Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Epitome of the Horse Indians

By John Lindermuth

George Catlin - War on the Plains
With the possible exception of the Apache, probably no people created as much fear or stirred such unified enmity as the Comanche for so long a period in the Southwest. The name Comanche is one of those derogatory identities of uncertain origin applied by enemies. They called themselves Nim’ma (The People).

They, more than any other factor, stalled the expansion of the Spanish-speaking peoples onto the plains in the 17th century and kept the armies, successively, of Spain, independent Mexico and the fledgling United States at bay until they were finally subdued in the mid-1870s, not by military force but by the systematic extermination of the bison, the vital element in their economy and lifestyle.

Despite their unrelenting hostility to the Mexicans and Texans, George Catlin, the Pennsylvania painter of Indians, and countless other travelers passed unscathed among them. Apparently, it was attitude and purpose made the difference. Catlin, who has been characterized as an accurate observer, lauded the Comanche as the epitome of the horse Indians.

The horse was central to their way of life and authorities are in agreement they are one of the few Indian peoples known with certainty to have migrated from their original territory in quest of the animal. They believed the Great Spirit created the horse especially for them and, circa 1700, the Comanche moved from north of the Platte to be closer to the horse supply. Their primary source, first by trade and later by theft, was the Mexican territories. They are known to have raided Taos, New Mexico, as early as 1716. After that, no Rancheria was safe from their depredations. Their horse raids were conducted across Texas and New Mexico and as deep as Durango in Mexico.

Fallen From Grace (March 2011), Wild Oak
Being Someone Else (July 2010), Whiskey Creek Press


Jennifer Wilck said...

That's an interesting post. I'm curious about what kind of attitude the painter and other travellers had that made them respected by the Comanche. Fascinating research!

Patricia Gligor said...

Beautiful photos, John, and an interesting, informative post.

J. R. Lindermuth said...

Ginger found the photos, which are most appropriate.
In the early days of the Texas Republic, the Comanche were friendly to Americans. Stephen Austin and a companion were captured by a group of 50 Comanche who freed them when they discovered they were Americans and not Mexicans. That partiality did not last.

James Allder said...

Nice bit of info on the Comanche, John. Enjoyed reading it, kudos.

Diane Scott Lewis said...

Interesting, Ginger. Horses are important to so many in history. I saw War Horse over the holidays, an excellent movie.

marja said...

Very interesting post. There's so much about the history of the Indian, and this country, that we only find out in bits and pieces. I appreciate people like you who share the information, and I'll look for more.

Earl Staggs said...

I've always had a great interest in the old west, John, including cowboys, Indians, and, of course, horses. You've added to my knowledge of them. Thanks.

Elaine Cantrell said...

Very enjoyable reading.