S.C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon is a work of non-fiction deserving of its finalist status for a  2011 Pulitzer.  What is so haunting about this book is an un-avoidable love-hate relationship with the Comanche’s of West Texas and the High Plains in the period  1830-1875. 

You will come to respect the greatest mounted warriors  that ever lived in North America. Witness the absolute freedom of Comanche life on the high plains, totally in harmony with the soil, water, wind, buffalo, and of course the horse.   Then there is the depravity, ruthless killing of rival tribes and  later the slaughter of white settlers.  Men, women and children hacked to death or kidnapped, raped and mutilated without remorse. 

Within this barbaric tale evolves the portrait of Cynthia Ann Parker, captured at 9 years of age after watching her family slaughtered  by a Comanche raiding party.  Parker  embraces the Indian culture, marries a head man and bears two sons. Later, found by the U.S. Army among a wandering Comanche tribe, she is returned to ” civilization”  and put on display almost as a freak show.  Members of the Parker family hand her off from one to another as she tried desperately to return to Indian life and her sons.  She died broken-hearted never knowing what happened to her husband and two sons.  Son Quanah who saw his mother taken away by soldiers at age twelve grows to become the most brutal Comanche  worrier of his time.

Gwynne’s research  is worthy of the book’s sub-title. Quanah Parker the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History.  Gwynne’s vivid detail and attention to the historical record forces the reader to try to reconcile the many faces of the Comanche, mounted nomads of the Great Plains.  It is all here, Spanish Colonialism in West Texas, The Civil War,  Manifest Destiny, the destruction of the great buffalo herds and of course the true story of Cynthia Ann Parker and her son Quanah.  Quanah from wild murdering Comanche orhpan to dinner with President Teddy Roosevelt.

Empire of the Summer Moon places this incredible tale in proper historical perspective. Don’t look for a historical novel here, this is a well researched narrative and wonderful story.

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