Brown bag lecture looks at Comanche people and their captives

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The Associate Professor of History at Texas State University Joaquín Rivaya-Martínez spoke to faculty and students yesterday about the Comanche Indians at the DeGolyer Library as part of the Clements Center for Southwest Studies Brown Bag Lecture Series.

Comanche people lived mainly in the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas, as well as southwestern Kansas. According to Rivaya-Martínez, they were “the main providers of horses to other Plains people” and “long distance raiders and traders.”

Rivaya-Martínez found that “much less research has been done on Comanches,” but they are “more important for the history of America.” He also said that past research has “neglected the Indian perspective.”

For his research, Rivaya-Martínez used documents form France, Spain and the United States. He also interviewed Comanche people living in Oklahoma.

Comanche tribes took most of their American captives in the 19th century and captured people from other Native American groups before the 19th century, said Rivaya-Martínez. When the population of the Comanche people declined around 1780, the “percentage of captives in Comanche camps kept growing,” Rivaya-Martínez noted.

One explanation of this population drop, said Rivaya-Martínez, could be that only about 11 percent of captives were adopted and remained a Comanche for their entire lives. The rest of the captives were either ransomed or recovered by American military encounters, Rivaya-Martínez said.

To understand Comanche motives for taking captives, Rivaya-Martínez looked at Comanche language referring to captives. They were often referred to as “my captive person” or “worker.” Rivaya-Martínez said that the Comanche people saw their captives mainly as property or slaves.

Captives were taken based on the captor’s needs, according to Rivaya-Martínez. He said Comanche people “occasionally tortured [captives] in order to instill fear and create dependency.” Captives were usually six to 12-year-old males. Rivaya-Martínez claimed this is because “they were old enough to punish, but young enough to assimilate.”

Slavery in the Comanche tribe was not heredity and not always permanent, according to Rivaya-Martínez, but captives had no rights.

Most captives were eventually adopted by their captors and given Comanche names, Rivaya-Martínez said. Female captives could then marry a Comanche but were considered low-status wives until they had children. After assimilation captives were treated like full-blood Comanches but could have their wives and plunder taken by Comanches by birth, asserted Rivaya-Martínez.

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