The Comanche Trail or Trace was a thousand-mile-long path that Comanche raiders used to cross Texas and reach into Mexico. The trail started at camps in the comancheria sited in North Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado and extended all the way to Zachatecas, south of Durango and Monterrey. The Comanche could also branch east off this trail to raid into central and south Texas.
The use of this trail probably dates to the late 1700s because the Comanche were raiding yearly at the Mission in Refugio in the early 1800s. When Mexico gained independence from Spain, most of the Spanish troops in Texas and along the border had been withdrawn. In 1821, only 59 Spanish soldiers remained in Texas.
The Mexican economy was in shambles, so the new Mexican government had other priorities. Towns in northern Mexico and along the Rio Grande border were on their own in defending against the Comanche. The Comanche’s only problem was dealing with attacks by the hostile Indian bands through whose territory the Trail passed, e.g.: the Apache.
The raiding into Mexico became very intense in the 1840s and continued into the 1850s. The primary object of these raids was to steal horses, but a secondary one was to kidnap Mexican women and children as slaves. There are no accurate records, but one large hacienda counted the number of horses lost to raiders in the hundreds of thousands.
The Mexicans killed and captured were in the thousands. The large cities like Monterrey were not attacked, but the mestizo residents of the countryside were ravaged. The Mexicans probably suffered more from Comanche depredations in this period than did the Texans.
The Comanche Trail was determined by water holes and river crossings. At Big Spring in Texas, the Comanche Trail forked south into western and eastern trails. The western portion of the Trail crossed the Rio Grande River at two points: at Boquillas, opposite the present Big Bend National Park and near Presidio.
The eastern portion of the Trail crossed the Rio Grande near Del Rio. Below the Rio Grande, the trail had four prongs that reached below Monterrey and south to Zacatecas and San Luis Potosi. The beaten trail was a mile wide in some places and was clearly visible to anyone who crossed it.
It would also be marked by the bleached bones of the Mexican children, women and horses who were too weak to make the forced march to the Comanche camps.
In Texas, the trail north is seen as passing through several well-known springs and watering sites. Comanche Springs is near the site of Fort Stockton. The Pecos River was forded at Horsehead Crossing. The Comanche aimed at watering sites spaced about a day’s ride apart. The Comanche Trail was mapped by a Texan in 1857.
The Comanche made the mistake of thinking that Texas would be as defenseless as Mexico. However, the government of the Republic of Texas was determined to put an end to Comanche depredations, especially after the Comanche Raid of 1840.
Mirabeau Lamar, as Republic President, reorganized and rearmed the Texas Rangers and gave them the orders to follow the Comanche back to their home camps in the comancheria. The Comanche did not think anyone would ever dare do that. Apache scouts, who hated the Comanche, were happy to help the Rangers find the Comanche camps.
The U.S. Army used the scarcity of springs and water holes in South and West Texas to strategic advantage against the roving Apache and Comanche bands. The Army camped at the watering places since they knew that the Indian bands would eventually have to show up there for water. The use of the Comanche Trail came to an end in the 1850s.
Herndon Williams is affiliated with the Bayside Historical Society and the Refugio County Historical Commission. He is the author of the book, “Texas Gulf Coast Stories”, published in December 2010 by The History Press. His second book, “Eight Centuries on the Texas Frontier”, was published in May 2013. His third book, “Luju and the Curious Wolf Cub” was published in 2019.