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Comanche Society

Before the Reservation

By Gerald Betty

Publication Year: 2005

Once called the Lords of the Plains, the Comanches were long portrayed as loose bands of marauding raiders who capitalized on the Spanish introduction of horses to raise their people out of primitive poverty through bison hunting and fierce warfare. More recent studies of the Comanches have focused on adaptation and persistence in Comanche lifestyles and on Comanche political organization and language-based alliances. In Comanche Society: Before the Reservation, Gerald Betty develops an exciting and sophisticated perspective on the driving force of Comanche life: kinship. Betty details the kinship patterns that underlay all social organization and social behavior among the Comanches and uses the insights gained to explain the way Comanches lived and the way they interacted with the Europeans who recorded their encounters. Rather than a narrative history of the Comanches, this account presents analyses of the formation of clans and the way they functioned across wide areas to produce cooperation and alliances; of hierarchy based in family and generational relationships; and of ancestor worship and related religious ceremonies as the basis for social solidarity. The author then considers a number of aspects of Comanche life—pastoralism, migration and nomadism, economics and trade, warfare and violence—and how these developed along kinship lines. In considering how and why Comanches adopted the Spanish horse pastoralism, Betty demonstrates clearly that pastoralism was an expression of indigenous culture, not the cause of it. He describes in detail the Comanche horse culture as it was observed by the Spaniards and the Indian adaptation of Iberian practices. In this context, he looks at the kinship basis of inheritance practices, which, he argues, undergirded private ownership of livestock. Drawing on obscure details buried in Spanish accounts of their time in the lands that became known as Comanchería, Betty provides an interpretive gaze into the culture of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Comanches that offers new organizing principles for the information that had been gathered previously. This is cutting-edge history, drawing not only on original research in extensive primary documents but also on theoretical perspectives from other disciplines.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

title page

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x


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pp. x

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pp. 3-12

Quanah Parker is perhaps the most widely recognized and celebrated Comanche Indian to have ever lived. Why is this? We know very little about Quanah’s life prior to his settling upon the Comanche and Kiowa Reservation in the southwestern corner...

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Chapter 1 Comanche Kinship and Society

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pp. 13-45

Meeting sometime in November, 1785, at a place along the Arkansas River called La Casa de Palo, various Cuchanec (Cuchantica), Jupe, and Yamparica Comanche clans discussed the prospects of forging a general peace with the inhabitants of Spanish New Mexico.1 Several...

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Chapter 2 Comanche Migration and Geographic Mobility

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pp. 46-73

On November 19, 1828, French naturalist Jean Louis Berlandier, Francisco Ruíz, and about thirty Mexican dragoons accompanied a party of “fifty to eighty Comanches” led by Chiefs Quelluna (Keiuna ) and El Ronco as they departed in a north-northwesterly direction from the presidio of Béxar. Berlandier had been anxious to explore...

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Chapter 3 Comanche Horse Pastoralism

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pp. 74-95

The rustling sounds of urgency startled Cristóbal Torres from his midnight sleep. The calm tension that had settled over New Mexico’s Rio Arriba jurisdiction on the evening of August 22 epitomized all frontier settlements in New Spain and thus gave...

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Chapter 4 The Nature of Comanche Economics

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pp. 96-120

In 1776 Fr. Fray Francisco Atanasio Domínguez detailed the commercial activity he witnessed among Comanches and New Mexicans at Taos. He noted that the Indians entered the pueblo particularly at times when they “are on their good behavior.” During...

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Chapter 5 An Explanation of Comanche Violence

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pp. 121-138

Cowhead Mesa in southwestern Garza County, Texas, has been described as “a typical bread-loaf-shaped western mesa, indistinguishable at a glance from dozens of others in [the] canyonlands [of the upper Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River].” Geologically...

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pp. 139-144

Students of Comanche behavior have tended to understand it as the result of an adaptation to various environmental conditions. This type of interpretation has given rise to the perception that Comanche society developed in response to the climatic and economic...

Appendix 1

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pp. 145-150

Appendix 2

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pp. 151-176

Appendix 3

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pp. 177-178


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pp. 179-214


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pp. 215-226


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pp. 227-239

E-ISBN-13: 9781603446075
E-ISBN-10: 1603446079
Print-ISBN-13: 9781585444915
Print-ISBN-10: 158544491X

Page Count: 252
Illustrations: 2 line drawings. 8 maps.
Publication Year: 2005