"up from the offside of those ponies there rose a fabled horde of mounted lancers and archers"
Comanche Feats of Horsemanship (ca. 1834-1835), by George Caitlin
Public DomainComanche Feats of Horsemanship (ca. 1834-1835), by George Catlin - Credit: Smithsonian Museum of American Art

The Comanche were America’s most accomplished horsemen and formidable opponents who developed specific strategies for fighting on horseback.

George Catlin commented on their prowess in the following way:


Amongst their feats of riding there is one that has astonished me more than anything of the kind I have ever seen or expect to see in my life: – a stratagem of war, learned and practiced by every young man in the tribe; by which he is able to drop his body on the side of his horse at the instant he is passing, effectively screened from his enemies’ weapons, as he lays in a horizontal position behind the body of his horse, with his heel hanging over the horse’s back… in this wonderful condition, he will hang whilst his horse is at fullest speed, carrying with him his bow and shield and also his long lance 14 feet in length.

(Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of North American Indians)


In Blood Meridian, the Comanche war party utilise this very technique; concealing themselves behind their horses before rising up at the last moment, to the utter dismay of the filibusters when the true number of Indians dawn on them. It is a detail inspired by an actual historical event. Historian J.W. Wilbarger gives this account of an infamous Comanche raid upon the port town of Linnville in 1840:


Early in the morning of August 8, some few of the inhabitants of Linnville observed in the distance a perfect cloud of dust, caused, as they supposed, by a vast caballada of horses, being brought in from Mexico for trading purposes. By throwing themselves on the sides of their horses, and riding in this way, the Indians had completely concealed themselves from the vision of the unsuspecting denizens of the village. Imagine their consternation and utter dismay, when one thousand red savages, suddenly rising in their saddles, dashed upon the defenseless town, when many of the inhabitants were fast asleep. […] The scene amid the confusion which prevailed was one never to be forgotten by the survivors of that terror stricken people. The war whoop of the wild Comanche commingled with the screaming of women, the crying of children, and the groans of the dying and wounded almost beggars description.

(Indian Depredations in Texas)