Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


In November 1785 several thousand western Comanches congregated at their favorite wintering spot at the Big Timbers of the Arkansas River to discuss important news: after years of tiring mediation, Juan Bautista de Anza, the governor of New Mexico, wanted to negotiate peace with the Kotsoteka, Yamparika, and Jupe Comanches. Although the eastern Comanche bands had already entered into an accord with the Texan Spanish in October, some western bands remained recalcitrant. The opposition centered on Toro Blanco, who was backed by the bands that supported themselves by raiding New Mexican horse ranches. To resolve the deadlock, the peace faction assassinated Toro Blanco and forced his followers to disperse.

In February 1786 Ecueracapa, a Kotsoteka chief representing the peace proponents, arrived in Santa Fe, where he hammered out the treaty stipulations with Governor Anza. The Spanish promised the Comanches free access to New Mexican markets and trade fairs, distribution of presents to friendly chiefs, and regulation of the fairs so that the shrewd New Mexican traders could not cheat their Native clients. In return, the Comanches agreed to stop raiding, to unite behind one principal chief who would negotiate with the Spanish, and to refrain from trading with foreigners, particularly Americans. There also would be a joint Comanche-Spanish war against the Lipan Apaches, whom both parties wanted to expunge from New Mexico's eastern border. The alliance was sealed in an elaborate ceremony at which Anza distributed lavish gifts, including presenting Ecueracapa with a Spanish flag and a saber. The Comanches returned a New Mexican captive and "buried the war."

This Comanche–New Mexican treaty is one of the major turning points in the history of the Southern Plains. It marked a profound change in Spain's Plains Indian policy by ushering in the abandonment of the traditional military approach in favor of a diplomatic-commercial option. This shift pacified the southwestern Plains for over a generation: from 1786 to 1821 accommodation and trade rather than violence defined Comanche.New Mexican relations. On the other hand, the treaty was a disaster to the Lipans, who were soon forced to retreat to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains by the powerful Comanche-Spanish alliance. The counterpart of the 1786 Comanche.New Mexican treaty, the 1785 Comanche-Texan accord, proved less successful. Comanche-Texas trade did increase after 1785, but the province's officials lacked the necessary funds to maintain a consistent Indian policy. As a result, Comanche raids in Texas continued throughout the Spanish era.

See also NATIVE AMERICANS: Comanches.

Pekka Hämäläinen Texas A&M University

Kavanagh, Thomas W. The Comanches: A History, 1706– 1875. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

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