Page 1


Leeza Henderson

The Amer ican Indian Cultural Center and Museum 900 N. Broadway Suite 200 Oklahoma, OK 73102

Published in conjunction with the exhibition How the West was Lost:The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Empire, at The American Indian Cultural Center and Museum, 900 N. Broadway Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, January 20, 2014 - June 19, 2014. Produced by the Department of Publications, The American Indian Cultural Center and Museum, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Curated, edited, designed, printed, and bound by Leeza Henderson. Special thanks to Mychal Mitchel. This book is typeset in Trade Gothic and Bembo Std. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof. Copyright credits for certain illustrations are cited on p. 34. Library of Congress Control Number: 2014936362 ISBN: 978-0-87070-852-7 Manufactured in the United States of America.




how the west Was Lost: The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Empire

is an exhibition that tells the familiar narrative of expansion, resistance, conquest, and loss, but with a reversal in historic roles: it is a story in which Indians expand, dictate, and prosper, and European colonists resist, retreat, and struggle to survive. The Comanches were the Spartans of the Southern Plains, and a driving force that helped determine the formation of the American West. Their culture was one of military mastery, and boys were trained to be lethal warriors on horseback. The nomadic tribe lives were built on two things, war and buffalo. The white men were bluecoats, cavalry, and bullies; mostly veterans of the Civil War between the United States who now found themselves at the edge of a new frontier and opportunity of the fabled Llano Estacado. A country populated exclusively by the most hostile Indians on the continent, where few United States soldiers have ever gone before. The Llano was a place of extreme desolation, a vast, trackless, and featureless ocean of grass where white men became lost, disoriented and died of thirst; a place where the Imperial Spanish had once marched confidently forth to hunt Comanches, only to find that they themselves were the hunted, the ones to be slaughtered. The wars between the Comanches and Anglo-Americans were among the bloodiest that were fought on this continent. They marked the culmination of three-hundred years of bloodshed between white men and red. This exhibition focuses on the final chapter of this long warfare beginning the story in Texas, and will mark the end by Quanah Parker’s surrender at Fort Sill. This is not a romantic portrayal of the Western Frontier, but that of loss and sorrow. At a time when national boundaries were expanding, and the Industrial Revolution was captivating the East Coast, this story unfolds. Turning the tables on the tradition, this exhibiton focuses on what was lost, but never forgotten.






the first half of the nineteenth century was an era of American

Imperial expansion in the Southwest. Powered by industrialization, and demographic growth America claimed the declaration of Manifest Destiny, hence forth the United States started purchasing, fighting, and annexing its way across the nation. Growth of American power alone does not define this era, for it also saw the Comanches resuming their expansionist thrust, and the cavalrymen eventually found themselves among the treacherous territory of the Comanche Indians. Comanches introduced a new, rich way of life—specializing in bison hunting—to the Great Plains, and altering the existence of the vast grasslands. The Comanches excelled in trade, hunting, horseback, and war. Comanches knitted the deep sinews of their power by looking north and east toward the vast political and economics resources of the Great Plains. The Comanches made a place for themselves in the southern plains, forming a series of alliances with adjacent European and Indian powers, shaping the political and commercial geography of the entire lower midcontinent. The Comanches built in the early nineteenth century a loose but imposing empire deemed “The Greater Comanchería” that expanded across the southern plains. Legend says that the “Great Chief of the Kingdom of Tejas” was called Sata Te-x-ea (Te-ich-a) and that Te-j-as was the name of his people. The Tejas people resided in present-day Texas, speculating that the namesake of Texas comes from the Comanches, not the Spanish. After the Civil War, when the United States started to fight its way into the Midwest, the Comanches were both at the peak of their power and on the verge of collapse. The story of Cynthia Ann and her son, Chief Quanah Parker, unfolds as the rise and fall of the Comanche Nation sets the backdrop of the fight for control of the American Midwest.






The beginning of the end for the mighty Comanche Empire be-

gins in 1836, when a 9-year-old pioneer girl named Cynthia Ann Parker was kidnapped during a Comanche raid in North Texas. She was strapped onto the back of a horse and taken north into the bosom of the Comanche, back into the Plains where the powerful American Indian tribe lived. Parker quickly acclimates to her new surroundings, and takes the name Naduah—White Comanche. Once she is older, Parker becomes the wife of well respected War Chief Peta Nocona of the Quohada band and gave birth to three children, including Quanah. The Comanches ruled the plains at this time, but as the Civil War draws to a close, white traders start emerging, and challenge the Comanche’s way of life. The following years became an uneasy standoff. The Texas Rangers, led by Sam Houston, developed a weapon specifically for the Comanches, the Paterson Colt, giving the settlers the upper hand. The Comanches number start to dwindle, and they migrate closer to the Pease River to seek refuge. The Rangers follow closely behind, and raid the camp when the men are off hunting. Captain Ross Shapley led the attack, and recaptured the long-lost Cynthia Ann Parker to immerse her into white society. Parker starved herself, and was said to die of a broken heart. Several years later, Peta Nocona, also dies of an infected wound, leaving a young orphan Quanah to fend for himself. With the fall of Peta Nocona, the rise of a new power in the grasslands emerges. The plains fall under the mastery of the Quohadas, and eventually the destined leadership of Quanah Parker.


Quanah was exceptionally young to be chief. He faced the

end of an era and the fought fearlessly for the Comanches’ last days of freedom. Quanah refused to sign the Medicine Lodge Treaty, and lived as they always have on the plains. Quanah’s importance within the tribe becomes even more prominent and he acquired several wives, and the led several raids throughout the Plains. Quanah led his band fearlessly, trading stolen cattle, within New Mexico, and West Texas. All over Texas forts are unable to prevent the Quohadas, as they continue to plunder the frontier. By the way of trade with the Comancheros, New Mexico rapidly fills with stolen Texan cattle, and Quanah is able to aid his band with arms and ammunition. With the Medicine Lodge Treaty so diligently ignored by the Comanches, Commander of the United States Army Sidney Sherman came to assess the frontier situation. After several more raids on the plains, Sherman commissions young Colonel Ranald Mackenzie and the Fourth Cavalry to punish and round up the hostile bands that remain off the reservation. Mackenzie searches deep into the Comanche territory for any signs of the Quohadas, and finds more that he expected. Quanah leads a daring charge during the night ransacking the soldiers’ camp. Taking with him, over sixty horses and pack mules. Mackenzie plunges forward, but is taken down by the harsh weather of the Southern Plains. Mackenzie retreats, to lick his wounds. Quanah showed his ability to the young Colonel, and the warlike spirit of the Comanches. Peace was reached over the next year, but only for a short while. The Quohadas are tired of fighting, but resist life on the reservation. The Comanches are Plains people, and live off the land. Their livelihood was threatened by the rapidly diminishing herds of buffalo.






let them die, the more the better, There will be more spoils for me. Soft tanned skins of elk and beaver, What a comfort they will be. Meat of buffalo in abundance, Everything that one might need, I will fill my larder plenty, I have many mouths to feed. My good wife shall want for nothing, She shall cook a gorgeous meal. Ah, at last I’ve reached their treasure, Sugars, fruits, and meats, and jellies, What a life these heathens lead. Everything to tempt the palate, What a feast, fit for a king. I shall eat and then I’ll gather, I’ll not leave a single thing. Give no quarter, comrades, smite them, Do your duty, have no fear, Strike them, without mercy, Strike them, smite them, without mercy.... —Barriga Duce






By destroying the buffalo, the Cavalry were creating the most

efficient way to destroy the Comanches. General Philip Sheridan famously said, “You kill the buffalo, you destroy the Indian’s commissary.” So it became the goal to kill all the buffalo, and create an end to the Plains Indians. Professional hunters armed with high-powered rifles and having already wiped out the Kansas herds, started flocking into the Southern Plains Bison range in increasing numbers. This was in direct violation of the Medicine Lodge Treaty, but General Sheridan openly supported the slaughter. From 1861 to 1881 more than 31 million buffalo were slaughtered on the Southern Plains. Comanches were off balance with the bison herds for much of the late nineteenth century, gradually eroding the ecological foundation of their way of life. The collapse of the bison population was an economic catastrophe as well. In 1852, Horace Capron, special Indian agent in Texas, found seven hundred Comanches on the upper Concho River “suffering with extreme hunger, bordering upon starvation.” The crisis was then fueled, and escalated into a commercial crisis. Comanches struggled to hold on to their trading network, and links soon dissolved one by one. White expansionists saw this weakness among the tribes, and exploited it. So it goes, in hour of profound crisis, the Comanches faced an invasions they could neither stop nor escape. In an effort to unite all the Southern Plains tribes in a war to save the Buffalo, the Comanches converse on Elm Creek. Quanah was the driving force and joined with the Kiowas to declare Holy War on the hide hunters.


the war party rode steadily to the adobe walls in order to attack the

hide hunters, and claim a Holy War. Quanah is chosen the War Chief, and his banc of Quohadas form the core of the fighting force. Quanah’s element of surprise was lost, but came remarkably close to defeating a United States Army force. Quanah’s alliance between Southern tribes was soon lost after the fall of Adobe Walls, but his actions were heard. Smaller war parties continued to vent their wrath on the lone hunters, and isolated settlers. Scalping was a routine among the Comanches, angered by wasteful tactics of the hunters only killing the bison for their hides. As the raids gain in number, and the Comanches demand attention, and young Mackenzie is once again brought into battle against Quanah, but this time the campaign was designed to cripple and bring down the Comanches once and for all. Weary of his last defest, Mackenzie had trouble even locating the Comanches. The Comanches traveled down south, splitting up and then rejoining several times, to keep Mackenzie on the hunt. They eventually camped in present day San Angelo, and camped there for a year, slowly moving towards Palo Duro Canyon, while gathering supplies, horses, and banding together several hundred men. Undoubtedly getting ready for the war to end all wars.






NOW DEEP INTO Indian Territory, Mackenzie tries to avoid the costly

mistakes of his last campaign. Mackenzie spares nothing to finding the Quohadas camp. After months of scouting, he knew exactly where the camp was, and took the most direct route to get there. He mercilessly drove his troop through the rough terrain, until they came upon the 6-mile stretch know as Palo Duro Canyon. The Indians were taking refuge in the Canyon, and did not expect the surprise attack by Mackenzie. As soon as the soldiers were spotted, they responded as they usually did and fought to the death, but it was too late. The troops advanced, with Mackenzie in the lead. Relentless Mackenzie ordered that the village was burned and pillaged. By three o’clock, his company ransacked the entire village, and captured 1,424 horses. Mackenzie kept the best of the horses, and ordered that the rest were slaughtered. Cruel and injustice as it may seem, Mackenzie did this as a military tactic. He had taken away the Indians means of survival. Legend states, that on certain nights, a phantom herd can be seen galloping through the canyon. Thus was the end of the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon. Only four Comanches were killed, but Mackenzie dealt the Comanches a devastating blow. Instead of facing the upcoming winter well-fed, the Indians were made destitute as tons of clothing, food, supplies, and forage were consumed in fire. That following Spring of 1875, the Quohadas traveled across the Red River and surrendered at Fort Sill. The Comanche War Chief, only 30-years- old, is beaten, but unbowed as he surrenders to his adversary Mackenzie, himself only 35.







Comanches and Kiowas battle United States infantry on the Santa Fe Trail.


The United States Congress passes the Indian Removal Bill, exiling the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws and, ultimately, Seminoles to Indian Territory in present Oklahoma, land the Comanches, Kiowas, Wichitan peoples have traditionally considered theirs.


Sam Houston, as hte enoy of United States President Andrew Jackson, meets with Comanches in San Antonio.


In Texas, the southern Comanches begin their raids against the Anglo-Texans, who simultaneously revolt against the Mexican government of President Antonio López de Santa Ana.


The Anglo-Texans, led by Sam Houston, defeat Santa Anna’s army at the battle of San Jacinto, winning their independence from Mexico. Comanche raiders capture Rachel Plummer, Cynthia Ann Parker, and Sara Ann Horn.


The Comanches suffer another outbreak of smallpox.


Ango-Texans kill a delegation of southern Comanche leaders at the “Council House Fight” in San Antonio and defeat a retaliatory raid led by Buffalo Hump at the battle of Plum Creek.


Sam Houston begins his second term and reintroduces his peace policy toward the Comanches and other tribes.


Colonel J.C. Eldredge, commissioner of Indian affairs for the Republic of Texas, and Tom Torrey, trader and Indian Agent, and young Hamilton Bee, meet with Comanch cheif Pahayuko at this camp on Pecan Creek, near the Red River.


At Brazos Falls Sam Houston meets in council with the southern Comanche chief, Potsanaquahip (Buffalo Hump), along with other Indian leaders.


The United States annexes Texas.


Mexico and the United States wage a war over the annexation of Texas. Mexico loses Texas, New Mexico, California, and vast region of the West to its enemy. The state of Texas institutes a small reservation for the southern Comanches. Two years later a little more than half of the Penatekas are occupying it.


Both United States Army troops and Texas Rangers, acting separately, punish the Comanches north of the Red River.


In the Pease River Fight, Ranger Captain Sul Ross recovers Cynthia Ann Parker.


During the Civil War years, the Comanches, intensify their raids against the Texas frontier in late 1862 and depopulate some sections by 1864 and 1865.


1846 – 1848

1861 – 1865

At adobe Walls, the former Bent post, United States troops under Kit Carson engage a multitude of Kiowas, who are supported by some Comanches, Kiowa-Apaches, and Arapahoes.


At Medicine Lodge Treaty council, the Comanches (except for the Kotsotekas and Quohadas) agree to renounce their claim to greater Comanchería and to live upon a reservation of some fifty-five hundred square miles in Indian Territory.


The federal government establishes Fort Sill near prestday Lawton, Oklahoma in order to control the reservation Comanches and Kiowas.


Under the influence of their young prophet, Isatai (Wolf Droppings), the Comanches hold a Sun Dance this spring. Two days later a great war party of Comanches, Kiowas, and Cheyennes attacks Adobe Walls, a buffalo hunters’ station near the old Bent trading post. This battle begins the Red River War. That fall the United States Fourth Cavalry surprises and routs a vast encampment of Comanches and their allies at Palo Duro Canyon, striking them a decisive blow.


In June, Quanah Parker leads a band of Quohadas into Fort Sill. His surrender signals, in effect, the end of the Comanches’ free life upon the southern plains.



1. Indian in Full Regalia. 2.Terheryaquahip’s village on Medicine Creek, Indian Territory. Photograph by William S. Soule. Winter 1872-73. 3. Comanchería during nineteenth century. Map by Bill Nelson. 4. Cynthia Ann Parker. Courtesy, Eugene C. Barker Texas History Center, University of Texas, Austin. 5.Young Quanah Parker. Courtesy Southwest Collection Texas Tech University. 6.The American bison or plains buffalo. Courtesy Southwest Collection,Texas Tech University. 7. Dead Bison. Courtesy Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum. 8. Hides stacked at Charles Rath’s firm in Dodge City. Courtesy Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum. 9. Scalped buffalo hunter, Ralph Morrison, near Fort Dodge, 1868. Photograph by William S. Soule.


10. Quanah lancing one of the Shadler brothers, as depicted on a Comanche hide painting of the 1874 Battle of Adobe Walls. Courtesy of the Museum of the Great Plains, Lawton, Oklahoma. 11. Comanche Camp located near Fort Sill. Courtesy Southwest Collection,Texas Tech University. 12. Quanah Parker, leader of Quahada Comanche Band. 13. Beret General Ranald S. Mackenzie, circa 1880. Courtesy of the Crosby County Historical Committee.

How the West was Lost  

The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Empire

How the West was Lost  

The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Empire