Ten Bears, Comanche Leader

The Comanche and Kiowa tribes influenced much of the history of north Texas and the southwest. Some leaders such as Quanah Parker are likely somewhat more familiar, but there were several from both tribes who were influential for long periods of time.

Ten Bears

Image credit: Comanche Nation

Ten Bears was one of the Comanche and Kiowa leaders who signed the Medicine Lodge Treaty. This treaty signed in October of 1867 near Medicine Lodge, Kansas was intended to settle hostilities between several tribes and the United States. It actually consisted of three treaties: one with the Kiowa and Comanche, another with the Plains Apache, Kiowa and Comanche and yet another with the Arapaho and Cheyenne.

The United States promised, among other provisions, to provide protection and peace from Anglo intrusion in exchange for agreements to relocate to specified lands and to practice peace between the parties. It was ratified by the United States Senate in July of 1868. Article I stated “From this day forward all wars between the parties to this agreement shall forever cease.” (1)

Much has been written about the history surrounding the treaty and its lack of effectiveness in ending conflicts between the parties. Generally speaking, it was unsuccessful in ending hostilities between them, since neither of the sides strictly honored the agreement. The Anglo settlers kept coming and encroaching on traditional tribal lands, provisions to be furnished the tribes were inadequate and the tribes continued to leave the reservations to raid, take captives, hunt and live their lives as they had done for generations earlier.

Ten Bears’ name in the Comanche language has been spelled Parrawasamen, or phonetic variations of this. He was a chief of the Yamparika Comanche. He is believed to have been born around 1790 – 1792 and the chief lived to around the age of 80, passing in 1872.

Based upon what has been written about him and his speeches attributed to him that have been preserved, like Quanah Parker, Ten Bears could see and understand both sides of the conflicts that arose from the westward expansion into what had traditionally been tribal lands.

In one of the longest preserved speeches set during the negotiations around the Medicine Lodge Treaty, Ten Bears begins by being conciliatory towards the government and its stated intentions. He maintains that the fighting between his braves and the soldiers did not begin until the government sent the soldiers who fired on them. See quote below. He mentions the suffering of the other tribes, such as the Utes. He acknowledges the depredations against the whites that have taken place. (2)

Ten Bears continues by saying that some of the things that the government is asking the Comanche to agree to are alien to them. The requests are “not sweet like sugar, but bitter like gourds.” These include the idea of placing the Comanche on reservations rather than allowing them to roam free, requiring them to live in houses rather than allowing them to live out their days on the prairies where they were born. He says that there might have been peace, but the land they are asked to live on is too small and does not include the area where “the grass is the thickest and the timber is the best.” (2)

The following quote is attributed to Ten Bears: “My people have never first drawn a bow or fired a gun against the whites. There has been trouble on the line between us, and my young men have danced the war dance. But it was not begun by us. It was you who sent out the first soldier and who sent out the second… Since that time there has been a noise like that of a thunderstorm.” (3)

During his lifetime, Ten Bears participated in many treaty negotiations. They include the Comanche-Ute Alliance of 1820, the Treaty of Fort Atkinson of 1853, the Treaty of Fort Cobb of 1861, the Treaty of the Little Arkansas River of 1865 and the above-mentioned Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867. He is known to have visited Washington D.C. in 1863 and 1872. Ten Bears died at Fort Sill upon returning on November 23, 1872 from his last visit to Washington. The great chief is buried on the Fort Sill Post Cemetery in Comanche County, Oklahoma.

(1) “Record Copy of the Proceedings of the Indian Peace Commission appointed Under the Act of Congress approved July 20, 1867,” National Archives.

(2) “The Comanche Barrier To South Plains Settlement.” Rupert Norval Richardson, Eakin Press, 1906.

(3) “The Last Comanche Chief: The Life and Times of Quanah Parker'” Bill Neeley, John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1995.

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