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The Warning Signs (CEC)

A Chain of Events

In 1848, smallpox returned to the Numunu, carrying away many of their number. The next year, cholera compounded their misery. Two years later, smallpox called again. What had once been a nation at the pinnacle of power now collapsed under the assault of microbes. In three years, nearly a third of the Comanches and their allies died. Among them many of their oldest and most experienced leaders. The raids into Mexico diminished as a result, which also led to declining plunder comings into Comancheria, which in turn spawned internal divisions and began to rend the fabric of Comanche society.

Too Many Hunters . . .To Few Buffalos

The Comanches had meanwhile also outstripped their own resources. The grasslands of Comancheria could support 7 million buffalo. At a reproduction rate of 19%, minus a natural attrition rate of 15%, the Comanches could harvest no more than 280,000 animals per year for all purposes to maintain that size of a herd. To sustain their own population numbers and produce goods for local consumption, Comanches and their allies consumed an estimated 180,000 buffalo a year, leaving the hides and products of some 100,000 animals available for the growing trade networks.

The demand for Comanche goods had grown over time. In 1800, Comanches killed 25,000 additional buffalo a year for commercial purposes, including pregnant cows in wintertime when their coats were thickest. Ciboleros from New Mexico also killed 25,000 buffalo a year; that brought the harvest to a dangerous 230,000 animals.

A decade later, 1810, Comanche access to American Mississippi Valley trading networks increased of commercial hunting to 75,000 buffalo a year. That tipped the balance past 255,000.

Fifteen years later, in 1835, Comanches allowed immigrant Indians onto the plains in exchange for peace and trade concessions, doing the same in 1840 to achieve the Great Peace with the Cheyenne and Arapahos. All together, this additional strain exceeded more than a year 300,000 a year–an unsustainable rate.

Then, brucellosis struck.  This bacteria-caused cattle disease passed to the great bison herds, causing infected cows to miscarry calves and natural increase numbers to decline.  These pressures all pointed to a looming disaster.