The Comanche, "those who are always against us," lived in a vast area of rugged high country that today includes parts of four states.
The country was rough, and in winter they lived in rows of tipis placed along sheltered canyons while hunting deer, elk, antelope and small game. When spring arrived and the buffalo came the Comanche moved onto the plains to follow them, setting up camp in traditional circles.
Buffalo: Food & Clothing
As to many Plains tribes, the buffalo was key to Comanche survival, providing food, clothing, shelter and tools. Comanche hunters used huge spears, sometimes 14-feet long, instead of bows and arrows to kill buffalo. They considered hunting with a lance a sign of pride.
Buffalo meat was either cooked over the open fire or sun-dried, either as jerky or pemmican (meat with nuts, marrow and fat). The Comanche also ate a mushy mixture of buffalo marrow and mesquite beans as a staple. The Comanche pemmican was often traded with other tribes for pumpkin seeds, honey and tobacco.
Men wore buckskin breechcloths and shirts. Women wore buckskin shirts and long, decorated fringed skirts. Leggings and fur-lined robes were added in winter. Unlike the moccasins of many tribes, the Comanche moccasins had soles made from the toughest part of the buffalo hide. They also applied grease to the moccasins to make them waterproof. Comanche men claimed they could identify anyone's footprint in the snow or mud simply by observing the sole, heel fringe (which served to erase the tracks of the wearer in the dust) and toe design of the moccasin.
Religion was very important and private to the Comanche. They believe in supernatural forces and that power to deal with the mysteries of life can be obtained by seeking a vision.
Once horses were introduced to the Comanche by the Mexicans, the Comanche joined the Kiowa for raids into Mexico and against the Apache and other Indian enemies. The Comanche also were known to take many captives to replace loss of life in the tribe. Eventually they signed an agreement that would allow safe passage of white settlers through their lands provided Texas lawmen would help confine the travelers to one trail so they would not scare buffalo away. Like most agreements, this one did not work well and the Comanche were moved to reservations.
In the days when Texas was still a republic, the Texas Rangers were formed specifically to drive Indians out of the territory, including those on reservations. Many of the Comanche escaped the Rangers by joining neighboring tribes, particularly the Kiowa. By 1868 the Comanche agreed to move to a reservation in Indian Territory. Once there, the government did not follow through on its promise to supply food to that reservation and many starved to death.
Today, the Comanche live in Oklahoma where they are successful farmers and cattle ranchers.
The Comanche people call themselves the “NUMUNUU.” “NUMU TEKWAPUHA” is the Comanche term for the Comanche language. During World War II, 17 Comanches served as Code Talkers. Even though the Comanches are a modern and contemporary people, their heritage is important to them. The Comanche language is still spoken today, but not by all tribal members. The tribe has created language and cultural preservation programs that have produced numerous language instructional materials.
- Current population: The Comanches have more than 13,000 tribal members.
- Traditional Comanche Homeland: Traditional Comanche homeland spanned large parts of the southern Great Plains in what are now Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Kansas.
- Homeland Today: Most Comanches live in the Lawton-Ft. Sill area of southwest Oklahoma.
- Importance of Horses: Horses are a very important part of traditional Comanche culture. The Comanches kept large herds and were well known for their exceptional horsemanship. They introduced other tribes to the use of horses.
- Tribal Government: Comanche government is elected and guided by a constitution. The Comanche government is involved in many kinds of programs, including economic development, environmental protection, and education.