A Panhandle-Plains road trip in the heart of Comancheria—the Comanche homeland
By Russell A. Graves
Standing on a rock ledge looking south over the Pease River Valley in the Texas Panhandle, it is easy to understand why the Comanche loved this country. Peppered with junipers, mesquite, and cacti, the land is a patchwork of grasslands where bison once grazed by the hundreds of thousands, and where red-dirt badlands are stippled with ribbons of white gypsum. While more than a century has passed since this area was first inhabited by Anglo settlers, it’s still alive with the spirits of native people who lived here for centuries. This is the heart of Comancheria—the Comanche homeland.
The Texas Panhandle and Rolling Plains are the last haunts of the Comanche, who were moved to Oklahoma reservations after the Red River War of 1874 and 1875. When the war ended and the Comanche were forced onto reservations, Chief Quanah Parker emerged as a visionary leader among his people, introducing them to Anglo conventions such as ranching and formal school while encouraging them to retain Comanche cultural traditions.
In 2011, on the centennial of Parker’s death, communities throughout the region established the Quanah Parker Trail to honor Parker, the Comanche people he served in wartime and peacetime, Parker’s Anglo and Comanche descendants, and the Southwest’s Native-American heritage. A project of the 52-county Texas Plains Trail, one of 10 heritage tourism trails developed by the Texas Historical Commission, the Quanah Parker Trail is a still-evolving initiative designed to showcase places with a real or legendary connection to the famous chief. Across dozens of counties in such towns as Matador, Dalhart, Spur, and Lipscomb, 23-foot steel arrows mark spots of interest and significance. Since the program is still developing, new arrows are added on a regular basis.
The Trail’s website describes itself as a “road-trip guide,” and with exploration in mind, I begin my journey just south of the Red River in Quanah (pop. 2,500), the town founded in the 1880s and named for the famed Comanche leader.
The Quanah Parker Trail continues to add sites and monuments as communities throughout the region embrace their heritage. Northwest Texas yields rich rewards for travelers looking to explore one of Texas’ last frontiers.
See full story in the October 2012 issue.
From the September 2012 issue.