Comancheria – et steppeimperium.

Comanche_Feats_of_Horsemanship-George_Catlin

Comanche Feats of Horsemanship, malt av George Catlin, 1834-35. Foto: Wikicommons

I Foreign Policy stiller Thomas E. Ricks spørsmålet: «Were the Comanches stronger than the U.S. military in the early 19th century?»

Problemstillingen kan kanskje virke litt uvant på oss i dag, men historikeren Pekka Hämäläinen har beskrevet comanchenes maktbase som et slags «steppeimperium» fra cirka 1750 (om ikke tidligere) til 1850.

Dette kartet markerer comanchenes territorium + regionen de pleide å raide i Mexico:

Comancheria-Carte-2

Fra forlaget Yale University Press egenpresentasjon av Hämäläinens bok The Comanche Empire:

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a Native American empire rose to dominate the fiercely contested lands of the American Southwest, the southern Great Plains, and northern Mexico. This powerful empire, built by the Comanche Indians, eclipsed its various European rivals in military prowess, political prestige, economic power, commercial reach, and cultural influence. Yet, until now, the Comanche empire has gone unrecognized in American history.

… uncovers the lost story of the Comanches. It is a story that challenges the idea of indigenous peoples as victims of European expansion and offers a new model for the history of colonial expansion, colonial frontiers, and Native-European relations in North America and elsewhere.

Den har fått mye skryt. Også av Ricks, som i en tidligere artikkel i Foreign Policy omtalte Hämäläinens bok i rosende ordelag:

I have to say that The Comanche Empire knocked my socks off. It changed my understanding of several things — how the U.S. expanded westward, why the Mexican War went the way it did, and why Texas is the way it is.

… the Comanches took advantage of the coming of the horse to expand from a tribe to an empire that covered most of today’s Texas and Oklahoma and part of Colorado and other lands. In addition, northern New Mexico and southeastern Texas became tributary vassalages.

… So, he says, for about 100 years, from about 1750 to about 1850, they were “the dominant people in the Southwest,” able to manipulate the Spanish in Mexico almost at will. “The Comanche invasion of the southern plains was, quite simply, the longest and bloodiest conquering campaign the American West had witnessed.” They pushed the Utes westward and the Apaches southward. They had all the protein they needed, but needed access the New Mexican markets where they could trade meat and hides for maize, wheat and vegetables. “In essence … the Comanche-Apache wars were fought over carbohydrates.”

Og så klipper og limer vi litt fra Wikipedias artikler om comanchene og deres rike – Comancheria:

They were the dominant tribe on the Southern Plains and often took captives from weaker tribes during warfare, selling them as slaves to the Spanish and later Mexican settlers. They also took thousands of captives from the Spanish, Mexican, and American settlers.

(…)

Confronted with Spanish, Mexican, and American outposts on their periphery in New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Mexico, they worked to increase their own safety, prosperity and power. The Comanches used their military power to obtain supplies and labor from the Americans, Mexicans, and Indians through thievery, tribute, and kidnappings.

Although powered by violence, the Comanche empire was primarily an economic construction, rooted in an extensive commercial network that facilitated long-distance trade. Dealing with subordinate Indians, the Comanche spread their language and culture across the region.

Men tilbake til Ricks. Han besvarer sitt eget spørsmål, som er gjengitt i ingressen her, slik:

If the answer is yes, then my next question is, when did the U.S. military surpass the Comanches? Was it around the time of the Mexican War? (Altså ca. 1846)

But I asked some smart historian friends, and they said the answer is that, while the Comanches had some short-term battlefield advantages — numbers of weapons, fighters, and horses — they were vulnerable in the longer term to superior logistics and communications systems.

Again and again, one of the lessons of good history is that those are just as important to military power as is firepower, and sometimes far more important.

Uansett, på slutten av 1840-tallet ble comanchene rammet gjentatte ganger av epidemier (kolera og kopper) som drastisk reduserte antallet deres. Dermed ble de heller ikke (helt uavhengig av andre faktorer) i stand til å opprettholde verken «imperiet» eller maktbasen på steppene.