Of great interest to me has always been life of the Comanche indians on the Llano Estacado, an enormous tableland in eastern New Mexico and western Texas.
Comanches made up a vast tribe consisting of at least 13 bands of Indians who held the Llano Estacado as their Southern Great Plains stronghold from the early 18th century until their defeat in 1874. Interactions between Comanches and other Indian tribes and between Comanches and whites are described by S.C. Gwynne's book titled, "Empire of the Summer Moon."
Sand Plum on sandy area bordering Highway 70 between Portales and Clovis.
Although I found the conflicts between Comanches and other Indian tribes and between Comanches and whites are described by S.C. Gwynne's book titled, "Empire of the Summer Moon." interesting, other aspects like their masterful horsemanship and their dietary resources fascinated me more. Gustov Carlson's paper titled, "Some Notes of Uses of Plants by Comanche Indians," stated that some authors say that buffalo (bison) meat was the only food source of Comanche Indians. Carlson's research proved otherwise. He stated that many berries were eaten, and they must have offered a welcomed variation to the monotony of a meat diet. One such berry is the Sand Plum (commonly called Sandhill Plum). Carlson stated its berries were consumed fresh, dried, or stored for later use. Sand Plums grow in sandy areas on the grasslands of the Llano Estacado. They are in Oasis State Park, on the dunes between Portales and Clovis on either side of Highway 70, and elsewhere. They are recognized by their white flowers in April and berries ripening from yellow to red in mid-September.
And now with that knowledge behind us, perhaps you may wish to use your imagination as I did while conducting biological fieldwork on the Llano Estacado. Afterall, only an imagination can envision the former free life on the plains the Comanches commanded. During the afternoon when my fieldwork was idle, I used to stare into space as I glanced over the vast grasslands and imagine 100 or more Comanche warriors painted for battle galloping their mounts across my field of vision. During one vision a warrior broke away from the group, steered his mount in my direction, and stopped abruptly where I was standing. He dismounted, and with hand and facial gestures, gave me this message, "How about sharing a Sand Plum with me?" I obliged. We plucked berries from a nearby bush, ate them, and allowed their juices to run down our chins. When finished, he mounted his horse in a skillful manner, slapped it on the rear, and headed swiftly in the direction of his native band which was disappearing in the distance. I stood motionless and thought, "Wow, what an experience."
Desert Biologist Tony Gennaro of Portales writes a monthly column on creatures of the Southwest. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org