The Comanche

Plains: Comanche, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Caddo, Wichita, Pawnee

Recorded and Edited by Willard Rhodes
Folk Music Of The United States Issued from the Collections of the Archive of American Folk Song L39
Of the many Indian tribes that roamed the Southern Plains during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, none was more feared than the Comanche, who were noted for their "mastery of the swooping raid, the sudden strike, and the clever retreat." The tribe was a loose federation of several bands, related by language and culture, that operated more or less independently.

Prior to their acquisition of the horse, they lived in the Rocky Mountains as hunters, supplementing their diet with wild berries, fruits, and edible roots. Just when and how the Comanche acquired horses is not known, but the available evidence indicates some time after 1600. According to Wallace and Hoebel, "In horses they were the richest of all tribes; in fact they introduced the horse into the plains and they were the medium through which most other Indians received their mounts (at the expense of the Texans and Mexicansy "

The acquisition of the horse had a revolutionary effect upon the economy and culture of the Plains tribes, for it afforded them a mobility that they had never been able to enjoy when they traveled by foot and depended upon dogs for the transportation of their camp equipment. Now the Plains Indian could ride great distances in pursuit of the migratory buffalo and provide his family with plenty of food, shelter, and clothing. But they had a bigger interest-the raiding of both whites and other Indian tribes for horses, women, and children. Since the spectacular and daring raids resulted in booty that far exceeded the needs of the band, one must infer that they were initiated for the sake of gamesmanship and for the prestige that accompanied success.

Around 1790 the Comanche made a peace agreement with the Kiowa, their strongest rival. The mid-nineteenth century was a period of expansion for the United States that contributed to the problems of the Indians. Relations between Texans and Comanche were mutually distrustful, and incidents resulting from misunderstandings did not change the relationship. Following a period in which the Republic of Texas maintained its independence under the presidency of Sam Houston, Texas was admitted to the United States in 1846.

In 1849 the Southern Comanche were plagued with epidemics of smallpox and cholera that took the lives of two of their most prominent peace chiefs. After years of warfare with other tribes and with the United States, the Comanche, with the Kiowa and Kiowa-Apache, met in council with high-ranking officials of the United States at Medicine Lodge Creek in Kansas in October 1867. After lengthy conferences, the chiefs accepted a treaty that set aside 2,968,393 acres for a reservation of the three tribes that became officially confederated.

With the other Plains tribes, the Comanche shared certain traits that distinguished the culture of this area, the use of the horse, the buffalo hunt, and the tipi. But they never developed military societies nor did they adopt the Sun Dance, both of which are found among most of the Plains tribes.

Living in small autonomous bands or family groups under the leadership of a headman, the Comanche did not function politically as a tribe. They were conscious of belonging to a larger group of people like themselves, but they seem not to have had the sense of tribal solidarity necessary for concerted political action. There was no annual ceremony to bring all the bands together as the Sun Dance did for the Sioux and other Plains tribes. In temperament they were extremely individualistic, and their atomistic social organization was of little help to them in withstanding the advances of an alien civilization.

In a final and desperate effort to rally the Comanche, a Sun Dance was held in 1874 at the instigation of the prophet Coyote Droppings, the first and last time in all their history when "the people" were together as one. But it was too late to save the tribe. The rapidly diminishing herds of buffalo and the settlement of the land by white emigrants rendered impossible the old Comanche way of life.

Following the uprising of 1874-75, the last starving straggling band of Comanches surrendered at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and accepted settlement on the reservation which had been assigned them at Medicine Lodge Creek.

In the early reservation period there emerged a leader who commanded Indians and whites alike, Quanah Parker (1845-1911), His influence in this difficult transitional period of the Comanche and their associated tribes gives him an honored position in Indian history.

Mooney estimated the Comanche population to have been seven thousand in 1690. By 1910 they had dwindled to 1,717.

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Native Words



Comanche Raid Song The "Comanche Raid Song" opens with a war cry and the following speech by the leader of the party: "We are going on a warpath. All of you sing. You are going to see a land that you have never seen before. We are going to enjoy a feast on a young colt." Comanche
Comanche Christian Hymn The Christian missions brought to the Indians not only the Bible and its teachings but also a repertoire of Christian hymns that were translated into the local native language and taught to the Indians. Though the translated text of the hymns carried their meaning to the Indians, the musical style of the hymns was completely foreign to them. Eventually the Indians began to create their own hymnody, songs with their own original texts and with original tunes that bore a genetic relationship to the style of their traditional music. The "Comanche Christian hymn"(A2) is typical of this genre.

Many of the hymns are the creation of women and are "received" in dreams. The source of inspiration recalls that of the Plains vision quest and also that of Walter's "Prize Song" in Wagner's opera Die Meistersinger.

The melody, limited to a scale of four tones, C A F D, extends over a range of a tenth (an octave and a minor third). It develops as a series of interlocking thirds with movement both upward and downward. The cadential phrase, A D, is nicely resolved with a descending interval of a fourth, F C. The overall descending movement of the melody with its terraced phrases is characteristic of the style of Plains music.
Listen to Jesus, He is calling us,
From earth to heaven, we will go.

Listen to Jesus, He is calling us,
From earth to heaven we will go
From earth to heaven we will go.

Listen to Jesus, He is calling us,
From earth to heaven we will go.
Comanche Round Dance Song Indian singers have taken great delight in fitting English words to some of their traditional songs and in making new songs with English words. Though the repertoire of songs in this category is small compared to the bulk of traditional material in the native languages, it is a sizable volume and one that is steadily growing. To younger Indians who have never experienced the Indian way of life in its fullness of expression and its proud glory, these songs serve as a link with their cultural heritage.

Most of these songs are love songs like the popular songs of radio, television, and movies, and serve as music for dancing or singing. Songs of this type are widely diffused among the Indians of Oklahoma and have found favor among the Navajo, the Pueblos, particularly Taos, and some of the Plains tribes. Inasmuch as the Indian tribes settled in Oklahoma in the nineteenth century and have been in close association with one another for the greater part of a century, it is difficult, if not impossible, to designate the modem songs as belonging to any one tribe.

During this period of constant and accelerated acculturation, tribal differences have tended to lose their sharp outlines. This is especially true of the music. As tribal ceremonies have been abandoned, the songs which constituted the core of the tribal rituals have fallen into disuse and have been forgotten, only to be replaced by the modem secular, intertribal songs.

As to the provenience of the "Comanche Round Dance Song," Mrs. Minnie Bointy, Comanche, said, "I don't know where I got the song, but I worked out the words." Although I have listed the song as Comanche, it would be more nearly correct to classify it as a modern intertribal song. Mrs.
Katherine Wolfe, who sings with Mrs. Bointy, is a member of the Wichita tribe.
He ya he yo, ya he e
He ya he yo, ya he e
He ya he yo, ya he e
I am very lonesome,
I am very lonesome,
Many days have gone by,
Through the hills I look for you.
I tell the stars in heaven
That I love you.
Praise and love me, sweetheart,
In my dreams I think of you.
He ya he yo, ya he e.
Comanche 49 Song The "Comanche 49 Song" is in the style of the preceding song (A3). The text follows: He yai yo, he yai yo
He ya ho we, ya he ya
I don't care where you go
What you do
I can do just the same.