Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History

Written by S.C. Gwynne
Review by John Kachuba

While readers interested in the history of the American West may be more familiar with tales of the Sioux or Apache tribes, author Gwynne asserts that it was the legendary fighting abilities of the Comanches that actually determined when the West would be tamed. Incredible horsemen, the Comanches constituted a ferocious and lethal cavalry that halted Spanish exploration from Mexico, frustrated French expansion plans from Louisiana, subjugated or destroyed neighboring tribes, and for much of the 19th-century prevented American settlers from pushing westward through their homeland in Texas, a huge tract of land known as Comancheria. The book chronicles the rise of the Comanches and their eventual decline in the face of overwhelming numbers of land-hungry Americans.

A legendary part of Comanche history is the story of Quanah Parker, a half-breed whose mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, was captured by the Indians in a bloody and horrifying raid on her family’s fort when she was a little girl. Despite the recapturing of his mother and the death of his Comanche father when Quanah was only twelve, he grew up to become one of the greatest leaders of his people, the only Comanche to ever bear the title Principal Chief.

Full of colorful historical characters, savage battles, and personal tales of desperation and disaster, Gwynne’s book reads more like a novel than a history book. This finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction is an important addition to the body of Native American history and an interesting and thoroughly enjoyable read.