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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling Narrative History of the Comanche & their Last Major Leader, 6 Nov. 2011
This review is from: Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History (Hardcover)
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 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 reloaded 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 marked 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 -- having at last 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 America's western plains overall. Importantly, it offers a comprehensive and vivid picture of the Comanche nation from its first appearance as a competitor for the resources 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
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