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In the tradition of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a stunningly vivid historical account of the forty-year battle between Comanche Indians and white settlers for control of the American West, centering on Quanah, the greatest Comanche chief of them all.
S. C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon spans two astonishing stories. The first traces the rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American history. The second entails one of the most remarkable narratives ever to come out of the Old West: the epic saga of the pioneer woman Cynthia Ann Parker and her mixed-blood son Quanah, who became the last and greatest chief of the Comanches.
Although readers may be more familiar with the tribal names Apache and Sioux, it was in fact the legendary fighting ability of the Comanches that determined just how and when the American West opened up. Comanche boys became adept bareback riders by age six; full Comanche braves were considered the best horsemen who ever rode. They were so masterful at war and so skillful with their arrows and lances that they stopped the northern drive of colonial Spain from Mexico and halted the French expansion westward from Louisiana. White settlers arriving in Texas from the eastern United States were surprised to find the frontier being rolled backward by Comanches incensed by the invasion of their tribal lands. So effective were the Comanches that they forced the creation of the Texas Rangers and account for the advent of the new weapon specifically designed to fight them: the six-gun.
The war with the Comanches lasted four decades, in effect holding up the development of the new American nation. Gwynne’s exhilarating account delivers a sweeping narrative that encompasses Spanish colonialism, the Civil War, the destruction of the buffalo herds, and the arrival of the railroads—a historical feast for anyone interested in how the United States came into being.
Against this backdrop Gwynne presents the compelling drama of Cynthia Ann Parker, a lovely nine-year-old girl with cornflower-blue eyes who was kidnapped by Comanches from the far Texas frontier in 1836. She grew to love her captors and became infamous as the "White Squaw" who refused to return until her tragic capture by Texas Rangers in 1860. More famous still was her son Quanah, a warrior who was never defeated and whose guerrilla wars in the Texas Panhandle made him a legend.
S. C. Gwynne’s account of these events is meticulously researched, intellectually provocative, and, above all, thrillingly told.
371 pages, Hardcover
First published March 25, 2010
The desert wind would salt their ruins and there would be nothing, no ghost or scribe, to tell any pilgrim in his passing how it was that people had lived in this place and in this place had died.
A large and powerfully built chief led the bunch, on a coal black racing pony. Leaning forward upon his mane, his heels nervously working in the animal’s side, with six- shooter poised in the air, he seemed the incarnation of savage, brutal joy. His face was smeared with black war paint, which gave his features a satanic look…….. A full- length headdress or war bonnet of eagle’s feathers, spreading out as he rode, and descending from his forehead, over head and back, to his pony’s tail, almost swept the ground. Large brass hoops were in his ears: he was naked to the waist, wearing simply leggings, moccasins and a breechclout. A necklace of bear’s claws hung about his neck…..Bells jingled as he rode at headlong speed, followed by the leading warriors, all eager to out-strip him in the race. It was Quanah, principal war chief of the Qua-ha-das. (Captain Robert G. Carter)
Such beatific urges toward peace, combined with relentless and brutal raiding by comanches in Texas and the Indian Territory led to the last and most comprehensive treaty ever signed by the Indians of the southern plains. The conference that spawned it took place in October 1867 at a campground where the Kiowas held medicine dances, about seventy-five miles southwest of the present site of Wichita, Kansas. The place was known as Medicine Lodge Creek. The participants were members of a U.S. peace commission and representatives of the Comanche, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, and Kiowa Apache tribes. The conference was the last great gathering of free Indians in the american West. The event was magnificent, surreal, doomed, absurd, and bizarre, and surely one of the greatest displays of pure western pageantry ever seen. Nine newspapers sent correspondents to cover it.Some of the speeches given by the Indian Chiefs at that conference provide a melancholic, poignant, and eloquent summary of the situation of the plains indian tribes at that time in history. The following link is to the speech by Ten Bears, a Comanche chief.