The Comanche Chief Whose ‘Vulgar’ Name Was Censored

By Joshua T. Garcia on Monday, November 4, 2013
Comanche-Man-1892-a
“Cavalrymen remember such moments: dust swirling behind the pack mules, regimental bugles shattering the air, horses snorting and riders’ tack creaking through the ranks, their old company song rising on the wind.” —S.C. Gwynne, Empire of the Summer Moon

In A Nutshell

One of the most powerful Native American empires of all time belonged to the Comanche—a confederated tribe of mounted men who dominated the plains of the Western United States. When white Americans began to migrate west, violence and conflict ensued. But Americans also took offense at one Comanche war chief’s name: Po-cha-na-quar-hip, who led raids against white settlers, was colloquially referred to as “Buffalo Hump,” but his name actually meant something along the lines of “erection that won’t go down.”

The Whole Bushel

Buffalo Hump was a member of the Penateka band of the Comanche, a tribe whose territory expanded into New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Kansas. His birth date is uncertain—he may have been born in the late 1790s or the early 1800s.

As an adult, Buffalo Hump became a war chief of the Penateka band. His Nermernuh name, commonly transliterated as Po-cha-na-quar-hip, had a phallic meaning white Americans refused to translate: “erection that won’t go down.”

By the time Buffalo Hump came to prominence, Comancheria was on its last leg. The Penateka band in particular was under threat from constant Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Texan Ranger attacks. Smallpox was taking a toll as well. In 1840, some Comanche chiefs made attempts at peace with the Texas government. In January, Texas demanded that the Comanche relinquish their control of central Texas, release all their current white captives, and stay clear of white settlements.

Thirty-three Penateka chiefs gave their response in March at a Council House in San Antonio. They released several captives, but one of the prisoners explained that the chiefs had left some behind. The Penateka explained they had no authority over the remaining prisoners (they were captives of other bands), but the Texans wouldn’t have it. A slaughter ensued.

It was after this incident that Buffalo Hump became well-known. Peace negotiations flopped, and a furious Buffalo Hump instead led successful raids throughout Southeastern Texas, capturing people and livestock. Buffalo Hump was defeated at Plum Creek on August 12, but he escaped.

Buffalo Hump continued his brutal raids until 1844, when he met with Sam Houston (an influential Texas congressman), who agreed to keep white settlers east of Edwards Plateau. But white western expansion could not be stopped, and Buffalo Hump took up raiding again. Finally, in 1846, six years after his tirade of revenge began, Buffalo Hump agreed to a peace treaty with the US under pressure from the Texas Rangers.

Buffalo Hump went on to become a significant resource for American expansion in the West. He helped guide an expedition from San Antonio to El Paso and led his people onto a reservation. He died in 1870 as a farmer.

[Note: The above image is a Comanche man, though not Buffalo Hump himself.]

Show Me The Proof

Texas State Historical Association: Buffalo Hump
Texas State Historical Association: Council House Fight
Empire of the Summer Moon, S.C. Gwynne