Lords of the Plains

Horses changed the way of life for the Comanche forever. They altered the nature of their culture from that of hunter-gatherers to a warrior society, making them the dominant force on the Southern Plains. So skillful were they in horsemanship that they became the finest light cavalry in existence. They subjugated other Native American tribes including the Kiowa, Arapahoe, Southern Cheyenne, and Plains Apache and struck fear into white settlers throughout the frontier.

The horse allowed the Comanche to cover increasingly longer distances on raids against all their enemies, and at their height they ranged on horseback from their stronghold in Palo Duro Canyon in West Texas throughout what would become known as Comancheria which included most of Texas and New Mexico, and portions of Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and Mexico.  Wild HorsesThe horse was symbolic of Comanche wealth and prestige and it would take the loss of their pony herd to finally force them to surrender. Their horses were slaughtered on orders from Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie following a deciding engagement at Palo Duro Canyon, September 28, 1874. Though but one trooper and fourteen Indians were killed in the fighting, the most devastating blow to the Comanche was the capture and execution of over 1,400 horses.

Ranald Mackenzie surveyed the burned encampments. All his efforts seemed to point to another campaign where he’d been unable to keep the Indians from escaping; another failure. He then looked toward the captured horses. Past experience told him he would be unable to keep the pony herd intact all the way back to friendly lines. The Indians would once again mount raids to recapture their mounts and the cycle of resistance and the so called “Red River War” would continue. Mackenzie had long since hardened himself against any pity for the enemy and now knew what was required of him. He ordered his Adjutant to drive the pony herd to Tule Canyon, to select fresh mounts for the troop and his Tonkawa Scouts, and to shoot all the remaining horses. – excerpt from Palo Duro.

Most of the Comanche gave up by November 1874. Quanah Parker and his band tried to hold out, however, the loss of the horses finally forced their surrender. Unable to hunt for food or effectively avoid pursuit by the military, the once proud Lords of the Plains capitulated. Quanah Parker led the Quahadi (the People) onto the reservation at Fort Sill, Oklahoma June 2, 1875.


Author: maxknight73

Retired Army Officer and Counterintelligence Specialist. Currently living in San Antonio, Texas with his wife Gray. Cancer survivor. Avid history buff and writer.

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