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5.1.5 Comanche Feats of Horsemanship

Catlin, George
1834-1835
Painting

George Catlin, Comanche Feats of Horsemanship, 1834-1835, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr., 1985.66.487

Comanche people lived in a large area in the southern Great Plains. Comanche people organized themselves into local family-based groups (called bands) that were generally independent from each other. The Comanche grew to be very powerful, especially after they adopted horses in the early 1700s. The Comanche were nomadic; they moved from place to place, and hunted and traded bison. They also raided other Native and European villages for food and goods. The strength of the Comanche helped them to control their territory in the 1700s and 1800s. Based on viewing this picture, how do you think horses were important to Comanche social and political organization?

The Comanche relied on horses as a central part of their social, economic, and political organization in the 1700s and 1800s. Access to horses changed the way that Comanche people lived. Native people in the southern Great Plains region (eastern Arizona, New Mexico, southern Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas) gained access to horses brought by the Spanish following the Pueblo Revolt in 1680. Over time, Comanche people developed considerable wealth based on bison hunting and trading as well as by raiding tribes and European settlements for captives (slaves) to sell. The Comanche did not have one single leader; rather, they organized themselves into family-based bands on local levels. Encourage students to consider the ways that horse culture supported the local organization of nomadic Comanche people.