Chris Demer'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
Jul 06, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: history

I was motivated to read this history of Quanah Parker because I picked up a historical novel about this topic last year at a hostel in Montevideo called "Ride the Wind." I have always had a fascination with Native American cultures and history and saw this book in the New York Times Book Review.

This is a most interesting account of the Comanche of the Southern Plains during the 1800s and their conflict with white settlers, ending in the destruction of their way of life. Cynthia Ann Parker was abducted by a war party of Comanches around 1835. She was nine years old. Several of her relatives were killed and others also taken by the Indians. The raid occurred on a compound built by a straight laced religious fanatic and his extended family on the far fringes of the European settlements in Texas. While some captives were held as slaves and severely treated, younger captives such as Cynthia Ann were adopted by loving Comanche families. She adapted to her new home, family and culture, eventually marrying a war "chief" Peta Nokona. They had three children the oldest being Quanah.

The narrative recounts numerous raids on settlers as the Comanche began to see their hunting territories engulfed by white farmers and cattlemen, as well as the attacks of retribution visited upon the Indians by the Army, Texas Rangers and miscellaneous official and unofficial groups of whites. Many of these attacks were totally unsuccessful, and others, touted as being routs of the natives were more like massacres and included purposeful killings of women and children and destruction of camps. Of course the Indians meted out their share of atrocities as well.

As the various bands of Comanches began to suffer severe depopulation and loss of hunting territory, they became easier targets and many eventually moved by necessity to the reservations in Oklahoma Territory. The last war chief to eventually surrender was the brave and skillful warrior and head of the Quohadi band, Quanah Parker.

While he adapted extraordinarily well to his new circumstances, obtaining land, building a large
home and truly becoming somewhat of a businessman, he never stopped caring for his People, providing food,lodging and care to many throughout most of his life.

Unfortunately, his mother, Cynthia Ann was re-captured by a white raiding party and returned to her relatives on the frontier when her sons were about 12 and 10 years old. Unable to make the dramatic adjustment in culture, language and family twice, her death at a young age seemed to be from a broken heart. She so missed her sons and her young daughter, recaptured with her, died from an infectious disease.

I learned so much about the Comanche and their ways from this well-documented book. A marginalized, primitive hunting and gathering tribe from the Wind River area of Wyoming, this unlikely group evolved rapidly in size and stature with the availability of the horse, brought by early Spanish explorers. Their prowess as riders, hunters and raiders was legendary and through these skills, they took command of a huge territory of the southern plains.They were a force to be reckoned with, until they collided headlong with manifest destiny.

I highly recommend this superb book!

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