Spanish/Comanche Wars

The history of North America is closely tied to the wild horse herds that spread across the plains following an Indian uprising, resulting in Spanish expelsion from Santa Fe in the late 1600s.

Coronado and his conquistadors arrived in the middle 1500s on stallions in their search for gold. Thus mounted, conquering a continent void of horses was embarrassingly easy. The one bugaboo confronting a cavalry on stallions was losing control when meeting an opposing force that included mares in heat, and that, of course, was just not possible in America.

The Spanish, like other European and Asian nations, had long been victimized by horsebacked barbarians. They didn't intend for this to reoccur in America, so decades passed before reluctant authorities nervously granted permission to the colonists in Santa Fe to teach their Pueblo-Hopi slaves the equestrian skills necessary to ride herd on the breeding stock. Apparently some of these new vacqueros deserted, taking horses, bridles and saddles to Apache camps. Spanish records reported the first mounted Apache attacks in 1650, eventually resulting in a Pueblo-Hopi uprising and the Spaniard's decade-long abandonment of their New Mexican rancheros.

In the early 1700s, knowledge of the horse had spread to Indians throughout America. The Spaniards had returned to the remains of their rancheros and the Comanches were among many tribes who had roamed into the Taos/Santa Fe area in search of horses. Comanches' exceptional skills at horse riding, stealing and breeding eventually enabled them to expand their herds until they dominated the Southern Plains. They became the role models to the other thirty or so tribes that adopted the nomadic horsebacked life of the raid and the hunt. Not content to take away the Apaches brief control of the Plains horse trade, the Comanches doggedly pursued their enemy, eventually resulting in the 1750s attack on the Spanish mission at San Saba, which had become a sanctuary to the Lipan Apache.

Spain had only recently become interested in Texas because of the French success on the Mississippi. New Orleans and San Antonio were both established in 1723 . The French port flourished while the Spanish colony struggled under the effects of hostile weather, animals, insects and natives. The massacre at their little outlying mission caused the Spanish to retaliate with a punitive force of five hundred. The army marched to the Red River where they found the Old Spanish Fort defended by more than a thousand Comanche and Wichita warriors, as well as French soldiers. The Spanish troops were easily routed, abandoning much of their armor and weapons, including two cannons in their panicked retreat down the Grand Prairie toward their barracks in San Antonio. The Spanish realized they had waited too long to conquer the Plains and resigned to farming and tending their herds under armed guards in their South Texas colonies. Spanish maps soon referred to the Southern Plains as Comancheria.

Through the next century, the Comanches effectively owned the hunting grounds, fields and people abutting their buffalo range. Their serfs were expected to provide them with gifts and supplies, including manpower in time of war.

In the late 1700s, increased westward migration across the Mississippi and a show of strength by the Spanish military in Santa Fe compelled the Comanches to make treaties first with the governor of Santa Fe and then with the Kiowas. These alliances provided the Comanche with a dependable market to the west and a strong buffer to the north. Their powerful hold on the Southern Plains was even stronger a century and a half later when Texas became a Republic and white settlements began to sprout up along the middle Colorado and Brazos rivers.

The Sentinel, painted by Frederic Remington in 1908

Local tribes led by Choctaw Tom raided the Colorado settlements as far south as Bastrop. A punitive force led by officers of the Texas army attacked and afflicted severe damage on a Wichita camp before being forced to retreat to Parker's Fort. Whether the Comanche were drawn in to help their subjugates or simply angered by the new settlers, Comanche and Kiowa warriors attacked Parker's Fort in the summer of 1836, beginning their fateful four-decade war with the Texans.

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