Wednesday, November 14, 2012

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

We have been traveling in the prairie, from Missouri to Kansas to Oklahoma to Texas.  Spending so much time in this broad center of our country, moving from farms to ranches to open pastures to rocky canyonlands, watching for lines of trees along creek beds, spotting the occasional deer or a prairie dog village, we have been learning a little bit about some of the Native American history.
Native American history is only now beginning to be told generally. Partly that is because documentation has been slowly percolating beyond academia, partly it is a function of a more nuanced attitude of the National Park Service which has moved beyond the old paternalistic attitudes in its visitor centers, and most dramatically in the several new museums which are often at least partially sponsored by Native American bands' casino profits.
But much of the books easily available are the same old classics, so we're happy to find new material.  At the Fort Sill Museum Visitor Center, in the middle of Comanche territory near Lawton, Oklahoma, a new shipment of "Empire of the Summer Moon" had just arrived.  It is a stunning read.
Although the subtitle says: "Quanah Parker and the rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American history", the first two thirds of the book covers the Indian wars during the years he was growing up and not yet involved. From about 1840, White settlers moved into the traditional Indian territory, taking land which Indians regarded as theirs by right, after they had been forcibly removed from their ancient hunting grounds.  The Indians retaliated by raiding and burning settlements, looting, and torturing and killing settlers.
Cynthia Parker, the mother of Quanah Parker, was made captive of a Comanche tribe when she was about nine years old.  She was adopted into the tribe and later married its leader.  She had three children: Quanah and his brother Peanuts and later a daughter she named Prairie Flower. Quanah Parker became one of the bravest and most belligerent of the Comanche warriors.
In order to tell the story of the entire Parker family, Gwynne has gathered information from many sources and gives us a rich description of the lives of the various combatants.  We finish the book understanding much more about Manifest Destiny, the settling of the West, and the terrible cost to everybody involved.


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