Empire of the Summer Moon
by S.C. Gwynne
Simon and Schuster | 371 pp | $16.00
Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Entertainment. Join the Discussion of this Book »
Some books just lend themselves to a summer read. This is the case with "Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History." We have seen increasing demand for this book review first published last August. So we bring it back today.
The "New York Times" bestseller, "Empire of the Summer Moon" was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2010.
Written by S.C. Gwynne, "Empire of the Summer Moon" it is easy to understand why it was a bestseller. Americans are still fascinated by Indian war stories. Perhaps, a different breed, I am not.
"Empire of the Summer Moon" takes two tracks in the epic story of how the Comanches resisted the westward expansion of the United States in Texas and Colorado for four decades.
Well researched, Gwynne allows readers to witness the Comanche track and the non-Indian. In particular, Gwynne writes extensively about Quanah Parker, the last of the Comanche leaders and Colonel Ranald Mackenzie of the US Army. Gwynne provides readers with glimpse of the human side of their lives, which is sometimes lost in history.
Quanah was a mixed-blood Comanche. His mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, was taken by the Comanches during an attack on non-Indian settlers in 1836 when she was nine. She took on the culture and Comanche way of life and chose even in adulthood to live as an American Indian. Quanah's father was Pete Nocona. The couple had three children. Quanah was the oldest.
Gwynne writes that by the time Colonel Ranald Mackenzie, who graduated first in his class from West Point, went West to fight the Comanches, their numbers were already on the decline due to death to diseases such as smallpox and cholera that were brought into their territory by non-Indian soldiers and settlers.
The fact that the Comanches were introduced to horses allowed them to fend off the US Army for a long time. Prior to their introduction of horses, the Comanches were nomadic hunters. According to Gwynne, the Comanches mastered horses. He writes: "The Comanches, as it turns out, were geniuses at anything to do with horses: breeding, breaking, selling, and riding." Horses transformed the nomadic hunters into mounted warriors who ruled the southern Great Plains for decades.
The Comanches were a powerful force to reckon with; they could release up to 20 arrows in the time it took a soldier to load and fire from his musket. Each arrow could a man from thirty yards.
After the Comanches eventually were worn down and surrendered, the stories of Quanah and Mackenzie take interesting turns. Quanah ends up building a ten-room house, complete with a formal dining room and ten-foot ceilings in the shadow of the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma. Mackenzie was sent to South Dakota to fight the Lakota and ends deemed insane. He died when he was 48 years old.
"Empire of the Summer Moon" reads like a fast-paced novel. Those interested in Texas will love this epic tale of war and defeat.
posted June 23, 2011 7:10 am edt
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