Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture

Leading Early American Scholarship Since 1943


William and Mary Quarterly

Third Series, Volume LXVII
April 2010

Interactive Digital Project

The Politics of Grass: European Expansion, Ecological Change, and Indigenous Power in the Southwest Borderlands

Pekka Hämäläinen

This interactive supplement illustrates the key elements of the Comanche power structure that dominated much of the Southwest, the Great Plains, and northern Mexico in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Clicking the buttons at the top will illuminate each of the elements, which are highlighted in different colors.

Cities:

These are the major Spanish, French, Mexican, and U.S. settlements in New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and northern Mexico, which fell, in different ways, under Comanche spheres of influence in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Comanchería:

The territory of the Comanche Indians in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Primary Comanche raiding zone until the 1820s:

The Comanches raided horses, mules, and captives across the Southwest in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but until the 1820s the Spanish and Mexican settlements and ranches in Texas were their principal targets.

Transhumance:

In the late eighteenth century, Comanches extended their resource base toward the Colorado plateau and Spanish New Mexico through transhumance, which involved seasonal migrations of people and their domestic animals to new grazing lands.

Trade center:

These were the major hubs of commercial activity on the Great Plains. The three trader centers in Comanchería were nodal points of a multifaceted commercial network, which brought in foreign traders from the northern Great Plains, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and St. Louis.

Long-distance war trail:

In the early nineteenth century, Comanches extended their raiding sphere deep into northern Mexico and forged well-established trails to support their activities. Comanche war parties traveled south along two trunk lines, which forked into four near the Río Grande. Farther south, the trails branched into numerous smaller lines, which in the 1830s and 1840s webbed much of northern Mexico.

Trade routes:

These were the major trade routes that brought foreign traders into Comanche villages and linked Comanchería to several distinctive ecological regions and markets.


Comanchería and its spheres of influence in the early nineteenth century. This map accompanies Pekka Hämäläinen’s article, “The Politics of Grass: European Expansion, Ecological Change, and Indigenous Power in the Southwest Borderlands,” WMQ 67, no. 2 (April 2010) 173–208. Drawn by Rebecca Wrenn.