Thursday, 28 July 2011

Empire of The Summer Moon by S.C.Gwynne

Title: Empire of the Summer Moon
Author: S.C.Gwynne
Publisher: Constable Robinson
Published: July 2011
ISBN: 978 1849017039

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Rating 5/5

The cover on this shows Quanah Parker, leader of the Camanche Tribe, who’s mother also features in this non fiction book.

Prior to reading this, the only knowledge I had of American History was what was learnt at school (eg – not a lot!) and what I’ve gleaned from Lewis and Clarke Expedition books. So to say my knowledge of this was basic was an understatement. Gwynne laid everything bare…it’s all here. The horrific way the Plains Indians were treated, how they lost all their land and went from being mostly nomadic tribes to ones dependant on so called charity from the US with their allowances of land and pitiful food rations.

It’s a really strong, well researched book about how the frontier changed, the wars held on the plains and the struggle to live – on both sides. Gwynne leaves nothing out – he includes all the gory detail on how the wars were fought, what strategies were used both by the Texans and later the government officials to exterminate those they saw in the way of the land they coveted so much, and how the Indians stalled the advance of the frontier with their raiding parties, avenging the atrocities being done to them in the process.

Some of the content is horrific – it has to be, to be accurate. The shear brute force of some of the actions taken took my breathe away. The story of Rachel Plummer, who was captured by the Camache Tribe, tells her story through her journals. Not only does she survive the abuse given to her, she endures the forceful killing of her newborn which was shocking.

Quanah Parker’s story is unique. His mother was captured during a raid on a furthermost frontier fort by the Comanche tribe, who pillaged and went on to torture, gang rape and kill some of those in her family. Her story is one of a survivor – she lived with the Camaches and embraced their lifestyle, marrying one of the war chiefs and raising children. Sadly she was ‘rescued’ by soldiers and sent back to her white family, something which eventually killed her as all she wanted was to return to her home – with the Comanche Tribe. Quanah was one of her children, and features heavily in this book as is his rightful place in history as the Camanche Chief. It follows the ups and downs of the Comanche Tribe and their place in history as the largest and most feared tribes of their time.

I could now write pages and pages about the wrongs done on both sides and how much Empire of the Summer Moon has taught me. If you like non-fiction and want to know more about Indians and how their way of life changed and how they disappeared from the Plains, then this a fantastic book to read.
I’ll share a couple of quotes, which I think sum up how sad this book left me feeling for what the Indians had lost…this from the Kiowa Chief Satanta:

“This building of homes for us is all nonsense. We don’t want you to build any for us. We would all die…If you build us houses the land will become smaller, what good will come of this?”

from Ten Bears…

“…If the Texans had kept out of my country there might have been peace. But that which you say we must now live in, is too small. The Texans have taken away the best places where the grass grew the thickest and the timber was best. Had we kept that, we might have done the things you ask. But it is too late. The whites have the country which we loved, and we wish only to wander the prairie until we die.”

Book synopsis:
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. 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 is 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. Against this backdrop Gwynne presents the compelling drama of Cynthia Ann Parker, a nine-year-old girl who was kidnapped by Comanches 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.

Source: A review copy was given by Constable in exchange for an honest review.

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