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Linguistically Shoshonean in origin, the Comanche once lived in the Snake River region of eastern Wyoming or on the Middle Loup River in Nebraska. After the Comanche separated from the Shoshone, they became a distinct culture. The Comanche obtained horses from the Spanish in present-day New Mexico shortly after 1600, which allowed them to become one of the most powerful nomadic tribes of the Southern Plains. Many tribes acquired their horses from the Comanche. The key to the Comanche’s success on the Southern Plains was their superior skills with horses.

The Comanche moved south to the Arkansas River headwaters near the Smoky Hill River in present-day eastern Colorado and western Kansas by 1700. The Comanche started to spread throughout present-day eastern Colorado, western Kansas, western Oklahoma, and north western Texas in 1720, and they lived between the Platte River headwaters and the Kansas River by 1724. During this era of expansion, the Comanche engaged in conflicts with several groups.

They fought the French-allied Jumano to the east, the Spaniards and the Spanish-allied tribes in present-day New Mexico to the west, and the Apache to the south. The Comanche campaigns were successful. Once they defeated the Apache, Comanchería (Comanche Country) spanned as far south as the Río Grande. In 1836 the Comanche claimed all the land between the Arkansas River to the north, the Mexican settlements to the south, from present-day Taos and Santa Fe in New Mexico to the west, and Cross-Timbers in present-day Texas to the east.

The Spanish-allied Ute and the Comanche fought constantly from 1749 until the Spaniards made peace with the Comanche in 1786. New conflicts started in 1802 when the Osage were pushed toward the Arkansas River. The Osage and other eastern tribes had obtained a large number of firearms compared to the Comanche through trade after ceding much of their lands to the United States. As these eastern tribes encroached on the eastern borders of Comanchería, the Comanche engaged in intermittent conflicts with them.

The Cheyenne and Arapaho moved into areas along the upper Arkansas River in 1820, which provoked a war between the two tribes and the Comanche. At the Battle of Wolf Creek in 1838 the Comanche suffered a major defeat, and consequently the Cheyenne and Arapaho remained along the northern border of Comanchería.  The integrity of their hold on the Southern Plains was important to the Comanche. The tribe strongly objected to other Indian tribes being removed to lands in present-day Oklahoma in the 1830s because it was part of their hunting grounds.

Sam Houston represented the United States in peace talks with the Comanche in San Antonio in 1832. The Comanche later attended peace talks with federal representatives at Fort Gibson in present-day Oklahoma in 1834 along with other Southern Plains tribes. Comanche leaders made an agreement with the United States on August 24, 1835, to share hunting lands with eastern tribes and allow safe passage for U.S. citizens through Comanche lands.

Northern bands of the Comanche, along with their Kiowa allies, made aggressive raids on the Anglo-American settlers in Texas who were encroaching on their lands between 1835 and 1836. The Comanche made a treaty with the Republic of Texas on May 29, 1838, but it was short lived. Later that year President Mirabeau B. Lamar succeeded Sam Houston and favored a war of extermination against the Comanche.

Comanche leaders arrived in San Antonio for new peace negotiations in 1840, but 12 of these leaders were killed by Texans during the peace talks. From that point until 1845, relations between the Republic of Texas and the Comanche were hostile. The decreasing number of bison in northern Comanchería forced the northern bands of the Comanche to push into Texas. Situations changed when Texas joined the Union in 1845. The United States sent representatives to the Comanche the following year to negotiate peace, but this initiative yielded no results. Finally after more than a year of soliciting peace, only one of the many Comanche bands signed a treaty recognizing the jurisdiction of the United States in exchange for an agreement that no whites would be allowed on Indian lands without a pass from the President to establish trade.

The southern Comanche suffered epidemics of smallpox and cholera, which killed their head chief in 1849. White encroachment in the 1850s angered the Comanche and, as the federal government removed eastern tribes farther toward Comanche hunting grounds, tensions grew. The Sac and Fox were relocated to Kansas from Illinois, and in 1854 the Comanche allied with the Kiowa, Cheyenne, and Arapaho in an attempt to drive the Sac and Fox from the Central Plains. The fighting took place in the Smoky Hills region of central Kansas. The allied tribes had a force of 1,500 warriors, and, though the Sac and Fox had only 100 warriors, they defeated the attacking force, due in part to U.S. government-issued rifles.

In 1853 the Comanche, Kiowa, and Kiowa-Apache met with the U.S. representatives at Fort Atkinson in present-day Kansas in order to negotiate a new treaty. It called for peaceful relations among the tribes and the United States and Mexico, an end to attacks on wagon trains on the Santa Fe Trail, and the right for the United States to build forts and roads in Indian territories. The United States agreed to pay $18,000 in cash and trade goods annually to the three tribes for a ten-year period.

On October 18, 1865, the Comanche, Kiowa, and Kiowa-Apache met with representatives of the United States to sign a new treaty at the mouth of the Little Arkansas River at present-day Wichita, Kansas. The tribes agreed to live in Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma, but some of the Comanche bands were not present for the agreement. The Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapahos, and Kiowa-Apache met at Medicine Lodge Creek, about 60 miles south of Fort Larned in Kansas. The tribes agreed to share a reservation between the Canadian and Red Rivers in present-day Oklahoma. After negotiations, the Comanche and Kiowa were allowed to hunt on their former lands in Kansas.

In a period of change in the 1870s, by 1875 the Comanche finally stopped the nearly constant campaigns that pushed the Apache farther south. The Comanche’s ritual use of peyote likely started during this time period. This Comanche ritual practice was a major cultural influence on other tribes and spread to the Kiowa, Wichita, Pawnee, Shawnee, Ponca, Kickapoo, and Kansa by 1907. Although the Comanche no longer controlled Comanchería, they remained a highly influential tribe into the 20th century.

The Comanche Nation now numbers more than 15,000 people with tribal headquarters near Lawton, Oklahoma. The Comanche Nation College was established in 2002. The college provides opportunities in higher education, mixed with Comanche customs and traditions. In September 2007 the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center opened. Discussions for creating the museum started more than 20 years prior. The museum’s mission is to maintain exhibits and programs for the community that increase the appreciation and understanding of Comanche culture, art, and history.

Entry: Comanche

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: September 2015

Date Modified: December 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.