Trading, Raiding, and Outlawry

Introduction

Cultural evolution is an interdisciplinary study because it involves human history, biology and genetics, human behavior, demography, language, archeology, anthropology, and specific sociological effects.  How did the Shoshone Indians become Comanche, how did the Comanche progress from wandering nomads to an influential warrior culture, and some of the less obvious effects of conflict with other human groups? 

Indian Migration and Adaptation

Stone Age groups were hunters and gatherers.  Their migratory patterns reflect an ongoing search for sources of food — and when those food sources themselves have migratory habits, then the result is human groups following animal groups wherever they may go.  There are several bi-products of this, including intentional limitations of group sizes and conflict with competing human groups.  Group size limitations determined the number of people who could be protected, fed, and cared for.  Generally, stone age people maintained a population group of between 40 to 80 people.  This fact helps to explain the formation of native American bands within larger tribal groupings.

The Shoshone Indians (translated by some as the high-grass people) originated from an area of the present-day United States known as the Great Basin, which provides contiguous watersheds.  The Great Basin spans nearly all of Nevada, parts of Oregon and Utah, and portions of California, Idaho, Wyoming, and Baja, California, Mexico.  Migrating bands of Shoshone spread north and eastward into Idaho and Wyoming, across the Rocky Mountains, and into the Great Plains.  Today, there remain four Shoshone Indian groups: Eastern Shoshone (Wyoming), Northern Shoshone (southern Idaho), Western Shoshone (Nevada and northern Utah), and the Gosiute (Western Utah and Eastern Nevada).

Shoshone migrations brought them into conflict with Indian groups already present, such as the Blackfoot, Crow, Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho — conflicts that pushed the group even further south into present-day Mexico, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kansas.  This massive territorial expansion resulted from one event: the introduction of the horse, which gave these Indians greater mobility and the ability to range far distances in search of sources of food.  Thus, we have the Shoshone Indian who became transformed into the Comanche, the most sophisticated and feared mounted warrior culture the world has ever known.  The Comanche so valued their horses that a man’s standing within the tribe was determined by the number of horses he owned.  There was never a better horse thief in all the world than a Comanche.  The horse enabled Comanche Indians to establish and defend their vast territory, called the Comancheria, and reign supreme in that environment for nearly two hundred years.[1]

To suggest that the Comanche were fierce defenders of their acquired territory would be a gross understatement.  They may have tolerated other Indian groups and Spanish settlements, but only to the extent that the Comanche found them helpful — such as trading partners — and only so long as the outsiders did not offend Comanche sensitivities or suggest, even in the slightest way, that they were challenging Comanche supremacy.  Even then, there was never any guarantee that a young Comanche warrior, who was trying to create a name for himself, wouldn’t raid a settlement and kill everyone living there even if his father was friendly toward that settlement.

Comanche behavior was a confusing patchwork.  Some Comanche bands were more interested in trade than raiding, while others preferred the latter over the former.  One never knew what to expect.  Of course, trade was important to all Indian groups, and the Comanche was no exception — bartering was cultural, but with the Comanche, there could always be an unhappy consequence of arguing price too long or too loudly.  In that case, the Comanche would simply take what he wanted and a few scalps to sweeten the experience.

The Comanche were interested in acquiring corn, horses, mules, and cattle.  If they couldn’t trade for these items, they simply took them.  It all depended on what mood they were in at the time.  A raiding party would seize those items, along with women and children (whom they used as slaves).  They killed the men outright.

In the mid-1770s, the Spanish decided that they had had enough of Comanche raiding and murdering.  Juan Bautista de Anza, a Spanish military officer, led a punitive expedition against the Comanche.  He assembled a force of around 500 Spaniards and 200 Indian auxiliaries and marched against the Comanche leader, whom everyone called Green Horn.  Bautista surprised the Green Horn band in camp, killed Green Horn, and killed his male warriors.  This one-act prompted the Comanche to desist raiding Spanish settlements for several decades.

The Comanchero

Another consequence of Bautista’s expedition was the development of trade caravans in the 1780s.  The Comanchero were traders — people of mixed Hispanic and Indian descent.  They moved wagons of goods from settlement to settlement across the Great Plains, trading with whomever they could.  Because of their robust trade with the Comanche, they became known as Comanchero’s.

Comanchero trade flourished at different locations along the high southern plains of present-day New Mexico and the Texas panhandle.  Beginning in the mid-19th Century, in addition to other commodities, Comanchero traders provided the Comanche with firearms, ammunition, and whiskey.  The transfer of firearms was significant enough to cause the US Army to begin an interdiction campaign against the Comancheros in the 1870s.  In one season alone, Colonel Ranald Mackenzie attacked and defeated five separate Comanchero’s camps in the Palo Duro Canyon region area, which destroyed their wagons, food supplies, and other goods and slaughtered more than 1,400 horses.  Mackenzie’s strategy defeated the last free-roaming band of Comanche and effectively ended the Comanchero period. 

La Salle

René-Robert Cavalier (1643-1687), also known as Sieur de La Salle, was a French explorer and fur trader in North America whose exploits included investigating the Great Lakes, Mississippi River the Gulf of Mexico.[2]  He explored and claimed the Mississippi River in the name of France.  In 1685, La Salle returned to North America with a large expedition to establish a French colony on the Gulf of Mexico.

The expedition began with four ships and around 300 colonists.  He lost all four of his ships to pirates and poor navigation.  Stranded along Matagorda Bay, which La Salle named Bay St. Louis (near present-day Victoria, Texas), the settlers were subjected to hostile raids by local Indians.[3]  Having established his settlement, La Salle led several overland explorations attempting to locate the mouth of the Mississippi River.  During his last attempt, La Salle’s men rebelled, and he was killed by Jean L’Archevêque, who was sixteen years old.  For several years, L’Archevêque and his cohorts lived among the Indians.

The Legacy of L’Archevêque

Eventually, Jean L’Archevêque gave himself up to Spanish authorities, who escorted him to Mexico City, where L’Archevêque gave a full accounting of the La Salle expedition (leaving out his part in La Salle’s murder).  In 1693, Spanish authorities placed L’Archevêque in the Spanish army and sent him as part of a troop searching for survivors of the City of the Holy Faith (Santa Fe), who had been set upon by the Pueblo Indians.  We heard no more about Jean L’Archevêque until the mid-1800s when a curious American named Adolph Bandelier began an inquiry about the native men of New Mexico.  Bandelier discovered old Spanish records in a local church that dated back to the Pueblo revolt of 1690 and came upon the odd-sounding name Jean L’Archevêque …

We know from written records that Jean L’Archevêque married a widow named Antonia Gutierrez, traded with the Indians, and died while opposing members of a French expedition in present-day Colorado.  Jean left behind two sons: Miguel, through his marriage to Antonia, and Augustin with an unnamed companion.  From these efforts, Bandelier published a book titled The Gilded Man in 1893.  Again, the name L’Archevêque seems to fade away.

In 1875, famed Texas Ranger and cattleman Charles Goodnight and other Texas and New Mexico cattlemen struggled with depleted cattle ranges and economic depression.  Goodnight shifted 1,600 head of longhorn cattle from his ranch near Pueblo, Colorado, to the unsettled Canadian River country, just above the Texas/New Mexico border area, and there he intended to remain.  Great bands of sheep, tended to by New Mexican pastores, drifted down from the Las Vegas country to winter, where they could find protection from marauding Indians.

In the spring, Goodnight moved his cattle along a tributary of the Canadian River, and the sheepherders followed along.  In early fall, intending to drive his herd once more, Goodnight moved his herd again, approached the pastores, and told them that he would leave them this land if they would agree to remain away from the headwaters of the Atascosa River and the Palo Duro Canyon — where he planned to stay.  They agreed.

Two miles further downstream was a campsite of a man named Colas Martinez, a former Comanchero.  Colas knew the plains like the back of his hand.  Living with Martinez was his brother-in-law, Sostenes L’Archevêque — an outlaw who was so despicable that he was run out of several New Mexico settlements.  Since the day that a white man had murdered his father, Sostenes had sworn an oath.  “As soon as I grow up, I will kill every American I meet.”  Or words to that effect.  According to local pastores, Sostenes had killed 23 white men — which had been the number of white men he’d met so far in his life.

Charles Goodnight arranged for Colas to help him pilot his cattle into the Palo Duro Canyon.  In November 1876, Goodnight rode into the canyon, sited his home, located his cattle, and set his cowhands into camp.  Then, with Martinez, Goodnight rode over the divide toward the Canadian along Rios Amarillos.  Along the way, they met two brothers named Casner, who traveled in an ox-drawn wagon with several horses, a few cattle, and with the help of a Navajo lad, herded 1,600 sheep.

As Goodnight and Martinez continued their journey, Goodnight expressed some concern for the safety of his cowhands — particularly in light of their proximity to Sostenes L’Archevêque. Martinez suggested that Goodnight should not worry about L’Archevêque because Martinez intended to kill his brother-in-law and end his murderous spree.

That winter, traveling with a Mexican youth, L’Archevêque visited the Casner’s and murdered them and their Navajo herder.  The Mexican boy, Ysabel Gurules, fled L’Archevêque’s company and reported the murders to Martinez, who was encamped with a few of his old friends.  Martinez assured Gurules that he would take care of the matter and sent him on his way.  When Sostenes reached the Martinez camp, true to his word, with the help of his companions, fell upon Sostenes and stabbed him to death.[4]

In 1938, Judge Clarence Wharton of Houston read the account of Sostenes L’Archevêque and began a new investigation.  He wanted to know if Sostenes L’Archevêque was a descendant of Jean L’Archevêque, the murderer of La Salle.  He determined that Sostenes was the sixth-generation grandson of Jean.  He also tracked down a few of the “old-timers” from the Comanchero period, all of whom were at the time in the ’90s, who told them they remembered Sostenes.  They described him as “braver, meaner, and a better shot than Billy the Kid.”

Judge Wharton also discovered that Sostenes L’Archevêque had left an only child, by then an elderly woman.  She told Wharton, with some pride, that her father “… did quite a bit of outlawing in New Mexico, but more in Texas.  Everyone feared him because he was not afraid of anything, and the Texans had him killed because they were jealous of him.”

The question remained with Wharton, however: which of Jean L’Archevêque’s sons was Sostenes related to?  Without written records, no one can say — and it probably doesn’t matter.  What is interesting is how those who knew Sostenes were proud of his fearlessness, his proficiency with a pistol, and his deep-seated anger that caused the egregious death of (at least) twenty-five men — and among whom believed that those men had it coming because they were, after all, white men …

Conclusion

There is an adage that blood will tell.  Moralists may argue that Sostenes L’Archevêque received his just rewards — and this could be true.  On the other hand, this story, convoluted as it seems, might convey a useful thought or two about modern society.  Perhaps we continue to focus too much on skin color and not enough on personal character.

Sources:

  1. Anderson, H. A.  Sostenes L’Archevêque;  Handbook of Texas, online.
  2. Events, H. J.  Charles Goodnight.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1948. 
  3. Evettes, H. J.  L’Archevêque the Outlaw.  Hardin-Simmons University, 1958.
  4. McCarty, J. L.  Maverick Town: The Story of Old Tascosa.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1946, 1968.
  5. Wharton, C. R.  L’Archevêque.  Houston: Anson-Jones Press, 1941.

Endnotes

[1] The Comancheria included a large portion of present-day Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

[2] Roughly translated, Sieur de La Salle means “Lord of the Manor.”  It is a title, much like the English designation “Sir.”  The title “Sir” is bestowed upon those whom the British government wants to recognize for service to the crown.  In contrast, Sieur de La Salle is a title purchased, rather than earned.  René-Robert Cavalier purchased his title in 1667.  In this case, while a title rather a name, the title is so frequently used in conjunction with Cavalier that many people simply refer to him as Robert La Salle.

[3] The settlement was finally destroyed when Karankawa Indians overran the fort, killed all remaining adults, and took five children as captives.  A Spanish expedition, intending to dislodge La Salle, eventually recovered these children.

[4] We only know this story because it was told by Charles Goodnight’s biographer in Charles Goodnight, Cowman and Plainsman in 1936.


About Mustang

Retired Marine, historian, writer.
This entry was posted in American Frontier, American Indians, American Southwest, Comancheros, History, Indian Territory, Outlaws, Pioneers, Texas. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.