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The Comanche Connection

The interconnectedness of the land and the Indians is vitally important to understand how they came to be here in the area of Santa Anna Mountains. Geography shaped how a particular tribe was what it was. There were several distinctive American Indian culture areas by the time Europeans settled in the United States, but the Indians who were here when Europeans got here were broadly called Plains Indians, signifying their style of life as much as where they lived.

We don’t know very much about the prehistoric Indians. The term “prehistoric“ means prior to the time of written history, before the Europeans came. There are a lot of archeologists who argue which group lived where and when, but what we know for a fact is that the pictures in our minds of these earliest Americans riding their ponies chasing the wild buffalo is not correct. They had no horses. Europeans brought the first horses to America. The first people did eat buffalo, but they had to kill them by stealthy attack or by driving them off cliffs. These earliest Americans were nomadic hunter-gatherers, following the available game on foot from place to place.

The first Indians we can definitely identify as living here were the Apaches, probably Lipan or Mescalero. Spaniards came into Texas to establish a mission (church) to Christianize these people. Spanish soldiers who garrisoned in a presidio (fort) nearby came along to protect the priests. The closest mission we positively know of was Mission San Saba, near present-day Menard, with its attendant Presidio San Saba. Both the mission and presidio were wiped out, along with the Apaches living there, in 1758 by a combined force of Comanche, Wichita, and Tonkawa. The event is recorded in the rock art paintings at Paint Rock. There is some oral history that there was a mission established near Santa Anna just north of the mountain, but so far no evidence of that has been found.

According to the Handbook of Texas, Spanish officials in the northeast frontier province of New Mexico recorded the first Comanches in this region in 1706. In 1743, a small scouting party in search of enemy Lipan Apache showed up at the Spanish settlement of San Antonio de Bexar. This is the first documented account of Comanche in Texas. There were no hostilities, but the Comanche were already aware that the Spaniards were allies with the Apache and so were distrustful of them.

The southwardly advancing Comanche soon pressured the Apache into moving away to the south and west, primarily into present-day New Mexico. When the Comanche acquired the horse, it was pretty much all over for their enemies. It seems as if the Comanche were made for the horse– and the horse for the Comanche. Comanches said they only let the Spanish live in their region to raise horses for them. They perfected the stealing of horses to an art form.  Probably the most aggressive horse thieves in the Southern Plains, a Comanche warrior couldn’t have too many horses. Many experts say the Comanche were the finest example of light cavalry in history. Most of the original Texas Rangers heartily agreed with that.