It is widely known that the making of Texas began when the Mexican government began giving land grants to empresarios such as Stephen F. Austin, Samuel May Williams and Green DeWitt to name a few. An empresario was a land agent or land contractor in charge of colonist willing to work the land and abide by the governing laws of Mexico. It was not a new or novel system and grants had been given in Texas to Spanish empresarios dating back to 1713. It was a way to not only show favor but to colonize a land. What is not as evident was why these land grants were made available to foreigners with the changing of Mexican Colonization Laws in 1821.
To understand why these changes were made, it is necessary to understand that in the 1700s the introduction of the horse by the Spaniards changed everything for the Plains Indians. Prior to that time the Comanche were an obscure Shoshone-speaking tribe just barely eking out a poor living in the southern region of Idaho and the mountains of Wyoming. They were a small tribe whose members were small game hunters and gatherers. They called themselves the Nermernuh, or “The People”.
The People took to the horse like a fly takes to… well a picnic. They became the most successful horse breeders of all eleven tribes within the Indian “Plains Culture”. With the horse they could hunt buffalo, something not easily done on foot. They became nomadic following the herds of buffalo and making it their principal staple for everything from food to clothing and shelter. No part of the buffalo went unused in the Comanche culture. The name Comanche itself was not, however, of their own choosing, but rather was given to them by the Utes, meaning “enemy”.
The Comanche during their reign where known as the “Lords of the Plains” and during their time, they never once planted a seed or made a permanent settlement. A fierce warrior mentality, they were the only tribe to not dismount during an attack but instead fought astride their mounts. They drove the Apaches out of Texas and into the mountains of New Mexico and considered all but the Kiowas their enemy. They loved raiding across the Rio Grande and made a career out of stealing horses from Mexico. They did so not for territory but simply for fame and loot.
The average warrior owned 15 horses and a chief might have as many as 150 of them. When they went on raiding parties, they always took several of their horses with them. When chased by the cavalry or individuals they would merely jump on a fresh pony and leave their pursuers in the dust. They could unleash a volley of fifteen arrows in the time that it took an enemy to reload their black powder muskets. It is little wonder that the early Spanish settlements kept being depleted of their inhabitants and fewer Mexican colonist wanted to take their place. The Comanche were their neighbors worst nightmare.
In 300 years Spain had been able to settle only a few thousand colonist in Texas. Their inability to successfully colonize Texas inflicted the worst defeat in history on the Spanish empire. Is it little wonder that despite the fears of foreign invasion by the United States, that Mexico so readily agreed to accepting wave after wave of Anglos into Texas. The Mexican government saw the Anglo Texians not as an invading force but rather as a buffer between them and the Comanche. Therein lies the real reason for the changes in the Mexican Colonization Laws.
Had it not been for the war for Texas Independence in 1836 and the defeat of Santa Anna at San Jacinto, their plan may have worked. For the Comanche, Sam Colt and his repeating five and six shooter along with the decimation of the buffalo herds leveled the playing field. Finally, the last straw that broke the Comanche back was the destruction of their herd of 1400 horses. This occurred following the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon that ended the Red River War in 1874.
What do you know about… Texas?