Eileen Granfors's Reviews > Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History

Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne
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Aug 24, 10

bookshelves: local-color, non-fiction
Read from August 18 to 24, 2010

On the cover, S.C. Gwynne's writing history amazed me. His first book covered an outlaw bank( BCI), and in "Empire of the Summer Moon" he turns his eye for detail to outlaw people. . .whites on the rampage and Native Americans driven from their lands.

His is not a romantic, rose-colored glasses overview of this history of the Comanche tribes. He details their cruel tortures, their sport of horse raiding for plunder and the taking of captives. Some of the captives were held for ransom. Some were slaves of the tribe. Some were tenderly adopted into the tribe.

One of those captives, Cynthia Ann Parker, maintains the reader's attention through many of the chapters. She was famous as the captive who forgot her Western roots and wanted to remain a Comanche. Her son, Quanah Parker, became one of the Comanches' most-honored leaders, and yet Quanah also saw the end of his way of life and adapted to the reservation life, even prospering financially by bargaining with the U.S. government.

Topography is another of the main characters. We get to know the red rocks of Texas, that dry, unhospitable land, as well as its canyons, grasslands, and small settlement towns. The Comanches roamed their territory--through Texas, New Mexico, Colorado,and into Mexico-- following the buffalo herds.

As white settlers encroached, the tribes disappeared further into the safety of the hills, only to reappear on nights of the Comanche moon, to pillage ranches, taking what they pleased and killing the rest. Facts such as the Comanches' taking of books are among the minute revelations that help us to understand a people who valued little except the good fight, survival, and their tribe.

Gwynne's description of the buffalo hunters left me gasping in pain and horror for the atrocities committed upon man and animals.

There are repetitions in the story as Gwynne takes us into the lives of the aboriginal peoples and provides differing points of view. The introduction of the horse by the Spaniards changed everything, giving the Comanches a method of fighting for their land unknown among pioneers from the East and Middle West. The end of the Civil War brought the government's full attention to the West as the Plains Indians, finally including the Comanches, were brought to heel on the reservations. Even the reservation treaties were then broken time and again.

This history, abetted by full footnotes and an index, is an excellent resource for understanding the final stages of opening the American West, which depended on safety for white citizens. That it cost the lives and culture of the Native Americans did not matter to the government nor to the settlers, though certain liberal interests in the East continued to romanticize the stoic, natural state of the American Indians. At the same time, Gwynne's eye for details and straight-forward approach offer a narrative of unusual insight into the complexities of a deadly cultural clash.
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