Conflict with Indians began long before Texas had become an independent state and continued for 30 years after Texas joined the United States. There were several Indian tribes in the area but by far the largest, most successful and most notorious was the Comanche nation, known as the Lords of the Plains.

Of all the tribes in Texas, they were in fact the last to settle in the area. At first they were a part of the Shoshone tribe, but they appeared as a distinct group in about 1650.

The Comanche had a fearsome reputation. Apart from burning and looting settlements, they murdered or kidnapped a huge number of white people. During the Civil War, when soldiers weren’t available to protect the frontier, the Comanche and Kiowa were able to extend their territories by pushing settlers back 100 miles.

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Apaches on the warpath

Comanche success in raids and battles was due to their superb horsemanship and carefully applied violence. They increased their own population hugely by capturing women and children from other tribes but in doing so they fragmented into many separate divisions which sometimes fought each other. Then, in the early nineteenth century, around half their total numbers were wiped out by smallpox and they created an alliance with the Kiowa and Kiowa Apache.

Comanche continued to cause difficulties for the colonists but a key moment was the raid of Fort Parker in May 1936. Comanche, Kiowa, Wichita and Delaware Indians combined to attack the outpost which had hitherto been considered secure, and a massacre of the defenders ensued. Worst of all, 9-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker was kidnapped. She was found again, but starved herself to death in 1870.

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Comanches with female prisoners

When the Texas cattle drives started up, the best routes went straight through Comanche territory. As long as the trail bosses paid the toll, they were usually allowed to pass, but this wasn’t a certainty. Britton Johnson was a case in point – in 1864 his ranch was raided, and and then he was attacked again on a drive and killed. In 1867, Loving of the Goodnight-Loving trail was on his own scouting with a ranch hand when 200 Comanche attacked and mortally wounded him.

These episodes cramped the booming cattle industry and by the end of the 1860’s the Comanche held sway in Western Texas. In 1871, however, when Kiowa attacked the Warren wagon train, plundered it and killed most of its defenders, the outcome was the trial in court of the Indian leaders who had planned the attack. They were the first but not the last of the Indians to receive this treatment.

The tide was now turning. US militia began a concerted offensive with the intention of either killing Indians or driving them onto reservations in Indian Territory. Finally, with the surrender of Quanah Parker, son of Cynthia Ann Parker, the wars against the Indians in Texas came to an end.

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