To end the mystery and with an eye to the future, American Indian agents in Louisiana were urged to make contacts with the "Hietans." Dr. John Sibley had the first official meeting with a Comanche "principal chief" in 1807 at Natchitoches. He gave presents, and later licensed an American trader for them. Other licenses followed. One of his successors, John Jamison, had other visits from Comanche chiefs in 1816 and 1817. These contacts and trading licenses were viewed with alarm in Spanish Texas. The traders not only sold firearms to Comanches and Wichitas, but provided a ready market for stolen horses and mules. After Spanish rule was ended by the Mexican Revolution in 1821, Americans rushed in. William Becknell opened the Santa Fé Trail between Missouri and Santa Fé that year, and Anglo-Americans began to settle in Texas. All of which dramatically increased contacts between Comanches and Americans.
Along the Santa Fé Trail, the first meetings between Americans and Comanches were almost always friendly. Still, it was best for Americans, if they wished to keep their trade goods and horses, to travel in large, well-armed parties ...a precaution made necessary as much by Osage, Pawnee, and Kiowa, as by Comanches. Actually, Comanches were relatively peaceful if they were seen at all, but as the most powerful tribe in the region, they usually received credit for depredations. Pawnee and Osage seem to have been more dangerous to travellers. In Texas, however, American experiences with Comanches were different, even though the culprits were often Wichitas. Comanches viewed the world pretty much in the terms of their own political organizations. During the 1700s, they saw Spanish settlements, not as part of a whole, but as Texas, northern Mexico, and New Mexico. Even then, making peace with the Spanish had required major adjustments in Comanche political relationships. During the 1820s and 30s, most Comanches still made a distinction between Americans and Texans. The fact that Texas was an independent nation for its first ten years only served to confirm this in their minds. Since Comanche relations with Texas during this period were usually hostile, Americans on the Sante Fé Trail did not try to correct this.
American problems with Comanches began during the 1820s with the relocation of tribes from east of the Mississippi River to Kansas and Oklahoma. Actually the problem at first was not much with Comanches, but the Osage whose territory was directly affected. To defend themselves against the Osage, the Delaware, Fox, Sauk, Cherokee and others began to consider alliances with Comanches and other plains tribes. However, when the newcomers began hunting west of their new homes, they came into conflict with Comanches. To preclude the possibility widespread warfare, Colonel Henry Dodge led a large force of dragoons from Fort Gibson to western Oklahoma during the summer of 1835 as a show of force and to meet the Comanches. How impressed the Hois were with the dragoons sweating inside their fancy uniforms is questionable, but in August they (with the Wichita) signed the Camp Holmes Treaty with American representatives pledging peace and friendship with the Osage, Quapaw, Seneca, Cherokee, Choctaw and Creek.
The treaty also reflected another American concern and guaranteed safe passage on the Santa Fé trail. Within a year the Comanches regretted this agreement and had destroyed their copy. When the United States annexed Texas in 1846, it inherited its problem with Comanche raiding and a boundary line between the settlements and Comancheria. An immediate step by the United States was to announce its authority and sign a treaty with the Comanches and other Texas tribes to replace the Texas treaty of the previous year. This was done in May, 1846 on the upper Brazos River (Butler-Lewis Treaty). Signed by the Penateka/Hois Comanches (also Ioni, Anadarko, Caddo, Lipan, Wichita, and Waco), the treaty promised, besides peace and friendship, trading posts, a visit by a Comanche delegation to Washington D.C., and a one-time payment of $18,000 in goods. A boundary line was alluded to, but not defined. The Comanche delegation went east shortly afterwards and met President Polk, but with the Mexican War just beginning, congress had more important concerns, and the Senate adjourned without ratifying the treaty.
By the time the treaty was amended and ratified in March, 1847, the Comanches were very upset and certain they had been betrayed. War was averted only when traders and Indian agents advanced credit to send part of the promised gifts. When the amendments were read to the Comanches, the meeting almost ended, but eventually they agreed to the changes. Additional money was appropriated for more gifts, but once again, a boundary line was never established. Meanwhile, there was a serious question over whose responsibility it was to deal with the Texas tribes, the federal or the state government. The problem was never really settled until after the Civil War. In the interim, policy was set by both, and this was confusing, so the 1846 peace treaty brought very little peace to Texas.
In May of 1847 Texas allowed the German settlers near Fredericksburg and New Braunfels to make their own treaty with the Texas Comanches. In exchange for land, the Germans promised a trading post and gifts. Unfortunately, the Germans not only encroached beyond the agreed boundary, but were slow to pay, and in response the Comanches made raids. A boundary line was eventually set by the Texas governor but was to be enforced by the American army which had taken over the line of Texas forts on the frontier. Army commanders felt they had no authority to enforce state laws, and meanwhile, Texas continued to operate its ranger companies as military units not under federal control. The Rangers did nothing to prevent encroachment of Comanche lands but would retaliate if the new settlements beyond the line were attacked. To make matters worse, only the Penateka had signed the 1846 treaty. The Nokoni, Tenawa, and other Comanches did not consider themselves bound by the agreement and continued to raid in Texas.
At the other side of Comancheria, many things had changed with the beginning of the Mexican War in 1846. An American army under General Stephan Watts Kearny seized Santa Fé and moved on to California. The Santa Fé Trail became a heavily-travelled military supply route, and forts were built to protect it. Five companies of Missouri volunteers were sent to garrison these posts during the summer of 1847 and quickly became engaged in fights with plains Indians. At least one of these at Fort Mann involved the Pawnee. In the other cases, the fights were probably with Kiowa, Cheyenne and Arapaho, and the amount of Comanche involvement is uncertain. The first part of 1848 was relatively calm, and during that year, Texas Comanches even provided guides for the survey of the route of the new Butterfield (California) trail across southern Texas to El Paso and California. The calm changed suddenly with the discovery of gold in California, As thousands of gold-seekers raced west, they needed horses, and the Comanches moved to meet this new demand with their standard method. Horse raids increased in Texas, but the major target was northern Mexico. Comanche raids struck deep into Coahuila, Chihuahua, Sonora, and Durango, reaching their peak during 1852 when they struck Tepic in Jalisco, 700 miles south of the border at El Paso.
To protect the immigrant routes across the plains, the United States called the "Peace on the Plains" conference at Fort Laramie (Wyoming) in 1851. This was an attempt to end, or at least limit, intertribal warfare by defining boundaries between tribal territories. Almost every plains tribe attended and signed (1851 Fort Laramie Treaty) and received gifts with the exception of the Comanches and Kiowa. Epidemic had broken out in their villages, and there was a deep distrust of the northern tribes. Since the Santa Fé Trail was a vital route, it was essential to reach an agreement with them. As the southern plains tribes gathered around Fort Atkinson for the distribution of the annuities from the Fort Laramie treaty, large groups of Kiowa and Comanches also came, and they were not in a good mood. Eventually, 6,000 to 9,000 Indians were gathered in the vicinity, and the situation was becoming dangerous. The American agent took it upon himself to distribute $9,000 in gifts to the Comanches and Kiowa, and in 1853 the Kiowa and Yamparika signed their own treaty at Fort Atkinson. In return for safe passage and a promise to stop raiding in Mexico, the United States agreed to pay them $18,000/year for ten years.
There were several reasons the Comanches and Kiowas had been angry in 1852. The first was they had recently encountered a far more terrible enemy than Texas Rangers or the American army. Their first experience with it had been smallpox (1780-81). This epidemic had been so severe that it temporarily suspended raids and caused the disappearance of some Comanche divisions. They were hit again by smallpox during the winter of 1816-17. The wave of immigration from the California gold rush first brought smallpox (1848) and then cholera (1849) to the Great Plains. These were devastating to every plains tribe, but especially the Comanches and Kiowa. The government census estimated a drop in the Comanches' 1849 population of 20,000 to 12,000 by 1851, and the Comanches never recovered from this loss. More smallpox struck from New Mexico during 1862 and is believed to have been equally devastating. Cholera returned in 1867. By 1870, the Comanches numbered less than 8,000 and were still dropping rapidly.
The Comanches kept their promise for safe passage on the Santa Fé Trail, but remained angry about events in Texas. White settlement was steadily taking more and more of Comancheria, and the Texas Rangers still attacking them. As the frontier advanced, the American army had built a new line of forts, followed by a third line. At first these had been manned by infantry, and the Comanche simply by-passed them. Within a few years, the infantry was replaced by new light-cavalry regiments. In all, it took three lines of forts and most of the army's pre-Civil War strength to keep the Comanches out of Texas. Even more aggravating from the Comanches' point of view were posts like Fort Stockton at Comanche Springs which were intended to block the "Great Comanche War Trail" leading to northern Mexico. The Americans were required by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago to prevent raids into Mexico. Between 1848 and 1853, Mexico filed 366 separate claims for Comanche and Apache raids originating from north of the border.
Not all efforts to deal with the Texas Comanches were limited to military force. In 1854 the Texas legislature provided 23,000 acres for the United States to established three reservations on the upper Brazos River for the Texas tribes. Besides Caddo, Delaware, Wichita, and Tonkawa, the United States Indian agent, Robert Neighbors, convinced some Penateka Comanche to move to these locations. Camp Cooper (commanded in 1856 by LTC Robert E. Lee) was built nearby. Almost immediately, local settlers began to accuse the reservation tribes of stealing horses and other depredations. Much of this was either exaggerations, outright lies, or done by Comanches from the Staked Plains. The situation became dangerous in 1858 after the army abandoned Camp Cooper. During the spring of 1859, a mob of 250 settlers attacked the reservation but were repulsed. As the United States Indian Agent, Robert Neighbors became the subject of intense hatred by local Texans, but rather than fight them, he arranged to close the reservations and move the residents to Indian Territory. Not only were the peaceful Penateka forced to leave Texas, but tribes that had never fought Texans, including the Tonkawa, Caddo, and Delaware who had served loyally as scouts for the Texas Rangers. After leaving his charges at the new Wichita agency at Anadarko, Neighbors started back to his home in Texas. He never made it! Near Belknap, Texas he was ambushed and shot in the back.
After its victory against the Brazos reservation, Texas urged the army to make greater efforts against Comanches beyond its borders. Texas Rangers pursuing war parties had discovered that Kiowa and Comanches were using the Indian Territory as a sanctuary from which to raid in Texas and then elude pursuit. Between 1858 and 1860, the army's new light-cavalry regiments were used for an offensive against Comanches in Oklahoma. In May, 1858 Colonel John Ford's Texas Rangers, ignoring minor legalities like a state-line, struck first and attacked a Comanche village on Little Robe Creek. Three months later his Caddo, Delaware, and Tonkawa scouts were expelled from Texas as undesirables. In October, 1858 Captain Earl Van Dorn attacked a Comanche village at Rush Springs killing 83. The following May, Van Dorn struck the Comanches at Crooked Creek in Kansas. The result of this offensive by the army and Rangers was to cause trouble elsewhere. Attacked from Texas, Comanches and Kiowa separated into small bands and moved north near the Santa Fé Trail. In response to increased Indian attacks on the trail during the summer of 1860, three columns of cavalry were sent into the area on a punitive expedition. In July the command of Captain Samuel Sturgis was the only one to make a major contact. After an eight-day chase, he fought a battle with Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and presumably, some Comanches.
The timing of these confrontations could not have been worse. When federal soldiers withdrew east at the beginning of the Civil War, Confederates replaced them. Albert Pike, the Confederate Indian agent, signed two treaties with Comanches in August, 1861: one with the Penateka; and a second with the Nokoni, Yamparika, Tenawa, and Kotsoteka. Besides the usual promises of peace and friendship, the Comanches were promised a large amount of goods and services. Because the Confederacy needed every cent it had to fight the war, the Comanches never received what was promised. When Texas sent its men east to fight for the Confederacy, most of the old federal army posts were abandoned. With the frontier defenseless and the Confederate treaty promises unfulfilled, Comanches began raids intended to drive settlement back to the point they felt it belonged.
The Texas frontier retreated over 100 miles during the Civil War, and northern Mexico was hit by a new wave of Comanche raids. The war also provided the Comanches with an opportunity to get even with the Tonkawa. This was not just for their service as scouts with the Texas Rangers. The Texas Comanches had a special hatred for the Tonkawa ever since they had killed and eaten the brother of one of their chiefs. The Comanches were not a gentle people, but they found cannibalism repulsive. After Texas Indian agents had taken over administration of the Wichita Agency in Oklahoma, Comanches participated an attack on the agency (October, 1862) by pro-Union Delaware and Shawnee from Kansas. When it was over, 300 Tonkawa had been massacred. The survivors crossed the Red River and settled near Fort Griffin. In the years following, they would exact their revenge by serving as army scouts against the Comanches.
After 1861 Comanches, Kiowa, Cheyenne and Arapaho almost succeeded in closing the Santa Fé Trail. When federal officials at Fort Wise learned the Comanches had signed treaties with the Confederacy, they were certain that they had become hostile. While the rest of the nation was bleeding itself to death on eastern battlefields, the ranks of the Union army on the frontier were filled with men who: did not have a job; did not wish to fight in the war; and hated Indians. By the fall of 1863, the performance of these "soldiers" had provoked a general alliance between the Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, Comanches, and Kiowa-Apache. In the fall of 1864, Colonel Kit Carson was sent at the head of an column from Fort Bascom, New Mexico into the Stake Plains to chastise the Comanches and Kiowa. His Jicarilla and Ute scouts located their camps on November 24th. Carson's problem was he had found more Comanches and Kiowa than he could chastise, and the first battle of Adobe Walls came very close to being "Carson's Last Stand." Only the skillful use of artillery kept the Yamparika and Kiowa from massing and overrunning his position. Afterwards, Carson returned to New Mexico and left the chastising of Comanches to others. Five days after Carson's battle, Chivington's Colorado volunteers attacked a sleeping Indian village on Sand Creek in southern Colorado. It was even flying an American flag to show it was at peace. When the volunteers had finished massacring and mutilating 300 Cheyenne, mostly women and children, they had set the plains afire.
In the final days of the Civil War, the Confederacy made a final attempt to exploit the hostility of the plains tribes that had been provoked by the federal volunteers. In May, 1865 a council was held on the Washita River in western Oklahoma. It was well attended by the Comanches and other tribes, but Lee had surrendered in Virginia two-weeks before, and the Confederacy was finished. That summer, while the Union celebrated its victory, the plains were a disaster. The Santa Fé and Overland trails were closed, and virtually every plains tribe was at war with the United States. As federal troops began to re-occupy their posts in Texas, the Great Plains, and Indian Territory, government commissioners met in October with the plains tribes on the Little Arkansas River near Wichita to arrange a peace. The Little Arkansas Treaty gave the Comanches and Kiowa western Oklahoma, the entire Texas Panhandle, and promised annuities of $15/person for 40 years.
Actually, there were two Little Arkansas treaties. Of the Comanche divisions, only the Yamparika, Nokoni, Penateka, and Tenewa had taken part in the agreement, but the Kwahada and Kotsoteka had not. The Kiowa were still so upset that the Kiowa-Apache did not sign the Comanche-Kiowa version but asked to be included under the Cheyenne-Arapaho treaty. This was a good indication of how unstable things still were. When the annuities arrived, there was widespread disappointment. What the Comanches had expected were guns, ammunition, and quality goods. What they got were rotten civil war rations and cheap blankets that fell apart in the rain. The peace was soon violated by both sides, and war resumed for another two years. It was a bitter struggle, and General William Sherman finally ordered the army not to pay ransom for white captives held by Indians to avoid giving them incentive to capture even more. While the army was making its own plans to deal with the hostiles by force, the federal government decided to make one final effort to resolve the conflict through treaty. The result was a milestone peace conference held at Medicine Lodge Creek in southern Kansas (October, 1867). In exchange for a wagon train of gifts brought by the commissioners and the payment of annual annuities, the Comanches and Kiowa signed the Medicine Lodge Treaty exchanging Comancheria for a three-million acre reservation in southwestern Oklahoma.
The arrangement did not work as intended. Because of an outbreak of cholera in their camps, the Kwahada neither attended the conference nor signed. Afterwards, they did not consider themselves bound by the Medicine Lodge treaty and chose to stay on the Staked Plains. Most of the other Comanches moved to the vicinity of Fort Cobb and remained on the reservation for the winter, but since the treaty was not yet ratified, there was no money to pay for rations. After a hungry winter, most of the Comanches and Kiowa left Fort Cobb and returned to the plains during the summer of 1868. Once again raids were made into Texas and Kansas, and the new reservation was used as a sanctuary to prevent pursuit by the army. Even Fort Dodge, Kansas was attacked, and its horse herd stolen. The frustrated Indian agent at Fort Cobb just resigned and went east leaving the mess in the hands of his assistant.
The treaty was ratified in July, and funds were made available, but the responsibility for the administration of annuities was placed with the army. General Phillip Sheridan began plans for the winter campaign of 1868-69 against the hostiles in western Oklahoma and the Staked Plains. After ordering all tribes to report to Fort Cobb or be considered hostile, Sheridan set this in motion. LTC George Custer and the 7th Cavalry attacked a southern Cheyenne village on the Washita in November, and Major Andrew Evans struck a Comanche village at Soldiers Spring on Christmas Day. Afterwards, most of the Comanches and other tribes still on the plains returned to the agencies.In March, 1869 the Comanche-Kiowa agency was relocated to Fort Sill and the Cheyenne-Arapaho agency to Darlington. Only the Kwahada were still on the Staked Plains. The Kiowa and other Comanches were on the reservation, but by the fall of 1869 small war parties were occasionally leaving to raid in Texas.
During one of these raids near Jacksboro (May, 1871), the Kiowa almost killed William Sherman, commanding general of the American army. "Great Warrior" Sherman was conducting an inspection tour of western posts, when a Kiowa war party noticed his lone ambulance and small escort. They chose instead to attack a nearby supply train. When Sherman learned of his narrow escape, he was furious and proceeded directly to Fort Sill. When he discovered the Kiowa chiefs were openly bragging about the latest raid, he ordered their arrest and sent them to Texas for trial. After a Texas court sentenced them to life imprisonment, the Comanches and Kiowa launched a series of raids in retaliation that killed more than 20 Texans during 1872. At the same time, Texas civilians stole 1,900 horses from the tribes at Fort Sill.
Meanwhile, the army in Texas was trying to deal with the raids from the reservation and massive thefts of Texas cattle by the Kwahada for sale to New Mexico Comancheros. In October, 1871 a raid led by Quanah Parker stole 70 horses from the army at Rock Station. The commanding officer, Colonel Ranald Mackenzie, was not someone to take this lightly. For the next two years Mackenzie and his black cavalry troopers ranged the Staked Plains chasing the Kwahada. The campaign ended with an attack on a Comanche village at McClellan Creek (September, 1872). Mackenzie captured 130 women and children and held them hostage at Fort Concho. This really slowed the raiding while the Comanches negotiated for their release. In April, 1873 they were released and sent under escort to Fort Sill. A detour had to be made around Jacksboro to prevent a riot.
At the request of the Secretary of the Interior, Texas Governor E.J. Davis paroled the Kiowa chiefs in October after they had served only two years on condition the raiding stop. The Kiowa were grateful, but an occasional war party still slipped off the reservation, crossed the Red River, and headed south into Texas. Meanwhile, the great slaughter of the plains buffalo had begun. Between 1865 and 1875, the number of buffalo on the Great Plains fell from fifteen to less than one million. Unofficially sanctioned by army commanders who issued free ammunition to hunters, it destroyed the basis for the plains tribes' way of life. During the winter of 1873-74, Cheyenne hunters returned to the Darlington agency to report that Kansas buffalo hunters were destroying the southern buffalo herds. As this news spread, violence erupted at the Darlington and Wichita agencies which had to be put down by troops. Afterwards, large groups of Cheyenne left the reservation and headed for the plains.
At first the Comanches and Kiowa thought the Cheyenne were mistaken, but their story of the plains littered with dead buffalo was eventually confirmed. In December, with a marvelous sense of timing, the government decided to deal harshly with the Kiowa and Comanches to end the raids in Texas. The agent at Fort Sill was ordered to limit rations and suspend the distribution of ammunition. A sense of general panic set in, and by May several groups of Comanches and Kiowa had left the reservation. At first they were uncertain what to do. Several Comanches had recently been killed in Texas by Tonkawa scouts, and some of the first thoughts were of revenge. However, the agent had learned of their their departure and purpose and had alerted the army. After some discussion, a decision was made to attack the buffalo hunters on the Staked Plains. In June, 1874 a large Comanche-Cheyenne war party attacked 23 buffalo hunters camped in the Texas Panhandle at the site of Carson's 1864 battle at Adobe Walls.
The Second Battle of Adobe Walls marked the beginning of the Buffalo War (or Red River War) (1874-75), the last great Indian war on the southern plains. After the initial rush failed, the Comanches came under fire from the hunters' long-range buffalo guns and were forced to retire. The uprising spread rapidly as more warriors left the agencies and joined the hostiles on the Staked Plains. To halt this, soldiers began to disarm the Comanches and Kiowa who had remained on the agencies. In August, a group of Penateka were peacefully drawing rations at the Wichita agency when soldiers stationed at the agency demanded they surrender their weapons. When this was refused, a fight broke out and the Comanches fled, but the kept the agency under siege for the next two days until it was relieved by troops from Fort Sill. By September only 500 Kiowa and Comanche were still on the reservation. The others were out on the Staked Plains.
That same month the army began to move. Three converging columns moved into heart of the the Staked Plains. Trapped between, the Comanches, Kiowa, and Cheyenne were allowed little rest. Colonel Nelson Miles' column made the first contact and defeated a group of Cheyenne near McClellan Creek. For the Comanches, Cheyenne, and Kiowa, the major blow occurred when Mackenzie located a mixed camp hidden in Palo Duro Canyon (September 26-27). After driving off the warriors during a short battle, he burned the camp and killed 2,000 captured horses. There were few other encounters, but the relentless pressure and pursuit throughout the fall and winter had its effect. Starving, the remaining Comanches, Kiowa, and Cheyenne began to return to the agencies, mostly on foot because they had been forced to eat their horses. By December there were 900 on the Fort Sill reservation. In April 200 Kwahada, who had never submitted, surrendered at Fort Sill. In June the last 400 Kwahada, including Isatai and Quanah Parker, surrendered. The war was over.
Mackenzie disposed of many of the Comanche and Kiowa horses. After giving 100 to his Tonkawa scouts, he sold 1,600 horses and mules for $22,000. The proceeds were used to buy sheep and goats for his former enemies. By 1879 the buffalo were gone. During that year the Kiowa-Comanche and Wichita agencies were merged into a single agency. Always pragmatic, the Comanches adjusted but in typical Comanche style. Taking advantage of his Texas heritage, Quanah Parker emerged as an important Comanche leader. He collected tolls on cattle herds that used the Chisholm trail to cross the reservation and sold grazing rights to nearby Texas ranchers. For some reason, few argued with him about price. With his six wives, he moved into a large, comfortable house. It had five large stars painted on the roof to insure he had more stars than any army general. He was elected a sheriff and served as a tribal judge. By the time he rode in Theodore Roosevelt's inaugural parade in 1905, Quanah had amassed 100 horses, 1,000 cattle, and 250 acres of cultivated farmland.
Texans liked to brag about him as being a Parker and one of their own. Besides Geronimo and Sitting Bull, he was probably the best-known Native American of his day, but when they finally met, native etiquette required that Geronimo had to come to Quanah, not the other way around. Quanah was an important chief; Geronimo was not. Quanah went wolf hunting with Roosevelt and even had thoughts of representing Oklahoma in the United States Senate. However, whites in Oklahoma still saw him as an Indian, and there was little chance of that. Nor could Quanah stop allotment from taking his people's land. Of the three million acres guaranteed them by the Medicine Lodge Treaty in 1867, the Comanches kept less than 10%. In 1901 the reservation was broken into 160 acre individual allotments and disbanded. The opening of the other 90% for settlement that year caused the last great land rush in American history.