Published on January 21, 2011 by John
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1718 Guillaume de L’Isle map showing
the range and villages of Padoucas, believed
to be the Comanche, at the heads of the
Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas Rivers.
Buffalo Hump (born ca. late 1790s to early 19th century — died 1870) was a Native American War Chief of the Penateka band of the Comanche Indians. His Nʉmʉ tekwapu (Comanche) name, properly transliterated, was Po-cha-na-quar-hip which meant “erection that won’t go down”. He came to prominence after the Council House Fight when he led the Comanches on the Great Raid of 1840.
Little is known of Buffalo Hump’s early life. He became a historically important figure when, angered by the Council House fight of 1840, he led a group of Comanches, mostly his own band plus allies from various other Comanche bands, in the Great Raid of 1840. Their goal was to get revenge on the Texans who had killed thirty members of a delegation of Comanche Chiefs when these had been under a flag of truce for negotiations.
The Comanches who came to the Council House at San Antonio in the Republic of Texas in 1840 had the intention to negotiate a peace treaty. They came under a white flag of truce as they understood ambassadors should do. At the meeting the Texans made what the Indians felt were impossible demands and when the Indians refused them, reportedly the Texans then pulled out guns and threatened to kill the Comanches. The Comanches, who had come without bows, lances or guns, fought back with their knives. The Texans had concealed heavily armed soldiers just outside the Council House. At the onset of the fighting, the windows and doors were opened and the soldiers outside shot into the room through them. This fight left lasting bitterness in the Comanche people who believed unarmed ambassadors who had come in under a white flag of truce had been slaughtered.
Buffalo Hump was determined to do more than merely complain about what the Comanches viewed as a bitter betrayal; spreading word to the other bands of Comanches that he was raiding the white settlements in revenge, Buffalo Hump led the Great Raid of 1840. On this raid the Comanches went all the way from the plains of west Texas to the cities of Victoria and Linnville on the Texas coast. In what may have been the largest organized raid by the Comanches to that point, they raided, burned, and plundered these towns. Linnville was the second largest port in Texas at that time.
On the way back from the sea the Comanches were attacked by Texas Rangers and militia at the Battle of Plum Creek near Lockhart. Texas history says the Rangers won this battle, but this is highly questionable as the Indians got away with a great many of the stolen horses and most of their plunder. Volunteers from Gonzales under Matthew Caldwell and from Bastrop under Ed Burleson had gathered to attempt to stop the war party and together with all the ranger companies of east and central Texas, moved to intercept the Indians, which they did at Plum Creek, near the city of Lockhart on August 12, 1840. 80 Comanches were reported killed in the running gun battle (although only 12 bodies were recovered)—unusually heavy casualties for the Indians, although they got away with the bulk of their plunder and stolen horses.
An out of print book, “Buffalo Hump and the Penateka Comanches” by Jodye Lynn Dickson Schilz and Thomas F. Schilz for Texas Western Press, in the Southwestern Studies Series for the University of Texas at El Paso describes the meeting of German Texas settlers, the Indian agent Major Robert Neighbors and the Comanches, including the fierce and commanding Buffalo Hump, who was estimated to be in his late 30s at the time — he was probably somewhat older, probably in his 40s or early 50s. Ferdinand Roemer, a noted German scientist who was traveling in America at the time of the meetings in the mid and late 1840s, attended the council between the chiefs and white representatives. He described the three Comanche chiefs as ‘serene and dignified,’ characterizing Old Owl as ‘the political chief’ and Santa Anna as an affable and lively-looking ‘war chief’.
Roemer characterizes Buffalo Hump vividily as:
It is notable that had the Texans ever negotiated a treaty with all the Comanche where the Comancheria had been recognized, it would have stood, and led to the return of the captives that were at the heart of the Council House disaster. Despite the Council House, and the subsequent Great Raid of 1840, Sam Houston and Buffalo Hump, with other chiefs representing, for the first time, every major division of the Comanche in Texas, almost succeeded in such a treaty. In August 1843, a temporary treaty accord led to a ceasefire between the Comanches and their allies, and the Texans. In October, the Comanches agreed to meet with Houston and try to negotiate a treaty similar to the one just concluded at Fort Bird. (That this included Buffalo Hump, after the events at the Council House, showed extraordinary Comanche belief in Houston) In early 1844, Buffalo Hump and other Comanche leaders signed a treaty at Tehuacana Creek in which they agreed to surrender white captives in toto, and to cease raiding Texan settlements. In exchange for this, the Texans would cease military action against the tribe, establish more trading posts, and recognize the boundary between Texas and Comanchería. Comanche allies, including the Wacos, Tawakonis, Kiowa, Kiowa Apache and Wichita, also agreed to join in the treaty. Unfortunately, the boundary provision was deleted by the Texas Senate in the final version, which caused Buffalo Hump to repudiate the treaty, and soon a resumption of hostilities occurred.
Finally, in May 1846 Buffalo Hump became convinced that even he could not continue to defy the massed might of the United States, and the State of Texas, so he led the Comanche delegation to the treaty talks at Council Springs that signed a treaty with the United States.
As war chief of the Penateka Comanche, Buffalo Hump dealt peacefully with American officials throughout the late 1840s and 1850s.
In 1849, he guided John S. Ford’s expedition part of the way from San Antonio to El Paso, and in 1856, he sadly and finally led his people to the newly established Comanche reservation on the Brazos River. Continuous raids from white horse thieves and squatters, coupled with his band’s unhappiness over their lack of freedom and the poor food provided on the reservation, forced Buffalo Hump to move his band off the reservation in 1858. While camped in the Wichita Mountains, the Penateka Band under Buffalo Hump were attacked by United States troops under the command of Maj. Earl Van Dorn. Allegedly not aware that Buffalo Hump’s band had recently signed a formal peace treaty with the United States at Fort Arbuckle, Van Dorn and his men killed eighty of the Comanches, mostly women and children.
Nonetheless, despite this, and an aged and weary Buffalo Hump led and settled his remaining followers on the Kiowa-Comanche reservation near Fort Cobb in Indian Territory in Oklahoma. There, in spite of his enormous sadness at the end of the Comanches’ traditional way of life, he asked for a house and farmland so that he could set an example for his people. Attempting to live out his life as a rancher and farmer, he died in 1870.
Before the Lonesome Dove series, Buffalo Hump was forgotten in history, the Great Raid of 1840 only remembered in Texas history classes. Buffalo Hump was resurrected as a powerful historical figure by Larry McMurtry’s books “Dead Man’s Walk” and “Comanche Moon,” the first two books in the Lonesome Dove series. Whether intentionally or not, McMurtry’s dramatization of the character of Buffalo Hump is very similar to the historical figure described so vividly by Ferdinand Roemer. Buffalo Hump is also mentioned in a scene in The Outlaw Josie Wales when Lone Watie is telling Wales that he and Buffalo Hump were among a delegation that was sent to Washington, D.C. to meet with government officials during Lincoln’s administration.