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About the Tribe
The Comanche /kəˈmæntʃi/ (Comanche: Nʉmʉnʉʉ) are a Native-American nation from the Great Plains whose historic territory consisted of most of present-day northwestern Texas and adjacent areas in eastern New Mexico, southeastern Colorado, southwestern Kansas, western Oklahoma, and northern Chihuahua. Within the United States, the government federally recognizes the Comanche people as the Comanche Nation, headquartered in Lawton, Oklahoma.
The Comanche became the dominant tribe on the southern Great Plains in the 18th and 19th centuries. They are often characterized as "Lords of the Plains" and they presided over a large area called Comancheria, which came to include large portions of present-day Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Kansas.
Comanche power depended on bison, horses, trading, and raiding. The Comanche hunted the bison of the Great Plains for food and skins; their adoption of the horse from Spanish colonists in New Mexico made them more mobile; they traded with the Spanish, French, Americans and neighboring Native-American peoples; and (most famously) they waged war on and raided European settlements as well as other Native Americans. They took captives from weaker tribes during warfare, using them as slaves or selling them to the Spanish and (later) Mexican settlers. They also took thousands of captives from the Spanish, Mexican, and American settlers and incorporated them into Comanche society.
Decimated by European diseases, warfare, and encroachment by Americans on Comancheria, most Comanches were forced into life on the reservation; a few however sought refuge with the Mescalero Apaches in New Mexico, or with the Kickapoos in Mexico. A number of them returned in the 1890s and early 1900s. In the 21st century, the Comanche Nation has 17,000 members, around 7,000 of whom reside in tribal jurisdictional areas around Lawton, Fort Sill, and the surrounding areas of southwestern Oklahoma. The Comanche Homecoming Annual Dance takes place annually in Walters, Oklahoma, in mid-July.
The name "Comanche" comes from the Ute name for the people: kɨmantsi (enemy),. The name Padouca, which before about 1740 was applied[by whom?] to Plains Apaches, was sometimes applied to the Comanche by French writers from the east.
Importance of Animal Products
Buffalo was the food the Comanches loved more than any other. They ate steaks cooked over open fires or boiled in copper kettles. They cut the meat thin, dried it, and stored it for the winter and took it on long trips. They ate the kidneys and the paunch. Children would rush up to a freshly killed animal, begging for its liver and gallbladder. They would then squirt the salty bile from the gallbladder onto the liver and eat it on the spot, warm and dripping blood. If a slain female was giving milk, Comanches would cut into the udder bag and drink the milk mixed with warm blood. One of the greatest delicacies was the warm curdled milk from the stomach of a suckling calf. If warriors were on the trail and short of water, they might drink the warm blood of the buffalo straight from its veins. Entrails were sometimes eaten, stripped of their contents by using two fingers. (If fleeing pursuers, a Comanche would ride his horse till it dropped, cut it open, removed its intestines, wrap them around his neck, and take off on a fresh horse, eating their contents later.) In the absence of buffalo, Comanches would eat whatever was at hand: dry-land terrapins, thrown live into the fire, eaten from the shell with a horned spoon; all manner of small game, even horses if they had to, though they did not, like the Apaches, prefer them. They did not eat fish or birds unless they were starving. They never ate the heart of the buffalo.
S. C. Gwynne, Empire of the Summer Moon, pg. 48 (2010)
The Comanche were initially hunter-gatherers. When they lived in the Rocky Mountains, during their migration to the Great Plains, both men and women shared the responsibility of gathering and providing food. When the Comanche reached the plains, hunting came to predominate. Hunting was considered a male activity and was a principal source of prestige.
For meat, the Comanche hunted buffalo, elk, black bear, pronghorn, and deer. When game was scarce, the men hunted wild mustangs, sometimes eating their own ponies. In later years the Comanche raided Texas ranches and stole longhorn cattle. They did not eat fish or fowl, unless starving, when they would eat virtually any creature they could catch, including armadillos, skunks, rats, lizards, frogs, and grasshoppers. Buffalo meat and other game was prepared and cooked by the women.
Most meats were roasted over a fire or boiled. To boil fresh or dried meat and vegetables, women dug a pit in the ground, which they lined with animal skins or buffalo stomach and filled with water to make a kind of cooking pot. They placed heated stones in the water until it boiled and had cooked their stew. After they came into contact with the Spanish, the Comanche traded for copper pots and iron kettles, which made cooking easier.
Women used berries and nuts, as well as honey and tallow, to flavor buffalo meat. They stored the tallow in intestine casings or rawhide pouches called oyóotû¿. They especially liked to make a sweet mush of buffalo marrow mixed with crushed mesquite beans.
The Comanches sometimes ate raw meat, especially raw liver flavored with gall. They also drank the milk from the slashed udders of buffalo, deer, and elk. Among their delicacies was the curdled milk from the stomachs of suckling buffalo calves. They also enjoyed buffalo tripe, or stomachs.
Comanche people generally had a light meal in the morning and a large evening meal. During the day they ate whenever they were hungry or when it was convenient. Like other Plains Indians, the Comanche were very hospitable people. They prepared meals whenever a visitor arrived in camp, which led to outsiders' belief that the Comanches ate at all hours of the day or night. Before calling a public event, the chief took a morsel of food, held it to the sky, and then buried it as a peace offering to the Great Spirit. Many families offered thanks as they sat down to eat their meals in their tipis.
Comanche children ate pemmican, but this was primarily a tasty, high-energy food reserved for war parties. Carried in a parfleche pouch, pemmican was eaten only when the men did not have time to hunt. Similarly, in camp, people ate pemmican only when other food was scarce. Traders ate pemmican sliced and dipped in honey, which they called Indian bread.
[The importance of fatty meat is shown in the following Comanche legend, rewritten for a modern audience)
by Jane Archer
One time the People camped at the base of a mountain near a rushing stream. Over time a person disappeared, then another. The band grew troubled and took their worries to their medicine makers. After sweat lodge purification, after sage and sweet grass cleansing, the medicine makers held council.
"I do not trust those deer," Medicine Man said.
"I trust them less than you." Medicine Woman looked up at the mountain where the deer lived near a large cave.
"I suspect they are stealing our people."
"And keeping them in their cave."
"To eat," Medicine Man said.
"Our people depend on us to care for them."
"And we must do so.
Medicine Man and Medicine Woman walked up the mountain to the cave of the deer.
Guard Deer stood near four sticks at the dark hole of an entrance.
"Good morning," Medicine Woman said. "How are you?"
"You look plump and well," Medicine Man said.
"What food do you eat?" Medicine Woman asked.
"We eat good food," Guard Deer said. "Would you like to see?"
"Yes, we would."
Guard Deer picked up one of the sticks and knocked on the entrance. "One fat buffalo."
A buffalo trotted out.
"That is impressive," Medicine Woman said.
"Watch this." Guard Deer hit the entrance again. "One buffalo calf."
A buffalo calf walked out.
"I am really impressed," Medicine Man said.
"Now you know how we get our food," Guard Deer said. "You may see no more."
"Thank you," Medicine Woman said.
As the medicine makers walked away, they whispered to each other.
"I do not believe that is all in their cave," Medicine Man said.
"I agree. We must find out what else is in there."
They hid behind a large rock while they considered their problem.
"Maybe we could change the sticks when Guard Deer looks the other way," Medicine Man said.
"Guard Deer is too sharp."
"That is true."
"They must change guards soon and the entrance will be unguarded for a brief time," Medicine Woman said.
"We must strike then."
Without making a sound, they worked their way back to the entrance. Concealed behind rocks and plants, they watched and waited. Soon Guard Deer stepped away to consult the next Guard Deer.
They raced to the entrance.
Medicine Woman grabbed a stick and hit the cave. "Two people."
Two warriors walked out.
Medicine Man placed his hand on the stick, and they struck again. "More men."
Many men ran out of the cave. All of them carried bows with arrows in quivers on their backs.
Deer erupted from all directions, but the warriors fought together to drive them back. When the battle was won by the People, most of the deer lay dead. The medicine makers turned to the deer still alive.
"We are the strongest so hereafter we will eat you," Medicine Man said.
"Your skin and bones, all of your body, will be used to help the People," Medicine Woman added.
Guard Deer raised a head. "So be it."
Importance of Plants
The women also gathered wild fruits, seeds, nuts, berries, roots, and tubers — including plums, grapes, juniper berries, persimmons, mulberries, acorns, pecans, wild onions, radishes, and the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. The Comanche also acquired maize, dried pumpkin, and tobacco through trade and raids.
Transition to Industrialized Food Products
The Comanches ruled the Plains from the early 1700s until the 1870s. The Comanches excelled with the introduction of the horse, and quickly became a powerful force. The Comanches were the first Plains Indians to conduct warfare from the back of a horse, which gave them speed, maneuvering abilities, and other tactical advantages. A Comanche warrior could ride a horse bareback while leaning over one side shooting arrows, and could pick a grown man off the ground while riding at full speed. The Comanches were expert horse-breeders, and both men and women were accomplished riders.
Texas joined the United States on December 29, 1845. While the present-day Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument's land was technically under control of the U.S. Government, the Comanches ruled the Llano Estacado until the mid 1870s. The U.S. Army was unable to remove the Comanches from the Texas Panhandle until most of the buffalo had been slaughtered en masse by American buffalo hunters. The Plains Indians had depended on the bison; with its near-extinction, the Comanches faced starvation. They joined other tribes on reservations in Oklahoma, and another group of people moved into the Texas Panhandle - Anglo American settlers.