Libby'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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's review
Jun 26, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: favorites, unforgettable, american-history

This is impressive scholarship combined with easy readable prose, always a win-win situation. S.C. Gwynne tells the tale of the most feared and most powerful Indian tribe in U.S. history. He hangs it on a framework of the saga of white captive Cynthia Ann Parker and her famous son Quanah Parker. His tale is both tragic and triumphant depending on point of view, but it is full of fascinating glimpses of a highly romanticized time in Texas (and US) history. Now I was a Medieval European History major, so I have had only the most superficial knowledge of America's frontier experience. If it wasn't in a John Wayne movie, I didn't much get it. I did take one course in Anthropology on the Plains Indians, but they didn't spend too much time on the Commanches, because these Indians didn't exactly embrace complicated cultural mores. They lived a hunter-gatherer life style, with a lot more hunter than gatherer. They followed the buffalo herds for a living and once they acquired horses, they swiftly became lords of the Great Plains. They ruled absolutely over lands from Nebraska to Mexico and on South. They stopped the northern Expansion of the Spanish in Mexico dead cold. When the French attempted to infiltrate from Louisiana, the Commanche kicked the merde out of them. When Texans tried to move out past the forested East, the tribes jumped on them like a duck on a junebug. In the case of this narration, the junebug was a family group named Parker, most of whom are LARGE in Texas history. On May 19, 1836, the Commanches attacked Parker's Fort. The Parker menfolk, after having expended considerable sweat on building a stockade had somehow left the gates wide open while they went to work in the fields. The Commanche were inside almost before anyone knew it and except for the bleeding, it was all over. Several family members were killed and five, including blonde haired,blue eyed, nine year old Cynthia Ann, were taken into captivity. Her family was to search for her with varying degrees of futility until 1860. At least twice, she was seen by white traders or soldiers who offered to buy her back(a relatively common practice.) Each time, the offers were refused. The Indians said she didn't want to be sent home. Now this was hard for Texans to accept. They were SURE that a good Texas Baptist child would never adjust and adapt to being a Commanche. She MUST be under duress and suffering dreadfully. Her uncle James continued to search for her. (Sound a little John Waynish? Think The Searchers, based on a novel by Alan LeMay, based on this very incident.) While in captivity, Cynthia Ann forgot how to speak English, married a war chief and had three children. When recaptured, she attempted to run away to Commancheria so many times that her family lost count. She believed both of her sons were killed with her husband. When her daughter died of influenza, Cynthia Ann simply loosened her hold on life. Her Indian family claims she starved herself to death. However, one of her sons, the eldest Quanah, survived to become a highly feared and respected war chief, and later a leader of his people in more peaceful days. He married seven(maybe eight)wives, and had 23 children. He had made and lost fortunes and had never been defeated in battle. He was a Texas legend. This tale has EVERYTHING!
It is a Texas sized helping of love, death, greed, terror, bravery, cunning and flat-out stupidity.
The only flaw in this book is that sometimes I had to check back a little when he jumped around in time, and I'm reaching a little there. This was one of the GOOD ones!

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