New group aims to honor Llano Estacado's Native American history in the Texas Panhandle
Indigenous peoples lived in what’s now the Lubbock area, or the Llano Estacado, for hundreds and hundreds of years. It’s a history many locals may know some about. But a new organization, Native American People of the Plains and Beyond, wants to increase the awareness of that history and honor its impact.
Local historian and member of the group Ken LeBlanc recently visited the Texas Tech Public Media studios to tell us more about the area’s deep, historical roots.
This interview was edited for time and clarity and includes written responses from LeBlanc.
Sarah Self-Walbrick: Ken, What is your connection to Native Americans and how long have you studied that culture?
Ken LeBlanc: While I have no American Indian lineage in my background, I have always been interested in American Indian history and culture. Growing up I was exposed to Mescalero Apache history and culture because I lived in Southeastern New Mexico. My wife was told she had Comanche heritage by her grandmother. I have been fascinated by Comanche’s history and culture for most of my adult life. I guess you could say I’m more or less a Native American geek.
When did Native Americans live on our part of the plains?
Archeologists will tell you that ancient humans have occupied what is commonly referred to as the Llano Estacado for at least the last 14,000 years. Artifacts of the Clovis culture (named for Clovis, New Mexico where some of the first projectile points were found) have consistently dated from 14,000 to 12,000 years ago. However, these early cultures are not what we traditionally think of as Native Americans. These ancient humans would be more appropriately called cavemen. Some of those cultures died out completely. Others evolved into what we now call North American native cultures.
What we would more or less consider as Native American cultures would be more dated from the times of the Mayan culture (about 4,600 years ago), the Incas culture (about 800 years ago), the Aztec culture (roughly 700 years ago), and the Anasazi/Pueblo culture (roughly 1,900 years ago). Of these, it was probably the Anasazi/Pueblo cultures of the Four Corners area that migrated to the Llano Estacado about 800 years ago after a catastrophic climate change that drove them from their cliff dwellings to the high plains of what is now the Lubbock, Texas area.
The early Spanish explorers that documented their contact with these tribes and clans, near what is now Lubbock, originally called them Teyas. This was in 1541. Later it appears they were called Apaches. Further, there were possibly as many as 15 or 20 subgroups or clans that more or less controlled most of what is now Texas, Eastern New Mexico, Southeastern Colorado, Western Oklahoma and Southern Kansas.
These groups lived in small towns along the river bottoms. They grew maize, pumpkin, melons, squash, beans. They gathered pecans, currents. They also hunted bison, deer, antelope -- which were in abundance. They built and lived in small adobe and thatched huts. In short, life was good, but change was coming.
By the late 1700s, the Apache had access to European horses thanks to the influx of the Spanish into New Mexico and Southern Texas. The trade of horses was a very lucrative enterprise. The problem was there was another group that was gaining access to the horse and they were moving South out of what is now Nebraska and Northern Kansas into Apache territory.
Further, this group utilized the horse like the Apache never dreamed possible. These people were called Comanches. The term Comanche is a Ute word meaning “those that always want to fight.” Unlike the Apache, that rode their horses to a fight, the Comanches had learned from the Spanish to fight from the horse. Not only that but they also adopted the lance and the shield from the Spanish. Unlike the stationary Apaches the Comanches could move and mass quickly. Fighting from the horse they fought to a draw with the Spanish in New Mexico by the 1790s. They entered into a treaty with the Spanish in which they agreed to not raid into New Mexico as long as they could trade in New Mexico. They also agreed that New Mexicans could come into Comanche land to hunt bison and gather salt for yearly payment in Spanish gold. This allowed the Comanches to wage full-time war upon the Apache. In three fifty-year campaigns, beginning about 1750, the Comanche drove the Apache off the Llano Estacado, out of lower Kansas, out of Oklahoma, and out of Eastern New Mexico. They drove the Apaches South into Southern Texas and Northern Mexico. By the early 1800s the Comanches controlled two-thirds of what is now Texas, all of Eastern New Mexico, Southeastern Colorado, Western and Central Oklahoma, and Sothern Kansas. That is roughly 200,000 square miles of land. This became the Comanche Empire until 1875. The Comanches did this with a population of only about 20,000 people.
What happened to those people?
As you can see, the area in and around Lubbock was inhabited by ancient men, American Indians, and last but not least, Euro-Americans. The 1800s is a tale of two cultures that fought for possession of the great land we call Texas. Those cultures were the Comanches and the Texans. If you believe the picture shows, it was the great superiority of the Texan’s bravery that led to the defeat of the Comanche you would be wrong. Those are tall tales told by Texans. What led to the demise of the Comanche was twofold. First, was the destruction of the Bison herds by the U.S. government. Second, was two smallpox and three cholera epidemics. This diminished the Comanche from a population of about 20,000 to a population of about 5,000 by 1875. This is when Quanah Parker brought the last of his Comanche band to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Today the population of the Comanche people remains about 5,000.
The Apache that predated the Comanche still remain in parts of Texas, New Mexico, Northern Mexico and Oklahoma. From the 20 or so Apache clans that existed before the Comanches, only five remain. Those are the Lipan, Mescalero, Jicarita, Oklahoma Apaches and the Chiricahua.
How is that history memorialized or honored in the area?
There are a number of events that memorialize and honor the Native American culture of the area. These include the Cowboy Symposium in September in Lubbock. Decedents of the Quanah Parker Family and members of the Quanah Parker Society take part in this event. There is also the Native American beadwork collection of the Burk Burnette Family that is part of the National Ranch and Heritage Center at Texas Tech. The Ranch and Heritage Center generally has a Native American exhibit during Ranch Day in April.
There are many remnants of indigenous culture all around Lubbock. The Lubbock Lake site is one. Every county museum in the area also has historic material about Native Americans. There are names in Texas that reflect where Native Americans have been. Buffalo Springs Lake is a good example. Also, most people have no notion Ransom Canyon was where the Spanish and Comanches would meet to ransom White and Spanish captives, thus the name. The town of Quitaque, Texas has a Comanche name. Big Spring was a native watering destination. Three prominent war trials went through this oasis.
You are a part of a newly formed group called Native American People of the Plains and Beyond. Tell us more about that. What’s the goal of the group?
This group is much more eclectic than simply the American Indian groups that were in and around the Lubbock area. We are an outreach group to all American Indians or others that want to learn about and be part of indigenous culture study and history. In addition to Apache and Comanche, there are Cherokee, Sioux and Yaqui members. Our membership includes members who dance at Pow Wows, Sun Dance, War Dancers, and Gourd Dancers. Many of the members are also adept at making Indian-style jewelry and regalia and know Native American culture.
Our goal is to learn from each other the ways of the native people of the Americas.
Why is a group like this needed in Lubbock?
The Sioux have two sayings. One is “One heart, one mind.” The other is the fact that we want to spread that culture. The other one is “We are all related.”
Those are the literal goals of this group.
Have a news tip? Email Sarah Self-Walbrick at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her reporting on Twitter @SarahFromTTUPM.
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