s scribe, Pedro de Castaneda, recorded this strange ways of these people:
These Indians subsist entirely on cattle, for they neither plant nor harvest maize. With the skins they build their houses; with the skins they clothe and shoe themselves: from the skins they make ropes and also obtain wool. From the sinews they make thread, with which they sew their clothing and likewise their tents. From the bones they shape awls, and the dung they use for firewood, since there is no other fuel in all that land. The bladders serve as jugs and drinking vessels. They sustain themselves on the flesh of the animals, eating it slightly roasted…. and sometimes uncooked. Taking it in their teeth, they pull with one hand; with the other they hold a large flint knife and cut off mouthfuls, swallowing it half chewed, like birds. They eat raw fat without warming it, and drink the blood just as it comes from the cattle…. They have no other food.
They are gentle people, not cruel, faithful in their friendship, and skilled in the use of signs. They dry their meat in the sun, cutting it into thin slices, and when it is dry they cook it in a pot, which they always manage to have with them. When they put a handful in the pot, the mash soon fills it, since it swells to great size.
When the Indians kill a cow, they clean a large intestine, fill it with blood, and hang it around their necks, to drink when they are thirsty. Cutting open the belly of an animal, they squeeze out the chewed grass and drink the juice, saying it contains the substance of the stomach.
They cut open the cow at the back and pull off the hide at the joints, using up flint the size of a finger, tied to a small stick, doing this as handily as if they used a fine knife. They sharpen the flints on their own teeth, and it is remarkable to see how quickly they do it.
They tan the hides well, dressing skins to take to the Pueblos to sell since they go to spend the winter there. For their tents they fasten the poles at the top and spread them apart at the base, and cover them with tanned and greased hides.
They love their dogs like beast of burden and make light pack saddles for them like ours, cinching them with leather straps. The dogs go about with sores on their backs like pack animals. When the Indians go hunting they load them with provisions, and when they move – for they have no permanent residence anywhere for they follow the cattle to obtain food – the dogs transport their houses for them. In addition to what they carry on their backs, they transport the poles for the tents, dragging them fastened to their saddles. The load may be from thirty to fifty pounds depending on the dog.
These seminomadic buffalo hunters were members of the Apache tribe, which at that time consisted of a great many small bands occupying a wide strip of the Great Plains from the Platte River in the north to the Texas Panhandle, and from the foothills of the Rockies east ward about 200 miles into Nebraska and Kansas. The southern bands were usually seminomadic, and they did not change their way of life appreciably in the next ninety years. Here is a report by Fray Alonso de Benavides on the same bands about 1628.
By these cattle, then, all of these Vaquero Apaches sustain themselves, for which they go craftily to their watering places, and hide themselves in the trails, painted with red earth, and stained with the blood of that same earth; and stretched in the deep trails which the cattle have made, when they pass they employ the arrows they carry. And as these are dull cattle, though very savage and swift, when they feel themselves wounded they let themselves fall after a few paces. And afterward the Indians skin them and carry off the hides, the tongues, and tenderloins and sinews to sew with, and to make strings for their bows. The hides they tan in two ways; some leave the hair on them and they remained like plush velvet, and serve as a bed and as a cloak. Others they tan without the hair, and thin them down, of which they make their tents and other things after their usage. And with these hides they trade through all the land and gain their living…. These Indians then go forth through the neighboring provinces to trade and traffic with these hides. At which point I cannot refrain from telling one thing, somewhat credible, however ridiculous. And it is that when these Indians go to trade and traffic, the entire rancherias go, with their wives and children, who lived in tents made of these skins of buffalo, very thin and tanned; and the tents they carry loaded on pack trains of dogs, harnessed up with their little pack saddles; and the dogs are medium sized. And they are accustomed to take 500 dogs in one pack train, one in front of the other, and the people carry their merchandise loaded, which they barter for cotton cloth and for other things which they lack.
The Apaches were the southern prong of the large Athapascan migration. The other Athapascan groups had remained in Alaska and northern Canada and might have pushed the Apaches south, or the Apaches may have moved on their own accord. They reached the plains country about A.D. 1300 and many small, scattered bands of roving hunters, whose survival depended on securing game almost daily. The bands were usually about twenty people or less, as it would be difficult to kill enough game each day to feed a larger number except in a very good hunting country.
Such small bands could have passed through the northern tribes by keeping in the wide open spaces between the scattered villages. There is no tradition of either the Apache or the northern tribes of any important fighting along their line of travel.
On open plains the Apache found game animals new to them, particularly the buffalo , and had to adjust their hunting practices to deal with these huge beast. When they reach the Platte River and began to occupy the land, they could live in larger units, with buffalo supplying the food. Many of them settled in little villages in sheltered spots along streams, where they built warm earth covered lodges, grew small gardens patches of corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers, and made crude pottery. They copied these new skills from people just to the east, who had come across the Mississippi from the Ohio River a short time before.
Some of the Apache bands that continued south into the Texas Panhandle did not settle down, but roamed the high plains following the buffalo herds. They were the people described by the early Spanish travelers.
When Pueblo Indians in the Rio Grande Valley ran away from their Spanish masters, they went to the Apache villages for refuge, sometimes going as far as the Arkansas River to be safe from pursuit. There they found more settled Apaches and taught them improved methods of raising crops, building houses, and making pottery. Both Spanish records of the time and the presence of many distinctively Pueblo pottery pieces show that an appreciable number of Pueblos did join the Apaches and had a strong influence on their cultural development.
The Pueblos also brought along a few horses and taught the Apaches how to use them. The rapid culture and economic progress of the Apaches during the latter half of the 17th century was cut short and the very existence of the tribe threatened by large-scale attacks to powerful hostile tribes, one to the west, the other to the east. The Comanches began to move down from the Colorado foothills, while the Osage came across the plains from the Missouri woodlands. Each tribe seem determined to wipe out the Apaches and take over their land.
The Osages were greatly feared, for they had just begun to secure guns from the French traders, while the Apaches, well to the west, had no chance to buy guns of their own. The Comanches came in large war parties, their raids made more effective once they had secured horses. As the Apaches began to weaken under these two attacks, the Pawnees descended on them from the north. The remnants of the tribe had no hope of escaping destruction except in flight to the south. They fled deep into Texas. The land they vacated was overrun quickly by the victors, with the Comanches claiming about two thirds of it. The Comanches were part of a large Uto-Aztecan migration that had come from Asia over a period of several hundred years. They passed through Alaska into Canada and south just to the east of the Rockies. The vanguard of this migration, the Aztecs, reached the Mexican plateau by 1300, while the stragglers, the Shoshoni, spread out from central Alberta southward across Montana, where they split into two prongs, one going across the mountains into southern Idaho, the others staying east of the Rockies and occupying eastern Wyoming. The latter group split again, part of them remaining in Wyoming to become the Wind River Shoshoni, the remainder proceeding southeastward into eastern Colorado and becoming the Comanches, who held the foothills of the Rockies from the northern Colorado line to the Arkansas River.
The Comanches were of average height compared to the Indian population as a whole, but they were much shorter than their neighboring tribes, the Crow, Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Osage, and Kiowa, all of whom were slimmer and had longer legs. The Comanches had powerful bodies mounted on stubby legs, which were a handicap to them on the open plains when they were chased by their long legged neighbors. They had a hard time holding their own on the plains until they secured horses. Then they found that short legs can be more of an asset than a liability to a rider.
The Comanches begin their eastward movement into the plains by attacking the small permanent Apache villages along the streams and southwestern Nebraska and western Kansas. The Apaches were at a great disadvantage in this fighting, for the enemy always knew where to find them and could mount a surprise attack with superior forces against any one Apache village. The hit-and-run raider has always had this obvious advantage against of farming people. The Comanche attacks were more deadly than the usual Indian fights, for they were determined to wipe out each village, killing off all the men, taking captive the women and children, and burning the lodges. Even if the initial attack failed, some of the defenders would be killed and the village could be further weakened by successive raids until it was helpless. And while several Comanche bands could unite for a few days to mount a large-scale attack against a single Apache village, the Apaches could not prepare an adequate defense, for they could not organize and maintain a permanent army to hunt out the raiders and keep them out of the country. This fundamental vulnerability of small permanent settlements against fierce nomads has been demonstrated many times in many different countries.
Modern excavations at the sites of the destroyed Apache villages show that most of them were burned and plundered in the 17th century, just when the villagers were making good progress in farming and pottery making. This is also the period when both the Apaches in the Comanches began using horses.
The Comanches probably had secured some horses before the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and had greatly increase their herds in the next decade from the confiscated Spanish herds. In 1705 Spanish reports from Santa Fe mentioned the Comanches as mounted raiders, and in 1706 they were reported to be stealing horses from the Apaches who lived in north eastern New Mexico, south of Raton Pass.
Once the stubby-legged Comanches had climbed on their horses and learn to ride, they were soon rated with the finest horsemen of the world, the Don Cossacks. Visitors to the Indian camps were struck by the great contrast between a Comanche on foot and the same man on horseback.
George Catlin, on his visit to the tribe in the 1830s, described the Comanches: and their movements they are heavy and ungraceful; and on their feet one of the most unattractive and slovenly-looking races of the Indians I have ever seen…. I am ready without hesitation to pronounce the Comanches as the most extraordinary horseman that I’ve ever seen and I doubt very much whether any people in the world can surpass them. The Comanche on his feet is out of his element and comparatively almost awkward, but the moment they mount their horses, they seem at once metaphorphosed, and surprise the spectator with the ease and grace of their movements.
After the Comanches secured horses to ride, they did almost no walking. A prominent man would order his wife or daughter to fetch his force so he could ride over to a friends tipi a hundred yards away. From the lack of exercise, Comanche men became fat and lazy, a condition seldom found among hunting tribes.
This constant use of the horse by the Comanche in his great dependence on the animal indicate the profound changes this new servant made in his daily life, but these were changes of degree rather than of kind. The Comanche now live better, with ample reserves of food and clothing. He had more leisure time and greater security from his enemies. From being a skulker in the foothills, he became a dashing mounted warrior of the plains.
After 1700 the mounted Comanches no longer feared their long legged enemies of the plains unless they had guns. The tribe moved boldly out from their little foothill retreats, conquering and displacing the Apaches to the east. They strove constantly to enlarge their hunting grounds, partly from arrogance, partly to provide more room for their increased population. Their families were larger, and they were adding hundreds of captive women and children from enemy tribes.
And their expansion attempts, the Comanches had to fight a number of long wars against their neighbors, the Apache, Ute, Pawnee, Osage, Tonkawa, and even the Navaho far to the west across the Rockies. Later they added two new tribes to the list – the Cheyenne and Arapahoe, who moved in from the north. The Comanches seem to enjoy fighting, and never ceased their attcks until the last of the tribe was penned in on a small reservation by the U.S. Army in 1875.
The Comanches were cruel and relentless towards their enemies, even by Indian standards, and were mean to one another in petty ways. Although they gloried in war in value more honors above all else, their older men, even the great fighters of former years, were insulted and abused by the young people, with the tactic approval of the whole camp.
The Comanche hated restraint of any kind. He refused to tolerate the camp police customary in other Plains tribes. The only exception was in the communal buffalo hunts, when one man was chosen as leader, for the duration of that hunt only, with the authority to line up the men near the herd and give the signal to charge at the moment he chose. Aside from this one bowing to temporary authority, the tribe relied entirely on social disapproval to restrain its members social lapses.
These fierce, cruel, headstrong men made up a great, fighting force that in many ways was reminiscent of the Mongol horde of Ghengis Khan. They were at their best when fighting on horseback on terrain that permitted them to dash about at full speed, but when they had to dismount to attack the Apaches in the mountains of New Mexico, the Comanches were sometimes badly beaten.
When the LaSalle established his short-lived colony on the Texas coast in 1684, the Spanish authorities in Mexico became alarmed. They responded in time by putting in a colony of their own at San Antonio in 1715. Soon the Spanish in a new colony were having trouble with the Apaches who were moving south under the pressure of Comanche attacks. At the same time Jicarilla Apaches, who were being forced westward into New Mexico, petitioned the Spanish at Santa Fe to help them against the Comanches. The Spanish decided they could help, for some of the Jicarillas were baptized Christians.
In 1717 while some of the Comanches were still living part of each year in little farming villages on the upper Arkansas, the Spanish governor amassed a large force of men, disguise them as Indians, and staged a surprise attack on these villages, capturing about 700 men, women, and children. The captives were first taken to Spain, then sent as slaves to Cuba, where they soon died. This was the only real success the Spanish soldiers had against the Comanches in a century of trouble, and it led to a peace agreement between the two sides.
The Apaches in Texas also decided to make peace with the Spanish and to ask them for help. The Spanish agreed to take the Apaches in and settle them at a new mission to be built expressly for them at San Saba, about 100 miles north of the Spanish settlements. The Apaches were a little slow in becoming Christians, and the mission soon was under heavy attack by the Comanches who had followed the Apaches south. In 1758 the Comanches killed all the mission workers. When the Spanish retaliated by sending an army against them the next summer, the Comanches defeated the soldiers at the Red River and forced them to retreat.
Emboldened by their success, the Comanches visited the San Antonio colony each year to pick up some horses and other plunder. Sometimes they even paraded up and down streets of the little settlements. Spanish defense against the Indian raids was ineffective, and the Comanche problem still had not been solved when the Spanish finally surrendered the colony in 1821.
During this period beginning in 1717, the Comanches carried on a war with their kinsman, the Utes, who lived in the mountains on the northwestern Comanche border. This constant hostility led the Utes to bestow the name Comanche on the aggressors, translating it as “the people who fight us all the time.” While the Comanches were never able to mount an effective attack against the Utes in the mountains, they were able to prevent the tribe from moving out into the buffalo country in becoming nomadic hunters. There Utes managed to hunt some buffalo each year, but they were always in danger of an attack, so they killed their meat as quickly as possible dashed back to safety in the mountains.
The Apache tribes that had retreated to New Mexico under the pressure of the Comanche hostility had become fierce mountain people after half a century of hardship. They rated the farms along the Rio Grande each year, and were considered a serious problem by the authorities. In 1786 a new viceroy decided the Spanish should make a new treaty with the Comanches and enlist their help against the Apaches.
The Comanches were pleased, they wanted to trade with the New Mexico people, especially for guns and ammunition. As part of the treaty the Spanish built them a village on the Arkansas River, but the Comanches never settled there. They did remain on rather friendly terms with the New Mexicans, and turn their attacks against Texas.
By the use of horses, the Comanches, in the course of a century, changed from a week aggregation of small, scattered bands on the subsistence level in the Colorado foothills to a powerful nomadic people living off the buffalo herds in the plains. This was a voluntary movement on their part, and they never expressed any regret at leading their old home. By 1800 they claimed the domain that reached from the Arkansas River on the north to Central Texas on the south, and from the Rockies eastward about 300 miles. Other tribes composed of small hunting bands existing at subsistence level followed much the same pattern as the Comanches. Among these were the Crow, Wind River Shoshone, Arapahoe, Assiniboin, and Blackfeet. They to became true nomads, pausing in their travels only to take shelter during the winter months.
George Catlin, visiting a crow village on the Yellowstone River in the 1830s, observed the difficulties of spending the winter in even though large, improved tipis:
These lodges are taken down in a few minutes by the squaws… and easily transported over the plains… to procure and dress their skins… and also for the purpose of killing and drying meat; making pemican in preserving the morrow–fat for their winter quarters; which are generally taken up in some heavy-timbered bottom, deeply embedded within the surrounding bluffs, which break the wins and make their long winter months tolerable. They sometimes erect their skin lodges within the timber and dwell within them during the winter months; but most frequently cut logs and make rude cabins, in which they can live much warmer and better protected from the assaults of their enemies.