“The Empire of the Summer Moon – Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History,” by S.C. Gwynne, 2010
The rumor ends here. Gwynne brings the riveting and yet sad story of the Comanches to life, making many claims about the powers of the Comanche nation. The story centers on the high plains of the Llano Estacado, a sea of grass rising above the western part of
Originally they were a miserable tribe chased out of the mountains of the north, who, upon coming into contact with wild Spanish horses as they moved south, adopted the horse as their mainstay. Gwynne contends that the Comanche became the best horse warriors in
Interwoven with the story of the rise and fall of the Comanche tribe and bands is the story of Cynthia Ann Parker and her half-native son, Quanah. Cynthia Ann was the woman made famous in the John Wayne film, “The Searchers.” She was a white woman kidnapped by a band of Comanche and later married one of their most powerful chiefs, had 3 children including Quanah, and lived with the band for many years. When she was recaptured by the whites, she wasted away in anger and unhappiness, eventually dying by self-starvation. Quanah grew up to be the leader of the Quahadi Comanches, the most uncompromising band, who had as little contact with whites as possible. Quanah eventually reads the writing on the wall in his mid-twenties, and becomes a well-known and model reservation Indian. In this story, more of Quanah’s life is taken up with the latter than the former. Eventually, both Quanah and his mother were buried side by side in Cache,
Gwynne captures the constant Comanche raiding and settler retaliatory strikes that took place in Texas, resulting in massacres, military defeats, army and Ranger victories, burning villages and towns, escapes and standoffs. The Comanches, being war-like, brooked no quarter on the battlefield, only took young or female prisoners, practiced torture, burned civilian towns, and escaped with as many horses and goods as they could steal. The Texans eventually learned the lessons of Comanche warfare. They were as brutal to the native people, if not more so.
Gwynne is a reporter for the Dallas Morning News. There is a bit of political wobbling in his narration of this dramatic tale, using terms like ‘advancing civilization’ and the “Comanche problem,” while at the same time denouncing the atrocities committed against the Plains tribes; praising the skills of the Comanche horse warriors, and equally their tough opponents, the Texas Rangers or U.S. generals like Ranald McKenzie. Being a reporter, 'fair and balanced' is how we like it, it seems. Gwynne ultimately understands the Comanches were being killed to get them off the land – but, as his narration implies, this was inevitable. The Comanches were a hunter/gatherer society coming face to face with advancing agrarian/ merchant capitalism. The latter had its Four Horseman of the Indian Apocalypse – Colt six-shooters, Sharps carbines and buffalo guns; disease and whiskey; thousands of settlers; and many dead buffalo, the Comanche’s food. In the rear marched racist Christianity, Manifest Destiny, greed and private property. These would prove to be an unstoppable force.
One day as a gift, the Comanches are let off the Fort Sill Reservation in
And not so dissimilar to what is still happening to indigenous, tribal peoples all over the world, at the hands of a more 'civilized' capitalism. Inevitable? I don't think so. Gwynne prefers to historicize these events, as if they have no relevance to the present. But they do. For instance, see my review of "Walking With the Comrades," below.
And I did not buy it at May Day Books!
But we have a large selection of books on Native American issues. Come in for our Holiday Party...
November 30, 2012