The Comanche Nation Museum in Lawton, Oklahoma

First a little history.

Quanah Parker (son of a white mother and Comanche father) led a small band of Comanches in resisting the white man’s incursion onto their hunting lands from the late 1860s until the end of the Red River War of 1874-1875. They couldn’t fight any more because the hide hunters practically exterminated the buffalo, and the Army killed or stole horses whenever they found them.

The Army and the Indian Bureau then lumped together the Comanche, the Kiowas, and the Kiowa-Apaches on a reservation centered on Ft. Sill near Lawton, Oklahoma in 1875. All three nations remain in that area today.

The Comanche Nation built a wonderful museum, and we visited it Oct. 15, 2019.

The beadwork made by Comanche artists is legendary. Here is a cradle board dated about 1900 in a side view.

Here’s a front view.

And more examples.

The museum had an exhibit about the Comanche Code Talkers of World War I and II, but it was particularly text heavy. (No pictures)

It is more than ironic that the youngsters who were punished in tribal schools for speaking their native tongue were sought out by the army to be their ultra-top secret communications people on D Day.

The Navajo and Hopi are also proud of their World War II code talkers. A museum docent told us the Navajo and Hopi (who were Marines) were deployed earlier than the Comanches and mostly used in the Pacific theatre.

Seventeen Comanche code talkers (many under age) spent almost two years creating and memorizing their vocabulary just for the planned invasion. They also had to learn how to string and maintain wire and radio communications. Can you imagine the nerve it took to string wires while the Germans were shooting at them?

Some of their special code vocabulary:

Machine gun was a sewing machine (because of the sound)

Grenade was a porcupine

Tank was a turtle

If you want to read more about the Comanche code talkers:

Another portion of the museum showed the importance of the buffalo for every aspect of life and society… food, clothing, glue, tools, teepee material, storage vessels, etc. There was a life- sized model on its side with plastic organs packed in the belly. They could be removed to learn how those organs were used. Very educational.

Here’s a heart-breaking picture of a Hide Hunter sitting on a pile of buffalo skulls. They were the ones who broke the Indians’ ability to survive “in the wild”. They skinned off the hides and left the rest of the animals to rot. A good day was 100 kills by one man.

We also viewed a huge collection of paintings by Comanche artist, Ed Hoosier. He uses a flat 2-dimensional style, echoing the “ledger art” of the early reservation days. It was called ledger art because Native Americans could only get used ledger paper (large format) from the burser to draw on.

I did take pictures of paintings in the flat style created by the Kiowa Five in the 1920s and 1930s. It’s very distinctive.

Hoosier’s contemporary realism style captures everyday Indians: an elder drinking a Coke, a beautiful woman standing over her Indian motorcycle, two young guys kibitzing while one tinkered under the hood of a car.

The women were all strong and self-possessed. I didn’t take any pictures of the art, as is the usual request at an art gallery.

But here’s a link to view some of his work displayed at the Department of the Interior:

Before the Comanche acquired horses (introduced by the Spanish), they relied on dogs to carry their goods from place to place. The museum had a model of a dog with travois.

Finally, there was a life-sized Chuck wagon. I learned the cook was the second best paid trail employee because he was also doctor, dentist, minister, and shrink. The trail boss received more pay.

Typical fare was beans, bacon, bread, and coffee…morning, noon, and night. Supplemented by any game that might be shot along the way. Or a cow with a broken leg. Pretty monotonous.

The high point of our visit was chatting with the docent/greeter. His uncle had been the last surviving Comanche code talker, Corporal Charles Chibitty, now deceased.

The docent discussed with us the rejection of “red skins” and “Indians” for mascot/team names and rejecting the tomahawking gesture. He asked would it be appropriate to call a team “Chinks” or “Wet backs” or “Wops”? Even if we say we are honoring them? Of course not. It’s still insulting. Native Americans feel the same way.


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