By David E. Petzal
If you are interested in the Indian Wars, and you are like me, your awareness of the Comanche tribe probably goes as far as what you learned from The Searchers. To cure this, S.C. Gwynne has written the only book that can stand beside Son of the Morning Star in originality, depth of research, and spellbinding writing. It’s entitled “Empire of the Summer Moon; Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History.”
In case you didn’t know, the Comanches controlled an area the size of New England. A Comanche raiding party could travel 500 miles one way to have some fun, navigating, at night, country so featureless that white men were afraid to travel in it in the daylight. This meant that a settler in San Antonio was in mortal danger from a Comanche brave contemplating mayhem in what is now Oklahoma City. The Comanches were without equal as light cavalry; they were so ferocious that they had a good run at exterminating the Apaches. If short on water, they would drink the liquid from a dead horse’s stomach. They met their match in a West Point graduate who, like Custer, ended the Civil War as a boy general but who was, unlike Custer, ruthlessly competent. The Texas Rangers, who were the first to take them on successfully, were killed at such a rate that few lived through more than two years of campaigning.
His writing is mesmerizing. Here are a couple of samples:
“…But the one thing everyone could agree on, in that violent and unsettled year was that he [Mirabeau Lamar, the Governor of Texas] was, even by frontier standards, a dangerous, mean, and uncompromising son of a bitch.”
“The Texans were not the Spanish or the Mexicans. They were tougher, meaner, almost impossible to discourage, willing to take absurd risks to secure themselves a plot of dirt, and temperamentally well suited to the remorseless destruction of native tribes. They…were not only not scared of Indians but actually liked hunting them down and killing them.”
If more history were like this, history would be a lot more popular.