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Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  35,961 ratings  ·  3,607 reviews

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 Comanche

Hardcover, 371 pages
Published May 25th 2010 by Scribner (first published March 25th 2010)
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Julia Easily, since your question is so out-of-context that it doesn't apply, here. Brutality on all sides are equally discussed and described. The settlers…moreEasily, since your question is so out-of-context that it doesn't apply, here. Brutality on all sides are equally discussed and described. The settlers, especially the Parkers are-depicted as wreckless and fool-hearty. Rape and murder are discussed, as those thing happened, but these acts are also highlighted as a political necessity, especially when the white man rewarded bad behavior and punished good behavior. It's quite obvious you haven't read the book, and that you seek to creat trouble where there's none to be stirred.(less)
David I found Rebel Yell by Mr. Gwynne, to be an excellent and very informative biography of the Confederate General, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. If you're …moreI found Rebel Yell by Mr. Gwynne, to be an excellent and very informative biography of the Confederate General, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. If you're interested in American history, very well worth your time. Highly recommended! (less)

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Start your review of Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History
William Thomas
Sep 05, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: general-history
As a historian, I will rarely give a general or popular history more than 3 stars. Much the same way I will never say 'an historian'. And no matter the amount of research that goes into popular history, it hardly ever seems to merit so much praise. And that is because it answers no questions, asks no new questions, puts forth none of its own theories, and has no one singular hypothesis. This book, although a fantastic, sweeping history of the Comanche, it is not a work to be discussed as academi ...more
Dec 05, 2011 rated it did not like it
I quit reading this book after the fourth chapter. As it is one of the most racist books I have ever read, I am baffled by the glowing reviews it receives. For your consideration:

"Thus the fateful clash between settlers from the culture of Aristotle, St. Paul, Da Vinci, Luther, and Newton and aboriginal horsemen from the buffalo plains happened as though in a time warp--as though the former were looking backward thousands of years at premoral, pre-Christian, low-barbarian versions of themselves.
“The Indians drove down into the valley with a fury. Quanah recalled later that the horses were moving at a gallop, throwing dust high in the air, and that some of them tripped on the prairie-dog holes, which sent men in feathered headdresses and horses rolling over and over in the semidarkness. At the settlement [of Adobe Walls] they crowded around the buildings, firing their carbines at windows and doors. Inside, the buffalo men barricaded themselves as best they could, piled up sacks of grain ...more
Jan 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lets-get-real, i-said, top, lod

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.
            Cormac McCarthy

The date was October 3rd, 1871.  Six hundred soldiers and twenty Tonkawa scouts had bivouacked on a bend of the Clear Fork of the Brazos, about one hundred and fifty miles west of Fort Worth, Texas. Though they did not know it at the time their presence marked the beginning of
Dec 18, 2013 rated it liked it
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, first published in 2010, tells the entertaining and informative, somewhat scholarly account of the Comanche tribe.

Gwynne uses the histories of Cynthia Parker (the historic inspiration for Natalie Wood’s character in John Wayne’s The Searchers and the Mary McDonnell character Stands With a Fist in Kevin Costner’s film Dances With Wolves) and her son
Sep 16, 2011 rated it did not like it
I bought this at the airport, it looked like a good read. A chapter or two in the language and stereotypes became really disturbing. His version of human history, summed up in two pages is just bizarre.The language, and long discredited concepts that Gwynne prattles along with are apalling."Higher civilizations", of which the Plains Indians were "three to four millennia behind". And oh yes, the Native Americans were "premoral, pre-Christian, low-barbarian versions" of Europeans. And of course t ...more
Montzalee Wittmann
Jul 21, 2017 rated it did not like it
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 is full of great research and racism. This book has only a tiny, tiny mention about Quanah. This book is very misleading by the title and blurb. It should be called, "How the Horrible Redman was Subdued by Mighty Whiteman". Only once did it mention how James Parker, the head man that thought it would be a great idea to build a home in the middle of In ...more
Sam Gwynne's History of the Spanish, the Texans, the Americans and the Comancheria

 photo SCGwynne_zps5da6721a.jpg
Sam C. Gwynne attended Princeton and Johns Hopkins Universities. He's spent most of his life as a journalist. He spent almost twenty years as a correspondent, bureau chief, and Chief Editor for twenty years. Gwynne's work has appeared in the New York Times, Harpers, California, Texas Monthly, among other publications. Gwynne was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction for Empire of the Summer
May 30, 2011 rated it it was ok
Other reviewers' claim that this is an unbiased historical account is laughable. This is yet another telling of a war written by those who won it. Gwynne states that he constructed the book using "a large number of firsthand accounts from the era." The firsthand accounts written are naturally all of settlers and the military, and all of them appalled and offended that anyone could dare attack them and deny the greatness of Manifest Destiny. The books and articles referenced in the end are, as fa ...more
A great combination of history and biography in the play of Manifest Destiny in the American conquest of the Great Plains. The emotional challenge of this read for me is how to accommodate an admiration of a tribe of never more than 10-20 thousand succeeding in halting their colonizers for two hundred years (first the Spanish and later the Mexican, Texan, and American nations) while not judging them over the inhumanity of their methods. They were nomadic but defended their buffalo lands against ...more
Oct 01, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: american-history
This book is not about Quanah Parker, his mother, or the Comanche. It's really about How the White Man Conquered the Savage, Primitive, Warmongering Barbarians.

My complaints about this book are many, but I'll try to keep it simple.

Mainly, it's because a "history" written in 2010 contains things like this:

There were no witnesses to this great coming together of Stone Age hunters and horses, nothing to record what happened when they met, or what there was in the soul of the Comanche that under
Apr 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Empire of the Summer Moon is a brutally honest and graphic re-telling of the history of the greatest Native American tribe in the history of America - the Comanches.

“For Mackenzie on the southern plains, Comanches were the obvious target: No tribe in the history of the Spanish, French, Mexican, Texan, and American occupations of this land had ever caused so much havoc and death. None was even a close second.”

My reading this year has brought about a new wave of interest of mine - the Wild West.
Jon Donley
Mar 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
As a native Texan who grew up in the former Comancheria, and whose family (both white and native) has deep roots there, I've always been fascinated by the blood-feud between Texans and Comanches. I was once an editor for Ted Fehrenbach, and admire his classic on the Comanches, and found this to be an excellent, well-told companion piece. Ironically Comanches were the proximate cause of Texas developing into the home of its most implacable foes, as Spain desperately recruited Anglo Americans to s ...more
Feb 03, 2013 rated it did not like it
Astonishingly, uncomfortably, unforgivably racist portrayal of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. The (fascinating) history that exists in this book is buried so far beneath the author's prejudice that his account is wholly untrustworthy. This book is useful only as a study in modern-day manifestations of racism that go unacknowledged in mainstream American culture.

Here are four illustrative examples of the casual racism entrenched in the author's vocabulary throughout the book:

1. “While t
May 07, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a very good book; it is well researched and chock-full of information, but I only liked it. That is why I am giving it three stars.

Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History looks at the situation of the Comanches in 1836, starting at the Fort Parker Massacre. It follows them through to the demise of their last chief in 1911. This massacre can be seen as “the beginning of the end” of both the Indian
Clif Hostetler
Nov 25, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Comanche history and culture is the focus of this book. The subtitle of the book markets itself as a biography of Quanah Parker, but he doesn't show up until the final fourth of the book.

Starting with the pre-columbian history the book describes the revolutionary change brought about by the advent of horses on the plains. It enabled the Comanche who had been culturally among the lowliest among the tribes to transform into being the invaders from the north. They were a branch that had separated
May 20, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to El by: Dicker
I didn't really need to read this book because I've seen Pocahontas and remember very vividly this whole song. Reading this book was sorta like reliving that song and that's a damn shame.

Aside from how freaking white this book is, and not even commenting on the occasional racist undertones (or overtones), it's just not even that great of a book. The subtitle leads the reader to believe that this will be about Quanah Parker when in reality that played such a small part of whatever it was Gwynne w
Jul 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Every now and then one runs across an historical non-fiction book that is breathtakingly enlightening.

Commancheria - the millions of acres of treeless plains encompassing northern Mexico to present day Nebraska, the land of the 5 principal bands of the Commanches, a culture centuries behind the development of the eastern Indian tribes, and intertwined with the buffalo herds. Commancheria - a region so forcefully held by the Commanches that the westward tide of Anglo-Saxon expansion was held at
Apr 19, 2012 rated it did not like it
Wow! Was this written in 1908? I was surprised and very disappointed by this book. I was taken in by the author's very good writing. The way he writes is so engaging and it reads better than most history books I've read.

There were two things that bothered me about the book. First, were the inaccuracies. I'm not as well read in the History of the American West as many people, but I was finding common mistakes, especially when he was talking about other tribes.

What bothered me more was the fact th
Jul 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-history
Hard hitting, rugged and raw history that feels chillingly authentic. Neither the white man nor red man comes out well in this retelling of the brutal collision of the Comanche and relentlessly expanding America. I was quickly disabused of any idyllic notions. Well written, detailed and informative, highly recommended for anyone who wants to know how the West was really won.

Odd and End Thoughts:

GR readers seem to be hotly divided as to whether Gwynn’s depiction of the Comanche is racist or simp
Bryan Alkire
Aug 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Good history. I first read this one years ago and it still seems to hold up well. I can understand why it’s a consistent top 15 history seller on Apple Books. It’s an interesting topic though I think the author tends to oversell the true power of the Comanche who really only ruled so long as the Europeans decided not to settle there. In short, they were a big fish in a very isolated pond. The writing is readable even compelling at times. The content is nice as well, a mix of describing Comanche ...more
David Brickley
Aug 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a book that I think every American should read. In the beginning we came into this land and immediately began displacing all of the aboriginal peoples who had dwelled here for many centuries. Yet I would wager that almost nobody knows anything about those peoples other than what watching Wagon Train has showed them. Which leaves out anyone born later than 1960. This is all to say that this book does an excellent job of showing, with most excellent clarity, the dichotomy of a native peopl ...more
Porter Broyles
An area of American history that I struggle understanding are those surrounding the “Indian Wars” of the mid to latter half of the nineteenth century. Too often books on the subject are either pointedly biased or lack sufficient context to understand the subject.

They introduce the conflicts between Native American Tribes and the United States as if they could be understood in isolation of any other event or time period.

S.W. Gwynne’s book does not do that. Gwynne does not start the book in the m
May 29, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: audio, overdrive, dnf
I got to the fourth chapter of this book and I found the author’s portrayal of Native Americans, not just the Comanches, paternalistic, ethnocentric and offensive on many levels. He may be accurate in describing the facts, but I’m going to get my facts from someone else.
David Ober
Jul 15, 2013 rated it did not like it
Popular history is a strange genre that often seems suspended between genuine academic rigor and amateurish quackery. For every book of popular history written by a well regarded historian and aimed at educating the general public, there are at least a hundred written by a layperson that, even if he or she does the appropriate amount of footwork, usually ends up reproducing antiquated historical narratives. While a professor of history might understand how to read nuance into old sources, an ama ...more
Nov 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
I love books that upend the conventional wisdom of American history, and Gwynne does it here with his look at the history of the Comanches.

It was always my belief that in the 1800s Americans didn't care about the Native Americans, and saw them as savages who had to be stopped from raping and raiding and murdering at all costs. And that it wasn't until many decades later that we all looked back on the treatment of Native Americans with shame at what had happened, and that Native Americans were th
Aug 27, 2014 rated it did not like it
So far I am extremely disappointed in this book . I picked it up after Having finished " Bury my heart at wounded knee " (amazing novel) and similarly was expecting a more honest , transparent view of the Indian American wars . However so far the labels savage , primitive And violent have all been assigned to the Comanches. Gwynne highlights the violence toward settlers without explaining that these same settlers were stealing native lands with no restraint much less remorse. They were also driv ...more
Mar 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I can't decide whether this book is the best nonfiction I have read all year, or whether it is the best in the past few years. This is the sort of book that rises above its subject matter, thanks to narrative pace, blending in of context and the quality of the writing.

The book tells the story of the Comanche Empire which, having mastered horse warfare, defeated all enemies until the late 19th century. It took the US decades to find a way to defeat them. Much of the story is of two cultures clash
Myke Cole
Apr 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Easily one of the best works of narrative nonfiction I have ever read, and buttressing my strongly held belief that non-historians write the best works of history.

Gwynne’s strength here (apart from just dynamite writing that rivals the best novelists in terms of prose quality, dramatic narrative and compelling characters - all supported by first class scholarship) is his unflinching reckoning of BOTH white and Native American atrocities during this turbulent epoch of conflict. He provides a har
Nov 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There is a lot to take in here for anyone who's interested in how the US came into being. The war with the Comanches and other indigenous tribes lasted for four decades as white settlers arrived usurping buffalo herds and invading tribal lands.
Part of the story is about Cynthia Ann Parker who was kidnaped and adopted as a young girl and her son Quanah who became the last and greatest Comanche Chief.
It's a well researched and written account, but it is often pretty gruesome in the telling. If y
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48 likes · 12 comments
“Forty years ago my mother died," he said. "She captured by Comanches, nine years old. Love Indian and wild life so well, no want to go back to white folks. All same people anyway, God say. I love my mother.” 11 likes
“Worst of all was the blizzard. People from the east or west coasts of America may think they have seen a blizzard. Likely they have not. It is almost exclusively a phenomenon of the plains, and got its name on the plains. It entailed wind-driven snow so dense and temperatures so cold that anyone lost in them on the shelterless plains was as good as dead.” 8 likes
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