As a child, I was fascinated by the people of the High Plains; the horse herders, the Native Americans who once inhabited the area where I grew up. This meant, specifically, the Comanches. It was in studying about the Comanches that I first encountered Anarchist principles, as many of the writers frequently commented on the anarchistic aspects of Comanche social structures.
Once part of the Vast Shoshone nation, the Comanches split from the main body of their people to take up a more nomadic life on the high plains. At first, this was to escape persecution from more hostile people, but later they stayed and extended their range due to their incredibly huge herds of horses.
They had once been a small band, and as such, they were very accepting of one another’s differences. Rather than shun those who were different, they were given special roles and privileges within the tribes.
As they prospered in the High Plains region, there were times when it was necessary to split up, small bands going their separate ways in search of food, water or a place to spend the winter. Usually, a reunion was planned at a certain time in the future, like the Spring or Fall equinox. Sometimes, there were conflicts within the community, which would lead to someone leaving. Depending on the situation, their family would accompany them. If not, then their closest friends would go along rather than let their friends wander about alone. During difficult times, like a continuing conflict with a neighboring tribe, such splits were dangerous for the survival of the whole tribe. Rather than risk everyone’s lives, every effort would be made to reach some sort of resolution so that everyone could stay together.
When external conflicts arose and decisive action was needed, there would be a council, wherein all the members of the tribe would meet with others of the same station (women with children, young women, young men, elders of either sex, and the acknowledged leaders of the bands – usually the prominent members of different families). After discussion within the various groups, there would be a gathering of everyone (except for children, who would be left to themselves, the older children looking after the younger ones, with a few designated representatives to the council), where the more able speakers of the different sub-groups would state their views, then there would be discussion by the “leaders” of the tribe. Everyone attending was allowed to speak, and if the discussion lasted for more than a day, or two, so be it. They would eventually come up with some sort of resolution and – if necessary – elect or appoint certain people to see to it that the task at hand was carried out.
Time permitting, any unresolved issue would be decided by the Council of Grandmothers, who generally had the final say in all matters. It was the women who decided when to break camp and move elsewhere, though everyone would be in on the decision of where to go next. Only emergencies could prevent day or days-long councils, like the sudden appearance of hostile forces, or a sudden, dramatic change in weather. Flash-flooding is common in their lands, for instance.
Any “leaders” had the disposal of all the groups resources and the expected co-operation of all its members. Their authority was limited only to the task assigned, and when it was completed, they no longer held any sort of authority, though a successful outcome usually meant they were given greater respect by the entire tribe.
When asked how band leaders were selected, Comanches answered: “they just became that way.” “No one decided, it would just happen.” It was a matter of personal achievement and respect in the community. A person who displayed wise advice, and could be counted on to carry out a designated task or undertake a specific duty, would gain prestige in the eyes of the rest of the band upon successfully seeing some task or project to completion. Wise band leaders would delegate responsibilities to others who had also proved themselves to be capable and responsible.
Settlers in Texas were often flabbergasted by the autonomy between different bands, since it was common for bands to split up when traveling, and meet up at a designated spot when they arrived at their destination.
It was necessary to negotiate with each group to ensure peaceful relations when they passed by settler communities, and agreements reached with one band would have little or no influence on another. At times, there was no chance for peaceful negotiations. Comanche raids on settlers in northern Mexico and Texas were so common, and battles against them so frequent, attempts at colonization nearly failed, and the Comanches prevented civilization’s penetration into their territories for over 200 years, until the late 19th century.
I like to tell people that the whole North/South, Civil War thing didn’t happen where I was born. Both the Union and Confederate armies attempted to send columns through Comancheria. Neither column was able to make its way through, and were never heard from again.
So respected were the Comanches, and so prosperous as hunters and horse-herders, they inspired two subcultures to arise within, first, the Spaniard colonists of New Mexico, and later with the Mexicans.
Spaniards, particularly mixed-race colonists, developed a Cibelaro culture for over a century. They would live like Pueblo indians for part of the year, working gardens and tending their flocks. But, once the calves and kids were birthed and sturdy, and their crops in the field, the men would take to the plains to hunt buffalo, antelope, and deer. They would return with carts loaded with dried meat and piled high with skins. This way of life started to fade when Americans began moving into the area. The Anglo settlers had no intention of maintaining peaceful relations with the Indigenous peoples of the plains, and wanted them out of the way, so they could import cows and raise wheat.
But, as the Cibelaro culture came to an end, another grew up. These were the Comancheros, people who continued to have trade relations with the Plains peoples, despite the hostility of other settlers to indians. Comancheros have a nasty reputation in history and folklore. They were as likely to trade liquor and guns to the Comanches as they were to trade cloth and other goods, like metal knives and axes. Settlers in New Mexico also were greedy for cattle and horses, which the Comanches had in abundance, as they raided cattle from ranchers in Mexico and Texas for trade.
When the Comanches stopped raiding and settled into reservation life in Oklahoma, the Comanchero lifestyle came to a sudden end, and they found themselves quickly impoverished.
It was in reading about the social structures of the Comanches that I learned about anarchist ideas and how an anarchist society could function in the real world. This is still my inspiration for agitating for revolution – to create the space that will enable societies like this to once again flourish in this world. Not just the original, Indigenous people’s, but the others as well. The in-between subcultures that people adapted in order to fit into the possibilities presented through learning from pre-existing cultures, and able to utilize the resources presented by the plains, so that everyone could prosper.