January 18, 2014

Comanche pottery in Killer Women

The second episode of the new TV series Killer Women, titled Some Men Need Killing, aired Tuesday. It featured Comanche pottery (!) as a plot point.

Texas Ranger Molly Parker is investigating Nan Reed, the wealthy wife of a murder victim. Molly notices some objects on the mantelpiece of Reed's luxurious house. The following scenes ensue:MOLLY PARKER: Is this your collection?

NAN REED: My husband's. He collected Native American artifacts.

[Molly inspects the last object she comes to.]

MOLLY: Comanche?

NAN: Uh, I'm not sure. Something our interior designer helped Clete acquire.

[Molly takes a picture of it.]
Next, Molly goes to the office of Jennifer Jennings, the interior designer. Molly shows Jennifer the picture.JENNIFER JENNINGS: Yes, I love this one. Very rare. 1840-ish. Beautiful, isn't it?

MOLLY: Be prettier if it were real.

JENNIFER: Come again?

MOLLY: The vase is fake. It was fired in a kiln, not dried in the sun. I know a fair amount about Comanche pottery. I was obsessed with Comanches as a kid.

JENNIFER: Seeing as your last name is Parker?

MOLLY: Yes, ma'am. My family goes back to Cynthia Ann and the first settlers of west Texas.

JENNIFER: Isn't that interesting?

JENNIFER: The vase is real. I got it from a dealer in Dallas for $35,000.
Molly soon reveals the significance of this to a colleague. The real vase was sold at an auction for $31,000 by an anonymous seller who had to be Nan Reed. Reed put a fake vase in its place and used the proceeds to hire a killer.

A few mistakes

These scenes have a few problems. For starters, the pitiful lineup of objects doesn't merit the label "collection." There are only half a dozen or so items.

One is an abbreviated bone breastplate of the type worn by Plains warriors. Another is a furry object with what looks like a buffalo horn. The rest are anonymous pieces of pottery that don't look Native.

I didn't think the Comanche made pottery. I searched and found several sources that agreed:

About Comanche Pottery

By Christie LemanFeatures

Since the Comanche were always on the move searching for buffalo, the tribe never developed much in the way of crafts and artwork, like more settled tribes often did. There are no known remnants of any unique Comanche pottery or basketry.

Before the introduction of the horse the Comanche used dogs pulling sleds to carry their possessions when they moved to a new campsite. Usually these possessions only consisted of the family's tipi and basic necessities. Pottery was very heavy and easily breakable, so it was not practical for such a highly mobile tribe as the Comanche.


Since Comanche pottery was non-existent and not functional for the tribe, the Comanche used buffalo products to serve much the same purpose as pottery. Instead of using pottery to cook in, the Comanche women stretched out the lining of the buffalo's stomach and cooked in it just like a pot. Buffalo horns were even fashioned into primitive eating utensils. Later, when the Comanche began to trade with the Spanish, they acquired metal pots to cook in.

While traveling so frequently the Comanche needed to store what little they did have in lightweight, unbreakable containers. Bags were often fashioned out of tanned buffalo hides to serve this purpose.
female lone ranger inaccuracies

By WhitefeatherKiller Women is about a lone female Texas Ranger. I was not aware of this show until it came on tonight at a friend's home where I am staying.

This episode shows a pot, probably bought at Pier 1, and Lakota quill vest, likely a prop copy.

The Lone Rangeress identifies all the items as "Comanche artifacts" and then goes on to identify the pot as "not an authentic Comanche pottery because it was fired in a kiln."

This sort of thing I see every time Indians are depicted.

The vest is clearly Lakota, that was a stupid call.

But even worse, there is no such thing as Comanche pottery! Comanches did not make pottery at all. There is not a single known example of Comanche pottery. Anyone who knows anything about the various nations knows this.

When Comanches did use pottery they purchased pottery made in the pueblos, trading meat and semi-precious stones for them.

I can't believe yet another remake of the Lone Ranger is getting everything wrong.

Well yes I can believe it.

At least there is no sidekick in this one.
And a tweet:Retweeted MaggieBelize (@MaggieBelize):

"Comanche pottery"? The Comanche didn't make pottery. Why am I watching this show?? #KillerWomen
Let's clear up a few mistakes in Whitefeather's posting. Killer Women is just a cop show about a Texas Ranger, not a remake of The Lone Ranger. The wife called the collection "Native American artifacts"; she didn't say they were all Comanche. I'm pretty sure the "quill vest" is actually a bone breastplate--or half of one, at least. It looked more like a large necklace than a full breastplate.

The pottery problem

The vase does look as if it was bought at Pier 1, but let's ignore that.

I don't know if the Comanche literally never made a piece of pottery. Even if that's true, the show said the piece was a rare one from 1840. I could imagine that one or two examples of Comanche pottery exist. And that the rare but unattractive items would be worth around $35,000.

I'd say a bigger problem is Molly's expertise. Even if she obsessed about the Comanche, how would she know about Comanche pottery, a field that doesn't exist? It would be an incredible coincidence if two or three Comanche pieces happened to exist and Molly happened to study those exact pieces.

The writers could've rectified this problem along the lines Whitefeather suggested. The Comanche obtained the vase through trade with or theft from a New Mexican pueblo. Molly was obsessed with all the Indians of the Southwest and learned about the much more common Pueblo pottery. She identified the vase as a fake the same way.

The stereotype here is that every tribe made pottery. No, many tribes didn't. It's a shame the writers couldn't get this bit of Native lore right, since it would've been easy.

One other note: Molly says her family goes back to Cynthia Ann Parker. Parker was a white woman captured by the Comanche who stayed with the tribe. She gave birth to three children, including the famous Quanah Parker.

Molly doesn't explicitly say she's a direct descendant of Cynthia Ann, but she implies it. If true, that would mean she's part Comanche. That's plausible. A lot of people have a little Indian blood--especially if their families have lived in Indian country a long time.

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