Member of a nomadic American Indian people who roamed parts of Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Mexico from the 1700s. They are an offshoot of the Shoshone, with whom they share Uto-Aztecan language origins (a language family of Central America and western North America). Nomadic and warlike, the Comanche hunted buffalo and raided the Spanish, Apache, and, later, white settlers. Largely responsible for introducing horses to the Plains Indians, they became expert horse traders, trainers, and breeders. Today they live on individual land allotments in Oklahoma, as well as on four tracts of tribally owned land. Their population numbers about 10,100 (2002).
Originally, the Comanche had been hunter-gatherers living in the Rocky Mountains near the Shoshone, in what is now Wyoming. In the 1600s they moved east toward the Platte River where they became one of the first American Indian peoples to acquire horses and one of the few to breed them. In the 1700s they moved south into Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas where they began to raid Apache and Spanish settlements as far south as Chihuahua, Mexico.
The Comanche lived in tepees made of buffalo hide. Buffalo meat became a dietary staple, supplemented by wild plants and berries. They wore clothes made of buckskin or buffalo hide.
In the early 1900s, when settlers began moving into Comanche territory, hostilities between the two developed. In 1840, Texas officials met with a peace delegation of Comanche; fighting broke out and 35 Comanche were killed and others imprisoned. Comanche hunting grounds came under further pressure from white intrusion following the annexation of Texas in 1845 and the California Gold Rush 1848–56. In 1859 the US government settled a southern segment of the Comanche along the Washita River in Indian Territory. The northern branch, however, resisted and continued to raid the Santa Fe Trail, and in 1864 Kit Carson led US forces in an unsuccessful campaign against them. In 1865 the Comanche and their allies, the Kiowa, signed a treaty with the US government granting them much of western Oklahoma.
Fighting resumed, however, because the US failed to abide by the terms of the treaty. In 1867 the still undefeated Comanche, Kiowa, and Kiowa-Apache signed a treaty at Medicine Lodge Creek, Kansas, and settled on a large reservation in Indian Territory. Further hostilities ensued when US settlers continued to move onto their land, and buffalo, once a mainstay of the Comanche, became scarce, partly because of the activities of US hunters. The last Comanche bands surrendered in 1875. The reservations were allotted to individuals in 1906. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the Comanche were instrumental in spreading the Native American Church.
The Life of the Plains Indians