The Comanches, exceptional horsemen who dominated the Southern Plains, played a prominent role in Texas frontier history throughout much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Anthropological evidence indicates that they were originally a mountain tribe, a branch of the Northern Shoshones, who roamed the Great Basin region of the western United States as crudely equipped hunters and gatherers. Both cultural and linguistic similarities confirm the Comanches' Shoshone origins. The Comanche language is derived from the Uto-Aztecan linguistic family and is virtually identical to the language of the Northern Shoshones. Sometime during the late seventeenth century, the Comanches acquired horses, and that acquisition drastically altered their culture. The life of the pedestrian tribe was revolutionized as they rapidly evolved into a mounted, well-equipped, and powerful people. Their new mobility allowed them to leave their mountain home and their Shoshone neighbors and move onto the plains of eastern Colorado and western Kansas, where game was plentiful. After their arrival on the Great Plains, the Comanches began a southern migration that was encouraged by a combination of factors. By moving south, they had greater access to the mustangs of the Southwest. The warm climate and abundant buffalo were additional incentives for the southern migration. The move also facilitated the acquisition of French trade goods, including firearms, through barter with the Wichita Indians on the Red River. Pressure from more powerful and better-armed tribes to their north and east, principally the Blackfoot and Crow Indians, also encouraged their migration. A vast area of the South Plains, including much of North, Central, and West Texas, soon became Comanche country, or Comancheria. Only after their arrival on the Southern Plains did the tribe come to be known as Comanches, a name derived from the Ute word Komdnteia, meaning "enemy," or, literally, "anyone who wants to fight me all the time." The Spaniards in New Meadco, who encountered the Comanches in the early eighteenth century, gave the tribe the name by which they were later known to Spaniards and Americans able. Although the tribe came to be known historically as Comanches, they called themselves Nermernuh, or "the People." The Comanches did not arrive on the South Plains as a unified body but rather in numerous family groups or bands. The band structure of Comanche society was not rigid, and bands coalesced and broke apart, depending on the needs and goals of their members. As many as thirteen different, Comanche bands were identified during the historic period, and most probably there were others that were never identified. However, five major bands played important roles in recorded Comanche history. The southernmost band was called Penateka, or "Honey Eaters." Their range extended from the Edwards Plateau to the headwaters of the Central Texas rivers. Because of their location, the Penatekas played the most prominent role in Texas history. North Of Penateka, country was the habitat of the band called Nokoni, or "Those Who Turn Back." The Nokonis roamed from the Cross Timbers region of North Texas to the mountains of New Mexico. Two smaller bands, the Tanima ("Liver-Eaters") and the Tenawa ("Those Who Stay Downstream"), shared the range of the Nokonis. These three divisions are sometimes referred to collectively as Middle Comanches. Still farther north was the range of the Kotsotekas, or "Buffalo-Eaters." Their territory covered what is now western Oklahoma, where they often camped along the Canadian River. The northernmost band was known as the Yamparikas, or "Yap-Eaters," a name derived from that of an edible root. Their range extended north to the Arkansas River. The fifth major band, known as Quahadis ("Antelopes"), roamed the high plains of the Llano Estacado.
The Comanche remained a nomadic people throughout their free existence. Buffalo,...
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