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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 Hardcover – Illustrated, May 25 2010
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Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award
A New York Times Notable Book
Winner of the Texas Book Award
Winner of the Oklahoma Book Award
This stunning historical account of the forty-year battle between Comanche Indians and white settlers for control of the American West “is nothing short of a revelation…will leave dust and blood on your jeans” (The New York Times Book Review).
Empire of the Summer Moonspans 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 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 backwardby Comanches incensed by the invasion of their tribal lands.
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, and the amazing story of Cynthia Ann Parker and her son Quanah—a historical feast for anyone interested in how the United States came into being.
Hailed by critics, S. C. Gwynne’s account of these events is meticulously researched, intellectually provocative, and, above all, thrillingly told. Empire of the Summer Moon announces him as a major new writer of American history.
--Jake Silverstein, Editor, Texas Monthly, and author of Nothing Happened and Then It Did
"Sam Gwynne is a master story-teller and a dogged reporter, and in this book he makes history come to life in a way that everyone -- not just students of the Texas myth -- will find irresistible. I couldn't put it down."
--Evan Smith, CEO and Editor in Chief, The Texas Tribune
"Man for man, the Comanches were the fiercest and most resourceful warriors in North America, and they held onto their domain with an almost otherworldly tenacity. In this sweeping work, S.C. Gwynne recreates the Comanche's lost world with gusto and style—and without sentimentality. After reading Empire of the Summer Moon, you'll never think about Texas, or the Great Plains, in quite the same way again."
--Hampton Sides, author of Blood and Thunder and Hellhound On His Trail
About the Author
- ASIN : 1416591052
- Publisher : Scribner; Illustrated edition (May 25 2010)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 384 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9781416591054
- ISBN-13 : 978-1416591054
- Item weight : 567 g
- Dimensions : 15.24 x 2.29 x 22.86 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: #83,064 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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SC Gwynne is meticulous, not only in the extreme depth of his research, but in his attempt to remain unbiased in his telling of events. There is, unsurprisingly, a tendency to be kinder in the consideration of the actions of the Indians than in those of the white settlers and their politicians yet there is very little sentimentality in here and, certainly, almost no 'noble savage' imagery. As I've found previously, reading this in Kindle format has the disadvantage that the map at the front is extremely important but it's difficult to keep switching from the page being read and the map. I would also, certainly, urge readers to take the trouble to access the photographs right at the end of the book (after the bibliography) as they are utterly engrossing.
As a UK resident, history enthusiast and, I hope, of moderate intellect, I was amazed and ashamed to find that I'd heard of very few of the characters whose lives are chronicled in this book. How can these people have been so amazing and yet I've never heard of them? Well, I have now! One of the few names familiar to me was Geronimo and, as possibly the most famous Indian in the world, one might have expected to find him featured prominently. Ironically, he isn't and the scorn with which Mr Gwynne describes Geronimo leaves little doubt of his contempt for the man.
Conversely, the Quanah Parker who is the eponymous subject in the sub-title, is described not just in huge detail but in almost reverential terms, albeit with apparently good reason. I had, vaguely, heard of Quanah Parker before and, certainly, of his mother, Cynthia Ann Parker who was the white woman, taken as a child as a hostage by the Comanche, adopted into the tribe, and who gave birth to the half-breed Quanah who, later, became the greatest of the Indian chiefs in recorded history. Cynthia Ann forgot how to speak English and, when she was recaptured by a white army patrol and returned to her family, she fought fiercely, until she died, to return to her Comanche tribe. The Americans of the day simply couldn't conceive of a white woman wanting to go back to live with the 'savages'. Quanah Parker is the stuff of legend. A huge and physically powerful warrior (most Comanche were small in stature) and strikingly handsome with it, he simply excelled at everything, be that killing settlers, running rings around the military, becoming the one and only Chief of the Comanches, being the leader of Indians in the reservations, becoming a friend to presidents, ranching or, generally, being hugely influential in shaping the history of the time. I've attended management training sessions in which everyone is asked to choose an individual whom they might like to emulate in their management style. Folk choose figures such as Churchill or Brunel or Richard Branson but, had I known about Quanah Parker at that time, he would have been my choice hands down.
So, let's turn to books and cinema. I love historical novels from the likes of Bernard Cornwell, Giles Kristian et al, and I also enjoy the occasional film (or movie for Americans) that uses a historical character as a base; Hugh Glass, played by Leonardo Di Caprio in 'The Revenant', Jeremiah Johnson (an amalgam of real people) played by Robert Redford and, of course, the John Wayne film 'The Searchers' is based on the story of Cynthia Ann Parker, for example. Yet what struck me in reading this book is the number of real life characters, of whom I've never heard, whose stories are utterly incredible, eben when one knows that they're true. Any one of these would make a brilliant subject for the attention of the likes of Cornwell (who already has 'form' in writing about historical America) and Kristian. And thinking about what a big budget movie could do with this stuff makes the head spin. For example;
The whole story of the Parker clan in Texas is epic and staggering in its combination of brutality, ignorance, naivety and power. Who, today, hasn't heard mention of the Parker Center in LA (police headquarters in so many films). James A Michener's book, 'Texas' is a fictionalised history of the state and does touch upon the Parker clan (a superb book by the way), but a proper treatment of the story of this family would be incredible. Even within the limited time frame of this book, Cynthia Ann Parker's father, James Parker and her brother, John Richard Parker have their stories told, in clinical terms, yet both are such fascinating characters that they could, individually, warrant a whole book or movie. James Parker was so extreme in his dishonesty, honour, bravery, stupidity, power, wealth and poverty (yes, all of those contradictions) that a new definition of 'incredible' is needed to describe him. A 'cleaned up' version of him is the basis for John Wayne's character in 'The Searchers'. His son, and Cynthia's brother, John Richard Parker is equally compelling. Kidnapped in the same Comanche raid as his sister and raised as an Indian, he was, in 1813 and at the age of 13 re-captured (actually ransomed) and brought back to the Parker family, speaking no English and not really wanted. He went on several expeditions to find his sister (he did but she refused to leave her tribe), fought with the Texas Rifles in the Civil War and went on to die in, it's thought, 10915 as a successful rancher.
Then there is John Coffee Hays who was known as 'Jack. A real 'action man', he established the Texas Rangers and was a famed Indian fighter. He worked for a couple of years as a land surveyor on the frontier and, in 1838, that was listed as the most dangerous job in America. The Indians considered that the settlers couldn't claim land without that land being defined by a surveyor, so they actively hunted the surveyors to kill them, preventing their surveys. Jack Hays was one of the first to learn how the hardiest of the Plains Indians, the Comanche, lived and fought and adopted their own ways, but in even more extreme fashion, to fight them.
Before I read this book, I had no idea that Comancheria was an actual place. It was, in fact, the vast tract of land covering almost the entire western half of the USA, in the 19th century and the Comanche were undisputed masters of the entire area, though a mixture of warfare (with other tribes), treaties, trading and general intimidation; think The Mafia on a huge scale. I also had little appreciation of the difference between the tribes of the eastern coast and the much more warlike western tribes. The eastern tribes were far more quickly subsumed into the white man's world, partly at least because they lived in densely wooded areas, almost entirely on foot. The western tribes had discovered the power of the horse and had vast tracts of open prairie in which to maneuver and hide. So, while famed warrior tribes such as the Apache, Black Feet and Crow were, indeed, fierce, they all payed homage to the sheer brutality of the Comanche. The Comanche empire ran on fear.
This book makes repeated reference to the Indians, and particularly the Comanche, living a stone age existence, without metal or agriculture; a nomadic, foraging,, aggressive existence and I hadn't thought of it in those terms before. Also, my image had been of a warrior with his doughty pony when, in fact, as the wealth of prairie Indians was measured in horse flesh, warriors had hundreds of horses and there were thousands in a single tribe. The coldly clinical telling of the shooting of thousands of Indian ponies by the army, as a tactical move to deny the Indians their primary tool is shocking. The image of a high pass blocked by a mountain of bleached bones for many years following the shooting of thousands of horses by the soldiers is a brutal image.
I learned so much from this book that it will remain with me for a very long time. It has changed my entire perception of America, both then and now. And when I consider that many of the people whose incredible tales are told here lived in an age that my grandparents knew, history comes very close indeed. This was just yesterday. I loved this book and I commend SC Gwynne for his treatment of his subject. It won't be to everyone's taste; it's long, a bit repetitive and requires a degree of attention and commitment, but for many, just like me, this is a truly wonderful book.
Alwasy have been fascinated by history of the wars of 20 century in Europe and never before have read anything on other continents. I must say it's a viscous encounter with native Americans by European arrivals. On one hand ( due to their extinction) you condone their fights over their land and on the other you are shocked by their brutality and unprecedented attacks.
Still reading this book but I can say it's a very fascinating thought provoking story.
For me, not too much of Quanah emerges - the idea I still have is that of a brave "kod" that was courageousand took part in a few battles but that's it. No Geronimo, no Crazy Horse, no Red Cloud. Sure, his integration in white society probably was his greatest legacy, rather than his war efforts, but still - it's sometimes hard to shift from a strictly war-like interpretation of the word "chief".
A final note: in my perception the author is sometimes blunt in his views of the Natives. Examples: he seems to say how they are usually romanticized, but on the contrary were assassins, cruel and overall just barbarians because of their raids and killings of whites. Or, he seems to justify Lamar's (2nd president of the Texas republic) politics of extermination or explusion of Natives as "candid", compared to other politicians that would have said something different and more politically correct, but ending up doing the same.
It is a fascinating history of the Comanche nation , and focuses on one particular leader ,Quanah Parker. The son of a captured white settler who assimilated into the Comanche tribe .Her story is interesting as well.
The Comanches lived by their own quite brutal rules and war became part of their culture , whether with other tribes, the Spanish or white settlers. The book does not gloss over their standard practice of torture of enemies , which was incredibly brutal . But it shows this in the context of their way of life as "Lords of the plains " and their refusal to submit to the encroachment by the white settlers.
Almost reads like a novel .Highly recommended.