Comanches and Spaniards, War and Peace in the Wild West
The Comanches, owning horses, became skilled riders. They began their expansion with the firearms of French and English merchants
+ Hispanic Footprints
They displaced other tribes to New Spain
The Comanches, armed by the French, drove the Apaches and other tribes south.
New Mexico and Texas saw an increasing indigenous presence from other territories.
The Spanish met and sometimes had to fight the American Comanches, heavily armed by the French, with firearms.
From the North came the Comanches chasing the Apaches, who fled to Northern Mexico
Comanches arrive in New Spain and attack the north
Northern Mexico threatened
The northern border area of Mexico is disrupted with new visitors putting pressure on the former indigenous peoples of the area. From the great plains to the north came the Comanches. A very dangerous group of Indians, since they had horses and firearms provided by French and English merchants.
Mounted on horseback they could travel great distances and be able to attack organized in large groups of rider. They combined bow and arrows with spears and firearms.
Platter River map, showing the traditional territories of the Comanches, before moving to New Spain and Texas
Traditional Comanche territories
The Platte River tributary of the Missouri and the French
Its area of influence was initially around the Platte River. The entire river basin is located between Wyoming, Nebraska, and Colorado. In this area they contacted French merchants, who did the business buying skins and selling firearms. Later the exchange was also that of Spanish horses in exchange for weapons.
Comanches and Utes attack others
Fascinated by horses
They occupy the area between the Platte River and the Arkansas River. They are already closer to the Spanish territories. His great discovery were horses. and they are fascinated by them and their possibilities. They will soon become expert riders.
Comanche on horseback and his tent or Tipi, which they could quickly assemble and disassemble
They expel the indigenous Picuris (1706)
The Picuris ask Spain for help
The Picuris, a very proud people, who had moved north for not complying with Spanish sovereignty, are attacked by the Comanches. Faced with the repeated attacks by the Comanches, they feel in danger and decide to return again to the territories of New Spain, seeking the protection of the Spanish troops.
Comanches and Utes Alliance
Apache villages attack
The Apaches (Jicarillos) are evicted from their Colorado lands and enter Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas.
Spain destroys its town (1716)
Comanches near Santa Fé
The installation of a Comanche town near Santa Fe creates uncertainty about his future intentions. And before the rumors of its dangerousness and for getting too close to Santa Fé, troops are sent that destroy the Comanche town, taking the survivors prisoners.
They steal horses (1719)
Punishment expedition to Colorado
New Spain does not allow its territories to be attacked. For this reason, before the Comanches raids to steal horses, a punitive expedition is sent. Although they reach Northern Colorado they do not find settlements.
Villasur Expedition (1720)
Failure and a hard blow for New Spain
This unforeseen defeat was a failure. It was found that they no longer fought against indigenous people with their traditional weapons. The French, in their attempts to enter and trade with the natives, had armed them with firearms. It was found that among the natives there were French advising against the Spanish.
Cuera’s Dragons Exterminated
By Indians armed by the French
Faced with the avalanche of Indians who took refuge in the colonized territories of New Spain, it is feared that the French are arming some tribes of Indians. And under the pressure of these other tribes flee to New Spain.
An expedition of troops and soldiers on horseback (Dragones de Cuera) is sent, led by Villasur. Travel 800 km looking for French merchants to capture them. Crossing the Platte River they try to negotiate with the Pawnee villages, but when they see the very violent natives they withdraw.
During the night the Spanish camp is attacked by armed Indians. The few Spanish survivors blamed the French.
Lying on the rocks, a group of Comanches watch out for intruders who arrive on their territory.
French merchants and firearms
(1740-1747) A deal with the Comanches and others
French merchants had been introduced from Canada via the Mississippi and the Louisiana territories. But not content with it, they sought to further expand their radius of action and entered territories under the sovereignty of Spain.
To promote trade with the indigenous people, they provide them with what they value most, firearms. During these years, especially French merchants exchanged firearms in exchange for Spanish horses.
Until 1779 there were attacks
They roamed the Spanish Royal Road
The Spanish Royal Ways were the highways of the time. They connected the different important populations of each area and thanks to them, transfers and trade could be more fluid and safe. There were several royal roads that end up reaching the capital of Mexico. That is why people and goods circulated.
Spanish Punitive Expeditions
New Spain suffered more or less continuous Comanche attacks on ranches and missions. Initially it was to get horses. Later, every European object could be good, including women and children. They were used as concubines and servants, the children were raised as warriors.
More Apache and Comanche tribes
Danger in New Mexico and Texas
As of the year 1706, the pressure exerted by the Comanches made other Indian peoples, including the dangerous Apaches, move to their territory. The work achieved by Spain for 200 years with its network of missions and presidios was in jeopardy.
It was necessary to start over with these new indigenous peoples if they were to be evangelized and incorporated into European civilization.
By moving to Texas, they endangered the peace of Texas
The massacre of Santa Cruz de San Sabá (1758)
Attack on Mission San Sabá
Looking for the Apaches they found the Spanish mission
More than 2,000 Comanches and other allied tribes showed up at the Franciscan mission. Exceptionally, the mission had been built several km from the prison, which prevented the religious from taking refuge there.
The Comanches killed the religious men and everyone they encountered, including friendly Indians. The prison withstood the attack but lost a part of its leather Dragon soldiers.
Party of Comanches on horseback. They were very skilled riders
Ravaged by the Comanches
Destruction of the mission of San Sabá and the martyrdom of the Fathers Fray Alonso Giraldo de Terreros and Fray José de Santiesteban
The Mission of Sabá was destroyed by the Comanches since it had no protection, for rejecting the presence of the Cuera Dragons with the missionaries
This fact corroborated the opinion that neither Apaches nor Comanches could be evangelized. For this reason, the expansion of Texas towards the Mississippi was abandoned for years. It created such fear that it was thought Texas could be lost to continued Comanche attacks.
Spanish counterattack with poor results
Fortified indian village
Surprise to find yourself in front of a French fortification
Any Indian attack had reprisals from the Spanish troops. But in this case from the beginning it was seen that the situation was different. The Comanches had come to San Sabá with many of their warriors with guns and on horseback.
The Spanish expedition from San Antonio de Bexar left, with regular troops from Mexico and veteran leather dragons. After traveling hundreds of km they reached an Indian village where they killed a few dozen and took several dozen more prisoners. They recovered more than 100 horses from those stolen in San Sabá.
But the surprise came when, following a party of Indians, they arrived at a fortified town with a moat around it. In the center of the town the French flag was waving.
The Indians were entrenched armed with their muskets awaiting the Spanish attack. Faced with those fortifications and the moat, an attack with horses was useless. After some skirmishes and after losing almost a hundred soldiers, the Spanish troops withdrew.
This Spaniard of Basque origin, has created a new route between New Mexico and California. He has led an expedition of 250 Spanish settlers to Monterry, accompanied by cattle and horses. These would create the future city of San Francisco. This expedition was fundamental in the colonization of California, by consolidating a land route from the interior to it (Ruta Anza).
With the arrival of Juan Bautista de Anza, who was Governor of New Mexico, between the years 1778 and 1788, by order of King Carlos III, the situation changed completely. The reports he got from the previous governor were disastrous as Comanches roamed the territories of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico with impunity. Performing all kinds of outrages. They were no longer content to trade in horses, meat, and bison hides in exchange for firearms, knives, and rewards for the slaves they captured.
The capital Santa Fé itself was at risk. The nearest towns Pecos and Galisteo lived in such a dangerous situation that the population had been reduced by half. And its inhabitants lived in terrible conditions due to lack of food. The Spanish settlers notified the governor, they lived under a permanent risk that the Comanches would attack their ranches and kidnap their children. Either action was taken or they would leave the area and return to Spain. The northern area of New Spain would be abandoned.
The best way to gain prestige and rise in the hierarchy among the Comanches depended on their warrior actions. The most important Comanche chief was Greenhorn, who does not stop making raids.
Greenhorn dies (1779)
Arza decides to finish off the Comanches using his same methods. For decades the Spanish have had contact with the Comanches and know where they place their camps. They are remote places with guarded accesses. They decide to attack their camps. There was such a shortage of firearms that even the Spanish went to the Taos market to buy weapons from the Comanches. Weapons that the French sold to the Comanches, in exchange for furs and to leave their Louisiana territories in peace.
Anza begins by training the troops, and accustoming them to using the Indian tactics that they already know, but do not use much even though they are also natives of the territory. The Cuera Dragons were soldiers whose essential condition for their recruitment was that they were born in the area, accustomed to the harsh life of those territories and of Indian customs.
He concentrates 600 Hispanic soldiers and some Apaches. It does not follow a direct route, it takes a long detour through a mountainous area, where Utes and Apaches Indians live. He manages to bring in about 200 Apaches and Utes, traditional enemies of the Comanches, all ready to find and kill them. In a long pursuit, carrying out a night march, without lighting bonfires so as not to betray his presence and covering the horses’ hooves with cloth so as not to make noise, he managed to reach the area.
After locating the town, he discovers that most of the warriors had left to attack Taos. He decides to attack his town. Greenhorn receives the news of the attack and rushes back. The Spanish have prepared an ambush in which a large number of their own fall.
Although Green Crow manages to flee, he is later captured. Other chiefs are caught as well. At last the most dangerous and warlike tribe of the Comanches has been defeated and their chief has died in battle.
After the successes of the Spanish troops, peace is reached
Agreement in New Mexico (1785)
And another later agreement between Utes and Comanches (1786)
Cuervo Verde’s death discouraged the Comanches, who suffered each year from Spanish retaliatory expeditions. Arza refused to sign peace agreements with each of the Comanche tribes. He demanded a joint agreement with all of them.
The chiefs led the Comanches. Ecueracapa or Chainmail. son of Green Horn, named for the cape that he wore made with the Cueras or leather breastplates, protections worn by the Spanish soldiers on horseback (Dragones de Cuera). Despite the fact that his father had died at the hands of the Spaniards, he was proclaiming the signing of peace.
The other chief, White Bull, led the Comanches in favor of revenge and of continuing the fight against the Spanish. This division among the Comanches the Ecueracapa solution, that he saw that there was no way out with the war. He murdered White Bull and was sent to make peace.
At once. Anza had already signed peace agreements with all of them, the other tribes, Utes, Pueblo, etc. This cornered the Comanches, since all these tribes would come together with the Spanish before a new war. A peace was signed with the Comanches. After more than 80 years of Comanche raids, peace has come. Following the signing of the Comanches peace, the Navajos are quick to do the same.
After this signature, it also forces the Apaches to sign, knowing that the Spanish also have as allies not only the Pueblo, Navajos and Utes, but also the Comanches.
This would completely change the relationship with the indigenous population of Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, etc.