Chief Jim, Comanche Warrior 1872
The Comanche are a Native American ethnic group whose historic range (the Comancheria) consisted of
present-day eastern New Mexico, southern Colorado, northeastern Arizona, southern Kansas, all of
Oklahoma, and most of northwest Texas. Originally, the Comanches were hunter-gatherers, with a typical
Plains Indian culture. There may have been as many as 45,000 Comanches in the late 18th century. Today,
the Comanche Nation consists of 14,105 members (2008 enrollment figures), about half of whom live in
Oklahoma (centered at Lawton), and the remainder are concentrated in Texas, California, and New Mexico.
The Comanche speak a Numic language of the Uto-Aztecan family, sometimes classified as a Shoshone
The Comanche emerged as a distinct group shortly before 1700, when they broke off from the Shoshone
people living along the upper Platte River in Wyoming. This coincided with their acquisition of the
horse, which allowed them greater mobility in their search for better hunting grounds.
Their original migration took them to southern plains, into a sweep of territory extending from the
Arkansas River to central Texas. During that time, their population increased dramatically because of the
abundance of buffalo, an influx of Shoshone migrants, and the adoption of significant numbers of women
and children taken captive from rival groups. Nevertheless, the Comanche never formed a single cohesive
tribal unit but were divided into almost a dozen autonomous groups. These groups shared the same language
and culture but may have fought among themselves just as often as they cooperated.
The horse was a key element in the emergence of a distinctive Comanche culture. Some scholars have
suggested the Comanche broke away from the Shoshone and moved southward to search for additional sources
of horses among the settlers of New Spain to the south (rather than search for new herds of buffalo.) The
Comanche may have been the first group of Plains natives to fully incorporate the horse into their
culture and to have introduced the animal to the other Plains peoples.
By the mid-19th century, the Comanche were supplying horses to French and American traders and settlers
and later to migrants' passing through their territory on the way to the California Gold Rush. The
Comanche had stolen many of the horses from other tribes and settlers; they earned their reputation as
formidable horse, and later, cattle thieves. Their stealing of livestock from Spanish and American
settlers, as well as the other Plains tribes, often led to war.
The Comanche also had access to vast numbers of feral horses, which numbered approximately 2,000,000 in
and around Comancheria. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Comanche lifestyle required about
one horse per person. With a population of about 30,000 to 40,000 and in possession of herds many times
that number, the Comanche had a surplus of about 90,000 to 120,000 horses.
They were formidable opponents who developed strategies for using traditional weapons for fighting on
horseback. Warfare was a major part of Comanche life. The dreaded Comanche raids into Mexico, going as
far south as Central America, traditionally took place during the full moon, when the Comanche could see
to ride at night. This led to the term "Comanche Moon," during which the Comanche raided for horses,
captives, weapons, and simply to spread terror.
The band was the primary social unit of the Comanches. A typical band might number about one hundred
people. Bands were part of larger divisions, or tribes. Before the 1750s, there were three Comanche
divisions: Yamparikas, Jupes, and Kotsotekas. In the 1750s and 1760s, a number of Kotsoteka bands split
off and moved to the southeast. This resulted in a large division between the original group, the western
Comanches, and the break away Kotsotekas, the eastern Comanches. The western Comanches lived in the
region of the upper Arkansas River, Canadian River, and Red River, and the Llano Estacado. The eastern
Comanches lived on the Edwards Plateau and the Texas plains of the upper Brazos River and Colorado River,
and east to the Cross Timbers.
Over time these divisions were altered in various ways. In the early 1800s the Jupes vanished from
history, probably merging into the other divisions. Many Yamparikas moved southeast, joining the eastern
Comanches and becoming known as the Tenewas. Many Kiowas and Plains Apache (or Naishans) moved to
northern Comancheria and became closely associated with the Yamparikas. A group of Arapahos, known as the
Chariticas, moved into Comancheria and joined Comanche society. New divisions arose, such as the Nokonas,
closely linked with the Tenewas; and the Kwahadas, who emerged as a new faction on the southern Llano
Estacado. The western-eastern distinction changed in the 1800s. Observers began to call them northern and
southern Comanches. One of the southernmost groups became known as the Penatekas.
All these division names were spelled in many different ways by Spanish and English writers, and spelling
differences continue today. Large-scale groupings became unstable and unclear during the 1800s. The
Comanche society was slowly overwhelmed and ultimately subjugated to the United States.
Texas-Indian Wars 1820-1875
Relationship with settlers
The Comanche maintained an ambiguous relationship with Europeans and later settlers attempting to
colonize their territory. They were valued as trading partners but were feared for their raids.
Similarly, the Comanche were, at one time or another, at war with virtually every other Native American
group living in the Great Plains, leaving opportunities for political maneuvering by European colonial
powers and the United States. At one point, Sam Houston, president of the newly created Republic of
Texas, almost succeeded in reaching a peace treaty with the Comanche. His efforts were thwarted when the
Texas legislature refused to create an official boundary between Texas and the Comancheria.
While the Comanche had many violent clashes with the Republic of Texas, they agreed to a peace treaty
with the City of Fredericksburg, Texas. Both sides honored the treaty for over a century and a half into
the present day, making it one of few unbroken treaties.
While the Comanche managed to maintain their independence and increase their territory, by the mid-
nineteenth century they faced annihilation because of a wave of epidemics due to Eurasian diseases to
which they had no immunity, such as smallpox and measles. Outbreaks of smallpox (1817, 1848) and cholera
(1849) took a major toll on the Comanche, whose population dropped from an estimated 20,000 in mid-
century to just a few thousand by the 1870s.
The US began efforts in the late 1860s to move the Comanche into reservations, with the Treaty of
Medicine Lodge (1867), which offered churches, schools, and annuities in return for a vast tract of land
totaling over 60,000 square miles (160,000 km˛). The government promised to stop the buffalo hunters who
were decimating the great herds of the Plains, provided that the Comanche, along with the Apaches,
Kiowas, Cheyenne, and Arapahos, move to a reservation totaling less than 5,000 square miles (13,000 km˛)
of land. However, the government did not prevent slaughtering of the herds. The Comanche under Isa-tai
(White Eagle)retaliated by attacking a group of hunters in the Texas Panhandle in the Second Battle of
Adobe Walls (1874). The attack was a disaster for the Comanche, and the US army was called in to drive
the remaining Comanche in the area into the reservation. Within just ten years, the buffalo were on the
verge of extinction, effectively ending the Comanche way of life as hunters. In 1875, the last free band
of Comanches, led by Quahada warrior Quanah Parker, surrendered and moved to the Fort Sill reservation in
Unhappy with life on the reservation, 170 warriors and their families, led by Black Horse, left the
reservation in late 1876 for the Llano Estacado. Attacks on buffalo hunters' camps led to the Buffalo
Hunters' War of 1877.
In 1892 the government negotiated the Jerome Agreement, with the Comanches, Kiowas, and Apaches, further
reducing their reservation to 480,000 acres (1,940 km˛) at a cost of $1.25 per acre ($308.88/km˛), with
an allotment of 160 acres (0.6 km˛) per person per tribe to be held in trust. New allotments were made in
1906 to all children born after the Jerome Agreement, and the remaining land was opened to white
settlement. With this new arrangement, the era of the Comanche reservation came to an abrupt end.
Entering the Western economy was a challenge for the Comanche in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,
and back then many of them were defrauded of whatever remained of their land and possessions. Elected
chief of the entire tribe by the United States government, Chief Quanah Parker campaigned vigorously for
better deals for his people, meeting with Washington politicians frequently; and helped manage land for
the tribe. Parker became wealthy as a cattleman. Parker also campaigned for the Comanches' permission to
practice the Native American Church religious rites, such as the usage of peyote, which was condemned by
European-Americans. Before the first Oklahoma legislature, Quanah testified:
"I do not think this legislature should interfere with a man's religion, also these people should be
allowed to retain this health restorer. These healthy gentleman before you use peoti and those that do
not use it are not so healthy."
During World War II, many Comanche left the traditional tribal lands in Oklahoma in search of financial
opportunities in the cities of California and the Southwest. Today they are among the most highly
educated native groups in the United States. About half the Comanche population still lives in Oklahoma,
centered around the town of Lawton.
Comanche groups did not have a single acknowledged leader. Instead, a small number of generally
recognized leaders acted as counsel and advisors to the group as a whole. These included the "peace
chief," the members of the council, and the "war chief."
The peace chief was usually an older individual, who could bring his experience to the task of advising.
There was no formal inauguration or election to the position, it was one of general consensus.
The council made decisions about where the band should hunt, whether they should war against their
enemies, and whether to ally themselves with other bands. Any member could speak at council meetings, but
the older men usually did most of the talking.
In times of war, the band selected a war chief. To be chosen for this position, a man had to prove he was
a brave fighter. He also had to have the respect of all the other warriors in the band. While the band
was at war, the war chief was in charge, and all the warriors had to obey him. After the conflict was
over, however, the war chief's authority ended.
The Comanche men did most of the hunting and all of the fighting in the wars. They learned how to ride
horses when they were young and were eager to prove themselves in battle. On the plains, Comanche women
carried out the demanding tasks of cooking, skinning animals, setting up camp, rearing children, and
transporting household goods.
If a woman started labor while the band was in camp, she was moved to a tipi, or a brush lodge if it was
summer. One or more of the older women assisted as midwives. If a woman went into labor while the band
was on the move, she simply paused along the trail and gave birth to her child. After a few hours of
rest, she would take the baby and catch up with the group again. Men were not allowed inside the tipi
during or immediately after the delivery.
First, the midwives softened the earthen floor of the tipi and dug two holes. One of the holes was for
heating water and the other for the afterbirth. One or two stakes were driven into the ground near the
expectant mother's bedding for her to grip during the pain of labor. After the birth, the midwives hung
the umbilical cord on a hackberry tree. The people believed that if the umbilical cord was not disturbed
before it rotted, the baby would live a long and prosperous life.
The newborn was swaddled and remained with its mother in the tipi for a few days. The baby was placed in
a cradleboard, and the mother went back to work. She could easily carry the cradleboard on her back, or
prop it against a tree where the baby could watch her while she collected seeds or roots. Cradleboards
consisted of a flat board to which a basket was attached. The latter was made from rawhide straps, or a
leather sheath that laced up the front. With soft, dry moss as a diaper, the young one was safely tucked
into the leather pocket. During cold weather, the baby was wrapped in blankets, and then placed in the
cradleboard. The baby remained in the cradleboard for about ten months; then it was allowed to crawl
Both girls and boys were welcomed into the band, but boys were favored. If the baby was a boy, one of the
midwives informed the father or grandfather, "It's your close friend". Families might paint a flap on the
tipi to tell the rest of the tribe that they had been strengthened with another warrior.
Sometimes a man named his child, but mostly the father asked a medicine man (or another man of
distinction) to do so. He did this in hope of his child living a long and productive life. During the
public naming ceremony, the medicine man lit his pipe and offered smoke to the heavens, earth, and each
of the four directions. He prayed that the child would remain happy and healthy. He then lifted the child
to symbolize its growing up and announced the child's name four times. He held the child a little higher
each time he said the name. It was believed that the child's name foretold its future; even a weak or
sick child could grow up to be a great warrior, hunter, and raider if given a name suggesting courage and
Boys were often named after their grandfather, uncle, or other relative. Girls were usually named after
one of their father's relatives, but the name was selected by the mother. As children grew up they also
acquired nicknames at different points in their lives, to express some aspect of their lives.
The Comanche looked upon their children as their most precious gift. Children were rarely punished.
Sometimes, though, an older sister or other relative was called upon to discipline a child, or the
parents arranged for a boogey man to scare the child. Occasionally, old people donned sheets and
frightened disobedient boys and girls. Children were also told about Big Cannibal Owl (Pia Mupitsi) who
lived in a cave on the south side of the Wichita Mountains and ate bad children at night.
Children learned from example, by observing and listening to their parents and others in the band. As
soon as she was old enough to walk, a girl followed her mother about the camp and played at the daily
tasks of cooking and making clothing. She was also very close to her mother's sisters, who were called
not aunt but pia, meaning mother. She was given a little deerskin doll, which she took with her
everywhere. She learned to make all the clothing for the doll.
A boy identified not only with his father but with his father's family, as well as with the bravest
warriors in the band. He learned to ride a horse before he could walk. By the time he was four or five,
he was expected to be able to skillfully handle a horse. When he was five or six, he was given a small
bow and arrows. Often a boy was taught to ride and shoot by his grandfather, since his father and other
warriors were on raids and hunts. His grandfather also taught him about his own boyhood and the history
and legends of the Comanche.
As the boy grew older, he joined the other boys to hunt birds. He eventually ranged farther from camp
looking for better game to kill. Encouraged to be skillful hunters, boys learned the signs of the prairie
as they learned to patiently and quietly stalk game. They became more self-reliant, yet, by playing
together as a group, also formed the strong bonds and cooperative spirit that they would need when they
hunted and raided.
Boys were highly respected because they would become warriors and might die young in battle. As he
approached manhood, a boy went on his first buffalo hunt. If he made a kill, his father honored him with
a feast. Only after he had proven himself on a buffalo hunt was a young man allowed to go to war.
When he was ready to become a warrior, at about age fifteen or sixteen, a young man first "made his
medicine" by going on a vision quest (a rite of passage). Following this quest, his father gave the young
man a good horse to ride into battle and another mount for the trail. If he had proved himself as a
warrior, a Give Away Dance might be held in his honor. As drummers faced east, the honored boy and other
young men danced. His parents, along with his other relatives and the people in the band, threw presents
at his feet – especially blankets and horses symbolized by sticks. Anyone might snatch one of the gifts
for themselves, although those with many possessions refrained; they did not want to appear greedy.
People often gave away all their belongings during these dances, providing for others in the band but
leaving themselves with nothing.
Girls learned to gather healthy berries, nuts, and roots. They carried water and collected wood, and when
about twelve years old learned to cook meals, make tipis, sew clothing, prepare hides, and perform other
tasks essential to becoming a wife and mother. They were then considered ready to be married.
Boys might boldly risk their lives as hunters and warriors, but, when it came to girls, boys were very
bashful. A boy might visit a person gifted in love medicine, who was believed to be able to charm the
young woman into accepting him. During courtship, the girl often approached the boy. Boys mostly stayed
in their tipis, so it was up to the girl to go to the tipi. A boy, however, might approach a girl as she
went for wood or water. Since they were not allowed to see each other, they met in secret.
When he wished to marry, a boy offered a gift. The gift was usually one or more horses for the girl's
father or guardian. The young man might also agree to work as a hunter or trader for the family, to
convince the girl's family that he would be able to provide for her. Usually a young man asked an uncle
or friend to make the offer for him. This messenger brought horses and other goods, spoke briefly with
the parents, and left. To avoid embarrassment, he did not immediately receive an answer. If the proposal
was turned down, the horses were simply released and driven back to the suitor's herd; if accepted, the
horses were taken into the father's herd, thereby announcing the engagement. Sometimes a marriage was
arranged with an older man of wealth, but girls resisted such unions, often eloping with the young men
they truly loved.
Old men who no longer went on the war path had a special tipi called the Smoke Lodge, where they gathered
each day. A man typically joined when he became more interested in the past than the future. Boys and
women were not allowed inside, and new members underwent an initiation.
A very old and ill person was left behind, or abandoned by everyone other than close family. This was not
because they lacked sympathy, but because they were afraid that evil spirits were invading his body. As
death approached, the old person gave away his belongings. He made his last medicine, then found a quiet
place to lie down and waited to die. After he died, the Comanches immediately buried his body by piling
rocks on top. His knees were folded, bound in this position with a rope, and then bathed. The face was
painted red and the eyes sealed with clay.
The deceased was attired in the finest available clothing and then laid upon a blanket. Loved ones took a
final look at the deceased, and then the body was wrapped in another blanket and tied with buffalo-hide
rope. Placed in a sitting position on a horse, the body was taken to the burial place, which was usually
a cave, a deep ravine, or a crevice high among the rocks.
The body was placed in a sitting position, or on its side, in a hole, or on the ground, around stacked
rocks and wooden poles. In the late nineteenth century, some Comanches, especially those living along the
Red River, built tree or scaffold burial structures like those used by the Cheyenne and other Plains
Indians. The Comanche did not fear death, but death worried them. They often broke camp after a burial to
get away from the place of death.
There was little mourning for the old people who died, but intense mourning for a young man who
When they lived with the Shoshone, the Comanche mainly used dog-drawn travois for transportation. Later
they acquired horses from other tribes and from the Spaniards. Since horses are faster, easier to control
and able to carry more, this helped with their hunting and warfare and made moving camp easier. Being
herbivores, horses were also easier to feed than dogs, since meat was a valuable resource.
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
Buffalo meat and other game was prepared and cooked by the women. 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.
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 parfleches. 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.
Much of the area inhabited by the Comanches was flat and dry, with the exception of major rivers like the
Cimarron River, the Pecos River, the Brazos River, and the Red River. The water of these rivers was often
too dirty to drink, so the Comanches usually lived along the smaller, clear streams that flowed into
them. These streams supported trees that the Comanche used to build shelters.
The Comanche sheathed their tipis with a covering made of buffalo hides sewn together. To prepare the
buffalo hides, women first spread them on the ground, then scraped away the fat and flesh with blades
made from bones or antlers, and left them in the sun. When the hides were dry, they scraped off the thick
hair, and then soaked them in water. After several days, they vigorously rubbed the hides in a mixture of
animal fat, brains, and liver to soften the hides. The hides were made even more supple by further
rinsing and working back and forth over a rawhide thong. Finally, they were smoked over a fire, which
gave the hides a light tan color.
To finish the tipi covering, women laid the tanned hides side by side and stitched them together. As many
as twenty-two hides could be used, but fourteen was the average. When finished, the hide covering was
tied to a pole and raised, wrapped around the cone-shaped frame, and pinned together with pencil-sized
wooden skewers. Two wing-shaped flaps at the top of the tipi were turned back to make an opening, which
could be adjusted to keep out the moisture and held pockets of insulating air. With a fire pit in the
center of the earthen floor, the tipis stayed warm in the winter. In the summer, the bottom edges of the
tipis could be rolled up to let cool breezes in. Cooking was done outside during the hot weather. Tipis
were very practical homes for itinerant people. Working together, women could quickly set them up or take
them down. An entire Comanche band could be packed and chasing a buffalo herd within about twenty
minutes. The Comanche women were the ones who did the most work with food processing and
Comanche clothing was simple and easy to wear. Men wore a leather belt with a breechcloth — a long piece
of buckskin that was brought up between the legs and looped over and under the belt at the front and
back, and loose-fitting deerskin leggings. Moccasins had soles made from thick, tough buffalo hide with
soft deerskin uppers.
The Comanche men wore nothing on the upper body except in the winter, when they wore warm, heavy robes
made from buffalo hides (or occasionally, bear, wolf, or coyote skins) with knee-length buffalo-hide
boots. Young boys usually went without clothes except in cold weather. When they reached the age of eight
or nine, they began to wear the clothing of a Comanche adult.
In the 19th century, men used woven cloth to replace the buckskin breechcloths, and the men began wearing
loose-fitting buckskin shirts. The women decorated their shirts, leggings and moccasins with fringes made
of deer-skin, animal fur, and human hair. They also decorated their shirts and leggings with patterns and
shapes formed with beads and scraps of material.
Comanche women wore long deerskin dresses. The dresses had a flared skirt and wide, long sleeves, and
were trimmed with buckskin fringes along the sleeves and hem. Beads and pieces of metal were attached in
geometric patterns. Comanche women wore buckskin moccasins with buffalo soles. In the winter they, too,
wore warm buffalo robes and tall, fur-lined buffalo-hide boots.
Unlike the boys, young girls did not go without clothes. As soon as they were able to walk, they were
dressed in breechcloths. By the age of twelve or thirteen, they adopted the clothes of Comanche
Hair and headgear
Comanche people took pride in their hair, which was worn long and rarely cut. They arranged their hair
with porcupine quill brushes, greased it and parted it in the center from the forehead to the back of the
neck. They painted the scalp along the parting with yellow, red, or white clay (or other colors). They
wore their hair in two long braids tied with leather thongs or colored cloth, and sometimes wrapped with
beaver fur. They also braided a strand of hair from the top of their head. This slender braid, called a
scalp lock, was decorated with colored scraps of cloth and beads, and a single feather.
Comanche men rarely wore anything on their heads. Only after they moved onto a reservation late in the
19th century did Comanche men begin to wear the typical Plains headdress. If the winter was severely
cold, they might wear a brimless, woolly buffalo hide hat.
When they went to war, some warriors wore a headdress made from a buffalo's scalp. Warriors cut away most
of the hide and flesh from a buffalo head, leaving only a portion of the woolly hair and the horns. This
type of woolly, horned buffalo hat was worn only by the Comanche.
Comanche women did not let their hair grow as long as the men did. Young women might wear their hair long
and braided, but women parted their hair in the middle and kept it short. Like the men, they painted
their scalp along the parting with bright paint.
Comanche men usually had pierced ears with hanging earrings made from pieces of shell or loops of brass
or silver wire. A female relative would pierce the outer edge of the ear with six or eight holes. The men
also tattooed their face, arms, and chest with geometric designs, and painted their face and body.
Traditionally they used paints made from berry juice and the colored clays of the Comancheria. Later,
traders supplied them with vermilion (red pigment) and bright grease paints. Comanche men also wore bands
of leather and strips of metal on their arms.
Except for black, which was the color for war, there was no standard color or pattern for face and body
painting: it was a matter of individual preference. For example, one Comanche might paint one side of his
face white and the other side red; another might paint one side of his body green and the other side with
green and black stripes. One Comanche might always paint himself in a particular way, while another might
change the colors and designs when so inclined. Some designs had special meaning to the individual, and
special colors and designs might have been revealed in a dream.
Comanche women might also tattoo their face or arms. They were fond of painting their bodies and were
free to paint themselves however they pleased. A popular pattern among the women was to paint the insides
of their ears a bright red and paint great orange and red circles on their cheeks. They usually painted
red and yellow around their lips.
Arts and crafts
Because of their frequent traveling, Comanche Indians had to make sure that their household goods and
other possessions were unbreakable. They did not use pottery that could easily be broken on long
journeys. Basketry, weaving, wood carving, and metal working were also unknown among the Comanches.
Instead, they depended upon the buffalo for most of their tools, household goods, and weapons. They made
nearly 200 different articles were made from the horns, hide, and bones of the buffalo.
Removing the lining of the inner stomach, women made the paunch into a water bag. The lining was
stretched over four sticks and then filled with water to make a pot for cooking soups and stews. With
wood scarce on the plains, women relied on buffalo chips (dried dung) to fuel the fires that cooked meals
and warmed the people through long winters.
Stiff rawhide was fashioned into saddles, stirrups and cinches, knife cases, buckets, and moccasin soles.
Rawhide was also made into rattles and drums. Strips of rawhide were twisted into sturdy ropes. Scraped
to resemble white parchment, rawhide skins were folded to make parfleches in which food, clothing, and
other personal belongings were kept. Women also tanned hides to make soft and supple buckskin, which was
used for tipi covers, warm robes, blankets, cloths, and moccasins. They also relied upon buckskin for
bedding, cradles, dolls, bags, pouches, quivers, and gun cases.
Sinew was used for bowstrings and sewing thread. Hooves were turned into glue and rattles. The horns were
shaped into cups, spoons, and ladles, while the tail made a good whip, a fly-swatter, or a decoration for
the tipi. Men made tools, scrapers, and needles from the bones, as well as a kind of pipe, and fashioned
toys for their children. As warriors, however, men concentrated on making bows and arrows, lances, and
shields. The thick neck skin of an old bull was ideal for war shields that deflected arrows as well as
bullets. Since they spent most of each day on horseback, they also fashioned leather into saddles,
stirrups, and other equipment for their mounts. Buffalo hair was used to fill saddle pads and was also
used in rope and halters.
Charles Chibitty, Comanche code talker in WWIIThe language spoken by the Comanche people, Comanche (Numu
tekwapu), is a Numic language of the Uto-Aztecan language group. It is closely related to the language of
the Shoshone, from which the Comanche diverged around 1700. The two languages remain closely related, but
a few low-level sound changes inhibit mutual intelligibility. The earliest records of Comanche from 1786
clearly show a dialect of Shoshone, but by the beginning of the 20th century, these sound changes had
modified the way Comanche sounded in subtle, but profound, ways. Although efforts are now being made to
ensure its survival, most speakers of the language are elderly, and less than one percent of the
Comanches can speak the language. In the late 19th century, Comanche children were placed in boarding
schools where they were discouraged from speaking their native language and even severely punished for
doing so. The second generation then grew up speaking English, because it was believed that it was better
for them not to know Comanche.
During World War II, a group of seventeen young men referred to as "The Comanche Code Talkers" were
trained and used by the U.S. Army to send messages conveying sensitive information that could not be
deciphered by the Germans.
Comanche Nation Today
The headquarters of the Comanche Nation is Lawton, Oklahoma and their tribal jurisdictional area is
within Caddo, Comanche, Cotton, Grady, Jefferson, Kiowa, Stephens, and Tillman Counties. Michael Burgess
is the elected Tribal Chairman. The election for chairman is held every four years. The Comanche Nation
issues its own tribal vehicle tags. They operate ten tribal smoke shops, a bingo hall, the Comanche
Nation Water Park, Comanche Nation Funeral Home, and four casinos. Specifically, the tribe owns Comanche
Nation Games in Lawton, Comanche Red River Casino in Devol, Comanche Spur Casino in Elgin, Comanche Star
Casino in Walters, and Comanche Smokeshop and Game Center, also in Walters, Oklahoma. Their annual
economic impact is estimated by the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commissions to be $18 million
In 2002, the tribe founded the Comanche Nation College, a two-year tribal college in Lawton.
In July, Comanches from across the United States gather to celebrate their heritage and culture in
Walters, Oklahoma at the annual Comanche Homecoming powwow. The Comanche Nation Fair is held every
September. The Comanche Little Ponies host two annual dances—one over New Years and one in May.
Photograph taken 1872 by Alexander Garner and was Hand Oil Tinted by Artist Margaret A. Rogers.