Towards a comparison of North and South American aboriginals w.r.t. riding the feral horse on treeless grassland

(writing in progress) 
There is a remarkable parallel between North and South America in the introduction of the domestic horse, its subsequent population explosion as a feral species on treeless grassland, and the adoption of the horse by the aboriginal people.
The best counterparts in North America, for the indigenous peoples who waged guerilla warfare on the gauchos in Buenos Aires Province, were the Comanche. Other tribes were also involved, but the Comanches epitomised the way the horse transformed the lives of native Americans in the Northern Hemisphere, and delayed their subjugation by European invaders.
Please see below for a map showing the area inhabited by the Comanche. This area comprises about half of Texas plus parts of adjoining states to the northwest. I estimate the range of the Comanche to be about 600,000 square km. In this area, at their heyday in the 1700’s or early 1800’s, the Comanche numbered about 45 thousand persons, living partly on the bison (Bison bison), and doing so to an unprecedented degree among native Americans.
Buenos Aires Province is only about 300,000 square km, so is a smaller area. But both areas contain hundreds of thousands of square km of treeless grassland, on which the domestic horse bred rapidly between about 1500 (when introduced by the Spanish) and about 1650. It is estimated that the total population of the domestic horse, in feral form, in Comanche territory reached a maximum of about two million, i.e. more than all the migratory ungulates in the whole Serengeti ecosystem today.
The Comanche tribe in fact only came into existence because of this advent of the domestic horse. Before 1550, the ancestors of the Comanche were Shoshone, living farther north near the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming. I don’t know which tribe lived in the treeless grassland of northwestern Texas and adjoining states, but I suspect that they were sparse and poor, being unable to hunt the bison systematically although I’m sure they scavenged the bison whenever possible. Whoever they were, these aboriginal Americans probably lived not much more complicated lives than those of the Pampas aboriginals of the time. One difference was that the North American aboriginals of the treeless grassland used the domestic dog as a beast of burden (I’ll find out more but I think they had wheel-less sleds used to drag possessions across the ground, particularly in winter when there was snow). I don’t know if the original inhabitants of the Pampas even kept the domestic dog – and possibly nobody ever will know this.
Both original, primitive tribes were to be swept into oblivion by the increase in the horse and the advent of other tribes, originating on mountain ranges to the northwest (North America) or southwest (South America) which could rapidly adapt to the new opportunities presented by the horse.
By virtue of the horse, the Comanches came into existence in 1650-1700, and came to utilize the bison in a way never previously possible. The whole culture was revolutionised, leading to the invention of e.g. the tepee (made from buffalo hides).
Although other tribes also came to utilise the horse in North America, it was the Comanche who did so first, pioneering the whole enterprise for themselves and gaining such power that it was only in the late 1800’s that they were finally overcome by ‘civilisation’ – actually in the form of contagious diseases rather than direct outgunning by the Europeans. During their period of control of their range the Comanche took many captives from the Mexicans, ‘Americans’ and surrounding indigenous tribes, whom they sold into slavery. They actually systematically enslaved white people, i.e. the pioneers who passed through or tried to settle in Comanche land.
Please see below for a map of Comanche lands, which were about as extensive as Texas although only partly in Texas. Also see various other maps putting the size of Texas, and thus the size of Comanche lands, in context geographically in various parts of the world, including West Africa whence you’ve just returned. As you can see, Niger is more extensive than Texas (and former Comanche lands) but the sizes are comparable.
The bottom line is that I see the Comanche as the Northern Hemisphere counterparts for the Mapuche of South America. Both groups moved into the areas of interest (Texas in the USA and the Pampas in Argentina) about the same time, and both held sway for remarkably long, terrorising Europeans who dared to enter their lands. Both owed their new-found power to the feral horse, which transformed lands once occupied by poor hunter-gatherers to lands occupied by warlike people who actually matched the firepower of European guns and ammunition by means of their great mobility as equestrians. The main difference is that the main food of the Comanche – namely Bison bison – was a native bovine, whereas the main food of the Mapuche was a feral bost. So the Argentinian situation is the more extreme and remarkable in that the Pampas was not as remote as the lands northwest of Texas, and the whole way of life of the Mapuche was owing to European introductions of livestock – not only the horse but also a feral ecological counterpart for the wild bison of North America.

(writing in progress)

Posted on 02 July, 2022 20:57 by milewski milewski


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