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Hides, Meat, Guns, Slaves, and Horses (CEC)

The Comanches called themselves Numunu [nuh-muh-nuh], simply “The People.” The Utes branded then “Komantcia” as the Spanish heard it, which meant “Like us but Different,” hinting at their shared heritage. Other natives called them some variation of “Snake People” or “The Ones Who Want to Fight Us All the Time.” The Numunu were primitive even by Indian standards. They made no baskets, made no pottery, and had no great religious expression. They were, indeed, like the Utes, but differed in one great area: the exploitation of the horse.

Earlier tribes that had traded or captured horses either ate them or used them as a beast of burden or mean of transportation. When the Apaches went to war, for instance, they dismounted to fight. The Comanches, by comparison, saw horses as the ultimate weapons platform. They learned to fight, move, and kill from horseback. They were few in number, around 1,500 in 1720, but the Comanches would soon overcome this disadvantage.

Numunu experiences at the Taos trade fair revealed that the Spanish and their Pueblo subjects eagerly swapped manufactured goods and farm produce for slaves, meat, and hides. Illegal trading could be done for guns. To fuel this exchange, the Comanches needed more—and better—horses.

When the Comanches first appeared at Taos, they had enough horses for most of the men to ride into town. Their families, however, followed behind, leading dog travois loaded with tipis and goods. Within two decades every Comanche man, woman, and child rode wherever they went.

The transformation came about because Utes and Comanches schemed to dominate the Spanish trade, becoming the principal suppliers of slaves to the New Mexico market. These related tribes hit the Plains Apache populations especially hard, trading captives for the tools needed to perpetuate the industry—guns and horses. The Spanish sold the unlucky prisoners further south as slave labor for Mexican mining camps. When the Spanish refused to trade, the Comanches simply raided their corrals and ranches, along with Pueblo farms and fields, for what they needed.