Native Americans and the Colonists

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What was the first European contact with the Apache and Comanche tribes, and how did these relationships evolve?

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The first recorded contact between the Apaches and Europeans was in the 1540s, with a Spanish contingent under the command of Francisco Vazquez de Coronado. They called the Apaches "Querechos." As for the Comanche, Spanish missionaries encountered them in the early eighteenth century, in the area now known as New Mexico and North Texas. They came to trade, but also to establish diplomatic relations with the Spaniards, in no small part because they wanted their assistance in fighting the Apache.

One of the major factors in Apache-Spanish relations, in fact, was the fact that Comanche fighters, who received material support from French traders, drove them from the Great Plains, south into modern New Mexico and Arizona. This brought them into direct conflict with the Spanish, and their relationship throughout the eighteenth century was strained. Indeed, both Apache and Comanche raids were a feature of life on the Spanish frontier. Both groups were the subject of extensive missionary efforts, most of which met with limited success. Spanish authorities consistently sought to maintain peace with both peoples, and at no time were they able to assert their authority over the Apache or Comanche.

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The Spanish were the first to make contact with both the Comanche and Apache tribes.

They first met the Apache in 1540 during the Coronado expedition and at intervals between then and 1598, when the Spanish set up a permanent trading post. At first, they were friendly trading partners.

It is believed the Spanish had first contact with the Comanche, in about 1700, at a trading post in what is now Taos, New Mexico.

The relationship between the Europeans and these tribes disintegrated over time, especially when the Spanish established permanent settlements in the area. For instance, the Spanish attacked the Comanche near Santa Fe in 1716 after fearing a Comanche group had been sent to spy on their trading posts and locate weaknesses in their defenses. The Spanish took Comanche prisoners and sold them as slaves. A few years later, the Comanche raided Spanish settlements to obtain horses. Fighting and animosity characterized the relationship between established natives and Europeans.

At first, contact was fine for a while, but later it had a very destabilizing effect on Native American cultures and resulted in a large loss of life for these tribes. However, since 1924, members of these tribes have been American citizens, and their population have grown again.

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The Comanche tribe historically dominated the southern plains of central North America. The tribe hunted and gathered to survive, but in addition to that they raided neighboring tribes, stealing food, horses and other trade goods. They were renowned form their horsemanship and their ability to strike within a radius of hundreds of miles.

The Apache occupied much of the territory around the Arkansas river down towards the present Mexican boarder and survived on raiding and trading. Apache’s and Comanche’s were in constant conflict with one another, but the faster, more horse adept Comanche usually ruled the day.

The Comanche first made contact with Europeans during a trading event at the Taos pueblo in New Mexico. Eventually, they either destroyed other plains tribes or forced them south towards the Spanish territory of Texas.

Their effective attack range became known as Comacheria, and most people knew to keep clear of it due to the violent nature of its inhabitants. Comancheria remained under Comanche control until well into the 1800’s.

The Apache, especially the Lipan band, were forced into conflict with Spanish when Comanche raiding parties began forcing them onto Spanish lands. The Lipan resisted Christian conversion, but used this as an opportunity to move the Comanche and Spanish towards war with each other. The Spanish foolishly built a mission inside Comanche territory, which set of a wave of attacks against Spanish missions in northern Texas. This took some of the pressure off the beleaguered Lipan.

The presence of the Spanish, Apache and Comanche all living together in such close proximity resulted in a series of conflicts where alliances were created and broken throughout the 1800’s. For the most part the Spanish allied with the Comanche against the Apache since they were the more localized threat.

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