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Friday, July 29, 2011
Book Review ~ Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne
Author: S.C. Gwynne
In the tradition of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a stunningly vivid historical account of the forty-year battle between Comanche Indians and white settlers for control of the American West, centering on Quanah, the greatest Comanche chief of them all.S. C. Gwynne’s 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 and her mixed-blood son Quanah, who became the last and greatest chief of the Comanches. Although readers may be more familiar with the tribal names Apache and Sioux, it was in fact the legendary fighting ability of the Comanches that determined just how and 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 and so skillful with their arrows and lances 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. So effective were the Comanches that they forced the creation of the Texas Rangers and account for the advent of the new weapon specifically designed to fight them: the six-gun. 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, and the arrival of the railroads—a historical feast for anyone interested in how the United States came into being. Against this backdrop Gwynne presents the compelling drama of Cynthia Ann Parker, a lovely nine-year-old girl with cornflower-blue eyes who was kidnapped by Comanches from the far Texas frontier in 1836. She grew to love her captors and became infamous as the "White Squaw" who refused to return until her tragic capture by Texas Rangers in 1860. More famous still was her son Quanah, a warrior who was never defeated and whose guerrilla wars in the Texas Panhandle made him a legend. S. C. Gwynne’s account of these events is meticulously researched, intellectually provocative, and, above all, thrillingly told. Empire of the Summer Moon announces him as a major new writer of American history.
I saw this book on Barnes and Noble when it first came out and I've always had a fascination with Quanah Parker and Native American's in general really. So I immediately downloaded it onto my Nook and started reading it. I actually had to start over because life got in the way and I really wanted to review it on my blog so I wanted the information to be fresh in my mind.
What I really liked about this book was that it wasn't entirely about Quanah Parker, yes the vast majority of it was, but there was a lot of history about the Comanche nation in the book too. I saw this book as "Rise and Fall" type of book. There is also a pretty detailed description of the raid on Parker's fort. A little bit graphic but I'm sure very accurate for the times.
I enjoyed how the author depicted both sides of the Indian wars. At times a little graphic but historically accurate.
I thought that the depiction of Quanah Parker pre-reservation life and reservation life was pretty neat. It turns out that Quanah wasn't just a "dumb" Indian. He was an advocate for his people as well as an entrepreneur.
The only quirk that I really had with the book was the sometimes graphic nature of some of the content. Yes, it's historically accurate but it became, at times, a slight turn off for the book.