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.