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Comanche Pitek, Emily


Historically, the Comanche inhabited the southern Great Plains region of what is now the United States, including southeastern Colorado, eastern New Mexico, western Oklahoma, and western Texas (Gelo and Abate, 2009). This area was restricted with the 1865 Treaty of the Little Arkansas, which bound many Comanche to the Texas panhandle area, and later the Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty of 1867, which outlined a joint Kiowa-Comanche-Apache reservation in Oklahoma. However, many Comanche did not reside on reservations until forced to by an army campaign in 1874-1875. This entry focuses on the Comanche around the time of 1870, reconstructing life prior to the reservation era and consequent culture change. At this time, the Comanche lived in autonomous, nomadic bands, following the seasonal movements of the buffalo—a key source of subsistence and materials necessary for life on the plains. “The Comanche band, or local group, ranged in size from a single family camping alone, through the small camp of related individuals who formed a composite extended family, up to the large band of several hundred persons” (Hoebel, 1940:11). Band size changed depending on the season, with larger bands functioning as a unit only in the summer months. Regardless of size, each band (or local group) had a permanent leader, typically an individual who possessed great importance and ability. When bands came together in the summer, the leaders formed a council and selected one individual as leader for the season with the others serving as an advisory council. Generally, the Comanche religion was not a formal, communal matter as “there was no religious organization, no theocracy, no priestly class, no dogma” (Wallace and Hoebel, 1952:155). However, religion remained an important aspect of Comanche life, and this entry considers the religious group to be coterminous with Comanche society. A high god known as the Great Spirit is described as an omniscient and omnipotent creator deity associated with the sun. The Great Spirit is generally otiose in nature, and acts through inferior spirits. The sun, Earth, and moon are also viewed as deities. Other supernatural beings include Thunderbird, spirits of the deceased, dwarf people, and guardian spirits. Vision quests are not mandatory, but most individuals participate. During a vision quest, individuals isolate themselves for several days, fasting and attempting to derive supernatural power (medicine) through “a mystic visitation, a dream phenomenon, or hallucinatory experience” (Wallace and Hoebel, 1952:155). In a successful vision quest, a guardian spirit will appear to an individual, often in the form of an animal, and transfer supernatural power. Although full-time religious practitioners are not present among the Comanche, individuals known as medicine men have acquired a large amount of supernatural powers (medicine), which can be used for curing, rainmaking, and divination.

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Attribution 4.0 International