Empire of the Summer Moon : Quarah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History / S. C. Gwynne

Gwynne’s epic saga chronicles the rise and fall of the Comanche nation.  While presenting the tribe’s history through the centuries, he personalizes it by highlighting the story of Cynthia Ann Parker.

Her part in Comanche history began on a May morning in 1836 when a large band of Indians rode up to the family property.  She was nine years old at the time and her family had recently come to the Texas frontier.  Unbeknownst to them, the land they were trying to farm was located on Comanche hunting ground.  The braves attacked, and while most of the adults were killed (some were tortured first), Cynthia, along with her brother and older aunt, was kidnapped.  The Comanches were a masterful fighting force and rightfully feared by both settlers and other Indian tribes in the area.  One reason for this is that the adult prisoners they took were usually tortured and killed.  Rape was a common practice as well.  Cynthia’s aunt was tortured, raped, and killed several days after the kidnapping. Children, however, were often adopted into the tribe, and this happened in the case of Cynthia and her brother.

As a young woman, she married a high-ranking chief and bore him two children.  Then in 1860, Cynthia was “rescued” by soldiers, as was her infant daughter Topsannah (Prairie Flower).  In the years that followed, she continually tried to escape and return to tribal land.  After her daughter died of influenza in 1864, she became extremely depressed and finally succeeded in starving herself to death in 1870.  But that is only the first half of the Parker family saga.  Her son, Quanah, was to become the last and perhaps greatest chief of the Comanches.

Just as interesting is the broader history that the author presents on the rise and fall of the Comanche nation.  Its braves were considered by many to be the best horsemen who ever rode.  They were masters of warfare, had stopped the northern drive of colonial Spain from Mexico and halted the French expansion from Louisiana.  They also successfully blocked the expansion of the new American nation for four decades.

The history that Gwynne presents here is eye opening, brutally honest, and skillfully told.

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