How the Nermernuh (Comanche) Tribe Finally Got Respect
Excerpt from Arizoniana by Marshall Trimble, the state’s official historian.
Long before the white people migrated to the vast lands across the wide Missouri—and added a new dimension to the struggle for supremacy, native tribes battled continuously for the most desirable lands.
As a rule, three things could happen to a weaker tribe and all were bad. At worst they were exterminated. If they escaped that, assimilation might occur or, as was often the case, they were driven to some less desirable area such as the arid, inhospitable deserts of the Great Basin and the Southwest. Many times, tribes were able to adapt to the harsh lands, turning a disadvantageous situation into a positive one, and gaining their greatest glory as warriors. The Apaches are a classic example. Driven into the barren deserts and brawny mountains of Arizona, New Mexico and the Mexican Republic by more powerful Plains tribes during the 1300s, they became masters in guerrilla warfare.
Perhaps even more dramatic was a tribe of people from the Shoshonian language group called the Nermernuh, a name which meant, in their language, The People. The Nermernuh were a humble, squatty, dark-skinned, common-looking tribe living in the northern Rockies. They were beaten, pushed and shoved from region to region by stronger tribes. Eventually, they wound up on the high, desolate plains of West Texas, in a land called the Llano Estacado, or Staked Plains.
Then fate intervened.
In 1680, the Pueblo Indians living along the Rio Grande in New Mexico revolted and drove their Spanish conquerors out. During the retreat down the Rio Grande to El Paso del Norte, horses got loose and wandered east into the Llano Estacado where they became the seed crop for some of the great herds of mustangs.
The arrival of the horse changed the lives of the Nermernuh overnight. The horse was not just a critter to be ridden, it became an object of worship. They quickly learned selective breeding, keeping only the best studs and gelding the rest. Now they could hunt mighty buffalo and challenge other tribes for supremacy. Children learned to ride almost before they learned to walk. They became the most feared raiders of their time, extending their former range by thousands of miles. Nermernuh raiding parties penetrated as far into Mexico as the Yucatan Peninsula. They became the scourge of the Pueblo and Hispanic peoples along the Rio Grande and the settlers in east Texas and along the Gulf Coast. Their success in battle seemed to make the Nermernuh more barbaric. They reveled in taking vengeance for hundreds of years of oppression. They were the first Plains Indians to acquire the horse and none ever adapted their culture to that animal so completely.
During the 1830s, American anthropologists observed these people and determined that the equine had been an integral part of the culture for thousands of years. In reality, the animal had been on the Plains only a little over a century.
For nearly 200 years the Nermernuh, recognized by other horse-Indians as the horse-Indians, were feared and respected.
In 1874, the U.S. Cavalry, after a long and hard-fought campaign, defeated the Nermernuh and located them on a reservation.
By now, you’re probably wondering why the exploits of these remarkable people rings a note of familiarity but the name doesn’t. That’s because many of our Native American tribes are better known by the names given them by others, some of which weren’t all that complimentary. The Nermernuh are better-known by a name given them by the Utes. Translated to English it means, “Man Who Goes Around Trying To Kill Me All The Time.” In the language of the Utes, the word became synonymous with fear and terror in the Southwest for nearly two centuries. They were called Comanches.
In 1861, when so many male Texans went to fight for the Confederacy, the Comanche were able to use that manpower shortage to drive settlers back about 100 miles. In response, the Texas governor established a group of men to defend the settlers against the Comanche. (Since the Confederate government had ordered all men from Texas to come east for the fight, the governor’s action was actually illegal.) That group was, essentially, the first band of Texas Rangers, although they were not called that until later. The son of one of those “rangers” married one of my great-grandfather’s sisters.
The first Texas Rangers existed far before the 186O’s. Look up a man named Jack “Coffee” Hayes.
The militia of volunteers that ranged out to try and stop the Indian depredations of the first American colonies in what was then Mexico became the first ‘Rangers’. That was closer to 1832 than 1860.