The Comanche Indians and Texas

The Comanches had driven the Apaches out of the High Plains, and that fact alone should tell you a great deal.

The tribe has learned to enhance its lifestyle by raiding, taking both captives and goods. Instead of reacting to the coming of the sleek, gadget-laden, horse-owning Europeans with fear and confusion, they displayed something close to glee. Texas lost an average of 200 settlers a year to the Comanches until their final suppression in 1874.

They were widely known for the way they entertained themselves, with their captives, demonstrating creative uses for small fires and ant beds. The women captives they might keep around for a while longer, and the Texans would raise substantial sums to ransom them through various intermediaries, even at times when the Texas government could not pay a printer to print money.

The Comanches differed from the Apaches in that they were fully nomadic, and they would always respond to an attack with a counter-attack. And there were always buzzards circling above their camps, something Texas Ranger patrols learned to look for.

The Southern Comanche bands were destroyed after the "Council House Fight" in San Antonio in March 1840. The chiefs had been called in for a peace parlay, promised trade goods if they would bring in their captives. They brought in only one teen-age girl. She was covered in sores and scars, and spoke in Victorian euphemisms of "degradation." The Texan negotiating position noticeably hardened, and at the parlay in the "council house" (now the site of the county courthouse in San Antonio) the chiefs were told that they would be thrown in jail until the rest of the captives were brought in.

The interpreter seemed alarmed, and did not want to repeat that. The negotiators insisted. He stood in the door, interpreted, and ran.

Everyone in the room became a casualty and fighting spread through the town as the rest of the band tried to escape to the hills.

Retaliation arrived with the "Comanche moon" in August. (A Comanche moon is a full moon -- allowing night travel -- in the autumn, when the rains have returned, there is grass for the ponies, and the barns are stocked from the harvest.) A huge Comanche band raided south through Texas. They actually over-ran the town of Victoria, and reached the coast at Linnville, where the population fled out to sea in boats. Burdened by their horse herds, loot and captives, on the return trip the Comanches fell prey to a large Texas militia force and were destroyed in a 15-mile running fight.

The northern bands submitted after their horse herds were captured and destroyed in the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon by a combined Texas Ranger and U.S. Army force in 1874.

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