new rock art discoveries by a University of Colorado at Boulder
researcher depict mounted warriors, likely Comanche, astride horses
clad in leather armor and created around 1700 to 1750, the first
such petroglyphs found in the state.
anthropology doctoral student Mark Mitchell, who identified the
art, said Plains Indians like the Comanche probably acquired horses
from the Spanish in northern New Mexico beginning about 1650 through
raiding or trading. The idea of leather-armored horses and riders
to deflect spears and arrows probably came from American Indians
seeing armored Spanish horse soldiers in the Southwest or Mexico.
art tells us about Comanche history through archaeology," Mitchell
said. "There is some recorded history but virtually no archaeology
of the Comanche, which makes these rock art depictions very valuable.
They should point us to additional places to look for Comanche sites
containing artifacts associated with horses."
new finds by Mitchell include three in Colorado and one in central
Kansas. He identified two separate rock art depictions of armored
horses on the Purgatoire River in southeast Colorado, both showing
the horses' armor as rough trapezoids of leather on each side with
straight to slightly flaring front and back margins and curved at
the top and bottom. "Both also clearly show an armored collar
from which horses' heads protrude," said Mitchell.
third petroglyph in Baca County depicts a single armored horse and
rider incised in rock, he said. The horse's feet and head are shown
protruding from the armor. Two parallel lines adjacent to the rider's
torso may represent human body armor, and the rider holds a short
lance in his left hand.
published a paper on the subject in the March issue of Antiquity.
rock art discoveries as far north as Canada, which appear to date
several decades later than those on the southern plains, indicate
northern Plains Indians also used leather armor to protect the horse
and rider. But cavalry tactics on the northern plains appear to
have been less sophisticated than those in the south.
fourth petroglyph identified by Mitchell, from central Kansas, "clearly
depicts an armored horse," he said. The armor again is trapezoidal
in shape and shows a horse head protruding from an armored collar.
The leather-armored Comanche likely used short bows, arrows and
spears during battle.
best historical evidence for armored and mounted Plains Indians
comes from a hide painting produced in a Jesuit mission in present-day
New Mexico by an American Indian in about 1720, said Mitchell. The
painting depicts a band of mounted warriors on leather-armored horses
and holding spears, attacking a ground force of Apache Indians holding
shields, spears and bows and arrows.
strategy of leather armor only lasted for about a century, from
1650 to 1750," said Mitchell. Referred to as the "Post-horse-Pre-gun"
period, it collapsed as firearms became available to American Indians
via trades with the French and English, which could penetrate the
leather armor of mounted warriors.
noted a previous study by University of Nebraska archaeologists
indicated French traders may have visited and perhaps traded guns
to the Comanche as early as 1748. The Comanche also may have been
trading with the Wichita and Pawnee by 1751.
anthropologists now believe some Plains Indian tribes moved south
specifically to obtain horses from the Spanish, he said. Some Comanche
bands may have had a dozen horses per warrior, forcing them to camp
near large lakes or rivers in order to keep the people and horses
period of mounted Indian warriors, including the century of some
using armored hides, is a relatively brief but significant blip
in the history of the Plains Indians, Mitchell said. "For the
previous 1,000 years, these peoples were very sedentary, living
in villages and farming, and were not mobile until the arrival of
Contact: Mark Mitchell, (303) 913, 2435 (cell)
Jim Scott, (303) 492-3114