Probably one of the first signs of trouble was when the
Picuris (Pueblo) (who rather than accept the Spanish re-conquest of New Mexico (1692-96) had relocated with the Plains Apache at El Cuartelejo in western Kansas) suddenly returned to the Rio Grande valley and Spanish authority in 1706. Although there was little contact in the years following, the Spanish became increasingly aware and wary of Comanches. Meanwhile, combined Ute and Comanche war parties were attacking Apache villages throughout eastern Colorado. The Plains Apache fought well, but their small, isolated villages were easy targets for their mounted enemies. By 1716 the Jicarilla had been forced into the mountains of northern New Mexico, while other Plains Apaches had abandoned many of their settlements north of the Arkansas and were rapidly giving way across northeastern New Mexico, the Texas Panhandle, and western Oklahoma. Only a few Apache settlements still remained along the upper Arkansas. During the
summer of that year Comanches and Ute visited several settlements in New Mexico to trade.
Certain that these visits were to spy for defensive weaknesses, the
Spanish attacked a Comanche-Ute village northwest of Santa Fé. Prisoners were later sold as slaves. The three-years following were quiet, but on the plains, the Comanche and Ute war with the Apache continued. In 1719 the first recorded Comanche raids for horses in New Mexico occurred. A Spanish military expedition sent to retaliate travelled as far north as the Arkansas River (Pueblo, Colorado) but found only abandoned campsites. Meanwhile, the advance of the Comanches had destabilized the entire region, and the Apache retreat southward had become a major problem for the Spanish. Groups of refugee Plains Apache (Lipan and Mescalero) concentrated in southern Texas and New Mexico and began to attack the nearby Spanish settlements. Other Apache bands continued west across southern New Mexico into Arizona threatening to isolate Santa Fé from El
Paso and northern Mexico. To make matters worse, persistent rumors of French traders on the plains were reaching Santa Fé. A military expedition sent to investigate in 1720 was annihilated (probably by Pawnee).
Sometime during 1723 the war between the Comanches, Utes, and Plains Apache reached its climax. Two Spanish military expeditions sent to help the Apache failed to locate either Comanches or Ute. In 1724 a critical nine-day battle was fought at El Gran Cierra de el Fierro (Great Mountain of Iron). The exact date and location are unknown, but the result was a major defeat for the Apache. Within a few years, the last Apache settlements along the upper Arkansas had disappeared. 1725 the last Apache settlements on the upper Arkansas had disappeared. Although small, scattered groups of Apache probably remained on the central and southern plains during the next ten years, by 1730 the Comanches, still living north of the Arkansas, controlled the Texas Panhandle, central Texas and northeastern New Mexico. At about this time, the alliance between the Comanches and the Ute collapsed, marking the beginning of a 50-year war.
Their warfare was sporadic and never reached the intensity of the struggle with the Apache. At first the Ute held their own, but as the full weight of all the Comanches came to bear, they were forced to retreat from the plains into their mountain strongholds. By 1749 the Ute were asking the Spanish for protection against Comanches, and in 1750, they entered into an alliance with the Jicarilla against, what had become for both, a common enemy. Although the warfare between the Ute and Comanches continued until 1786, groups of the Kotsoteka felt confident enough during the 1740s to cross the Arkansas and move into northeast New Mexico. Other Comanche groups followed after 1750 and settled on the perimeter of the Staked Plains of the Texas Panhandle. However, large numbers of Yamparika and Jupe remained north of the Arkansas until the early 1800s. As the Ute gave ground, the Comanches became dominant and a serious problem for New Mexico. During the late 1720s, groups of Plains Apache (friendly with the
Spanish) had chosen to settle near the Rio Grande pueblos rather than
retreat farther south.
Three things drew Comanches to Spanish New Mexico: trade, horses, and Apaches. The unusual thing about this was that they managed to satisfy all three at once. While some Comanches traded peacefully at Taos, others stole horses elsewhere in New Mexico, and still others fought the Apaches. In 1725 the Spanish had noticed the Comanches were still using dogs for transport. By 1735 this was no longer the case, and the Comanches had more than enough horses for their own needs. However, they needed even more, since they supplying them to other plains tribes through trade. The level of horse thefts by Comanches bothered the Spanish, but was bearable, and the trade with Comanches for buffalo robes and slaves was important for the New Mexican economy. So the Spanish continued to trade, but a military
expedition was dispatched in 1742 to stop the raids. It followed the
Arkansas River as far as the Wichita villages without result.
Meanwhile the Comanches had discovered a new trading partner. The rumors of French traders on the plains which had prompted the ill-fated 1720 military expedition were based on fact, just a little premature. In 1724 a French trader named Bourgmont met with some Padoucah in southeastern Kansas (probably Plains Apache), but within a few years French traders were all over plains. In 1739 the Mallet brothers from Illinois showed up on the doorstep of the Spanish governor in Santa Fé wanting to open trade. They were treated well-enough and sent home, but afterwards the Spanish became alarmed, and the leader of the next French trading party was executed. By the 1740s French traders had worked their way up the Red River and were trading with the Wichita. After the French arranged a peace
between the Comanches and Wichita in 1747 (reconfirmed in 1750), the exchange of French trade goods for Comanche horses expanded rapidly. All of which was a disaster for New Mexico! Not only were Comanches now armed with French firearms, but they were paying for them with horses and mules stolen in New Mexico. Beginning with the Comanche raid on Pecos in 1746, New Mexico was under siege. For the next forty years Comanche raids struck virtually every place in Spanish New Mexico. Spanish soldiers and militia went thrashing about the plains in 1747 and 1749 without result. Several new presidios were built, but for the most part, Comanche raiders were able to avoid them. In the interim, while some Comanches raided, others came peacefully to trade at Taos and Pecos, but both Taos(1760) and Pecos (1746, 1750, 1773, and 1775) were attacked by Comanches. The entire
situation sounds insane unless it is remembered that Comanches were not a unified tribe, but several independent divisions, each with the power to make war or peace. Another Spanish military campaign against the Comanches during 1768 ended in frustration. Through their control of Comancheria, the Comanches had blocked Spanish expansion to the east from New Mexico and prevented direct communication with the new Spanish settlements in Texas.
The Spanish enjoyed their first military success in 1774 when a combined force of 600 soldiers, militia, and Pueblo Indians under Carlos Fernandez attacked a Comanche village near Spanish Peaks (Raton, New Mexico) capturing over one hundred prisoners. In 1779 the new governor of New Mexico, Juan Bautiste de Anza, organized a 500-man army with 200 Ute and and Apache auxiliaries. His campaign captured a large Comanche village and in a later battle killed Green Horn (Cuerno Verde), an important leader of the Comanche raiders. Raids dropped off noticeably but did not halt entirely. In the summer of 1785, De Anza let it be known that he was interested in making peace with the Comanches if they could agree on a single leader to represent them. The idea took root and received a major push when the Texas Comanches signed a peace treaty that fall with Texas Governor Domingo Cabello.
Among the New Mexico Comanches, the main opposition to peace was a parabio named White Bull (Toro Blanco). The Kotsoteka assassinated him and scattered his followers. A meeting of the Kotsoteka, Jupe, and Yamparika gave the power to make peace to Ecueracapa (Leather Cape). After two meetings at Pecos and another in a Comanche camp early in 1786, De Anza sent a signed treaty to Mexico City in July (ratified in October). De Anza also arranged a truce between the Ute and Comanches, while gaining a Comanche alliance with the Spanish against the Apache. In the many years following, the Comanches always remained at peace with New Mexico. Regular trade continued, with the New Mexicans who traded with Comanches becoming known as Comancheros. This trade relationship lasted well into the 1870s
and persisted even when Comanches used the weapons and steel provided by Comancheros to fight enemies living in Texas and northern Mexico.
Between 1700 and 1750, most of the Comanches were concentrated between the Platte and Arkansas Rivers. From here they fought not only with the Spanish, Ute and Apache, but most of the tribes of the central plains. Although many Comanches had moved south of the Arkansas after 1750, the Yamparika and Jupe remained to the north. As late as 1805, the North Platte was still known as the Padouca Fork, and by this time, Padouca meant Comanche. As late as 1775, the Yamparika were still fighting the Lakota and Cheyenne near the Black Hills and raiding the Arikara villages along the Missouri River. Frequent wars also occurred with the the Pawnee, Kansa, and Osage...usually over horses. Comanches usually had more horses than they needed. Pawnee, Kansa, and Osage did not and dealing with a
Comanche horse trader could be frustrating, especially for people who had recently gotten guns from French traders on the Missouri River. Often as not, their solution was to shoot the Comanche and take the horse, and this meant war.
Comanches eventually learned how to minimize the advantage of single-shot firearms. Meanwhile the Pawnee and Osage had their own horses, many of them stolen from Comanches. A major war erupted in 1746 between Comanches and the Osage and Pawnee. In 1750 the Wichita arranged a truce between the Comanches and Pawnee. The immediate effect was to allow the Pawnee and Comanches to ally and defeat the Osage during 1751. Afterwards, the Pawnee left Kansas and moved north to the Platte Valley in Nebraska. At about the same time the Comanches were moving south to the Staked Plains or concentrating closer to the Arkansas. Despite the physical separation,
Pawnees still travelled great distances to steal Comanche horses in Texas and New Mexico. They usually went out on foot and rode back, if
successful. The result was more fighting between Comanches and
Pawnee (1790-93 and 1803). In 1832 the Comanches caught some Pawnee raiders still on foot near the Arkansas and killed every one of them. Although defeated by the Pawnee/Comanche alliance in 1751, the Osage continued to expand west during the last half of the 18th century. In the process, there were several wars and regular skirmishes with Comanches. The tall Osage usually got the worst of it when they fought Comanches and lost another war in 1791. During 1797 Comanches destroyed an entire Osage village near the Kansas-Missouri border.
From the times when they had lived along the upper Platte in Wyoming,
Comanches had known and occasionally fought with the Kiowa. Before 1765 the Kiowa had lived in or near the Black Hills of South Dakota, but soon after this were displaced by Lakota migrating from east of the Missouri River. The Kiowa were forced to move south, first to the upper Platte, then across it into Kansas, and finally the southern plains near the Arkansas River. The move put them in competition for territory with Comanches. By 1780 their fighting with the Yamparika and Jupe had become serious, although each respected the other's bravery and fighting abilities. Peace between the Kiowa and Yamparika sprang from a chance meeting (and near battle) at a Spanish trading post. The date is uncertain but probably sometime around 1805. While the Spanish trader nervously tried to keep them separated, a Kiowa warrior volunteered to go with the Comanches and spend the summer. When he returned unharmed in the fall, the Kiowa and Yamparika met and made peace with each other. The peace process with other Comanche divisions probably took several more years, but in the end, a lasting alliance was made and never broken. This also extended to the Kiowa's unusual friends, the Kiowa-Apache, who must have sounded a lot like Plains Apache to Comanches when they spoke.
The other major alliance for the Comanches was with the the southern
branches of the Cheyenne and Arapaho. The area of the central plains
vacated by the departure of the Pawnee and Comanches was soon occupied by groups of Cheyenne and Arapaho. At first these newcomers were harassed by just about everyone: Comanches, Kiowa, Pawnee, and Ute, all of whom still claimed the area as hunting territory. With this many enemies, the Cheyenne and Arapaho first formed their own alliance and fought all comers. One of things that had attracted them south was trade: first with Spanish in New Mexico, and then with the Americans. During the 1830s, the major trading center on the southern plains was Bent's Fort, an American trading post on the Arkansas River in southeast Colorado. Although married to a Cheyenne woman, William Bent also traded with Kiowa and Yamparika and was getting tired of the aggravation of keeping them apart when they came to trade. At his suggestion, the Cheyenne and Arapaho decided to meet with their adversaries, and a lasting peace was arranged between them. The
"Great Peace of 1840," a landmark of southern plains diplomacy, was
cemented by the gift of large numbers of Yamparika and Kiowa horses to the Cheyenne and Arapaho.
Spain had completely neglected Texas during the 17th-century, but this ended when the French began to expand west from Louisiana. A
mission-presidio was built at Nagadoches in 1716 followed by other
missions and settlements in eastern Texas. These were generally beyond the usual range of Comanches, but not beyond the effects of the Comanche war with the Plains Apache. By 1728 several groups of Plain Apache had retreated into southern Texas and were pressed up against the mid-Rio Grande River. They generally annihilated or absorbed the Coahuiltec, Chisos, Jano, and Manso peoples they found there and began to raid northern Mexico. These groups of Apache became known as Lipan, and they not only alternately fought and traded with the Tonkawan and Caddo tribes in eastern Texas but were dangerous to the Spanish. They also continued to fight with Comanches, and this, together with French trade along the Red River, drew Comanches east and south into northern Texas.
The earliest mention of Comanches in Texas was in 1743, and they were after the Lipan. Some accounts call them Norteños, a collective term that probably included Wichita and Pawnee. The Spanish solution to Lipan hostility was to convert them to Christianity, but like most Apache, they were not very receptive. However, the Lipan, who had little love for the Spanish, noticed these efforts and saw an opportunity to lure the Spanish and Comanches into a war. In 1757 they approached the Spanish priests and requested a mission be built for them. The only problem was the suggested
location was on land the Lipan knew was claimed by Comanches. The Spanish took the bait and built the mission and small presidio. The Lipan plot worked perfectly. Comanche and Wichita warriors massacred the priests, burned the mission, and attacked the presidio. When the Spanish tried to retaliate, Colonel Diego Parilla's army was defeated by the Wichita and Comanches on the Red River in 1759. In 1761 Comanche raiders struck a second mission for the Lipan on the Nueces River, and the Lipan had the war they wanted.
For the next 25 years, Comanche raids struck throughout eastern Texas and across the Rio Grande into northern Mexico. The fighting and raiding evolved into three separate wars: Comanches versus Spanish; Comanches versus Lipan; and Lipan versus Spanish. The French transferred Louisiana to Spain in 1763, but this did not change the trading patterns of the eastern groups of Comanches. Spain continued to administer Texas from Mexico City, while Louisiana was placed under the control of the Viceroy of Havana. Meanwhile, French traders from Louisiana continued to use the Wichita to trade for Comanche horses just as before. By 1770 Spain had gained better control of Louisiana and for the next three years used the French traders to make their first peace overtures to the Wichita and eastern Comanches. There was some success with the Wichita, but Comanche raids into Texas continued until a major smallpox epidemic (1780-81) decimated both the Wichita and Comanches.
By 1778 the Lipan and other Apache along the Rio Grande had become a major problem for the Spanish, and they began to consider the possibility of an alliance with the Wichita and Comanches against the Apaches. After several small military successes against Comanche raiders, Texas Governor Domingo Cabello in 1785 sent two emissaries to the Wichita villages to contact the Texas Comanches. By September they had agreed to a peace treaty which was signed in October at Béxar. In exchange for gifts and a promise of regular trade with Texas, the eastern Comanches agreed to help the Spanish fight the Lipan and to urge the western Comanches to make peace with New Mexico. As a result, New Mexico's war with the Comanches ended the following year. New Mexico's peace endured because of Comanchero trade and lavish gifts, but for Texas and northern Mexico, the peace achieved was only relative. During 1786 many of the Comanche treaty chiefs in Texas either died or were killed. As a consequence, groups of Texas Comanches resumed raiding. It was still peace because the number of raids never returned to previous levels. Several incidents in Texas, including the killing of the son of a Yamparika chief in 1803, almost erupted into war, but the intervention of the western Comanches maintained peace.
In both Texas and New Mexico, Comanches joined with the Spanish army to fight Apaches. The most noteworthy success was when they helped General Ugaldi crush the Lipan in southern Texas(1789-90). The Lipan were badly mauled and retreated across the Rio Grande into northern Mexico, but this was not beyond the reach of Comanches who kept after them for many years. During the last years of Spanish rule, Texas was in chaos. The Hidalgo Revolt(1810) was followed by an attempt by American adventurers(Filibusters) to seize Texas (1812-13). American traders along the Red and Arkansas were trading guns to Comanches for horses, and this new market increased the tempo of Comanche raids in Texas. A Comanche chief, El Sordo, split from his own people in 1810 and gathered a combination of Comanches and Wichita to raid Texas and Mexico for horses. He was arrested during a visit to Béxar in 1811 and imprisoned in Coahuila. A large Comanche war party went to Béxar to demand an
explanation, only to be confronted by 600 Spanish soldiers. There was no battle, but relations between Texas and the Comanches were never the same.
Spanish rule was replaced by the Mexican Republic in 1821. The following year Francisco Ruiz arranged a truce with the Texas Comanche followed by a treaty of friendship signed in Mexico City in December. All would have been well if Mexico had enough money to pay for the presents it had promised, but it did not and raiding resumed within two years. For this same reason, the Comanche peace with New Mexico was endangered, and by 1825 there was war the entire length of the Rio Grande. Chihuahua was particularly hard-hit. The treaties signed at Chihauhau and El Paso (1826 and 1834) with the Comanches could not halt the raids. New Mexico in 1831 temporarily suspended Comanchero trading and stopped the cibolero (New Mexico buffalo hunters), but this also had little effect. In 1835 Sonora re-established its bounties for scalps. Chihuahua and Durango followed, but by the 1840s, Comanche war parties were ranging all over northern Mexico...some staying for as long as three months.
Comanche war parties usually found easy victims in Texas, and when
Americans began to settle there after 1821, Comanches did not distinguish between Anglo and Hispanic. In 1833 Sam Houston arrived in Texas as a United States representative to arrange a treaty with the Texas Comanches. There were some meetings, but Mexican officials began to wonder what he was doing in their country arranging a treaty with their Comanches, and he was asked to leave. Soon after Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836, Houston became president of the new republic. In May, 1838, a treaty of peace and friendship was signed with the Texas Comanches but did not address the Comanches' main concern, a line between Comancheria and the white settlements. In the absence of an agreement on this, the whites steadily encroached, and the Comanches still raided. Houston wanted to set
a line but was replaced in December by Mirabeau Lamar, a man determined to deal with Indian problems by war. One of his priorities was the return of Anglo prisoners taken by Comanches during the previous ten years of Mexican rule. Mainly women and children, the Texans were understandably anxious to get them back. In March, 1840 a meeting, under a flag of truce in San Antonio, was held with the Comanches to negotiate their release.
If the Texans had any illusions the fate of these people, they were about to be shattered. Rape was one of the kinder things Comanches did to women, and many of the children had grown-up as Comanche and had no wish to return. The twelve Comanche leaders who attended the meeting expected trade and ransom, but when the Texans saw the condition of a captive they had brought with them, they asked questions about others still in the Comanche camps. They were outraged by what they learned, and the negotiations collapsed. Rather than send the Comanches away, soldiers surrounded the council house to take them hostage to exchange for the white captives still held. The stunned Comanches tried to escape, and the Texans killed them. 27 women and children were taken prisoner. One woman was released to bring in the other captives. She returned with five, and the Texans released five more. No others were exchanged. It was now the Comanches' turn to be outraged by the killing of their chiefs under a flag of truce. Hundreds of warriors approached San Antonio screaming their rage, but remained just beyond rifle-range. Then suddenly they were gone, and the Texans thought the crisis had passed.
The Comanches had left to plan retaliation. When they got back to their
camps, they killed the white prisoners they were planning to exchange. In August, Buffalo Hump led a 500-warrior raid straight into the heart of eastern Texas. Homes were burned, hundreds killed, and before they
stopped, the Comanches had reached the Gulf of Mexico near Victoria. Then, loaded with loot, the war party began an unusual slow retreat to the north. Perhaps because of their numbers, the Comanches were overconfident, but this gave the Texans time to organize. With the help of Tonkawa scouts, Texas militia ambushed the main body at Plum Creek (Lockhart, Texas). Abandoning most of their spoils, the surviving Comanches escaped north. Afterwards, they would never again give the Texans such a easy target.
Of course, the Anglos in Texas were Americans, and the only reasons they were not immediately annexed by the United States in 1836 was northern Congressional resistance to another slave state and a problem with Mexico over the southern boundary of Texas. While waiting for admission, the Texans in 1839 expelled the Cherokee, Shawnee, and Delaware that the Mexican government had encouraged to settle in eastern Texas to keep Americans out in the first place. Houston was re-elected president and set about repairing the damage done by Lamar's administration. He not only had to deal with Comanches, but a second war with Mexico (1841-42). Without
resources for a standing army, Texas created small ranger companies
mounted on fast horses to pursue and fight Comanches on their own terms. Eventually armed with the first Colt revolvers, the Texas Rangers enjoyed considerable success against Comanches during the 1840s. However, Houston wanted peace, not war, and he was trusted by Comanches. A treaty between the Republic of Texas and Texas Comanches was signed October, 1845 and ratified in December. It established a line of trading houses which would later function as the line between Texas and Comancheria, but this deliberately-vague definition would be the source of future troubles.
Spain had been an ally of the Americans for much of the Revolutionary War but after the rebel triumph in 1783, had become concerned about the territorial ambitions of the new United States. Its fears proved justified as American settlement swept across the Appalachians into the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys. To supply horses and mules for these immigrants, American traders were soon looking to the southern plains and were dealing with Comanches and Wichita. With the Louisiana Purchase (1803), the Americans acquired territory that included a portion of Comancheria, but during the next twenty years, American penetration of the Great Plains focused on the fur trade of the Missouri River. On the southern plains, French traders, now American citizens, continued their contacts with Wichita and Comanches. They were soon joined by an increasing number of
Americans. Since much of the trade was conducted through the Wichita, Comanches remained distant and mysterious.