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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

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  23,853 Ratings  ·  2,569 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
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Kindle Edition, 1st edition, 371 pages
Published May 25th 2010 by Scribner (first published 2010)
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Michael Stein Gwynne may have used words like "savage" that were popular at the time, but he makes it clear throughout the book that the Indians were no more savage…moreGwynne may have used words like "savage" that were popular at the time, but he makes it clear throughout the book that the Indians were no more savage than many of the settlers or soldiers. It was a different era and people who moved out west had a different perception of what to expect out of life. They knew they might kill or die on any given day.
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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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William Thomas
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
Arah-Lynda
Jan 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: top, lod, i-said, lets-get-real

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
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Lyn
Dec 18, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Lawyer
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 Moon
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Anna-Liisa
Dec 05, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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Bill
Sep 16, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Vanessa
May 30, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jennie
Oct 01, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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 underst
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Jon Donley
Mar 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Montzalee Wittmann
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
El
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
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Tim
Jul 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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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
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Ashleigh
Feb 03, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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David Brickley
Aug 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Greg
Apr 19, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Max
Jul 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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David Ober
Jul 15, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Brian
Aug 27, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Robert Delikat
Sep 13, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I have read a number of books on native peoples and it’s always rewarding when they are somewhat balanced. For example, books by Joseph Marshal III consider a history of Native Americans much more comprehensively than S.C. Gwynne does in Empire of the Summer Moon. Marshall, while perhaps because of his own ethnicity, does not only write of the war, weapons and carnage of the combatants but also of their cultures and the backdrops and backgrounds of what led to and obtained during war. Reading Gw ...more
Tripp
Mar 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Curtis Seven
Jul 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
I'm not sure that comparing the fights against the Commanche in Texas to the Sioux Wars is really a topic that will bring a universal agreement as to who fought best and so on. The description of the tactics used by the Commanche in their fights and their horsemanship are identical to accounts of the fights in the northern plains and the skills of the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne.

The Sioux and Commanche share some common things as both were horse tribes, they both drove other tribes from the bes
...more
David
Jan 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Texas Ranger, Comanche war parties, white settlers with cornflower blue eyes
Shelves: native-americans
This book is about the Comanche, one of the most powerful and warlike tribes of the American Southwest. It actually covers several separate "stories" over the course of the book. First, there is the history of the Comanche people themselves from their earliest beginnings to their final fate as reservation Indians, plains warriors made to become farmers. There are a lot of chapters about warfare between the Comanche, other Indian tribes, and the Spanish and the Americans, and woven through it, th ...more
Tim McIntosh
Dec 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Empire of the Summer Moon tells the fascinating and bloody story of the rise and fall of the Comanche tribe on America's Western plains during the second half of the 19th Century. The tribe's story is framed by a confrontation between Quanah Parker, the last great Comanche chief, and Randall Slidell MacKenzie, eventually Brigadier General in the United States Army.

The author, Gwynne, weaves a broad history of the taming/raping of the West rife with broken treaties, guerrilla warfare, and thousa
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Jonathan
Jul 22, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I can not believe that Goodreads leads it's synopsis of this book by saying it is in the tradition of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. As many people have written in previous reviews of this book, the author is completely careless in his use of racial loaded language like: primitive, stone-age, uncivilized, savage, etc; he writes with a triumphant tone when describing the development of the Texas Rangers and the final campaigns of the US Army against the Comanche. While Gwynne insists that he is t ...more
Mike Kershaw
Dec 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Parker book I think is better and here I mean more balanced -- although his claims to Commanche 'exceptionalism' would probably find their critics in Sioux, Kiowa and Apache histories. He demythologizes the various opponents (Indians, Texas Rangers and US Cavalry), and gives an unvarnished account of the Indian lives (low birth rates, high mortality, brutal lifestyles -- ie a primitive culture) in particular. Parker's mother had been captured in a raid on the frontier and her fate is a centr ...more
Dan
Jun 21, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not knowing much detail of this period of regional US history, I can't attest authoritatively to the accuracy of Empire of the Summer Moon but it feels like a very well researched work. Gwynne tells the stories of both the plains Indians and the white settlers in both a compassionate and critical manner. There is much, sometimes an amazing amount of, detail about the lives on boths sides in the southern great plains and learning the realities of what spawned the American Cowboys and Indians myth ...more
Marcelle
Jun 15, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It's interesting, I'll give it that. And I'm learning more than I thought I would. But I'm over half way through the book and Quanah Parker hasn't risen past the toddler stage. (I got so frustrated just waiting for his mother's story to finish that I googled her to cut to the chase.)

Much of it is repetitive. Chapter 1, the Comanches were bad - stab, burn, rape, kill, steal. Chapter 2, the Comanches were bad - stab, burn, rape, kill, steal. etc etc. It does nothing to move the plot forward. (The
...more
Kurt
Oct 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
It's hard to imagine the plains of the central United States as author S. C. Gwynne describes them. However, having seen many Westerns lately, I could put myself there. The level of danger that pervades the everyday lives of both Indians and White settlers is astounding. This book contains very graphic descriptions of individual acts of torture, rape, mutilation, and village massacres. Gwynne builds the story well, and readers will clearly feel the tides turn in favor of the the bluecoats, espec ...more
Richard
Mar 12, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As noted on the blurb on this book's cover, S.C. Gwynne has chronicled a history of the Comanches, "the most powerful Indian tribe in American history." The book contains an excellent history of how the Comanches grew from a nondescript tribe living in the Wind River country (Wyoming), became early adopters of the horse culture of the plains in the early part of the eighteenth century, and moved south, to become the dominant force among Indian and European-based civilizations in an area comprisi ...more
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“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.” 9 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.” 5 likes
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