54 pages 1 hour read

S.C. Gwynne

Empire of the Summer Moon

Nonfiction | Biography | Adult | Published in 2010

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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 by S. C. Gwynne, published in 2010, is a work of historical nonfiction and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction. The book narrates a history of the Comanche Nation, and also follows the fates of the Parker family, from whom the book’s central figure, Quanah Parker, descends.

The Comanches migrated from the northern regions of modern-day eastern Wyoming into the southern plains region comprising much of modern-day Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, and Texas. There they discovered wild horses, escapees from the Spanish herds. The Comanches quickly learned to wrangle and tame those horses; they even learned to breed them, something that no other tribe learned to do. The Comanches were a warring tribe, and raiding settlements and other Indian tribes was as central to their culture as was the buffalo hunt. They became so adept at mounted warfare that they were able to defeat their rivals, the Apaches, and exercise dominance over all the other southern plains tribes. They also fought the once-mighty Spanish Empire to a standstill. The Spanish surrendered plans to conquer areas of Comancheria (the name given to the lands controlled by the Comanches).

As American pioneers pushed further west, however, confrontation with the Comanches was inevitable. One of the earliest settlements to experience the brutality of a Comanche raid was owned by a renowned family, the Parkers. In a raid that left many family members dead and others captured, the fates of the Comanches intertwined with that of the Parker family; the reason for this is because one of Parker captives, a young girl named Cynthia Ann, would be adopted into the tribe and marry a Comanche chief. She gave birth to a son, Quanah Parker, who would lead the Comanches against the American army in the last days of the tribe’s freedom on the plains.

The Comanches, due to their prowess as horse warriors, to the inability of their enemies (namely the Spanish and Americans) to adapt to warfare against them, and to the skirmish-style battles typical of the plains, were able to hold back many incursions into their lands. However, with the defeat of Mexico in the Mexican-American War in 1848 and the relentless American invasion Westward, pressure against the Comanches mounted. Eventually, a clever, aggressive, and able American commander, Colonel Ranald Slidell Mackenzie led a coordinated and concentrated campaign to defeat the Comanches. Mackenzie and his troops quickly learned from the past’s mistakes, and with new repeating rifles and mounted charges, the Comanches met an enemy whom they could not defeat. The Comanches under the leadership of Quanah Parker had to face annihilation or subjugation, that is to say, removal to a reservation.

Even after the ultimate defeat of the Comanches and their subsequent submission to the American government, Quanah Parker continued to lead his people on a reservation a mere fraction of the size of their former lands,. This time, however, he did not fight against the Americans. He recognized the futility of attempting to continue the old way of Comanche life, especially as the buffalo herds were no longer large enough to sustain them in the plains and their numbers had so diminished due to war and disease that further resistance would mean the obliteration of the Comanche people. Therefore, he sought to integrate his people into life on the reservation as best as possible and fought for their rights. He continued to seek the best for his people all his life.