The Beginning of a Comanche Military Legacy
About 150 years ago, when my great-grandfather Chevato joined the Army as a cavalry scout, he became the first known Comanche to officially enlist in the U.S. armed forces.
As violence between pioneers and local tribes grew with the increase and expansion of settler population, many tribes fought to retain their lands and way of life. At the same time, the English, Spanish, French, and American governments frequently exploited tribal rivalries as part of the effort to gain control of territory and emerge victorious from America's various conflicts.
The U.S. military began early on to recognize and appreciate the talents many Native Americans possessed, including their tracking, scouting and land navigation skills. For example, after the Civil War, the Army came to rely on Indian scouts like Chevato as interpreters and guides, and hired them to serve as bounty hunters. Scouts would also return Indians who had escaped from reservations to their designated tribal areas during the Indian War Campaigns. As a result, Natives were often better accepted and tolerated in the military than in the civilian world, said James C. Walker of Georgia Southern University in a graduate thesis titled “From Scouts to Soldiers.”
According to the National Archives, there were two types of Indian scouts: enlisted and hired. Hired scouts were similar to modern contractors and typically paid a monthly wage, often for short expeditions lasting only a few weeks. Enlisted Indian scouts served for about six months at a time and received the same pay as white cavalry privates. Some Native Americans also served as regular infantry and cavalry Soldiers in short-lived Indian companies in the 1890s. About 16 Native Americans even received Medals of Honor in the second half of the 19th century.
One of the Army's toughest campaigns was against the Apache. The Chiricahua band of Apaches, led by Geronimo, roamed territory ranging from Arizona and New Mexico to western Texas and northern Mexico. Geronimo's band aggressively attacked wagon trains and settlers in retaliation for the loss of their land and the government's abandonment of their reservation agreement.
Brigadier Gen. George Crook was charged with returning the tribal members to their reservations and restoring order. He was known for his willingness to negotiate with tribes and his immense trust in and use of Indian scouts. “The Scouts had first-hand knowledge of 'every trail, every water hole, every hideout in the vast labyrinth of mountains crisscrossing the southwest.' The 'enemy' was not only their own tribe, but often their own clan. Crook believed there was none better to track the Apache than other Apache. The Apache Scouts played a decisive role, right up to the final surrender of Geronimo in 1886,” said an article on the Army's website.