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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History » User review

Valuable Addition to Anyone's Collection on the Old West

  • Oct 19, 2011
A very fine narrative concerning the history (both the rise and fall) of the Native American people known today as the Comanche (from a Ute word meaning those who like to fight or who fight a lot). An unsophisticated group of stone age hunter-gatherers who had eked out a living on the edges of better territory dominated by larger and more formidable Native American peoples than themselves, the Comanche eventually discovered the horse, left to run wild and multiply in North America after the Spanish had retreated south in the face of rebellions against them. The Comanche soon realized that horses were good for more than just eating or dragging tent poles behind them when the bands moved camp and became the most effective mounted warriors in North America and, Gwynne suggests, maybe in the world. A small, stocky people well suited for riding, they rapidly came to dominate the central and southern plains of North America, placing them directly in the path of the expanding American Republic as it moved westward via new settler migration and war with Mexico over the western territories held by that country.

Gwynne intersperses his tale of the rise of the Comanche and their fierce war with other Indian tribal nations (including Apaches and Tonkawas, both of whom would develop an undying hatred of their foes and align themselves with the incoming whites to eventually bring the Comanche down) with an account of the background, birth and rise of Quanah Parker, the half white war chief of the Comanche nation who would lead them in their final struggle with white civilization. In the interim, the Republic of Texas broke away from Mexico and to become the Comanche's most dangerous enemy. But not at first.

Initially, the early Texans were outclassed because they were used to the forests and mountains of their eastern homes. Armed only with the slow-to-reload muzzle loading rifles of the era (which required plenty of cover between shots and could not be easily done on horseback), they could neither outshoot nor outride the wild Comanche warriors in a country where cover was scarce and often non-existent. It took a series of disastrous defeats before the Texans slowly got it together and learned to fight with the relentless ferocity of the Comanche from horseback, mastering the trails and redoubts of the country itself in the process. Nor did it hurt when the advent of the revolver in the mid 1840's gave the newly formed, and still green, Texas Rangers a serious advantage over the mounted Comanche warrior equipped only with bow and arrow.

The book recounts the gradual erosion of Comanche dominance as it gives the history of Quanah's mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, captured as a nine year old girl and adopted by members of the Comanche band that took her. Eventually married to a Comanche warrior, she is finally retrieved by whites only to pine away until her early death because of her lost husband and sons. Quanah, her eldest, is left to fend for himself at the age of twelve and eventually grows into a large and powerful warrior in his own right, the man who will lead the last free band of Comanches until he is finally run to ground and beaten by the U.S. Army -- once it has learned to fight Indians the Indian way.

This is a fine book that deals with an important part of Texas history as well as the history of the United States western plains overall. Importantly, it offers a comprehensive and vivid picture of the Comanche nation from its first appearance as a player in the game of western tribal domination of the Great Plains until its final defeat in the late 1800's. A very valuable addition to any library of the west.

Stuart W. Mirsky
author of The King of Vinland's Saga

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October 27, 2011
This book sounds like a great read, I'm going to have to see if my library carries it! I'm incredibly interested in the real American history. I believe that there isn't enough out there about the Western U.S history,so thanks for sharing this one!
About the reviewer
Stuart W. Mirsky ()
Ranked #231
I'm a retired bureaucrat (having served, most recently, as an Assistant Commissioner in amunicipal agency in a major Northeastern American city). In 2002 I took an early retirement to pursue a lifelong … more
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The vast, semi-arid grasslands of the southern Great Plains could be dominated by hunters and warriors on horseback. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Comanches, often referred to as “lords of the Plains,” were the single most powerful military force in the region, to the frustration of both the Mexican and U.S. governments. In this engrossing chronicle, award-winning journalist Gwynne traces the rise of the Comanche people from their roots as primitive bands of hunter-gatherers to their mastery of the horse and emergence as the feared power brokers of the area. At the center of the narrative is the charismatic Quanah Parker, who skillfully navigated the gaps between his traditional culture and the emerging, settled culture of the late-nineteenth century. Quanah was the son of a Comanche warrior and a woman named Cynthia Ann Parker, who was kidnapped at the age of nine and chose to stay with the Comanches. Quanah was a brilliant, feared war chief who guided his people in adapting to new realities after their final suppression by the U.S. Calvary. An outstanding addition to western-history collections. --Jay Freeman--This text refers to theHardcoveredition.
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ISBN-10: 1416591060
ISBN-13: 978-1416591061
Genre: History
Publisher: Scribner

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