THE COMANCHE AND HIS HORSE
The Spanish mustang was the original Indian pony. Dubbed "mestenos" by the Spanish, stray
horses came to be called mustang, the name by which they are called today. Rustled from Spanish settlements in the
southwest, the pony gradually became crossed with other breeds after the
annexation of the Plains by the United States in 1803. By the end of the century it bore little
resemblance to the early horse.
The culture of the Plains Indians was so expanded after their
introduction to the horse that they were able to resist the encroachment of the
white intruders better than other Indian tribes.
Used only as a source of food at first, the Indians observed the Spanish
methods of training and handling domesticated horses and so began to acquire
horses as well as develop horsemanship.
When riding, the American Indian was the finest of horsemen. Then enabled the skilled Comanche rider
to carry out raids deep into Mexico.
1640 to 1880 has been called the period of the Indian Horse Culture. Comanches acted as brokers to the
Northern tribes, providing horses already broken. The lives of the nomadic Plains tribes
was revolutionized by the use of the horse.
Before the acquisition of the horse, hunting was a necessity of life for
the Indian. With the Horse Culture
came endurance, mobility and speed that changed hunting to a sport. A sport the Indians responded to with
enthusiasm that enabled them to keep their camps supplied with food.
Following the herds of buffalo was simplified. Children and elders, who in the past
slowed the tribe's progress, were mounted or tied onto saddles. Belongings were loaded onto other horses
and as many as fifty miles could be covered in a day.
The size of the horse allowed the Indian to acquire larger lodges and
more possessions than was possible when dogs were used for transportation.
Parti-colored ponies created a flamboyant effect that the Indians
liked. A particular type of pinto
was developed by them and known as the Medicine Hat or War Bonnet because of the
markings over its body. A special
mystique surrounded this horse and a Comanche warrior believed himself
invincible if he rode one into battle.
A simple color phase of the Spanish mustang, this war-horse was desired
by all Comanches, who considered them sacred and possessed them in great
The horse enabled the Indians to prevent the Spanish from colonizing the
Southwest and held back white settlement for two centuries.
Comanches perfected horse stealing to an art. They were the most aggressive horse
thieves in the Southern Plains.
Known as the most powerful warriors, their lust for horses made life
along the border perilous for all settlers. They even bragged that they only allowed
the Spanish to remain in their region to raise horses for them.
All efforts to negotiate peace with the Comanches by the Spanish
Government failed. The Indians'
terms were all the horses in Mexico.
Horses became a source of trade for the Comanches, who exchanged them for
such items as exotic furs and white buffalo skins from the Northern tribes, to
guns and powder from the first white traders and trappers that entered the
region. The Spaniards refused to
trade with these merchants, thereby putting the Comanche, who viewed the traders
as friends, in the role of middleman.
Indian camps were surrounded by horses of every shape, size and
color. Their appetite for owning
enough horses was never satisfied.
In 1874 thousands of animals, considered by the southern Comanche as
their best horses, were slaughtered at Tule Canyon near the Texas
In 1876 General Sheridan sent a telegram to the War Department to request
permission to sell Indian ponies that had been either captured or surrendered
and the funds from the sale to be used to purchase cattle for the Indians ?at
the proper time.? His objective was
to get the horse away from the Indians, as had been the government policy
when horses were confiscated
illegally from several Northern tribes to bring these tribes under control. This, along with the slaughter of the
buffalo, brought the Comanche Horse Culture to a halt and ended the spectacular
era of Comanche Rule over the Southern Plains.
Ryden, Hope, America's Last Wild Horses. Lyons & Burford, Publishers,