Monday, May 5, 2014

Comanche Rising

They subjugated the Aztecs. They massacred the Incas.  Gold and precious stones flowed like tap water into Spanish coffers.  The New World, it seemed, was easy pickings for the mighty Spanish Conquistadors.  Superior firearms, along with superior European tactics, could overcome any tribe of godless savages. 

So they thought.

Since the late 1600's, the Comanches dominated West Texas.  Superior horsemanship gave them an unprecedented advantage over their adversaries.  Fearing the Comanches growing dominance, the Lipan Apaches of South Central Texas needed a powerful ally.  The Spaniards were their best prospect.  In 1757, Franciscan monks established the Mission Santa Cruz de San Saba near present day Menard, Texas.  Having expressed an interest in Christianity, the Apaches convinced the missionaries that they wanted to become peaceful civilized Catholics.  The missionaries were also anxious to establish a mission to help end a bitter conflict between the Apaches and foster mining operations near the San Saba River. What the missionaries failed to realize, however, was that they were being played.  The Apaches never took up residence near the mission nor attended services.  To make matters worse, they bragged about their powerful new ally;  Conquistadors armed with canons, swords and muskets.  Rather than instilling fear into the Comanches, the Apaches only ticked them off.

Along with their well armed neighbors, the Wichitas, the Comanches assembled a force of 2,000  warriors on horseback then rode out looking for the Apaches.  They descended on the Santa Cruz mission and massacred the monks, including their leader Father Alonso Giraldo de Terreros.  Those that survived were barricaded in a nearby presidio (or fort)  commanded by Colonel Ortiz Parrilla.  Father Terreros had purposely built the presidio away from the mission in hopes of not provoking the Indians.

In September 1759,  Colonel Parrilla gathered a force of 600 Spaniards and Apaches to pursue the Comanches.  Little did he know that the Comanches were as well-armed, if not better armed, than his command.  Redoubtable as traders as well as warriors, the Comanches had a lucrative relationship with French traders along the Red River.  Muskets were obtained in exchange for horses which they had plenty of.  The French also provided military assistance with advice on defensive works, something Comanches are not generally known for.

At Spanish Fort, in present day Montague County, Parrilla encountered a stout earthen fortress of entrenched Indians and possibly a few French.  The canons had no effect on the fortress while the Comanches flanked the Spaniards with mounted attacks.  Parrilla was forced to fall back, leaving behind nineteen or more dead.  It was to be the Spaniards high water mark in Texas.  The Mission Santa Cruz de San Saba was the only mission in Texas to be completely destroyed by Native Americans.  Ten years later the presidio was closed.  The Spaniards were never able to settle in Comanche territory.