Comanche Society
Before the Reservation
Native American Studies - Western History
6 x 9, 252 pp.
2 line drawings, 8 maps.
Pub Date: 06/16/2005
Elma Dill Russell Spencer Series in the West and Southwest
  paper
Price:        $22.95 s

978-1-58544-491-5
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Comanche Society

Before the Reservation

By Gerald Betty

Once called the Lords of the Plains, the Comanches were long portrayed as loose bands of marauding raiders who capitalized on the Spanish introduction of horses to raise their people out of primitive poverty through bison hunting and fierce warfare. More recent studies of the Comanches have focused on adaptation and persistence in Comanche lifestyles and on Comanche political organization and language-based alliances. In Comanche Society: Before the Reservation, Gerald Betty develops an exciting and sophisticated perspective on the driving force of Comanche life: kinship. Betty details the kinship patterns that underlay all social organization and social behavior among the Comanches and uses the insights gained to explain the way Comanches lived and the way they interacted with the Europeans who recorded their encounters.

Rather than a narrative history of the Comanches, this account presents analyses of the formation of clans and the way they functioned across wide areas to produce cooperation and alliances; of hierarchy based in family and generational relationships; and of ancestor worship and related religious ceremonies as the basis for social solidarity. The author then considers a number of aspects of Comanche life—pastoralism, migration and nomadism, economics and trade, warfare and violence—and how these developed along kinship lines.

In considering how and why Comanches adopted the Spanish horse pastoralism, Betty demonstrates clearly that pastoralism was an expression of indigenous culture, not the cause of it. He describes in detail the Comanche horse culture as it was observed by the Spaniards and the Indian adaptation of Iberian practices. In this context, he looks at the kinship basis of inheritance practices, which, he argues, undergirded private ownership of livestock.

Drawing on obscure details buried in Spanish accounts of their time in the lands that became known as Comanchería, Betty provides an interpretive gaze into the culture of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Comanches that offers new organizing principles for the information that had been gathered previously. This is cutting-edge history, drawing not only on original research in extensive primary documents but also on theoretical perspectives from other disciplines.

Gerald Betty teaches history at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi. He holds a Ph.D. from Arizona State University.

What Readers Are Saying:

“Betty’s excellent ethnohistory provides a much-needed reappraisal of Plains Indian studies.” --True West

“Offers a new approach to studying the behavior patterns of the Lords of the Plains. . . ideal for the researcher wanting to find out more about Comanche society and kinship.” --West Texas Historical Association Year Book

“This book is sure to reopen some old debates and hopefully enliven the debate over Comanche history and culture.” --The Journal of American Ethnic History

“Recommended for professionals and students interested in exploring models for historical Native American kinships and social behaviors.” --Colonial Latin American Historical Review

“Betty presents convincing arguments for his interpretation of Comanche society…” --SMRC Revista

“Betty has produced an excellent ethnohistory of eighteenth century Comanche society. Where most scholars have explained the Comanches by concentrating on them as hunter-gatherers, Betty takes it a step further and examines them as pastoralists. Not just horses per se, but the need to acquire and maintain huge herds of horses significantly altered Comanche society. Of course, virtually everyone knows the obvious changes horses brought to Indian societies. Horses made a man a better warrior, a better hunter, and the band could travel further, more often, and carry more. But horses revolutionized Comanche concepts of wealth, status, leadership, and obligations of reciprocity. Where pastoralist studies have long been common in African history, rarely have they been applied to American Indians. These models should have been tested in Plains Indian ethnohistory ages ago. And once Betty makes his point that Comanche society was a pastoral society, then it seems almost obvious and one wonders why it hasn’t yet been applied. Combining fine prose and first-class scholarship, Betty points a new direction in Plains Indian studies.” --David La Vere, Associate Professor, University of North Carolina at Wilmingto

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