Empire of the Summer Moon - Book Review - Part 1


Posted On: Tuesday - May 14th 2019 5:46PM MST
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  History  Books



The title of the book is in reference to the great fear the Comanche warriors put into the white settlers due to the extreme savagery of their raids on their lonesome homes and ranches in the woodlands and later great plains of the Republic/State of Texas. They tended to happen more during the full moon in the warm season, a "Comanche Moon".


As has been the case lately, the recommendation of this book came from a commenter on a web site somewhere, most likely unz.com. Empire of the Summer Moon by Mr. Sam Gwynne, is about a number of mostly-forgotten parts of the American history of "manifest destiny". As the eastern portion of the continent had been settled for quite a long time by English settlers (at least what is now the US portion), the ever land-hungry settlers had moved well west of the Mississippi River by the middle of the 19th century (1800's).

This book relates the engrossing story of the push of the white man into eastern, central, and eventually northern Texas, while the horse-riding Comanche tribe of Indians fought for "their" land, along with more specific stories of the kidnapping (one of thousands) of Texan Cynthia Ann Parker at 9 years old by the Comanches, her having gone native, and her Indian Chief son Quanah, who was an adult during the end of these fierce Indian wars and the final settlement of the tribes in Oklahoma. The specific stories are interesting in themselves, but it's the general theme of the book, which, to me, is about the unfathomable divide between those desiring ultimate freedom as savages versus those desiring civilization and progress that is its best feature.

Mr. Gwynne writes well, and he relates the many individuals and organizations, such as the real Texas Rangers, in an entertaining way, often flipping back and forth between the Indian life and the white settler life. He gives a nice compact history of the settlement of the (at one point) Republic of Texas, and a history of the Comanche Nation of Indians along side it. As for Texas, we learn of the amazing bravery and individualism of these settlers, mostly from the East, along with many Germans of course. They wanted their own big pieces of land, no longer an easy/cheap deal back east anymore, along with the freedom that comes along with not having a neighbor anyway in sight. In eastern Texas, still well-wooded and not that much different from Louisiana, Arkansas, etc there were plenty of troubles with Indians already. It was the move onto the high plains, land that was so foreign to white people that it both awed and scared them, that put them squarely in a no-compromise position with the 5 tribes of Comanches. For the Texans, these largely-unmapped, treeless expanses of grassland went on virtually forever, but they had been the home of the nomadic Comanche tribes for a full century.

The Comanches did not just magically originate from some Indian Adam and Eve in the high plains, which is why I put quotes above around "their" land. Nobody particularly owned any of the land per our 2 or 3 millennia-long Western understanding of ownership and property rights. That was kinda a big part of the problem between the white man and the Indians even back east and and as far back to that shady Manhattan Island deal. Back to the book now, the author described how the " Nermernuh", "the people" in Comanche-speak, morphed from a poor hunter-gatherer tribe up in present-day Wyoming around the headwaters of the Arkansas River in the Wind River Range, who hadn't advanced a damn bit in 1,000 years, into fierce, mobile, bands of warrior in 125 years (1625 - 1750). What happened? Horses. The Spanish introduction of horses into the New World resulted in their slow dispersal to first northern Mexico, then what's now New Mexico, where the Apaches started riding, and finally up to present-day Nebraska where the author reckons the Comanches were introduced to horses by the mid-1600's or at least by 1680. That allowed them to become mobile, and it was likely the huge buffalo herds of the southern plains brought them farther south.

There was something about that particular group of Indians, but they took to the horse like no other had and better than the white man ever did. (Keep in mind, with no science, no literature, no construction, and so on, what else WAS there to do over a century's time?) Mr. Gwynne describes the particular best practices that the Comanche used to make use of their many horses and also their extremely agile ridership, ability to hunt with arrows from horseback, and their ability to make war using the horse to great advantage. The latter ability outmatched all other Indians and the white man until the Texas Rangers and their own special advantage they came upon.

I'd like to give even more background here, but the reader can go to that amazon.com link above and read 1000x more information than I could possibly give in some of the > 2,600 reviews. Why this review-post is even here on Peak Stupidity is just to explain some of the fairly negative posts on the Indians of the pre-Columbian Americas that appear (here, here, here, here, and here, for example) and, of course, because I spent the time to read the book, so I may as well put a coupla posts up on it - time is money, or something...

I will recommend the book highly right now, but for more on the stories of the savage Indian attacks on the white man (per the author, much more brutal even than those back in the East), the individual story of Cynthia Ann Parker, her "searchers",and her Indian Chief husband and son Quanah, along with comments on the really basic important theme here, there will have to be 2 more posts, I'm guessing.

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