I picked up Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynne because it has some relevance to me since Quanah Parker was born very close to where I grew up. Oklahoma has a lot of Native American history, and I thought Empire of the Summer Moon would make for a very interesting read.
Y’all, this book was fascinating. Seriously. I know fangirling over a non-fiction book like this makes me the biggest nerd ever – but I’m okay with that.
Empire of the Summer Moon chronicles how the Comanches started out as the little kids that got picked on in elementary school (in the 16th-17th centuries) to the crazy vengeful high school bullies with long memories that basically defeated everyone in their path. (That transformation brought to you by the introduction of the horse.)
Seriously, the Comanches learned how to work with horses better than any other Indian tribe – far better. They then basically dominated their way through the 18th century. Other Indians, the Spanish – whoever they came across they fought and won.
A lot of the negative reviews of Empire of the Summer Moon that I came across claim that the book is biased against Indians. Maybe I wasn’t being sensitive enough to the issue – but I found such claims completely unwarranted. The book certainly cataloged a lot of brutality on the Indians part – but a lot of times I felt an undercurrent of respect for how resourceful they could be. There were also times (Chapter 6 for example) when details of Texan soldiers needlessly slaughtering peaceful Indian tribes (such as the Cherokees) were covered. Not to mention the discussion about the absolute ineptitude of the Office of Indian Affairs (Chapter 15).
From the rise of John Coffee Hays and the Texas Rangers to the kidnapping of Cynthia Ann Parker (for a fictionalized account of her life with the Comanches, check out Ride the Wind by Lucia St. Clair Robson) to the Comanche’s final surrender – this is a comprehensive guide to the Comanches if I ever saw one.
Seriously, I loved Empire of the Summer Moon so much I could talk about it for ages. I almost wish I’d read it for a class instead of on my own! If S.C. Gwynne publishes another historical nonfiction book – you better believe I’ll be all over it.