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Bad Eagle Journal

Comanches, Yesterday and Today

by David Yeagley · July 8, 2010 · 56 Comments ·

There are none who dispute that the Comanches were once the most terrifying horde of human beings ever to evolve. Of course, Comanches never saw it that way. They didn’t look for such evaluation.

Timber Bluff, 1872.

Comanches didn’t care what anyone thought about them. They were only concerned that other people, Indian, white, or Mexican, stay out of their territory. Comanches were content with themselves. They needed no social contact with others. They didn’t want any. They were utterly solipsistic.

There are few people in the world that can understand this. Perhaps none today, except some remote tribe in the rain forests who have hidden themselves away.

But the Comanche days of hiding were over. After they saw the horse, they came out into the open, and world was forever changed. Comanches were first noticed by others when they came down from the Southern Rockies onto the plains of southestern Colorado and eastern New Mexico. No one really knows where they came from. (I say the Wind, or Ghengis Kahn.) When once they appeared, they took everything in sight, by force. The horses, the land, the game. No other people were welcomed by them. Instead, the Comanche drove everyone else away, first Indian, then Spanish (Mexican), and they kept the white out for the better part of a century.

After Comanches discovered the musteños (mustangs), their soul mate of the wind, they expanded their hunting empire to the largest of its kind in the history of the American continent. After kicking everyone else out, Comanches creating a kind of private paradise for themselves. It included southestern Colorado, eastern New Mexico, western Oklahoma, and most of Texas. And during all this expansion period, Comanches never number more than ten to twelve thousand.

How did it happen? Efficiency of lethal arms, on the back of a horse. The early European reports said, unlike others, who merely rode the horse, Comanche lived on the horse. They were always in motion, always hunting.

And always raiding. That was the adjunct activity for Comanche bands who wanted a quick fix. The risks may have seem higher, but, the rewards were immediate and well worth it. The Comanche reputation for being blood thirsty, irascible, and vicious surely came from the survivors of raids.

Bullies? Thugs? The bad a– of the plains? Maybe. “Lords of the plains” would be perhaps a more flattering term, if Comanches cared about such things, then, anyway. Among Comanche there was no central government, no single chief, ever, and no seasonal ceremonial gatherings. Comanches seemed without religion, really, or any basic kind of social structure beyond the small “gang.” Spirituality was entirely personal, and the Collective Conscious operated on the quintessence of pragmatism. The people needed no guidance, nor looked for it. Comanchers were a disintegrated scattering of indomitably independent, autonomous bands. Each hunting band was basically an extended family, generally of some twenty-five to thirty people. Early Europeans said the Comanches were never known to fight each other.

If there was an issue, say, over water, over game, a numunukahn (a band) could always break up, and each group was simply strong enough, efficient enough, self-reliant enough, that it could strike out on its own. If there were unwanted inhabitants already on the new territory, the Comanche band could simply drive them off. That’s the way it was for over a century.

As a result of this unusual independence and self-sufficiency of the Comanche, (called “intractability” by my former Yale professor Sydney Ahlstrom), Comanche people never developed complex social skills. Communication was simple and straight. (Indeed, Comanches wouldn’t deign to speak some one else’s language, but instead developed a hand sign languaged–which became the lingua franca of the plains. If you wished actually to speak to the Comanches, you had to learn their language. You see, if you were not Comanche, you didn’t count. You didn’t matter. Comanches had no use for you. It was best for you to stay clear of them altogether.) This absense of refined, systematic communication is notable even today among Comanches, at least to sociologists who have observed with their “European” standards.

When Comanches were all rounded up and corralled down in southwest Oklahoma, and had a government-designed “constitution” coerced upon them (–the 1934 BIA templet imposed on all the plains tribes), the true socio-psychological conditions of the Comanche were apparent. Of a truth, Quanah Parker had already set the pace for permanent and impossible system of unnatural leadership. Within such an iron cowl of alien custom, Comanche people have managed somewhat. I for one have suggested a new type of constitution that would accommodate our original band identities, and according to families. I believe there should be representatives from these groups, and these representatives should form a senate. We should have a tri-part system of government, like the United States government, in fact. What we have is a well-meaning system, imposed, which attempts to let the people lead. But what it does instead is cause perpetual discontent. Families still rule, and, in “secular” terms, this is the epitome of nepotism. Instead of having this all recognized, organized and out in the open, the people are left surmising, mistrusting, and frustrated with whatever leadership happens to be in office.

After years and years, one comes to have a great deal of appreciation for what a Comanche leader endures in the way of ire from the people.

And more than anything else, among modern Comanche people, is the spirit of tolerance–for each other. At our meetings, anyone and everyone has the right to speak. The most uneducated, unskilled, and psychologically embattled female has every whit the same right of the most educated, professionally accomplished, experienced male leader. This is rather phenomenol to witness, for anyone who hasn’t seen it before. Their is a grace, a patience, a forgiving attitude that is ineffable and unrehearsed. This social grace is beyond what is seen in most white Christian churches. It is natural to Comanche people.

I would further say that, in a way, in regard to this forgiving nature toward one another, Comanches were Christian before Christ was ever brought to our plains. For all the savagery, for all the rage, for all the bloody murder, rape, and plunder, Comanches have deep within them an incredible sense of spiritual transcendence. I suppose a true Freudian psychologist would not be surprised, but would even expect such a contrast. The psyche is a most agile accommodator. Emerson would have seen a law of compensation. It is a balance within, deep, and abiding.

Comanche Chairman Michael (Yellowfish) Burgess
thanks the Texas Christians for their arrangements,
and for the opportunity to share with them the
importance of Palo Duro Canyon to the Comanche
April, 2010. ComancheNationNews

I’m sure that the recent experience in Palo Duro involved some of this natural Comanche transcendence. Our chairman Michael (Yellowfish) Burgess, and those that accompanied him, I’m sure found no offense in graciously accepting whatever it was the Texas pentecostals wanted to offer. I consider that gesture–of being there and letting the white Texans pray before them–was an act of tolerance on the part of the Comanche. That’s what it would have been for me, if I knew about it, and was there.

However, I would not have been there, even if I had known. Ironically, my own sense of Christianity would not have allowed me to be there, even as a Comanche. It was a modern Comanche thing to do, to be gracious to an outsider, but, I’m not sure it was a Christian thing to do, ultimately. I’m not even sure that our chairman was there because he is Christian. I know he was there as a Comanche. And I know he is a Christian. I just think, in that particular incident, he was being more Comanche.

Comanche Chairman, Michael (Yellowfish) Burgess.

Well, this is the opinion of one who is part white, therefore part Comanche, and…part Christian. I can be more “irascible” than an old, free Comanche; I can see what whites see; and I think I’m aware of what Christian spirituality is. I believe Comanches are Christian by nature, at least toward one another, at least in the old free days.

So there. The remnant of that gracious spirit is alive and well today. We may be a little confused when we relate to those who aren’t Comanche. We may make mistakes. There may be misunderstanding. But, if anyone is offering Christian apologies, I think it’s a bit impertinent to Comanches. But, as I said, if we’re going to accept it from the Texans, then we need to make a quick trip down to Mexico and offer our own “Christian” apologies to Calderon.

Posted by David Yeagley · July 8, 2010 · 4:52 pm CT · ·

Tags: American Indians · Bad Eagle Journal · Christianity · Race · Religion · White Race

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56 responses so far ↓

  • 1 David Yeagley // Jul 11, 2010 at 3:32 pm   

    Thras, I obviously can’t deny anything anyone sees in Comanche-ism that is similar to other things in the world. I’m mean, I’m not blind.

    I’m just saying the uniqueness of Comancheism is that is was not thought out. It evolved naturally. So, you see in these other religions you reference, an attempt to return to the streamlined life, because the thinker has observed that the complexity of the society he is in has betrayed something of natural efficiency and propriety of soul.

  • 2 Thrasymachus // Jul 11, 2010 at 3:50 pm   

    You’re absolutely correct! The comparisons are superficial, and, as you demonstrate, even antithetical in circumstance and point of departure.

    It’s just my interest in martial arts and comparative religion! The study of Taoism helped me understand my own Christian faith better than I had originally understood it. Also I was looking in comparative religion for an understanding of historical circumstances and ethnic or racial — even international — relations, as these pertain to religion.

    “I’m just saying the uniqueness of Comancheism is that is was not thought out. It evolved naturally. So, you see in these other religions you reference, an attempt to return to the streamlined life, because the thinker has observed that the complexity of the society he is in has betrayed something of natural efficiency and propriety of soul.”

    Beautifully stated! The contrast revealed in your statement gives me a “handle” or an entry or reference point, as I need some open window through which to see this unique Comanche history. Your statement clarifies things for me.

    Any further comparison between the two would obviously be contrived and superficial now and would be “out-dated” in the discussion. :)

  • 3 Thrasymachus // Jul 11, 2010 at 4:27 pm   

    “She wanted to live in the woods and be an Indian. Beautiful little white girl, from a middle class, upstanding professional family. She wanted to be an Indian.”
    Forgive me for being sentimental, but really, city ways do not come naturally to me. Like Beethoven, I love the country and the Great Outdoors.

    When I was a little boy there was a movie I adored called “The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams.” As a boy, I wanted to live that kind of romanticized natural life — and still do! Not quite at the Amish level, of course; but certainly not NYC (how I hate that place)!

    If I were writing pop songs, this is what I’d be writing:

    Wear the Sun in Your Heart / Maybe.

    I think the White Man has got too far away from his natural way of life and this has caused so much of the trouble he’s now in.

  • 4 Pamela K. // Jul 11, 2010 at 4:53 pm   

    One of my greatest inspirations was a piece called, “Alone Across The Outback” in a 1978 National Geographic Magazine. It was the story of a young white woman traveling alone across the outback of Australia with just a dog and several camels for company. Australia is an unusual place. Unlike our cities which are surrounded by suburbs, once you leave the outskirts of Melbourne you are traveling in the countryside, through fields and woods, that get more hilly depending on where you going, plus you are bound to see an occasional “Kangeroo Crossing” sign. I think the most interesting place that I ever visited, as well as hiked to the top of was the mysterious Hanging Rock. It was the subject of the 1979 Peter Weir movie, “Picnic At Hanging Rock.” There is only one other prehistoric rock formation like it in the world and that one is in Sweden.

  • 5 Thrasymachus // Jul 11, 2010 at 5:21 pm   

    “Children of the Wind” is a poignant piece. Perhaps you could express this in music?

    Yes, there are few sorrows greater than to have your way of life taken from you by force.
    I don’t know if a people ever really recover from this. There’s a real tragedy in it all.


    Culturally, Wagner believed that the Jews were taking all Europeans’ way of life from them. This was the cultural basis for the Nazi anti-semitism. But there was much more to the formation of Nazism in Germany, of course. The threat of communism was another reason for the Nazi movement’s rise to power.

    Now a powerful group of wealthy elites are seeking to steal everyone’s way of life — and they too are willing to use bullets and destructive force to get their way. They want a world population of consumers whose greatest concerns are which brand of tooth-paste is preferable and which fast-food restaurant has the newest meal to try. They not only advertise food and clothing and automobiles and beer; they advertise life-styles to accompany these. I call it social engineering.

    Neither the Comanche nor the White Man can go back, of course. But if we can defeat the liberal elites we can go forward to ways of life that better suit our needs as unique and distinct peoples.

  • 6 Thrasymachus // Jul 11, 2010 at 5:50 pm   

    “We had nothing that anyone else was interested in. We had no clothes, no religion, and no shining thing. We were naked of culture. Our secret time in the mountains stripped us of anything superfluous. We shed all that was unnecessary.”

    I have never been to Europe, but I know people who have traveled much. In modern post-Christian Europe there are those who are trying to return to this — at least to some extent — in their free time. How the Muslim immigrants clash with the European “naturists” is just one of the ironies of modern Europe.

    What’s happening is that the World is closing in upon us all. Many people sense that modern life is artificial and hedonistic and materialistic.

    I don’t know if there’s ever been a time when so many people have a troubled conscience. Large numbers of people feel morally adrift. Hence there is little leadership and little faith in politicians.

    The churches are largely empty; Muslims are taking some of them over. The people are given to humanism. There’s little sense of identity and trust in one another. All this because liberalism refuses to provide moral guidance.

    The Comanche at least had a sense of who he was; he knew the people he belonged to. However simple and free his traditional way of life, he must have felt a belonging to his community. Even modern Chinese and Japanese know to which people they belong.

    In the U.S., perhaps more than most other places, this sense of knowing who one is and having roots — this is being taken away from us.
    Those who would take this away from the general population will eventually get round to taking it away from the Comanche and the Amish. Atomistic individualism — giving power to the tiny elite, while making everyone else just another Social Security number — this is where the trends are taking us. Something will rise up in Man’s Spirit to compensate. Only time will reveal it.

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