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Apache Encampment
Apache Encampment in the Texas Hill Country by George Nelson. The Lipan Apache were among several Plains tribes pushed southward as pressure for land and resources mounted across the western frontier. Image courtesy of the artist and the Institute of Texan Cultures, University of Texas at San Antonio.
bald eagle
A bald eagle soars high above the ground as it searches for prey. The eagle was revered by many tribes, with the feathers a prized possession used to adorn weapons or clothing of warriors and spiritual leaders.
Texas tribes in 1500
Approximate distribution of native Texas tribes at the time of first contact with European explorers in the early 1500s. Click to enlarge.

Spain applied the first destructive forces. Thousands of the early native peoples did not survive the process the Spanish called "reduction."

Atakapan man
An Atakapan man skillfully maneuvers his dugout canoe through an inland waterway. Though few in number at the time of European contact, the Atakapans occupied a wide swath of territory along the southeastern Texas and Louisiana coast. While the more inland Atakapan groups may have practiced farming like their Caddo neighbors, the coastal groups drew heavily on marine resources. Drawing by Hal Story (Newcomb 1961), courtesy of University of Texas Press. Click to enlarge.

Long before the United States Army set foot in Texas, disaster stalked the aboriginal peoples who lived beyond the Anglo frontier. European-borne disease, intertribal conflict, and diminishing resources had fatally weakened some of the bands not yet obliterated. Indigenous cultures were being crushed by forces coming from all directions.

The boundaries of modern Texas encompass vastly different ecosystems and—on the eve of Spanish intrusion—each region was home to different cultures. Among the major groupings were the Caddoan cultures of the eastern forests, the Atakapan and Karankawan people of the Gulf coast, the Coahuiltecan-speakers of the southern Rio Grande plain, the Jumano of the middle Rio Grande and central plateaus, and the Apachean people of the High Plains.

Others would appear on the scene. The Tonkawa and Wichita would migrate from the north under pressure. The Comanche and Kiowa would push their way onto the southern Plains a century after the early Spanish explorations. The Cherokee and Kickapoo would come from the southeast as refugees in the early 1800s.

The Spanish colonial efforts brought the first destructive forces. Thousands of the early native peoples did not survive the process the Spanish called "reduction." Some were missionized or kidnapped into slavery in the silver mines of central Mexico. Others were able to escape and to be absorbed by other tribes. In the end, the Spanish reduced these peoples more by disease than by religious conversion.

The sicknesses brought by Spanish missionaries and French traders devastated entire villages. Outbreaks of smallpox among the Coahuiltecans were widespread both north and south of the Rio Grande in the winter of 1674-1675, wiped out most of the Rio Grande mission population in 1706, and—along with a measles epidemic—almost depopulated the San Antonio missions in 1739. Unknown diseases were estimated to have killed 3,000 among the Caddoan tribes in 1691, and additional numbers in 1718. Mission Atakapans were stricken twice in the 1750s. Karankawas suffered a "devastating scourge" of measles and/or smallpox in 1766.

Some tribes were broken up by raiding Apaches, who came to dominate the Plains by the end of the 1600s. The earliest encounter between Spaniards and Apache groups had occurred in 1541, in either the northeastern portion of modern New Mexico or the panhandle of modern Texas. Francisco Vasqez de Coronado gave the name "Querecho" to the people he met there. A later exploration led by Vicente de Saldivar Mendoza in 1599 encountered bands and villages ("rancherias") of people that Mendoza termed "vaqueros." These people were bison hunters, and as the Spanish had no concept of bison other than as cattle, they characterized the woolly animals as "vacas."

By the time the Spanish began to establish settlements in the upper Rio Grande valley, the native puebloans had a brisk trade going with the Plains people. The vaqueros brought buffalo robes, meat, and tallow in exchange for cloth, pottery, maize, and small green stones. But the Spanish tried to control the trade, and by the mid-1600s were making captives of the Plains Indians for use as slaves in the mines of Mexico. Thus began a long period of hostility between the Spanish and the Plains Apache.

The Spanish categorized the Apache of New Mexico into western and eastern branches. The easterners included bands that had become closely associated with the Pueblo communities such as Pecos and Taos, as well as bands who lived farther out on the Plains. Historians believe the Plains people included the groupings that later became known as "Kiowa Apache and "Lipan Apache." Both were displaced by the people the Spanish called "Comanche."

Jumano Indians
Jumano Indians standing atop the walls of their pueblo watch the arrival of Spanish explorers. According to explorer Hernán Gallegos, who crossed the Texas Trans-Pecos and middle Rio Grande region in 1581, the early farmers greeted them with "great merriment." Drawing by Hal Story (Newcomb 1961), courtesy University of Texas Press.
The Caddo of the East Texas forests lived in beehive-shaped huts in expansive villages and farming hamlets. These complex tribes were devastated by European diseases in the 1700s before they were moved to a Brazos River reservation and finally into Indian Territory. Inset of painting by George Nelson, courtesy of the Institute for Texan Cultures, the University of Texas at San Antonio. Click to enlarge.
Coalhuiltecan man
Coalhuiltecan carrying a burden. The south Texas Indians subsisted as nomadic hunters and gatherers in one of the harshest areas of the state prior to being "missionized" by the Spanish. Drawing by Hal Story (Newcomb 1961), courtesy of University of Texas Press.
Buffalo on the Plains. The Spanish, having no knowledge of the shaggy beasts, thought them to be cattle, and called them "vacas." From this the term, "vaquero," was derived.
Comanches on horseback
Comanche feats of horsemanship. Frontier artist George Catlin, traveling with an expedition of U.S. Dragoons across Indian Territory in the 1830s, visited several encampments of Comanches and observed a variety of their activities. The Indians' skill at horsemanship, from capturing and breaking the wild mustangs to harnessing them toward their needs—for hunting, hauling their camp equipment, and making war—was a source of amazement to Catlin. Read his observations about their riding skills.
Migration of the Comanches into Texas
Paths of the Comanche into Texas during the 1700s. Adapted from Betty 2002.
Comanches of West Texas
Comanches of West Texas in war regalia. The Comanches are a Shoshonean people who, in the 1700s, migrated to Texas from the area that is now Colorado. Painting by Lino Sánchez y Tapia, circa 1830s. Courtesy of the Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa.
Comanche chief "Ee-shah-ko-nee"
Comanche chief "Ee-shah-ko-nee" (the bow and quiver). From Catlin 1926. Click to enlarge.
Wichita grass house
Wichita grass house. Photo by Edwards S. Curtis circa 1927.
ruins of San Saba
Ruins of Presidio San Sabá, the Spanish fort constructed to protect the nearby mission and its Indian refugees in the Texas Hill Country. Both the presidio and the mission efforts failed. In 1758, a band of Comanche, Tonkawa, and Wichita sacked and burned the mission that had provided short-lived refuge for the Lipan Apache.

The Comanche are a Shoshonean people who migrated from the north to the southeastern plains of modern Colorado. The name, "Comanche," is believed to be the Spanish derivative of a Ute word meaning "someone who wants to fight with me all the time." The first Spanish sighting of Comanches in New Mexico occurred in 1705. Less than 15 years passed before the newcomers began to unsettle New Mexico's northeastern frontier with attacks against the pueblos and Apache rancherias. The Comanche then embarked on a complicated 50-year pattern of alternately raiding the Spanish and trading with them, but their attitude toward the Plains Apache was unremittingly hostile.

By the mid-1700s, the Comanche had shattered the Apache presence in eastern New Mexico. Some villagers left the Plains and withdrew to the relative security of the pueblos. Others retreated to the east in the face of the Comanche onslaught. In 1724, Comanches were reported to have defeated a force of Plains Apaches in a nine-day battle somewhere in northwestern Texas called El Gran Sierra del Fierro.

Comanche movement onto the southern Plains was in a generally southeastern direction throughout the 1700s. The deeper the migration moved into Texas, the more it pressured the Lipan, who occupied the Edwards Plateau. The Lipan adjustments brought them into contact with the Wichita and Tonkawa in the vicinity of the Cross Timbers to the east.

The Spanish had discovered Wichita villages in 1541, then again during Juan de Oñate's expedition in 1601. The explorers found many large settlements dispersed along rivers and streams in an area encompassing the south-central portion of modern Kansas and the north-central portion of modern Oklahoma. These settlements began to be moved southward, beyond the reach of raiding Osage Indians, who in the early 1700s were being supplied with guns by French traders.

Oñate's expedition also had encountered the Tonkawa, in either the region of the modern Oklahoma panhandle or the south-central portion of modern Kansas. There appear to have been two groups of Tonkawa speakers by the late 1600s, one located along and north of the Red River in modern Oklahoma and the other along and between the Brazos and Navasota rivers in Texas. By the mid-1700s, some Tonkawa had begun to congregate at a large settlement, known as the "Rancheria Grande," on the San Gabriel River of central Texas.

The Rancheria Grande was a haven for a number of disparate aboriginal groups driven from their homelands. In 1748, the Spanish established a mission and presidio on the San Gabriel to protect the Rancheria Grande refugees from Lipan raids, but Spanish protection proved illusory, and the mission was abandoned in 1756.

The Tonkawa then allied themselves with the Wichita, which in turn brought them into a short-lived alliance with the Comanche with whom the Wichita traded and shared a hostility toward the Plains Apache. In 1758, a force of Comanche, Tonkawa, Wichita, and representatives of other tribal groups attacked a Spanish mission established for the Lipan on the San Saba River.

To replace the San Saba mission, the Spanish established two others for the Lipan in the El Canon area of the upper Nueces River west of San Antonio. These immediately fell prey to Comanche raiding parties. The wedge of Comanche advance split the Lipan. Some, who became known as "upper" Lipan, would gravitate toward the southwest, into the range of their Mescalero Apache kinsmen. The "lower," or "southern," Lipan moved south and east, to the fringes of the Edwards Plateau and beyond.

Meanwhile, Wichita groups moved from above the Red River into the middle Brazos and upper Trinity River valleys. The Wichitas' ever-deeper intrusion into Tonkawa territory ended the brief period of amicable relations between the two tribes. The Tonkawa slid southward in response, and with their former Lipan enemies formed a new trade relationship with southeastern tribes and the French in Louisiana.

The Comanche extended their control of the southern Plains—soon to be called "Comancheria" by the Spanish—onto and beyond the Edwards Plateau by the end of the 1700s. They secured their western flank and profitable trade relationships in 1786 by entering into a truce with the Spanish in New Mexico. About 1800, they absorbed a threat coming from their northeast by entering into an historic truce with the Kiowa, another tribe of Plains raiders.

Comanche braves
Comanche braves. Photo, circa 1867-1874, courtesy of the Center for American History (#01355), The University of Texas at Austin.

In the early 1700s, the Comanche embarked on a complicated 50-year pattern of alternately raiding the Spanish and trading with them, but their attitude toward the Plains Apache was unremittingly hostile.

Lipan Apache
Lipan Apache warrior, drawn ca. 1858 during a U.S. Mexican border survey.
Tonkawa beaded moccasin from Fort Griffin area, north-central Texas. Courtesy Fort Griffin SHS. Photo by Lester Galbreath.
distribution of Indians in 1776
Approximate distribution of Indian groups in Texas, circa 1776. Click to enlarge.
Plains Indian woman
Plains Indian woman on muleback, circa 1850s. Artist Friedrich Richard Petri painted a variety of people and scenes in the area of his Fredericksburg home in the Texas Hill Country. His drawings of Indians in the area document not only their costume and habits but their amicable relationships with some of the settlers. Click to see full image. Courtesy Texas Memorial Museum.
Kiowa painting of Koba (Wild Horse) wearing feathered headdress on horseback with group of men including Etahdeleuh (Boy Hunting), carrying lances. Watercolor, 1875, Fort Marion Prison. Image courtesy National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution (INV 08547626 NAA MS 39C).
Kiowa boy
Kiowa boy, wearing bone breastplate and striped cotton clothing. Photo circa 1867-1874, courtesy of the Center for American History, Caldwell Collection (#10182). Click to see full image.
Comanche village
Comanche encampment. The circa 1867-1874 photo is identified as Quah-ah-da Comanche camp, possibly that of famed Comanche chief, Quanah Parker. Courtesy of the Center for American History, Caldwell Collection (00478), The University of Texas at Austin. Click to see full image.
areas of Indian groups
Aproximate areas of Indian groups in Texas during the nineteenth century. Clcik to enlarge.
Eagle feather warrior headdress, Plains Indian. Courtesy Panhandle Plains Historical Museum Collection. Photo by Jeff Indeck.
Rosa, a Tonkawa girl. Photo courtesy of Lawrence Jones, III. View large image.
Comanche Reservation marker
Site of the circa 18,000-acre Comanche Reservation established on the Clear Fork of the Brazos, north-central Texas, in 1855. About 450 Penateka, or southern Comanches settled there and were fairly successful at farming, in spite of droughts. But tribal discord, continued hunting and raiding, and inadequate protection (from Anglo settlers) by U.S. troops, among other problems, doomed the reservation effort, and the Comanches were removed to Indian Territory in 1859.

The attacks by soldiers and rangers had been demoralizing, but what made the losses critical was that they compounded the devastation wrought by disease.

Invoice of property belonging to the "several tribes" (Caddos, Wacos, and others), at the time of their removal from the Brazos Reservation in north Texas to the Wichita Agency, Indian Territory, 1859. Note the prevalence of farm equipment. Invoice prepared by Robert S. Neighbors, agent. Transcript of document from Noel 1924.
migrating to Mexico
Natives migrating to Mexico in wagons. The travelers shown are thought to be Kickapoo, ca. 1907. Courtesy National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution (NEG 00741 A). Click to enlarge.
Kiowa camp
Kiowa camp, ca. 1867-1874. Photograph courtesy of the Center for American History, Frank Caldwell Collection (#10187), The University of Texas at Austin.

The Kiowa are believed to have migrated from the Yellowstone River region of modern Wyoming or Montana under easterly pressure from the Cheyenne and Sioux. They were accompanied onto the southern Plains by the Kiowa Apache, a group linguistically related to the Lipan of Texas and Apache of New Mexico, but who had earlier migrated to the north and attached themselves politically to larger and stronger tribes.

As the Kiowa moved south, they continued to be pressed from the east—in this case by the Pawnee and Osage—and probably encountered the Comanche near the Arkansas River in modern Kansas. Elements of the two tribes initially dueled over this portion of the buffalo range before forging an alliance that would exist for more than a century.

Interactions among the diverse peoples of Spanish Texas became increasingly skewed by forces east of the Mississippi River. The English colonists of the mid-Atlantic seaboard had displaced the tribes along and on either side of the Appalachian mountain range and forced some of them into the "Northwest Territory," the area drained by the Ohio River and embracing much of the modern states of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. This migration had forced the Osage to abandon the Ohio valley for the prairies of modern Kansas and Oklahoma. In the early 1800s, they were joined there by several of the tribes that had elbowed them out of the old Northwest Territory—Delaware, Kickapoo, Potawatomi, and Shawnee among them—as those tribes were again displaced by whites. Now, however, the eviction notices were being served by the new United States of America.

Similar pressure on the southeastern tribes caused many Cherokees to move from the southern Appalachia hills into western Arkansas. Others followed the Alabama and Coushatta tribes into Texas, invited along with Anglo-American colonists during the waning days of Spanish rule.

In 1825, U.S. President James Monroe suggested the idea of moving all of the Indians out of the eastern United States to "vacant" lands west of the Mississippi. The region between the Missouri River and the Red River became envisioned in the white mind as the "Indian Territory" that could be used to relocate all of the tribes removed from the east. The southeastern tribes—Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole—joined the lately arrived, old Northwest tribes as interlopers on the lands historically occupied by the Wichita north of the Red River.

The fringes of the southern Plains soon became crowded. The "removed" tribes spread out, impinged on each other, and filtered south into Mexican Texas. Some took up residence among the Caddo villages of the eastern Texas pine forests. Others gravitated to the Wichita villages farther west, such as those of the Waco and Tawakoni along the Brazos River valley. The Lipan and Tonkawa also found themselves with new neighbors to their south, where they encountered the Anglo-American colonists moving up the Brazos, Colorado, and Guadalupe River valleys from the Gulf Coast.

The Americans became successors to the raid-and-trade relationship the Lipan and Tonkawa had conducted with the Louisiana French. By the mid-1830s, Anglo-Texan settlers were joining the Tonkawa in attacks on Wichita and Comanche villages. The Anglos most likely found the Comanche at the edge of the Cross Timbers of northern central Texas. The Tonkawa called these Comanche "penetixka," and they probably were of the division of Comanches that would become the best-known to the Anglo-Texans.

The Anglos separated the Comanche divisions into "southern," "middle," and "northern" groupings. At least 13 major and minor tribal divisions were known to, or remembered by, the Comanche who survived into the late 1800s. The later Anglo accounts emphasize seven divisions. The Penateka were the most numerous and sometimes were called "southern Comanches" by contemporary white men. The Nokoni, Tanima, and Tenewa would be grouped together as the "middle" Comanche. The Kotsoteka, Quahadi, and Yamparika would be considered "northern."

Stephen F. Austin secured relatively peaceful relationships with the Tonkawa and Lipan while his colonists drove the Karankawa into virtual extinction. When Texas independence was declared in 1836, Sam Houston was dispatched to make treaties with the Cherokee and other immigrant tribes on the northern frontier. Houston succeeded and, although the Texas Congress would reject many of his efforts, the Republic of Texas attempted to maintain peace with most of the tribes throughout Houston's first term as president.

Houston's successor, Mirabeau B. Lamar, dramatically changed Texas Indian policy. Most of the immigrant tribes of eastern Texas were driven out of the state—only the Alabama and Coushatta were allowed to remain—and the Caddo and Wichita retreated up the Brazos River. The Penateka suffered heavy losses to disease and battles with white soldiers, militiamen, and rangers during the early 1840s, when Lipan and Tonkawa were enthusiastic scouts and warriors for the Anglos in their raids on Comanche villages. By the time Houston resumed the presidency in 1841, the Penateka had withdrawn from the Cross Timbers and Edwards Plateau.

The Texas government returned to Houston's earlier Indian policies during the remainder of the Republic period. These efforts included the establishment of trading houses at which even Comanches could exchange hides for manufactured goods. Extensive negotiations were conducted and several treaties were concluded. But the agreements were always one-sided: the Indians would return any captives and stolen livestock and would not come into white settlements except for authorized trading. Although the Penateka demanded an identifiable boundary to mark Comanche lands that whites could not enter, none was ever agreed to by the government.

Annexation to the United States in 1845 brought Texas theoretically under the protection of the U.S. Army, which in 1848 began to build forts along the frontier of white settlement. By the early 1850s, the U.S. government gave up on the national policy of trying to "remove" Indians beyond the reach of white migration, and in its place substituted the idea of confining the Indians on reservations that whites could simply bypass on their way west.

The U.S. government owned no land in Texas, and had to await the state legislature's authorization of two reservations on the Brazos River in 1854. One, the "Brazos Reserve," was located near the Army's Fort Belknap and housed about 2,000 remnants of the Caddoan and Wichita groups, Tonkawa, and Delaware. The other, on the Clear Fork of the Brazos (the "Upper Reserve"), accommodated as many as 450 Penateka Comanche. Residents of both reservations were instructed to take up farming. Those of the Brazos Reserve had some success, and also furnished scouts and warrior allies for the Army and Texas rangers.

Local white opposition forced the removal of the reservation residents to the "Indian Territory." There, some became pawns in the white man's Civil War, as both Union and Confederate emissaries attempted to enlist them in the conflict. In 1862, about half of the 300 Tonkawa were massacred by members of other tribes, some of whom were Union allies. The survivors sought refuge near Fort Belknap, and a substantial number served in the Texans' frontier defense organization for the remainder of the war.

The Civil War period brought something of a retrenchment on the western Texas frontier. Mexico became a refuge for migrating bands of Kickapoo, Lipan, and Seminole who shunned the reservations in Indian Territory. Comanches and Kiowas continued to travel their historic trails between the High Plains and the Rio Grande. The early 1860s were comparatively quiet along the frontier line, perhaps due to the Comanches and Kiowas skirting the edge of white settlement. But military patrols began to lapse as the Civil War reached its height, the Indians became emboldened, and the whites began to abandon the state's westernmost counties as raids increased.

But time was running out for the Plains tribes. The Penateka had declined rapidly in the years before the war, and the status of the "middle" Comanches was increasingly precarious. The Tenewa had become all but extinct as an identifiable division. Even the northern Comanche bands had found that their villages were not beyond the reach of the white man's raiding parties.

The attacks by soldiers and rangers had been demoralizing, but what made the losses critical was that they compounded the devastation wrought by disease. An 1816 smallpox epidemic had killed an estimated 4,000 Comanche, along with significant numbers of Kiowa and Kiowa Apache. A recurrence of the disease in the winter of 1839-1840 killed large numbers in each tribe. A cholera epidemic in 1849 took even greater numbers than had been lost to smallpox. The Plains tribes were again struck by "terrible ravages" of smallpox in 1861.

Perhaps most ominous of all was the often erratic availability of resources. The bison—or buffalo—had been a staple of Plains life since prehistoric times, providing food, clothing, shelter, and utensils. The spread of Spanish horses from the New Mexico settlements onto the Great Plains had changed the character of the aboriginal bison culture. Hunters no longer had to rely on herds wandering into their vicinity so that they could steer the animals into a trap. Once mounted, hunters and their families became pursuers. Mobility—the ability to follow the buffalo in any and all seasons—became the prerequisite to prosperity. Horses provided that mobility, but the same horse that carried a hunter after the buffalo also carried him into contact with competing hunters from other tribes.

Catlin map
"United States Indian Frontier in 1840, Showing the Positions of the Tribes that have been removed west of the Mississippi," by frontier artist George Catlin. While not all tribes are shown, the map reflects the relative positions of the southeastern groups who were relocated to "vacant" lands by order of President James Monroe in 1825. Map from Catlin 1926.
Kiowa Apache man and wife, Fort Sill, Indian Territory. Photo courtesy of Lawrence Jones, III. View large image.
Plains Indian family
Plains Indian family emerging from woods. As Anglo settlers moved up the Brazos, Colorado, and Guadalupe River valleys, they came into increasing contact with Indian groups. Fredericksburg artist Freidrich Richard Petri enjoyed an amicable relationship with many. Painting ca. 1850s, courtesy of the Texas Memorial Museum.
Comanche woman with child in cradleboard, Fort Sill, Indian Territory. Photo ca. 1872-1875, courtesy of Lawrence Jones III. View large image.
leather pouch
Plains Indian beaded leather pouch. Courtesy Panhandle Plains Historical Museum Collection. Photo by Jeff Indeck.
Kiowa brave
Kiowa brave. Tow-An-Kee, son of Lone Wolf. Killed in Texas in 1873. Photo, ca. 1867-1874, courtesy of the Center for American History, Caldwell Collection (#03962), The University of Texas at Austin.
Indian farming
On reservations in Texas and later in Indian Territory, Indians tried their hand at farming, with moderate success. Inset of painting by Nola Davis, modeled after Twilight of the Indian by Frederick Remington. Courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Fort Richardson SHS.
Kickapoo Chief
Kickapoo Chief, Babe Shkit, ca. 1894-1907. National Archives.
Kickapoo camp
Kickapoo camp and corrals, possibly in Mexico.
Comanche trails map
Comanche trails across Texas into Mexico. Adapted from Weber 1985.

Mobility—the ability to follow the buffalo in any and all seasons—became the prerequisite to prosperity. Horses provided that mobility, but the same horse that carried a hunter after the buffalo also carried him into contact with competing hunters from other tribes.

Buffalo silhouetted against a Texas sunset. Photo courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Kiowa drawing
"Making Medicine." Kiowa drawing by Mopope, reflecting importance of buffalo to the Indian. Painting courtesy of the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution (#INV 090656600 NAA MS 7536).
daughter of Kicking Bird
Topin Tone-oneo, daughter of Kicking Bird. The only one of the great Kiowa chief's children to survive him, she was with the first group of students sent to Carlisle Indian School in 1879. Courtesy of the Center for American History (#CN 01362), University of Texas at Austin.
gourd rattle
Plains Indian gourd rattle. The dried gourds were filled with small pebbles that produced a rattling noise when the object was shaken. Courtesy Panhandle Plains Historical Museum Collection. Photo by Jeff Indeck.
Camanchee Village
"In the Great Camanchee Village" near the Texas panhandle, circa 1840s, by frontier artist George Catlin. The scene, he notes, records but a small part of the extensive village. The "wigwam of the chief" is in foreground, and women are drying meat and working buffalo hides nearby. From Catlin 1926. Click to see full image.

By the early 1800s, Comanche and Kiowa, Arapaho and southern Cheyenne, and Osage and Pawnee began bumping into each other on the buffalo range of modern Kansas and Oklahoma. After varying periods of conflict, truces were arranged and reduced the bloodshed, but also circumscribed each tribe's hunting territory. For the Comanche and Kiowa, the upshot was that their primary range became the region south of the Arkansas River, between the Sangre de Cristo and Sacramento mountain ranges on the west and the Cross Timbers on the east.

This was excellent bison-hunting country, as far as it went. Winters were relatively mild and the bison had roamed as far south as the Rio Grande in historic times. But the southern range was also fragile, subject to extremes of heat and drought that scorched the grasses and dried up the water courses. In such conditions, the bison could leave the range altogether, as they appear to have done in the late 1780s, when for three successive years the Comanche had to go into the New Mexico pueblos and towns to beg for corn.

Tree ring data appear to validate Kiowa calendars that indicate long periods of diminished rainfall between 1845 and 1875. The calendars note several summers of drought or dust during those years, and corresponding times of "little buffalo" or "no buffalo ." Only twice after 1840 do the calendars include the observation, "many buffalo."

Within their restricted hunting territory, the Comanche and Kiowa also had to contend with transgressors, the New Mexican ciboleros who ventured onto the plains to hunt for bison. Although early Spanish expeditions had engaged in acts of wholesale slaughter—one foray with the Jumano Indians in 1683 killed about 8,000 animals along the Concho River of Texas—the ciboleros appear not to have become an important phenomenon until the 1800s. One account in the 1830s estimated that the New Mexicans were killing a minimum of 10,000 to 12,000 bison annually. Their activities angered the Cheyenne, who drove them off their hunting grounds in the 1850s. This in turn brought them into confrontations with the Comanche and Kiowa after the Civil War, when they were reported to be having such a significant effect on the bison herds on the Llano Estacado that Army commanders in New Mexico considered banning their hunts.

The uncertain political status of Texas and the other former Confederate states at war's end offered perhaps the last best hope for the Plains tribes to maintain their traditional way of life. In the fall of 1865, several Comanche and Kiowa leaders entered into what became known as the Treaty of the Little Arkansas River. Representatives of the government of the United States pledged to set aside a huge reserve that comprised most of the western half of modern Oklahoma, all of the Texas panhandle, and the remainder of the Llano Estacado east of the Texas-New Mexico border.

The Texas portion of the reserve had been land that few white men had wanted to cross, much less own, but it had also been state land, outside the control of the U.S. government. Within two years the government reneged on the treaty, obtained the signatures of Comanche and Kiowa leaders on the new Treaty of Medicine Lodge Creek, and reduced the reserve to only six per cent of its original size. All that remained was a corner of the designated "Indian Territory." The substantial portion of the bison range that would at least in theory have been off limits to whites was left open to the commercial slaughter that touched off the Red River War of 1874-1875.

The last of the independent Comanche, Kiowa, and Kiowa Apache surrendered to reservation life in 1875. Some of the Lipan and Mescalero bands held out in northern Mexico until the early 1880s, when Mexican and U.S. Army forces drove them onto reservations or into extinction. The 1890 Census showed 1,598 Comanche at the Fort Sill reservation, which they shared with 1,140 Kiowa and 326 Kiowa Apache. The Fort Stanton reservation in New Mexico had 473 Mescalero and 40 Lipan. Few individuals from the once-great forest and prairie village groups had survived in Indian Territory, 536 of the East Texas Caddo and 358 of the Wichita.

fleshing tool
Plains Indian fleshing tool with serrated metal edge, used for butchering large game. Courtesy Panhandle Plains Historical Museum Collection. Photo by Jeff Indeck.
four Apaches
Four Apache Indians huddle in foreground of what is identified as an Arapoho hunting camp, ca. 1867-1874. Note meat hanging over drying racks. During the 1860s and 1870s, Indians competed not only with other tribes for buffalo but with Anglo hunters who swarmed over the Plains taking adavntage of the lucrative hide market. Photo courtesy of the Center for American History, Caldwell Collection (#CN 10189), The University of Texas at Austin. Click to view full image.
Kiowa diary
Rich in imagery, a page from a circa 1890s Kiowa diary, drawn on a soldier's target practice book, indicates sweeping changes on the frontier. Note soldiers, wagon trains, flags, and Longhorn cattle dominating the scene with few tipis and other Indian symbols. Silver Horn Kiowa drawing, courtesy National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution (NAA INV 09063724). Click for full image.
Quanah Parker
Quanah Parker, Quahahda Comanche chief. Quanah's band would be the last of the Comanche to submit to white dominion.
Kiowa women cut up governemnt-issued beef
Beef issue. Kiowa women cut up government-issued beef. Photo, circa 1892, courtesy of the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution (NEG 1454 A).
Indians at Ft. Marion
Indians at Fort Marion. Indians of various tribes who were captured in the Texas Red River Wars and other Indian battles of the late 19th century were imprisoned at this Florida military fort. Photo ca. 1860s-1930s, courtesy the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution (Lot 90-1 INV 09854500).

The Anglo-Texans' beleaguered former Indian allies did not fare even that well. The small Tonkawa village that grew up near Fort Griffin in the 1870s took in a small Lipan band before the post closed in 1881. In 1890, only 56 Tonkawa had survived the tribe's second removal from Texas. They were joined in Indian Territory by 20 Lipan.

The U.S. government adopted a new Indian policy in 1887, one calculated to destroy the remaining tribal organizations. The Dawes Act—also known as the "allotment" or "severalty" act—provided for the breakup of the reservations, with each head of a reservation family being allotted 160 acres, each single adult 80 acres, and each minor 40 acres.

The former Texas Indian tribes reached the end of a long and deadly road at the beginning of the 20th Century. The impact of the Dawes Act is amply illustrated by the allotment of the Comanche-Kiowa reservation lands in 1901. About 440,000 acres were allotted to the 2,759 individual members of the Comanche, Kiowa, and Kiowa Apache tribes, and about 550,000 acres were reserved for tribal use. The remaining 2 million acres of the nearly 3 million-acre reservation were opened to white settlement.

In 1906, the secretary of the interior sold all but about 70,000 acres of the pasture that had been set aside for the common use of the Comanche, Kiowa, and Kiowa Apache. They had still been fearsome warriors in 1867, when they met the U.S. peace commissioners at Medicine Lodge Creek and bargained for the best future they could convince the government to let them keep.

Forty years later, they had 17 per cent of it.

Tonkawa Chief Campo. In spite of performing valued service as scouts for the U.S. Army at Fort Griffin, the Tonkawa were removed to Indian Territory after the post closed. View large image.
Carlisle Indian School
Pupils at Carlisle Indian school, Pennsylvania. Established in 1879 by Richard Pratt, the school attempted to assimilate Indian children into the "white man's world" through education and financial support. Among its students were four of Comanche chief Quanah Parker's children and those of others involved in the Texas Indian Wars.

Credits & Sources

The Passing of the Indian Era was written by Steve Dial, Contributing Editor to Texas Beyond History (see Frontier Forts Supporters and Contributors).

Read more about historic Indian groups, including Kiowa and Apache, in the Texas Beyond History exhibits, Native Peoples of the Texas Plateaus and Canyonlands

Print Sources

Betty, Gerald
2002   Comanche Society Before the Reservation, Texas A&M University Press, College

Catlin, George
1926   North American Indians, Vol. II. John Grant, Edinburgh.

Ewers, John C.
1997   "The Influence of Epidemics on the Indian Populations and Cultures of Texas," in John C. Ewers, Plains Indian History and Culture, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

Flores, Dan
1991   "Bison Ecology and Bison Diplomacy: The Southern Plains from 1800 to 1850,"
The Journal of American History, Vol. 78, Issue 2 (September, 1991).

Foster, Morris W. and Martha McCollough
2001   "Plains Apache" in Handbook of North American Indians, Raymond J. DeMallie, ed., Smithsonian Institution, Washington.

Himmel, Kelly F.
1999   The Conquest of the Karankawas and the Tonkawas, 1821-1859, Texas A&M Universsity Press, College Station.

Kavanagh, Thomas W.
2001   "Comanche" in Handbook of North American Indians, Vol 13, Raymond J. DeMallie, ed., Smithsonian Institution, Washington.

Kenner, Charles L.
1969   The Comanchero Frontier: A History of New Mexican-Plains Indian Relations,
University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1994 paperback edition.

Koch, Lena Clara
1922   "The Federal Indian Policy in Texas, 1845-1860," M.A. Thesis, University of Texas. Published in Southwestern Historical Quarterly XXVIII, XXIX, Texas State Historical Association, Austin.

Levy, Jerrold E.
2001   "Kiowa" in Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 13, Raymond J. DeMallie, ed., Smithsonian Institution, Washington.

Marks, Paula Mitchell
1998   In a Barren Land: American Indian Dispossession and Survival, William Morrow and Company, New York.

Mayhall, Mildred P.
1939   The Indians of Texas: The Atakapa, the Karnakawa, the Tonkawa. Doctoral Thesis, The University of Texas at Austin.

Newcomb, W.W., Jr.
1961   The Indians of Texas from Prehistoric to Modern Times, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1984 paperback edition.

1978   German Artist on the Texas Frontier: Friedrich Richard Petri. University of Texas Press. Austin.

2001   "Wichita" in Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 13, Raymond J. DeMallie, ed., Smithsonian Institution, Washington.

Noel, Virginia Pink
1924   The United States Indian Reservations in Texas 1854-1859. Master's thesis, The University of Texas at Austin. Copy on file, TARL Library.

Opler, Morris E.
2001   "Lipan Apache" in Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 13, Raymond J. DeMallie, ed., Smithsonian Institution, Washington.

Smith, David Paul
1992   Frontier Defense in the Civil War: Texas' Rangers and Rebels, Texas A&M University Press.

Wade, Maria F.
2003   The Native Americans of the Texas Edwards Plateau, 1582-1799, University of Texas Press, Austin.

Wallace, Ernest, and E. Adamson Hoebel
1952   The Comanches: Lords of the South Plains, University of Oklahoma Press paperback edition 1986.

Weber, David J.
1982   The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846: The American Southwest Under Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

Well-constructed site with numerous pages about different Indian groups, teachers and kids activities, and links to many other sites.
A good site for kids with information and activities from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Interesting site that has the text of several important treaties, including Camp Holmes, Tehuacana, Little Arkansas, and Medicine Lodge, and the names and divisional affiliations of the signatories, when known.
Extensive list of links to Apache websites.
Handbook of Texas Online. Suggested search topics:

     Apache Indians
     Atakapan Indians
     Caddo Indians
     Cherokee Indians
     Coahuiltecan Indans
     Comanche Indians
     Delaware Indians
     Jumano Indians
     Kickapoo Indians
     Kiowa Apache Indians
     Kiowa Indians
     Seminole Indians
     Tawakoni Indians
     Wichita Indians