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← The last chief of the Comanches and the fall of an empire - Dustin Tahmahkera

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Showing Revision 3 created 06/12/2020 by lauren mcalpine .

  1. Late one night in 1871, a group of riders
    descended on a sleeping army camp.
  2. In minutes they stirred the camp
    into a panic,
  3. stole about 70 horses,
    and disappeared.
  4. Led by a young chief
    named Quanah Parker,

  5. the raid was the latest
    in a long series of altercations
  6. along the Texas frontier
    between the indigenous people
  7. known as the Numunu,
    or Comanches,
  8. and the United States forces sent
    to steal Comanche lands
  9. for white settlers.
  10. Though the conflict was decades old,
  11. U.S. Colonel Ranald MacKenzie
    led the latest iteration.
  12. From summer to winter, he tracked Quanah.
  13. But Quanah was also tracking him,
  14. and each time the colonel
    drew near his targets,
  15. they disappeared without
    a trace into the vast plains.
  16. The Comanches had controlled
    this territory for nearly 200 years,

  17. hunting buffalo and moving whole villages
    around the plains.
  18. They suppressed Spanish and Mexican
    attacks from the south,
  19. attempts to settle the land
    by the United States from the east,
  20. and numerous other indigenous peoples’
    bids for power.
  21. The Comanche Empire was not
    one unified group under central control,
  22. but rather a number of bands,
    each with its own leaders.
  23. What all of these bands had in common
    was their prowess as riders—
  24. every man, woman, and child
    was adept on horseback.
  25. Their combat skills on horseback
  26. far surpassed those of both
    other indigenous peoples and colonists,
  27. allowing them to control an enormous area
    with relatively few people—
  28. probably about 40,000 at their peak
  29. and only about 4-5,000 by the time
  30. Quanah Parker and Ranald Mackenzie
    faced off.
  31. Born around 1848, Quanah
    was the eldest child of Peta Nocona,

  32. a leader of the Nokoni band,
    and Cynthia Ann Parker,
  33. a kidnapped white settler who assimilated
    with the Comanches
  34. and took the name Naduah.
  35. When Quanah was a preteen,
  36. U.S. forces ambushed his village,
    capturing his mother and sister.
  37. Quanah and his younger brother sought
    refuge with a different Comanche band,
  38. the Quahada.
  39. In the years that followed, Quanah
    proved himself as a warrior and leader.

  40. In his early twenties, he and a young
    woman named Weakeah eloped,
  41. enraging her powerful father
    and several other leaders.
  42. They stayed on the run for a year,
  43. attracting followers and establishing
    Quanah as a paraibo, or chief,
  44. at an exceptionally young age.
  45. Under his leadership the Quahada band
    was able to elude the U.S. military
  46. and continue their way of life.
  47. But in the early 1870s, the East Coast
    market for buffalo hides became lucrative,
  48. and hunters slaughtered millions
    of buffalo in just a few years.
  49. Meanwhile, U.S. forces led
    a surprise attack,
  50. killing nearly all the Quahada band’s
    1,400 horses and stealing the rest.
  51. Though he had vowed to never surrender,
    Quanah knew that without bison or horses,
  52. the Comanches faced
    certain starvation in winter.
  53. So in 1875 Quanah
    and the Quahada band
  54. moved to the Fort Sill reservation
    in Oklahoma.
  55. As hunter-gatherers,
    they could not transition easily

  56. to an agricultural way of life
    on the reservation.
  57. The U.S. government had promised
    rations and supplies,
  58. but what they provided
    was wildly insufficient.
  59. Quanah, meanwhile, was suddenly
    in a weak political position:
  60. he had no wealth or power
    compared to others
  61. who had been
    on the reservation longer.
  62. Still, he saw an opportunity.
  63. The reservation included ample grasslands—
  64. useless to the Comanches but perfect
    for cattle ranchers to graze their herds.
  65. He began a profitable arrangement
    leasing the land to cattle ranchers,
  66. quietly at first.
  67. Eventually, he negotiated leasing rights
    with the U.S. government,
  68. which ensured a steady source of income
    for the Comanches on the reservation.
  69. As Quanah’s status on the reservation

  70. and recognition from government officials
    grew,
  71. he secured better rations,
  72. advocated for the construction
    of schools and houses,
  73. and became one of three tribal judges
    on the reservation court.
  74. Tired of speaking with multiple leaders,
  75. the U.S. government wanted to appoint
    one chief of all Comanches—
  76. a role that hadn’t existed
    outside the reservation.
  77. Still, many Comanches supported
    Quanah for this role,
  78. just as several older leaders
    had supported him
  79. to lead them against
    the U.S. armed forces.
  80. Even Quanah’s former adversary,
    Ranald MacKenzie,
  81. advocated for his appointment.
  82. Quanah acted in Hollywood movies
    and befriended American politicians,

  83. riding in Theodore Roosevelt’s
    inauguration parade.
  84. Still, he never cut his long braids
  85. and advocated for the Native American
    Church and the use of peyote.
  86. He began to go by Quanah Parker,
    adopting his mother’s surname,
  87. and tried to track down
    his mother and sister,
  88. eventually learning they had both
    died shortly after their capture.
  89. Quanah adapted again and again—
    to different worlds, different roles,

  90. and circumstances that would seem
    insurmountable to most.
  91. Though he wasn’t without critics,
    after Quanah’s passing,
  92. Comanches began using the term “chairman”
  93. to designate the top elected official
    in the tribe,
  94. recognizing him
    as the last chief of the Comanches
  95. and a model of cultural
    survival and adaptation.
  96. In that spirit, today’s Comanche Nation
    looks towards the future,
  97. with over 16,000 enrolled citizens
    and countless descendants.