Eschiti, Comanche Medicineman

The Comanche held a Sun Dance in Oklahoma in 1874. This was not a traditional ceremony, but was one they had borrowed from the Cheyenne. The Sun Dance coincided with the emergence of a new medicine man, Eschiti (Coyote Droppings; also spelled Esa-tai). Bill Neeley, in his book The Last Comanche Chief: The Life and Times of Quanah Parker, describes him this way:  “He wore no buffalo skull cap or ceremonial mask, as did most of the older medicine men, but was attired only in breechclout and moccasins and a wide sash of red cloth around his waist. From his hair protruded a red-tipped hawk’s feather, and from each ear hung a snake rattle.”

Eschiti had been given strong powers in a vision quest. Eschiti had ascended to the home of the Great Spirit, a place which is far above the Christian Heaven. It was reported that he was capable of vomiting up all the cartridges which might be needed for any gun; that he could raise the dead; that he was bulletproof and could make others bulletproof; that he could control the weather. His messianic message to the people was that he was sent by the Great Spirit to deliver them from oppression.

Later that year, in the panhandle of Texas, buffalo hunters armed with high powered telescopic rifles capable of killing buffalo at 600 yards, set up camp at the abandoned trading post of Adobe Walls. The camp was attacked by a war party of about 300 warriors made up of Comanche, Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Arapaho. War party leaders include Tabananaka, Wild Horse, Mowaway, Black Beard, and a rising new leader, Quanah. The Indians were confident that Eschiti’s power would render the hunters’ guns useless. Eschiti warned the warriors not to kill a skunk on their way to Adobe Walls. According to Eschiti’s vision, the hunters would be asleep and would not be able to use their big guns.

Just as the war party prepared to attack the sleeping buffalo hunters, there was a loud crack which woke them up. The hunters, fearing that the ridge pole had snapped, were suddenly awake and scrambling around. The hunters settled down for the siege, and with plenty of ammunition and good marksmanship, they repelled the war party.

Eschiti attributed the failure of his medicine to a member of the war party violating a taboo by killing a skunk. Apparently some of the Cheyenne warriors had killed a skunk, which was not unusual since skunk meat was often a favorite of the Southern Plains Indians.

This second battle of Adobe Walls began an Indian war known as the Red River War or the Buffalo War. Army troops were called in to capture the war party, but movement was hampered by drought and by temperatures well over 100 degrees. Eschiti took credit for arranging the weather. The troops, however, were relentless and managed to destroy lodges and capture horses.

In the battle of Palo Duro Canyon, the Cavalry scattered the warriors under the command of Iron Shirt (Cheyenne), Poor Buffalo (Comanche), and Lone Wolf (Kiowa). There were few casualties, but the Americans killed more than 1,000 horses and destroyed the Indians’ winter food supply.

The Red River War was the last major conflict between the Southern Plains Indians and the U.S. Army. Historian Herman Viola, in his book Warrior Artists: Historic Cheyenne and Kiowa Indian Ledger Art, writes:  “The Red River War marked a last desperate and hopeless resistance to the new order.”

With the end of the war and the failure of his medicine, Eschiti faded into obscurity.


The Red River War

After 1871, the United States’ policies regarding American Indian nations was no longer based on negotiating treaties, but on concentrating Indians onto reservations where they could be “civilized” by forcing them to become English-speaking Christian farmers. In his annual report to Congress in 1872, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Francis A. Walker wrote:

“There is no question of national dignity, be it remembered, involved in the treatment of savages by a civilized power. With wild men, as with wild beasts, the question whether in a given situation one shall fight, coax, or run, is a question merely of what is easiest and safest.”

On the Southern Plains, American policy regarding the so-called “nomadic” tribes, was to destroy the buffalo herds on which they had traditionally depended for subsistence. Once the buffalo had vanished, these tribes would be forced to remain on the reservations or starve. On the other hand, they also starved on the reservations when the supplies which had been promised them as payment for their land failed to arrive.

With regard to the Comanche and Kiowa in Oklahoma, Indian Commissioner Francis A. Walker reported:

“The United States have (sic) given them a noble reservation, and have provided amply for all their wants.”

The Comanche, however, felt that the United States had not “given” them a reservation: they felt that the United States had only recognized their claim to a small portion of their traditional territory.

To pressure the Indians to stay on the reservations, the United States waged an active war against the buffalo. By 1873, non-Indian buffalo hunters (known as “runners”) were crossing into Comanche territory to hunt and the army did nothing to stop them. Instead, the army took a proactive role by providing protection for the runners and by supplying them with both equipment and ammunition.

In 1874, the Comanche held a Sun Dance. This is not a traditional Comanche ceremony, but was borrowed from the Cheyenne. This Sun Dance coincided with the emergence of a new medicine man:  Eschiti (Coyote Droppings; also spelled Esa-tai). Unlike most Comanche medicine men, he did not wear a buffalo skull cap or ceremonial mask. He was attired only in breechclout and moccasins. He wore a wide sash of red cloth around his waist. A red-tipped hawk feather was in his hair and from each ear hung a snake rattle.

Eschiti had been given strong powers in a vision quest. In his vision, Eschiti ascended to the home of the Great Spirit, a place which is far above the Christian Heaven. It was reported that Eschiti was capable of vomiting up all the cartridges which might be needed for any gun; that he could raise the dead; that he was bulletproof and could make others bulletproof; that he could control the weather. His messianic message to the people was that he had been sent by the Great Spirit to deliver them from oppression.

In 1874, in the panhandle of Texas, buffalo hunters armed with high powered telescopic rifles capable of killing buffalo at 600 yards, set up camp at the abandoned trading post of Adobe Walls. The camp was attacked by an intertribal war party of about 300 made up of Comanche, Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Arapaho warriors. War party leaders included Tabananaka, Wild Horse, Mowaway, Black Beard, and a rising new leader, Quanah. The Indians were confident that Eschiti’s power would render the hunters’ guns useless.

Adobe Walls

Eschiti had warned the warriors not to kill a skunk on their way to Adobe Walls. His medicine had foreseen that the hunters would be asleep when attacked; they would not use their big guns, and his anti-bullet protection would never be put to the test.

Just as the war party prepared to attack the sleeping buffalo hunters, there was a loud crack which awakened them. The hunters, fearing that the ridge pole had snapped, were suddenly awake and scrambling around.

The hunters settled down for the siege, and with plenty of ammunition and good marksmanship, they repelled the war party. Eschiti blamed the failure of his medicine on the actions of a Cheynne member of the war party who had killed a skunk. Since skunk meat was a favorite of many of the southern plains Indians, killing a skunk was not unusual. Hungry members of a large war party would eat whatever strayed into their path.

One of those who was wounded in the battle was Quanah Parker. After his horse was shot out from under him, he crawled to a buffalo carcass for protection and was shot in the side. He then crawled to a thicket where he remained until another warrior rescued him.

This was the second battle of Adobe Walls-the first battle of Adobe Walls had taken place in 1864 when American troops under Colonel Kit Carson fought against Comanche and Kiowa warriors. The second battle of Adobe Walls marked the beginning of an Indian war known as the Red River War or the Buffalo War.

Army troops were called in to capture the war party, but their movement was hampered by drought and by temperatures well over 100 degrees. Eschiti took credit for arranging the weather. The troops, however, were relentless and managed to destroy lodges and capture horses.

In the battle of Palo Duro Canyon, an American force of 700 was attacked by 75 Cheyenne warriors. The Indians were driven back to a steep wall of the canyon where the full force of about 500 warriors made their stand. The army had superior firepower, including Gatling guns and artillery. The Army troops at this time were armed with .45-caliber single-shot Springfield rifles. Many of the Indians had repeating rifles, such as the 16-shot, lever-action Henry and the .50-caliber Spencer. While the Spencers could fire more rounds in less time than the Springfields, the single-shot army rifles could reach farther across the plains to keep the enemy at bay. It may well have been the better weapon for its time and place.

The Indian warriors under the command of Iron Shirt (Cheyenne), Poor Buffalo (Comanche), and Lone Wolf (Kiowa) were scattered by the superior firepower of the Americans. There were few Indian casualties (it is estimated that only 25 Indians were killed), but the Americans killed more than 1,000 horses and destroyed the Indians’ winter food supply.

This was the last major conflict fought by the Indians of the Southern Plains. It was a last desperate and hopeless resistance to the new order which the United States was to impose upon them.    


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This was originally posted on Daily Kos in 2006, and crossposted to multiple other venues. I have added the Native American banner for republication to NAN and to the dKos NAN group. Thank you for the opportunity to further honor my friend. – GH

He was nicknamed “Crow” in high school for the famous footballer John David Crow[1], yet the name fit and lingered on for other reasons. He was Comanche; born and raised in Oklahoma as the second oldest of four children, he was also the son of a white woman and red man.  There was no mistaking the fact that he was, however, one hundred percent unique.

At 61 years old, he died, surrounded by family and friends in a place he loathed — the hospital.  Throughout his life, he made it obvious to everyone that he loved teachers (he married one) and nurses (he married two), but hated doctors.  When he passed from this life, he left a single child — a daughter — and many friends.

I met him about twenty years ago, not long after his daughter and I became friends at the college we attended together.  He became a good friend — at times a mentor, at times a student, sometimes a fatherly figure and sometimes filling the role of a (younger) brother.  He was quick with a smile, an anecdote or a silly story; he could also become deadly serious in a heartbeat, especially if he thought a friend was in trouble.

In short, he was a good man who cared about those around him, and he is sorely missed.

For a brief period, during what would turn out to be the last years of his life, we were roommates.  We split the rent on a small two-bedroom house in Oklahoma, and often took trips to Texas to visit his daughter — my best friend.  In that time, I finally began to write again.  I am grateful for that.

In Native American lore, the Crow is an omen of change.  It is often be paired with the wolf, another powerful symbol — represented in both my life and the life of his daughter by our Alaskan Malamutes. (Malamutes are one of the breeds of dog most closely tied to the original wolf ancestor of the canine species.)  Crow’s lifelong friends — those who he grew up with, who’d originally given him his nickname — cringed whenever his daughter or I referred to the Native American symbolism associated with it.  They would point out — sometimes pointedly — that he was “Crow” and that it had nothing to do with “that Native American crap.”  Their use of the word “crap” wasn’t meant to be derogatory toward Native Americans — it was meant to be derisive of the “fluffy sparkle spirituality” attitude that they perceived in the attachment of symbolism of any sort.  They were “real world” folks, and Crow’s name had to do with their favorite past time — football — as well as their young adulthood together.  But, like it or not, Crow’s daughter and I still see some interesting ties back to that symbol, and make reference to it anyway.  (In my case, sometimes just to tweak ’em.)  

Crow knew this, and while he sided with his friends, he tried to keep an open mind whenever he’d hear his daughter or I talk about symbols, happenings or circumstances.  We all had a love for strange coincidences, and the apparent capacity to attract them.

When I moved out of state, feeling like I’d abandoned my friend and knowing he’d be forced to move shortly due to the increased rent (I paid out two extra months to ensure him time to find a spot), I commented how I always knew he would be calling because of the very large, loud crow that would alight in the tallest tree right across from my desk.  He thought that was odd, but he seemed to be inwardly pleased (most of the time) by the thought of it.  He knew — and had witnessed — that I often encounter a Hawk whenever I’m making a journey of any significance or have to make a major decision.  He’s seen the Hawk show up, watched it follow me around, and marked the departure when I had done whatever it was that had apparently summoned it.  It was something that I didn’t question, and something that I’ve still not figured out how to explain when people ask me if it’s “my Hawk” or a trained pet.

I think Crow would have appreciated a picture of his totem-made-manifest; I should’ve thought of it while he was still alive.  Given some of the interesting manifestations of crows that have occurred since his passing, I am fairly confident that his spirit has no need of such things, and that he has played a role in stirring up several of the more memorable encounters.

Why, at this time, do I think of Crow?

Truth be told, he’s a friend who I think of often, regardless of the circumstance.  He was one of those people who makes such a strong, gentle impact upon one’s soul that it is virtually impossible not to sense some aspect of his effect and presence while going through the normal daily tasks of living.  However, there’s a reason for thinking of him even more, now.

Shortly before I’d made the decision to leave the state and move back closer to my family, I’d been working in the computer department of a manufacturer.  I walked out into the machine shop one day to an eerie quiet — there was a lunchtime company-wide meeting for all the manufacturing folks, and nary a soul was left in that portion of the building.  In the stillness, I heard the soft strains of the opening whistle for the song “Winds of Change” by the Scorpions.  The acoustics of the machine shop lent a spooky quality to the sonorous tones, otherworldly and appearing to come from all over.  I wondered for a moment — before dismissing it with a shake of my head — if that was one of those “coincidental happenings” that people often leaped at as signs of major change or upheaval coming.  After shaking it off, I went back about my business.

On the way home, my Hawk was sitting atop a lamppost, silently watching me approach and drive by.

When I got home, I headed off to see Crow, unable to shake the feeling that change was in the air.

Change happened.

I moved a few short months later, and Crow died a couple years after that.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been encountering crows everywhere — if not through physical presence, then in word written or spoken, “Crow” jumps out at me.  And I’ve been hearing the song “Winds of Change” quite a bit, too, in addition to hearing the phrase or simply seeing it in print.

Does this mean it should signify something for everyone else? No, of course not.  I’m not sure whether it signifies anything.  But I do feel that, as our world rapidly approaches escalating hostilities with a nation divided and a leadership of liars, that something big is in the offing.

Really big.

Major change is afoot on several levels, evidenced by what we see in the blogosphere and some of the less unreliable traditional media — political winds are blowing, mixing it up with winds generated by global warfare and warming.  I wonder if we’re ready for it, or spending too much time looking for where the wind is originating to watch where it’s going and perhaps attempt to gauge it.

These are the times where I’d normally arise in the early morning hours, finding Crow — likely as not — either rising from his room to share morning coffee or already in the kitchen with a fresh pot.  We would start our day just chatting, and sometimes exchanging news items or discussing current events.  I regret losing that when I left Oklahoma.  I regret more the fact that it is one aspect of life I won’t get back; an ideal time of peace before the start of a day, just talking with a good friend over coffee.

The events of the past few years are ones that I would like to discuss with my departed friend.

I’ve a lot more reflections to share on and about Crow, which I’ll likely weave into future diaries.  For now, let me close by simply saying that I think we all need to find quiet moments to have a cup of coffee, tea or water with a friend, to ease the soul and gently prepare the mind for each of the coming days ahead.  It gives a sense of peace and a solid start to the day, which I hope and pray everyone reading this can secure for his or her self.

Namaste. Peace.


Footnote 1:


    Crow was a consensus All-American selection as a senior in 1957 and was awarded the Heisman Trophy as college football’s top player after rushing for 562 yards and grabbing five interceptions on defense. Crow helped the 1957 Aggies to an 8-0 start and a No. 1 national ranking before losing the last three games. Crow was a first-round draft pick by the Chicago Cardinals in 1958 and was selected for the Pro Bowl four times. He was named to the all-pro team of the 1960s.

Crossposted at ePluribus Media and StreetProphets.

Note: I’ll likely update the age at which Crow died as well as validating that I picked the right person that he was nicknamed after — it was the closest “Crow” I found, but I’m not 100% certain I got the right one.

UPDATE: I adjusted his age, which I’d ballparked a little high, and I completely forgot that he’d had an older sister; the John David Crow reference is the correct Crow reference.

Breaking Treaties

A treaty is an agreement between two or more sovereign nations. Under the U.S. Constitution, Indian tribes are considered sovereign nations-or as dependent domestic nations, in the words of the Supreme Court-and thus the United States negotiated treaties with the tribes in order to obtain title to Indian land and open Indian lands to non-Indian settlement.

Following the Civil War, Congress authorized the formation of a Peace Commission composed of three generals and four civilians to negotiate a series of treaties with the Indian nations. The Peace Commission sought to have the Indian nations settle on reservations away from the railroads and American settlements. These reservations were to be large enough to allow the Indians to continue to support themselves with hunting, but as they became more proficient as farmers, the size of the reservations was to be reduced. The government was also to provide the Indians with missionary instruction in Christianity. As a Christian nation, the United States felt that it had an obligation to convert Indians to Christianity and to prohibit aboriginal pagan religions.  

The Treaty:

In 1867, 4,000 Indians representing the Comanche, the Kiowa, the Kiowa-Apache, the Southern Cheyenne, and the Arapaho met with the United States Peace Commission at Medicine Lodge Creek, Kansas. Three treaties were negotiated with the tribes. The Americans wanted the tribes to agree to a reservation in Indian Territory and to surrender their own land claims.

Gifts for the Indians were stacked in dazzling piles. These included bushel baskets of glass beads, trinkets, knives, and surplus items from the Civil War. The surplus items included uniforms, blankets, and bugles. The Indians were allowed to look at the gifts but they could not touch them. The American strategy regarding gifts was simple: no treaty, no gifts.

Speaking for the Kiowa were Satank, Stumbling Bear, and Satanta. Ten Bears and Little Horn spoke for the Comanche, and Wolf’s Sleeve and Brave Man represented the Kiowa-Apache.  

Kiowa leader Satanta told the Commission that he did not want to give any land away. He told them:

“I love the land, the buffalo and will not part with it. I don’t want any of the medicine lodges (churches) within the country.”

Satanta also told them:

“A long time ago this land belonged to our fathers, but when I go up to the river, I see a camp of soldiers, and they are cutting my wood down or killing my buffalo. I don’t like that, and when I see that, my heart feels like bursting with sorrow.”

Newspaper reporter Henry Stanley, who was observing the council for the Daily Missouri Democrat, reported:

“Satanta’s speech produced a rather blank look upon the faces of the peace commissioners.”

Ten Bears told the Commission:

“There is one thing which is not good in your speeches; that is, building us medicine houses.”

Communication at the council was a bit of a problem as not all of the translators are fluent in the native languages and part of the communication had to be done through sign language. In some instances, the translation went from English to Comanche via a translator who mumbled and then from Comanche to Kiowa with the resulting loss of a great deal of meaning. The Indian leaders probably understood little with regard to the nuances and legal ramifications of the treaty, but there were gifts, food, and pageantry.

Following the treaty signing, gifts were distributed to the Indians. Included in the gifts were some pistols of unknown manufacture. Each of these pistols exploded the first time they were fired. The shoddy pistols were, perhaps, a warning of things to come.

According to the treaties, annuities were to be paid to the tribes for 30 years. Annuity payments were to consist of one suit of woolen clothing for every male person and flannel, cloth, or calico for every female. An additional $25,000 in goods was to be spent as the Indian Service deemed necessary.

Under Article 12, further cessions of land could be made only with the consent of three-fourths of the male adult Indians.

The Jerome Commission:

In 1892, a commission headed by David H. Jerome (thus known as the Jerome Commission) obtained signed agreements with several Oklahoma tribes to obtain 15 million acres of land in an area known as the Cherokee Outlet. While the majority of the Indians opposed the land cessions, the Americans simply ignored their concerns and used a combination of lies, bribes, threats, and forgeries to obtain the agreements.

In the meeting with the Kiowa, Jerome explained that the United States wanted nothing from the Indians except to give them something more valuable than land: money. With regard to the actual amount of money, the commissioners avoided giving any details. Under the Jerome Commission agreement, the Kiowa would actually receive about $25 per person to sell the land, as compared with $33 for leasing the land.

To obtain the correct number of Kiowa signatures for the agreement, the government ordered Kiowa Indian soldiers to put their mark to the paper. Other signatures were simply forged. When confronted about this, Jerome simply reminded the Kiowa:

“Congress has full control of you, it can do as it is a mind to with you.”

He then threatened the Kiowa leaders with jail and dismissed them.

The agreement with the Kiowa, Comanche, and Plains Apaches was certified to have sufficient signatures to make it valid under the Medicine Lodge Treaty. However, even with the forged signatures, the document is between 21 and 91 signatures short of the number needed.

As Congress discussed the ratification of the new agreements, Indian leaders travelled to Washington, D.C. to protest the agreements and to lobby against ratification. They continually pointed out that the agreement had been made by means of fraud and coercion. Congress, however, ignored the Indian pleas and ratified the agreements.

The Supreme Court:

In Lone Wolf versus Hitchcock the Supreme Court ruled in 1903 that Congress has the authority to break Indian treaties. While the 1867 Treaty of Medicine Lodge provided that no part of the Kiowa-Comanche Reservation could be ceded without the approval of three-fourths of the adult males, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress has the power to abrogate the provisions of the treaty. According to the Court:

“The power exists to abrogate the provisions of an Indian treaty, though presumably such power will be exercised only when circumstances arise which will not only justify the government in disregarding the stipulations of the treaty, but may demand, in the interest of the country and the Indians themselves, that it should do so.”

In this ruling, the Court removed tribal consent as a factor in the efforts of the United States to acquire more Indian lands.

In the case, the Indians argued that the agreement to sell their land had been obtained by fraud and that it did not have the requisite number of signatures as required by their treaty with the United States. The Court rejected these arguments in favor of near absolute federal power with regard to Indian affairs. Federal power, according to the Court, should be tempered by

“considerations of justice as would control a Christian people in their treatment of an ignorant and dependent race.”

For politicians in the western states, the Court’s ruling sent a clear message that they could use whatever means they wanted to dispossess the Indians of their land.

Indian Nations of the Southern Plains

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photo credit: Aaron Huey

The Southern Plains is the area of the Great Plains that lies south of the Arkansas River valley. It is an area of rolling prairie grasslands with some timbered areas in the stream valley. It includes Oklahoma, Arkansas, portions of Texas, the eastern foothills of New Mexico, and portions of Louisiana. By the time the European, and later American, explorers and settlers began moving into the area, it had a long history of occupation by Indian nations such as the Caddo, Comanche, Kiowa, Kiowa-Apache and Lipan Apache.  


The term “Caddo” originates from one particular tribe, the Kadohadacho who occupied the area around the Great Bend of the Red River in Texas. The term is also applied to a number of other tribes in the region who have a similar language and culture. Today, the Caddo Nation consists of the descendants of approximately 25 once-independent tribes that inhabited the area.

At the time of the first contact with the French and Spanish explorers, the Caddo were associated in three or four loose confederations. The largest of these was the Hasinai, which the Spanish called Texas, who occupied a territory which includes the present-day Texas counties of Nacogdoches, Rusk, Cherokee, and Houston. The Kadohadacho, also called the Caddo proper, were located at the bend of the Red River in southwestern Arkansas and northeastern Texas. The Natchitoches occupied an area near the present-day Louisiana city which bears their name. The least known of these early confederacies is the Yatasi which soon after initial European contact divided into two groups which affiliated with other Caddoan confederacies.

The Caddo were farmers who raised corn, about six kinds of beans, pumpkins, sunflowers, gourds, and melons (including watermelons). Their fields were tilled with wooden or bone-tipped hoes. The Caddo planted two kinds of corn. One would mature in about six weeks and the other in about three months. The fast maturing corn would be planted at the end of April, about the time when the rains cease. This corn would grow to less than 3 feet in height, but would be covered with many small ears. Following the harvest of this corn, they would clear the fields and plant what they called the “big seed” (the longer-maturing corn).

After the Caddo acquired the horse in the seventeenth century, buffalo hunting increased in its importance.


Linguistically, the Comanche are closely related to the Shoshone who are from the Great Basin culture area. According to Crow oral tradition, the Comanche once lived in the Snake River area of Idaho. Comanche oral tradition says that they once lived in the Rocky Mountain area north of the headwaters of the Arkansas River. The Comanche split off from the Shoshone because of a dispute over the distribution of a bear killed by a Comanche hunter. At the time, the two groups were in the Fountain Creek area north of the present-day city of Pueblo, Colorado. As a result of this split, the Comanche migrated south while the Shoshone gradually migrated to the north and west. By 1700 the Comanche had moved into the Southern Plains.

Linguistic data suggests that the Comanche began to move onto the plains about 1500 AD. At this time, there was a period of increased precipitation, which led to a parallel increase in the buffalo population. Consequently, there was also an increase in the size, number, and duration of the Indian nations who could exploit the herds.

The Comanche had a form of pictorial writing. Using a thin piece of birch bark which can be folded, the Comanche would write notes to tell others where they were going and what they were doing.


The Kiowa speak a language which linguists classify as a part of the Tanoan language family and is thus related to the Pueblos of Taos, Jemez, Isleta, and San Ildefonso in New Mexico. Yet the oral traditions of several tribes place the homeland of the Kiowa not in New Mexico, but much farther north in what is now Montana. It was here that they made the transition from elk and deer hunting to buffalo hunting. It was on the plains of Montana that they acquired the horse and many elements of Northern Plains culture, including the Sun Dance. It was in the north that the Kiowa made close and lasting friendships with the Sarsi, the Crow, and the Arikara. It was here that they first encountered the Plains Apache (also known as the Kiowa-Apache).

Kiowa oral tradition tells of a time when they lived far to the north, beyond the territory of the Crow and the Lakota in the Northern Plains. It was a country that was very cold most of the year. This was a time when they used dogs to carry their burdens as they did not know of the horse. One of their warriors went far to the south where he was captured by the Comanche. The Comanche treated him well and gave him a horse so that he might return home with honor. Upon returning home, he told of the tribe of a land stocked with game where the summer lasted nearly all of the year. The council decided to follow the man back to the country he had seen and the following spring they began their migration south. They traveled south until they were attacked by the Comanche.

The Kiowa maintained a tribal history or chronology which was painted on hides and later on paper. The chronology was arranged in a continuous spiral starting in the lower right and ending near the center. Winter was symbolized by a black bar and summer by a drawing of the Sun Dance lodge.


The homeland for the Kiowa-Apache and the Plains Apache was on the Northern Plains of Alberta, Canada, where they were most likely associated with the Sarsi on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. On the Northern Plains, probably in the Yellowstone River area of Montana, they became associated with the Kiowa and became culturally similar to the Kiowa except for language.  The Kiowa-Apache then accompanied the Kiowa on their migration to the Black Hills and then south on the Southern Plains.

Lipan Apache:

The Apache are an Athapaskan-speaking group who once lived on the Northern Plains in Alberta and migrated into the Southern Plains of Texas. Linguistically, the Lipan Apache separated from the Kiowa-Apache more than 400 years ago, and they separated from the Jicarilla Apache about 227 years ago. The Lipan Apache were firmly entrenched in South Texas by the second half of the seventeenth century.


While the Tonkawa are often considered to be a Texas group, in the early 1600s they were actually living in northern Oklahoma near the confluence of the Medicine Lodge and Salt Fork Rivers. They then migrated south to the area around Dallas and Texas, then farther south to the Austin and San Antonio areas. Finally, in the reservation era, they accepted a reservation in northern Oklahoma near their 1600s homeland.  

Vision Quest Among the Southern Plains Tribes

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The Southern Plains American Indian Culture Area lies south of the Arkansas River valley. It includes Oklahoma, Arkansas, portions of Texas, the eastern foothills of New Mexico, and portions of Louisiana. This is the area which was the homeland for Indian nations such as the Comanche, the Kiowa, and the Lipan Apache.

As with tribes in other areas, dreams are an important part of the spirituality of the Southern Plains. For the Comanche, visions can provide the individual with power (puha) when they are sought under certain stringent conditions. On the other hand, visions might also come unsought. Visions were traditionally sought for mourning, for going to war, for curing disease, and for success in hunting.  


At about the time of puberty, Comanche boys would seek their first vision with the aid of a medicine man. Each boy was to have four things: a buffalo robe, a bone pipe, some tobacco, and material for producing fire. On the way to the vision quest site – often a hill, or a warrior’s grave, or some other special place – the boy would stop to smoke the pipe four times. During the four-day quest the boy would fast. During this time, he was to be quietly humble before the sources of spiritual power. The Comanche saw no call for the seeker to demean himself in lamentation and self-pity. Those seeking a vision do so with some understanding of the kind of spiritual power they are seeking.

The culmination of the Comanche vision quest occurs when a guardian spirit reveals itself to the seeker. This guardian spirit teaches the seeker a number of things, including several songs. In this way the person seeking the vision receives puha (medicine power).

Among the Comanche, the power obtained through a vision could be shared with others and thus a number of medicine societies were formed.


Among the Kiowa, the guardian spirit obtained through the vision quest gives instructions on how to paint the face, as well as special songs, and guidance for making special amulets. It was considered unlikely that a man could be successful in life without a guardian spirit.

Among the Kiowa, successful vision seekers obtained spiritual power related to either curing or war. These two realms of spiritual power were generally mutually exclusive: one became either a great warrior or a great curer. For the person who received spiritual power related to curing, life was more difficult because of the responsibilities and restrictions accompanying his power. For those with curing power, life typically involved a stringent set of prohibitions placed on his doctoring medicine, such as avoiding certain animal foods-bears, moles, or fish-or animal parts-brains or marrow.

Kiowa men who received war power often made war shields that symbolized the power they had received through their vision. These shields, along with the associated spiritual power, could be given to a son or sold to a friend.

Among the Kiowa, it was possible for a man to purchase spiritual power. He would then undergo a vision quest under the guidance of a man whose medicine was painted on a circular war shield. The person seeking the vision would traditionally go out clad only in a breechcloth and moccasins. He would drape a buffalo robe around his shoulders. Carrying with him a pipe and a tobacco pouch, the initiate would then take the shield up into the Wichita Mountains. With the shield under his head, he would then fast to learn about the spiritual power of the shield keeper. For four days the initiate would fast, smoke, and pray in an attempt to obtain a vision.


Throughout North American Native Americans traditionally sought to obtain person spiritual power directly from spiritual entities. The process of obtaining this spiritual power varied from tribe to tribe. While I’ve looked at just the Comanche and the Kiowa in the Southern Plains Area, it must be remembered that many other tribes-including the Caddo, the Karankawa, the Plains Apache, the Jumano, and many others-also considered this their homeland.  

Quanah Parker: A Texas Hero?

Seventh-graders in Texas are supposed to be introduced to the historical figure Quanah Parker, a Comanche military leader and a leader in the Native American church. Teaching history in Texas, and in many other parts of the United States, is intended to instill in the students a sense of patriotism, loyalty, and nationalism.

Cynthia Dunbar of the Texas State Board of Education has stated:

We as a nation were intended by God to be a light set on a hill to serve as a beacon of hope and Christian charity to a lost and dying world.


The Board has written new educational standards to emphasize the Christian and English-speaking heritage of Texas and of the United States. The story of Quanah Parker seems to be at odds with these standards unless a new biography is invented for him. His mother, Cynthia Parker, is to be omitted from the seventh-grade education. As a non-Indian captured by the Indians she resisted repatriation and preferred to remain with her adopted people. This does not fit into the image of American superiority that some people would like to believe.

What follows is a short biography of Quanah Parker. This biography has not been authorized by the Texas Board of Education.  

Perhaps the most famous Comanche chief is Quanah Parker, the son of Cynthia Ann Parker and Chief Peta Nocono. He was born about 1845. As a youngster, Quanah was noted for his superb horse riding abilities, his bravery, and his leadership.

Quanah’s brother and his father were killed by Texans and his mother was kidnapped by them and died among them in captivity. Thus Quanah had some hatred of the Euroamericans who were invading Comanche lands.

Quanah joined the Kwahadie band whose territory was in the Texas panhandle area. In 1867 he became one of the band’s war chiefs.

While the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867 called for the Comanche (meaning all of the Comanche bands, including those not represented at the treaty council) to take up residence and be confined to a reservation between the Washita and Red Rivers in present-day Oklahoma, some of the bands refused to give up their nomadic ways. As a consequence, the army moved in and began a campaign to pacify the southern plains. This war was aimed primarily at the Southern Cheyenne, Southern Arapaho, Kiowa, and Comanche.

In 1868, the army attacked and defeated a combined group of Kiowa and Comanche at the Battle of Soldier Spring. The soldiers burned the tipis and destroyed the Indians’ food, driving the Indians out on the plains to die in the winter weather.

In 1871, 600 American soldiers marched against the Comanche in Texas and Oklahoma. The military objective was to find and defeat the bands under the leadership of Quanah Parker, He Bear, Wild Horse, and Bull Elk who had refused to sign the 1867 Medicine Lodge treaty and move them to the reservation.

In 1871, Quanah Parker led two charges against the army at the Battle of the Staked Plain in the Texas panhandle. In the first charge, Quanah and his warriors hit the army camp at Rock Station where they stampeded and captured many army horses. In a second attack, Quanah’s warriors defeated a scouting party. The army called off their pursuit of the “hostile” bands until spring.

The following fall, the army defeated the Kotsoteka band under the leadership of Mow-way, killing at least 30 Comanche and capturing 124. However, the Kwahadie Comanche (including Quanah Parker) and the Kiowa remained at large.

The free Indian bands on the Southern Plains also had a second concern: non-Indian buffalo hunters were slaughtering thousands of buffalo on Indian land and the buffalo were becoming scarce. In 1874, the Indians began a war known as the Buffalo War or the Red River War against these buffalo hunters. To assure the participation of the Southern Cheyenne, Southern Arapaho, and Kiowa in the war, Comanche medicineman Isatai held a Sun Dance, a ceremony which was not traditional to the Comanche but which was (and still is) important to the other tribes.

Quanah Parker was one of the leaders of an allied force of about 700 Indian warriors who attacked 28 buffalo hunters at Adobe Walls in the Texas panhandle. The American buffalo hunters, however, were armed with long range repeating rifles and managed to kill 15 warriors and repel the attack.

During the months following the battle at Adobe Walls, the Comanche, as well as the Kiowa under the leadership of Lone Wolf, Mamanti, and Big Bow, and the Southern Cheyenne under the leadership of Bull Bear, carried out a series of raids against American settlements. In response, the U.S. Army launched a massive campaign. At the battle of Duro Canyon, the army captured or killed most of the Indian’s horses (estimated at 1,500) and destroyed most of their tipis.

In 1875, Quanah Parker’s Comanche, starving and war-weary, turned themselves in to the reservation. This marked the beginning of a new period in Quanah’s life.

On the reservation, Quanah identified himself with his mother’s American last name (Parker) and became useful because of his fluency in English and Spanish. By 1878, he was the spokesman for the Kwahadie band when it met in council with the Indian agents. He advocated the leasing of surplus pasture areas for grazing rights and for rights-of-way, and he worked deals with American cattlemen. He became a prosperous rancher.

From 1886 to 1898, Quanah Parker was one of three judges on the Court of Indian Offenses for the Comanche, Kiowa, Apache, and Wichita. One of the American concerns regarding the Indians at this time was polygyny-the marriage of one man to more than one woman at a time-and Quanah Parker had five wives. This caused friction with the American Indian agents and so he eventually lost his job as judge.

In 1890 Quanah Parker was recognized by the American government as the principal chief of all the Comanche bands. As the main Comanche leader, he not only negotiated with treaty councils, but he also made nearly 20 trips to Washington, D.C. to negotiate Indian issues.

As with all Oklahoma tribes during this time, the Comanche were under pressure by the government to divest themselves of their lands through allotment or sale. In 1892, Quanah Parker signed an agreement to sell “surplus” reservation lands. Many of the Comanche disagreed with this sale and they blamed Quanah Parker for the loss of reservation lands.

On several occasions, Quanah Parker traveled to Washington, D.C. to argue against opening Comanche lands to non-Indian settlement.

In 1890, Quanah Parker also discovered the Peyote Road and became a participant in and advocate for the Native American Church. He helped spread the Peyote Road to other tribes.

In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs to provide “a touch of color” for his inaugural parade by providing some Indians. The BIA provided Geronimo (Apache), Quanah Parker (Comanche), American Horse (Sioux), Hollow Horn Bear (Sioux), Little Plume (Blackfoot), and Buckskin Charley (Ute). The old men rode painted ponies in full regalia. Behind them came a troop of marching Carlisle Indian students. Throughout the parade route, they were greeted with war whoops and similar derisive shouts from the crowd.

To counteract some of the misconceptions about the use of peyote in the Native American Church, Quanah Parker met with the Medical Committee of the Oklahoma State Constitutional Convention in 1909. He managed to convince them that peyote was not harmful and that it was necessary for their religious services.

Quanah Parker died in 1911. He was buried next to his mother’s grave in a funeral which was attended by about 1,500 people.  

The Republic of Texas and the Comanche Indians

With the new standards recently adopted by the Texas Board of Education which appear to emphasize the historical accomplishments of English-speaking Christians, I thought it might be interesting to look at some of the forgotten (or at least ignored) history of Texas: the relationship between the short-lived Republic of Texas and some of the Indian nations within its territory.

In an earlier diary I looked at Texas and the Cherokee and in this diary I’m going to look at the Comanche.  

Prior to the birth of the Republic of Texas, the Comanche had actively raided against all intruders into their lands: the Spanish, Mexicans, American expatriates, and other tribes. They had a reputation as fierce warriors and the very name “Comanche” often struck a chord of fear in the hearts of non-Indians.

Like the Mexicans before them, the Texans at times attempted to negotiate treaties with the Comanche and at other times they tried to militarily drive them out or exterminate them.

In 1838, the Comanche signed a treaty with the Republic of Texas. The treaty called for the Comanche to surrender their sovereignty and to visit the Texas capital on the second Monday every October to talk with the President. Signing the treaty for the Comanche were Muguara, Muestyah (also known as Puestia), and Muhy.

The following year, a Lipan Apache hunting party found a Comanche village on a tributary of the San Saba River and reported it to the Texans. A group of 60 Texans and 16 Lipan Apache under the leadership of Chief Castro attacked the village, catching the Comanche by surprise. When the Texans stopped to reload, their horses were run off and they were surrounded by several hundred Comanche. At a pause in the firing, the Comanche approached the Texans under a white flag. They proposed to trade their Texan prisoners for the Comanche taken in the initial attack. However, the Comanche prisoners had already been killed by the Lipan Apache.

In 1839, a force of 60 Texas Rangers attacked a band of about 20 Comanche buffalo hunters. The Comanche fled and easily outdistanced the Rangers. The Rangers, however, continued their pursuit and soon their captain noticed that the Comanche seemed to be getting more numerous. The Ranger captain became alarmed at this observation. He halted the reckless pursuit and turned about in retreat. Too late he discovered that he had now made the ultimate error in Comanche warfare. The 20 Comanche buffalo hunters were now 200 warriors who were in pursuit of the Rangers. From a ravine, the Rangers were able to fend off the Comanche because they are able to shoot from cover. While the Comanche warriors could easily have wiped out the whole company, the cost in blood was too high.

In 1840, an incident known as the Council House Affair took place in San Antonio. Comanche leader Muguara with 65 men, women, and children came to San Antonio under a flag of truce. The Comanche came to trade, bringing with them many horses and furs and one captive. The Texans, on the other hand, wanted to meet to discuss the release of women and children who had been captured by the Comanche during the past 10 years. Many of the children who had been raised as Comanche had no desire to return to their biological parents’ people.

Twelve Comanche men, described by the Texans as chiefs, met with the Texans in the Council House on the plaza. When the Texans demanded that more captives be returned, Muguara denied that his band had any more. Soldiers surrounded the council house and attempted to take the Comanche prisoners to exchange for prisoners held by the Comanche. As the Comanche tried to escape, the Texans killed them. In the end, 35 Comanche were killed and 27 women and children and two old men were taken captive.

One Comanche woman was sent back to the Comanche camps to secure the release of the other captives. She returned with two Texan and five Mexican captives whom she attempted to trade for her relatives. The Texans released an equal number of Comanche captives in exchange.

The Comanche were outraged by the killing of their chiefs under a flag of truce. In Comanche culture, a council was sacred. To talk in time of peace, especially after smoking the pipe, meant to tell the truth. To fight in council, however, was considered offensive to the spirit world.

In retaliation for the Texan betrayal of the council, Buffalo Hump led a war party of 500 warriors through Texas, burning homes and killing hundreds.

The Comanche surrounded the town of Victoria. They killed a number of black slaves who were working in the fields outside of the town. While some of the houses were attacked and set on fire, the Comanche decided that the cost of the battle was too much and continued on the war path toward the Gulf.

The Comanche warriors then attacked the small port settlement of Linnville. Here they captured a number of women, including the granddaughter of Daniel Boone. In Linnville, the Comanche found a warehouse filled with goods and they spent the day looting the town. They packed great quantities of goods on pack mules and began the slow journey home.

The Texas Rangers and Texas Militia caught up with the slow-moving Comanche column at Plum Creek. While the Comanche warriors managed to avoid a fight for a while, the Texans soon attacked the main body and routed them. Eighty warriors were killed and the Comanche lose all of their loot.

In another incident in 1840, a Comanche group encountered a small patrol of Texas Rangers on Walker’s Creek near the Guadalupe River. The Comanche dismounted and shouted taunts at the Texans. The Texans attempted to slip around and attack the Comanche from the rear, but quickly found themselves surrounded and having to fight their way out. Fending off the Comanche from a refuge in the woods, the Rangers managed to kill the Comanche chief. The Comanche retreated and were pursued by the Rangers.

The Walker’s Creek fight is purported to be the first combat test of the Colt revolver. A number of versions of the story see this battle as the first time the Comanche warriors had encountered the new weapon and that it was so effective that the warriors retreated. However, many of the Comanche warriors and leaders had actually seen the Colt revolver demonstrated the year before. In addition, the reliability of the new revolvers was somewhat less than the Colt myth would have it.

In 1842, Texas made another attempt at securing peace with the Comanche. The Texans sent a delegation to find Comanche chief Pahayuko and to persuade him to come to a peace conference at Bird’s Fort. The delegation included the Waco chief Acahquash and his wife, several Delaware guides, and two Comanche children. The delegation was not, however, well organized and was therefore delayed in making contact with the Comanche.

After an initial meeting with the Texans, Pahayuko went into council with the chiefs and warriors. A number of the warriors, particularly those who had lost relatives at the Council House fight, advocated retaliation first, then peace. Acahquash addressed the council and explained that the head chief of Texas was not the same as the chief who ruled at the time of the Council House fight and that the new chief wished friendship with the Comanche.

The following day, the leader of the Texas delegation was allowed to meet with the council. He presented a pipe (the Alamo Council Pipe), but Pahayuko refused to smoke with him. However, at the end of the council, Pahayuko agreed to meet with the Texans again, this time with all of the Comanche chiefs, in order to negotiate a firm and lasting peace.

In 1844, Delaware scouts John Conner and Jim Shaw made contact with the Comanche on the Clear Fork of the Bazos. They invited Comanche chiefs Old Owl and Buffalo Hump to meet with the Texans in council. While Old Own readily agreed, Buffalo Hump was somewhat reluctant.

The Comanche met in council at Tehuacana Creek near present-day Waco with Texas President Houston. As a result of the council, a pledge of mutual friendship was made. Buffalo Hump said: “What I came here for was to hear the words of peace. I have heard them and all is right; peace is peace.”

With the new agreement, the Texans were to establish trading houses and the Comanche were to stop their raids. The Comanche were to meet with the Texans in council annually and the Texans promised to provide them with gifts. The two sides, however, could not agree on a boundary settlement.

When Texas joined the United States in 1846 it was clearly understood that Texas was to be for Texans: Indians were not welcome in the new state. The problems of war and peace with the Comanche now became the concerns of the federal government, as well as the task of persuading the Comanche to settle on a reservation in Oklahoma.