The Numunu are known to most of the world as the Comanche, the Lords of the Plains. Their traditional homeland encompasses the Northern Plains areas of their Shoshone relatives, all the way south past the Rio Grande into present-day Mexico. They lived a life of following the buffalo upon horseback and fought the U.S. Army, buffalo hunters and Texas Rangers in order to preserve that way of life.
The last of the Comanche families to leave the Plains arrived at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1875. The leader who stepped up to lead the Comanche into the reservation and post-reservation period was Quanah Parker, who was equally adept at negotiating deals with Texas cattle barons as he was with conducting Native American Church meetings.
Today, Comanche Nation enrollment equals 15,191, with their tribal complex located near Lawton, Oklahoma within the original reservation boundaries that they share with the Kiowa and Apache in Southwest Oklahoma. Their global contributions include serving as Code Talkers in World War II, using their language in the Allied invasion of Normandy against the Nazis.
Indian Country Today Media Network asked Juanita Pahdopony, a noted artist and Dean of Academic Affairs Emeritus of Comanche Nation College, to share what she knew about the Comanche that other people may not know. “These are some of the things that I’ve loved about the Comanche,” she said.
Our ancestors reflected on the future and thought of the ones “we’d never see.”
Pahdopony refers to the Comanche as “long range planners.” Within today’s Comanche Nation, there are tribal services that start with the youngest—Comanche Nation Daycare—to the eldest, with the newly created Edith Kassanavoid Gordon Assisted Living Center. Other Comanche programs include reintegration, language classes, youth programs and health initiatives.
Comanche valued modesty: When warriors went into battle, they went in pairs because one could return and report for one who may not. A warrior never “bragged” on his or her own brave deeds.
The most common greeting in the Comanche language is Marauwe—“Report.” This goes back to those times of warriors coming back from somewhere and reporting what they observed.
Bands were comprised of families. When a man married, he left his family and went with his wife’s family.
The Comanche traveled in many bands, with many of these bands still referenced today when Comanche talk about their family background. These include the Nokoni N
uu, Kuhtsutuuka, and Kwaaru Nuu.
No one walked behind a warrior or a medicine man.
The honoring of warriors and medicine people still continues to this day within the Comanche Nation. Organizations such as the Comanche Indian Veterans Association serve as co-hosts at powwows and serve as color guard not only for Comanche celebrations but also at funerals of Comanche veterans and active military. Also, leaders within the Comanche Native American Church continue to pray for the Comanche people.
In some bands, women never touched eagle feathers.
The Comanche people have a high degree of respect for eagle feathers and their use in prayer. Sia is the Comanche Nation Ethno-Ornithological Initiative that works to study and rehabilitate eagles from all over the world.
Comanche were communal people and were highly social. This continues today.
Two of the largest annual gatherings for the Comanche include Comanche Homecoming, held in July at Walters, Oklahoma, and Comanche Nation Fair, a week celebration usually held in September on the ground of the Comanche Nation Complex. Every four years, the Comanche Nation hosts the Shoshone Reunion.
A black velvet dress with cowrie shells was a dress for “the only daughter” because shells were a trade item and not common on the plains.
Today’s Comanche women’s dance regalia include buckskin and a wide range of material for “Southern Cloth.” This can include velvet, wool broadcloth, cotton and satin.
In traditional families, no one ate “the last bite” because it “was for a warrior.”
“When I was a child,” Pahdopony said, “I asked if someone wanted the last piece of something…my father said, ‘Are you a warrior?’”
In the summer, a seventeen-year locust was placed in the mouth of an infant or young child so they would grow up to be “fine singers!”
Music is central to Comanche life. Whether it’s powwow songs from the Wild Band of Comanches, flute music from Cornel Pewewardy, hymns in the Comanche language from Marla Nauni or handgame songs from Camp 7, music is at the core. At the Comanche Nation Fair, gospel and rock concerts also have a stage during the week.
The Penatuka or “Quick Striking” (Wasp Band/Honey Eaters) took wasps and allowed themselves to be stung up and down their arms to ride into battle in a rage!
Everyone from historians to novelists to Hollywood directors try to depict or re-enact the Comanche in battle. Yet, can any of them truly do the Comanche justice? Mass media throughout the years talk about the Texas Rangers bringing “order” to the West. However, there is an anecdote that puts this in perspective. A Comanche man saw a modern-day Texas Ranger at an airport. The Comanche man approached the Ranger and said, “If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t be here.”