This year’s book-first-years-won’t-read book is “Empire of the Summer Moon” by S.C. Gwynne. It deals with the ever-volatile clashing of the Comanche’s and Anglo-American’s way of life in the 1800s.
If you’re reading this because you’re about to do the #2 in your pants at the thought of the countless papers, oral recitations and dioramas you’ll have to make: worry not! It’s a crying shame but I’ll probably be the last person to talk about the book. The stories of the early pioneers and the last free natives uniquely embody humanity. There is no black or white, just this dank, murky, bloody gray. Here’s a recap of the history and major events in the book.
The middle of the continent proved to be the last obstacle to Manifest Destiny. The East and the West were conquered with the conclusion of the Transcontinental Railroad. In the Great Plains, the Comanche ruled with an iron fist and raided and harassed the frontiersman, then vanished in their vast territory.
The Comanche were a people seemingly made for horses. Before the introduction of horses to the New World, the Comanche were a small, weak tribe, but horses changed everything. They were better at breeding, riding and fighting on horses than anyone else. Horses made them more effective at their way of life; wealth was measured in how many horses owned, and children at an early age were expected to learn how to ride and fight on horses. The Comanches’ entire culture revolved around war, and, with the addition of horses, they proved to be a deadly force.
They weren’t invincible though. Texans were too tough to be deterred by the frequent raids of the Comanche. Texas politicians openly called for, ostensibly, genocide. Buffalo was the Comanches’ most important resource – it was their way of life. An invention that could turn buffalo hide into high-grade leather caused the number of buffalo hunters to grow thus destroying hundreds of herds – it wasn’t just economics, it turned political in an effort to destroy the Comanche. But what turned out to be the worst enemy of the Comanche was something they couldn’t fight: diseases. Those ultimately killed more Indians than any battles.
Ranald Mackenzie, a Civil War hero, proved to be the most effective Indian fighter ever when he was assigned to end the Indian Wars once and for all. He made a lot of mistakes fighting the Comanche using normal war tactics, but he learned and adapted quickly.
Cynthia Ann Parker, part of the huge and unlucky Parker Family, was captured in a bloody raid on her family’s fort when she was little. She was adopted into the tribe, like most children captured, and refused to be taken back into civilization. During an ambush by the U.S. Army, a small group of natives was attacked and most were killed, including her husband, the chief, and she was taken back to town against her will. Her young son, Quanah, managed to escape. He became one of the most vicious and ardent haters of the “White Man.”
When Mackenzie and his troops eventually subdued the rest of the bands of Comanche, Quanah realized that their old way of life was over and optimistically embraced “the white man’s road.” He led his people as best as he could: protecting their interests from Washington D.C. and always caring for them even at the cost of his personal wealth.
He became a well-respected figure with the Comanche and the U.S. Government, even being named the principal chief of the Comanche. He would be the first and only person to ever hold that title.