COMANCHE, North American Indian tribe, a southern branch of the Shoshoni Indians, of the Uto-Aztecan language family, and of the Plains culture area. The Comanche left their original arid territory west of the Rocky Mountains to move to the southern Great Plains around the 15th century. Here they drove out the Apache Indians and dominated a vast area during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Comanche were the most skillful horsemen of the Plains. The pinto ponies they preferred were originally acquired by raiding the Spanish and later were bred by the tribe. Extremely warlike, the Comanche made frequent raids on both white and Indian settlements over a wide area. They extended their forays as far south as Mexico and kept white settlers out of their territory for more than a century. Finally, they made peace with the U.S. government in 1875. The Comanche probably numbered about 30,000 in the early 1800s but shortly thereafter an epidemic reduced their population to fewer than 10,000. A nomadic people, the Comanche lived by hunting bison, commonly called buffalo. Families dwelt in tepees and were organized socially into patrilineal bands. Tribe members wore buckskins, with fur hats in the winter. The Comanche war helmet was brashly impressive: a bison scalp complete with horns. Fairly small in stature, both men and women practiced tattooing. Comanche religion stressed visionary experiences, which an individual deliberately sought out in isolated situations of privation. Animal spirits were believed to favor particular individuals and to render aid to them; protective spirits were also believed to dwell in rocks and thunder.
Comanche descendants numbered 11,456 in 1990. Some live on private landholdings in Oklahoma.
The Comanches were rulers of the Plains in the 1700s and were later known as the Lords of the Southern Plains. Renowned for their horsemanship, they defended their land from all intruders. The horse enabled them…