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Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne
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Empire of the Summer Moon (2010)

by S. C. Gwynne

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995528,604 (4.03)113
  1. 00
    The Comanche Empire by Pekka Hamalainen (Muscogulus)
    Muscogulus: Gwynne's book captured all the hype, but Hämäläinen's book is the one that revolutionized the history of the Comanche people. It deserves more attention.
  2. 00
    Comanche Sundown by Jan Reid (SRPetty)
    SRPetty: These books cover similar territory but one is solidly researched fiction, the other solidly researched non-fiction. To read them together will enhance your experience of this troubled time in our history.
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Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne was a good standard history. I think that becuase I lived out in Southwest Kansas and the Comanches and Comanche lore are such a part of the scenary that I expected more from this book and didn't get it. I also thought it would be more of a biography of Quanah Parker. Instead I got three chapters about Cynthia Parker. What's with that? Aside from being the mother of Quanah I can't see that she did much. I guess I don't get the whole infatuation with the Cynthia Parker story in the first place. To me it is one of those interesting sidelights of history that got blown out of proportion. I really don't think it deserves to have all those words written about it that it has gotten over the years.

My other problem is that the title is misleading. The book is not about Quanah Parker. It is a history of the Indian Wars in Texas. The title is a ploy to get people to buy the book. I think it worked well to sell the book, but only the last 80 pages is about Quanah.

That being said, there were good things about the book. What the book really is about is the history of the Indian Wars in Texas. It starts in the 1500's with the Spanish exploration and the migration of the Comanche from Wyoming and Montana to the Southern Plains and the vast pasture lands of the Staked Plains about the same time as the Spanish were moving up from Mexico. Modern Americans tend to think of the Native American tribes as fixed in place from time immemoral, but that isn't true. Like the Germanic tribes of Europe the Native American tribes moved around frequently and where they ended up wasn't where they started from. This constant bumping and rubbing produced many clashes and Gwynne does a great job of telling us about that kind of friction.

What I think this book does well is tell the story of what really defeated the Indians. Good tactics and a strong leader in Randal MacKenzie, but most of all the destruction of the buffalo. The numbers of buffalo killed in just 5 years staggers the imagination. It is simply incomprehensible to me that a conscious decision was made to kill off these animals in order to rid the Plains of a problem. The problem was the buffalo, which can't easily be domesticated and the Native Americans who also weren't easily domisticated. All of which makes me think perhaps I should go dig out my copy of Buffalo for the Broken Heart and start reading about modern day buffalo ranching.

I also think that this book does a great job of telling how the topography of the land and the climate of the High Plains did so much to slow the white mans advance. The High Plains really is a hostile environment just as was told in Timothy Egan's Worst Hard Time. Climate and topography is something that often gets short shrift in more romantic tellings of Native American history. I have been to the Palo Duro Canyon and it is beautiful. Who needs to see the overly touristy Grand Canyon with its dammed up river when you can go to Amarillo, Texas and twenty miles south find this huge hole in the ground that is hundreds of feet deep with the most beautiful orange, red, purple, black and ochre rock walls. It is a perfect place for hiking and camping. When you get ready to leave you can go to Capulin Volcano National Monument in northeastern New Mexico and on to Raton and the beautiful Raton Pass. That country out there is simply beautiful and so few people go there that it may not be exactly the same as it was in 1870 but it is as close as any part of the U. S. is likely to be to that time in history. ( )
  benitastrnad | May 30, 2014 |
As a West Texan, I loved this book. It taught me a lot about Mackenzie and the Commanches that I never knew... ( )
  DougGoodman | May 16, 2014 |
I really wanted to read a solid, revealing book about North American Indian history. This is exactly what I needed: fascinating, balanced, effusive, detailed. I learned so much about the Comanches and American plains culture, politics, technology and military tactics. Honestly, I think it is very difficult to write an truly engaging history book and Gwynne did an amazing job. ( )
  bianca.sayan | Feb 2, 2014 |
Astonishing story, profoundly surprising. The best kind of writing, very direct but also very moving. Highly recommended. ( )
  Matt_B | Nov 25, 2013 |
Empire of the Summer Moon tells two important stories in the history of the U. S.: the rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American history and the saga of American pioneer woman Cynthia Ann Parker, who was captured by raiding Comanches in 1839 at the age of nine and remained as a willing member of the tribe, married to a Comanche chief and the mother of three children until her “rescue” by American soldiers in 1860. The story continued with the saga of Quanah, Cynthia’s son, the last and greatest Comanche chief in history. After his life on the Great plains came to an end, with the simultaneous end of the buffalo herds, he adjusted quickly to the life of the white man and went on to be a frequent speaker to groups and important to the cause of Indian affairs.

Blanketing this story with so many human interest factors enabled S. C. Gwynne to leap from dry factual history to riveting human interest story. The book covers four decades of American history on the Great Plains in a narrative sweep that includes the arrival of the railroads, Spanish colonialism, the Civil War, the destruction of the buffalo herds, the corruption rampant in the Indian Affairs Office, as well as the abduction and later life of Cynthia Ann Parker. Her story was the highlight of the book as far as I am concerned. During her captivity, she adapted to the Comanche way of life, learning the language, spending her time learning to ride, handle a bow, and do all the work that Comanche women ordinarily did including the arduous preparation of buffalo skins. When she was “rescued” in a daring attempt by the U. S. Army, she saw her husband, Comanche chief Peta Nocona, killed and lost her two sons in the fray. After the government reunited her with her (extended) family, she never made the adjustment back to American life and tried several times to escape and get back to the plains. She and her baby daughter became oddities that throngs of gawking people would line up to see. In the end, her life was so very sad and when her daughter died in 1864 of pneumonia, Cynthia, who had spent the intervening years pining for her lost sons, could not face life any longer. Six years later she finally succumbed to influenza, complicated by self-starvation.

”Who was she in the end? A white woman by birth, yes, but also a relic of old Comancheria, of the fading empire of high grass and fat summer moons and buffalo herds that blackened the horizon. She had seen all of that death and glory. She had been a chief’s wife. She had lived free on the high, infinite plains as her adopted race had in the very last place in the North American continent where anyone would ever live or run free. She had died in deep pine woods where there was no horizon, where you could see nothing at all. The woods were just a prison. As far as we know, she died without the slightest comprehension of what larger forces had conspired to take her away from her old life.” (Page 193)

I really enjoyed learning a bit of history from this author, adding to the sad history of other Native American tribes. Telling it through the eyes of people who were actually there at the time really brought the narrative to life. Highly recommended. ( )
5 vote brenzi | Oct 7, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
Empire of the Summer Moon is a skillfully told, brutally truthful, history.

 
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Epigraph
The desert wind would salt their ruins and there would be nothing, no ghost or scribe, to tell any pilgrim in his passing how it was that people had lived in this place and in this place had died.
Dedication
To Katie and Maisie
First words
Cavalrymen remember such moments: dust swirling behind the pack mules, regimental bugles shattering the air, horses snorting and riders' tack creaking through the ranks, their old company song rising on the wind: "Come home, John! . ..."
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Book description
Empire of the Summer Moon spans two astonishing stories.
the first traces the rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American history.
The second entails one of the most remarkable narratives ever to come out of the Old West: the epic saga of the pioneer woman Cynthia Ann Parker, who was kidnapped by Comanches as a nine-year-old girl, and her mixed-blood son Quanah, who became the last and greatest chief of the Comanches.
Although readers may be more familiar with the Apache and Sioux [LaKota], it was in fact the legendary fighting ability of the Comanches that determined when the American West opened up. Comanche boys became adept bareback riders by age six; full Comanche braves were considered the best horsemen who ever rode. they were so masterful at war that they stopped the northern drive of colonial Spain from Mexico and halted the french expansion westward from Louisiana. White settlers arriving in Texas from the eastern United States were surprised to find the frontier being rolled backward by Comanches incensed by the invasion of their tribal lands.
The war with the Comanches lasted four decades, in effect holding up the development of the new American nation. Gwynne's exhilarating account delivers a sweeping narrative that encompasses Spanish colonialism, the Civil War, the destruction of the buffalo herds, the arrival of the railroads, and the amazing story of Cynthia Ann Parker and her son Quanah - a historical feast for anyone interested in how the United States came into being.

Hailed by critics, Empire of the Summer Moon announces S.C. Gwynne as a major new writer of American History
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Describes the actions of both whites and Comanches during a 40-year war over territory, in a story that begins with the kidnapping of a white girl, who grew up to marry a Comanche chief and have a son, Quanah, who became a great warrior.

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