ETHNONYMS: Nimenim, Numinu, Numu, Padouca, Snake Indians, Tête Pelée
In historical times, the Comanche were a nomadic bison-hunting tribe dominating the southern and Southwestern Great Plains and famous for their war exploits against the Mexican and U.S. armies, the state of Texas, and other tribes. They spoke a Central Numic language closely related to those spoken by the Eastern Shoshone, Northern Shoshone, and Western Shoshone. They apparently separated from other Shoshonean groups in Wyoming in the seventeenth century, moving to the plains area of southeastern Wyoming and Eastern Colorado, and later spreading into western Oklahoma, Texas, eastern New Mexico, and northern Mexico, as far south as Zacatecas and Durango. In the late eighteenth Century they were allied with the Kiowa and have remained close to them to the present day. During the first half of the nineteenth century there was continual strife with Mexicans, Texans, and the U.S. Army. In 1867 the Medicine Lodge Treaty with the United States was signed and the Comanche, along with the Kiowa and Kiowa-Apache moved to a reservation (now a federal trust area) in southwest Oklahoma, where they remain today. The tribe's present constitution and bylaws were approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1966, being represented as a tribe on the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Intertribal Business Committee. Of a total of about nine thousand Comanche noted in the 1980 census, about thirty-six hundred lived in the trust area.
Before being placed on the reservation, the Comanche in historical times were nomadic bison hunters organized into numerous bands, of which five were always prominent—the Quahadi (Kwahadi), the Penateka (Penande), the Nokoni (Detsanayuka), the Yamparika, and the Kotsoteka. The bands were nearly autonomous and interconnections were very loose. Bison were the subsistence mainstay from the time the Comanche moved onto the plains. After the horse was acquired, they usually staged communal hunts under the Direction of a hunt leader. Bison were shot with bows and arrows (later with rifles), stabbed with lances, or sometimes driven over a cliff. Men did the hunting and women the butchering. Other game hunted included elk, deer, black bear, antelope, and, at times, wild horses. In times of Necessity, their own horses would supply the food. Numerous wild plants were collected by the women, and agricultural Products could be traded for with other tribes. Today they are mainly agriculturalists. The bison-hide-covered tipi was the basic dwelling, with wooden frame bungalows and houses replacing them in modern times.
Descent was bilateral with no descent groups being Present. Kinship terminology for cousins was Hawaiian in type. Marriage was usually endogamous within the band Community with uxorilocal postmarital residence. The husband was obliged to provide food for his wife's parents. Polygyny, often sororal, was practiced to a high degree, with the levirate also being present. Children were cherished, although abnormal babies were abandoned, as very often were one or both of a set of twins. Grandparents, especially grandmothers, played a central role in the rearing of children.
As noted above, the political structure was loosely organized, but each band had an elected nonhereditary chief. The most famous of these was Quanah Parker (1845-1911) who led the Comanche on the reservation from the 1870s until his death. Comanche religious practice was very individualistic, with emphasis being laid on the male vision quest. The quest gave power to individuals but entailed restrictive practices and taboos. There were no priests and few group ceremonies. The Comanche believed in a creator spirit and its counterpart, an evil spirit, and accepted the Sun, the Earth, and the Moon as deities. The religion was animistic with natural objects and animal spirits (except for dogs and horses) having various powers. Medicine men served as intermediaries and helpers with the spirits and also served practically as curers. The Comanche had few ceremonies, but had developed or practiced the Beaver Ceremony and the Eagle Dance. Unlike most of the other Plains tribes, they never accepted the Sun Dance.
Cash, Joseph H., and Gerald W. Wolff (1976). The Comanche People. Phoenix, Ariz.: Indian Tribal Series.
Hoebel, E. Adamson (1940). The Political Organization and Law-ways of the Comanche Indians. American Anthropological Association, Memoir 54. Menasha, Wis.
Wallace, Ernest, and E. Adamson Hoebel (1952). The Comanches: Lords of the South Plains. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.