Quanah Parker, Comanche Chief (1845 – 1911)

Two Spirit Myths: Comanche Theory of the Universe

Many Native American Tribes or collective Bands had ideas of good and evil, proper behavior, and the nature of the universe. The ideas of their traditions and origins were embedded in their oral history. The Comanche had no such verbal constructs. As a whole the Comanche’s had no dominant, unified religion, or anything like a single God. According to ethnographers, Wallace and Hoebel, the Comanche were extremely skeptical of any creation myths that involved a single spirit, unifying God, or “evil one.”[1] They believed that “we are here;” therefore their thoughts are mostly directed toward understanding the multitude of spirits. [2]

The Comanche lived in a world alive with magic and taboo; spirits lived everywhere, in the rocks, trees, and in animals. The main idea of their “belief system,” if you could call that, was to find a way to understand the powers of the many spirits. Such powers, once grasped and harnessed, thus became “puha” or medicine. There was no dogma to recite, no priestly class to impose systematic religion, no tendency to view the world as anything but a set of isolated episodes, with no deeper, mystical meaning. These were behavioral codes of living, to be sure — a man could not steal another man’s wife without paying penalties, for example. And for every action, there were reactions and consequences, injuries and damages due. [3]

Quanah Parker on horseback circa 1890

Many of the enemies of the Comanche had been hated rivals for centuries. The Utes, for example, were always hunted and captured by the Comanche to torture to death, without question. The grievances among tribes seemed ingrained and not part of folklore or oral history. A Comanche warrior captured by a Ute would expect the exact same treatment. The Sioux warriors treated the Assiniboine the same way, the Crow did it to the Blackfeet. Thus, as Gwynne points out, their inter-Indian Tribal torture and punishment tactics were weirdly consistent with the European “Golden Rule.” Their tit-for-tat, eye-for-an-eye brutality extended to their very last breath. On the battlefield, to the astonishment of invading troops of Europeans and emigrants to North and South America, these warriors would rather die than surrender. [4]

To their enemies, the Comanche were implacable, fierce, buffalo-horned killers. They were grim apostles of darkness and perpetrators of devastation. Inside their own camps and Bands, however, they viewed each other as something entirely different. To overly generalize their internal warrior description, the Comanche male was “noisy, jolly, rollicking, mischief-loving braggadocio, brimful of practical jokes and rough fun of any kind….rousing the midnight echoes with song and dance, whoops and yells.” [5] The Comanche member loved to wager and bet on anything and everything. He especially liked to gamble for horses, games of chance, and even his last deer skin. He loved to sing, especially the songs written expressly for him by a medicine man. He often woke up singing, sang during the day and went to bed singing. He adored games of any kind, but, more than anything else in the world, he like to race horses. He was vain about his hair — often weaving his wife’s shorn tresses in with his own to create extensions, as modern women and men do today. He would roll those extensions in beaver or otter skin. He was an incurable gossip and had a positive craving for knowing what was going on around him. He would dance for hours, or days. He doted on his family, especially his sons, and spent winters snug and indolent, wrapped in thick buffalo robes by the fire in his tipi. He loved to talk. He would talk with wild excitement about his exploits in love, war, on the chase, and he willingly commits all sorts of exaggerations, while spinning the tales. [6]

Empire of the Summer Moon, Gwynne

To other tribes, the Comanche were the personifications of Death. To themselves, they were simply “People.”



[1] Wallace, Ernest and Hoebel, E. Adamson, The Comanches: Lords of the South Plains, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1952, page 194.

[2] Gwynne, S.C., Empire of the Summer Moon, Scribner, New York, 2010, page 45.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Dodge, Richard, Our Wild Indians, Chatto & Windus, London, 1878, page 59.

[6] Gwynne, op cit., pages 46-47.