Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Empire of the Summer Moon

I recently finished a very interesting book (on my awesome Kindle of course) that I wanted to mention to you folks. It's called Empire of the Summer Moon (2010). It's about the history of the Comanches and their last great leader Quanah Parker. I've never taken the time to learn much about Native American history, but I happened to catch an interview on NPR with the author S.C. Gwynne and thought the subject sounded very interesting, especially since many of the raids and battles detailed in the book took place in areas around Fort Worth. Fort Worth was on the western edge of the frontier and on the eastern edge of Comancheria (Comanche territory). Here's a link to Fresh Air's interview with Gwynne. Mr. Gwynne used to write for Texas Monthly and is currently a senior writer at Dallas Morning News.

Cynthia Ann Parker was kidnapped in 1936 at the age of 9 during a bloody Comanche raid on the Parker family fort in what is now Groesbeck, Texas. Cynthia Ann eventually forgot how to speak English. While in captivity she married a chief named Peta Nocona and gave birth to Quanah and several other children. Cynthia Ann is pictured below with her daughter Prairie Flower in this 1861 photo taken in Fort Worth.

Chief Quanah Parker, being half white, was larger than most of his Comanche bretheren. After spending most of his life raiding settlements and conducting war with the whites and other Indian tribes, he and his band surrendered to the U.S. government in 1875. They were settled on a reservation in western Oklahoma. Quanah, adapted to his circumstances and turned out to be adept at business and politics and became a minor celebrity. He built a large house on the reservation and hosted famous guests including President Theodore Roosevelt. The house he built (Star House) still stands in Cache, Oklahoma.

1910 photo of Quanah and three of his five wives.

Star House.

Captain John (Jack) Coffee Hays, Texas Rangers. In the early 1840's Captain Hays learned to defeat the Comanches by fighting as they did, entirely from horseback. Before this time the army would ride to battle, dismount and fight from the ground, usually with poor results. Captain Hays successfuly pioneered the use of the revolver in battle.

A statue of Captain Hays in San Marcos, Texas.

One thing that was interesting about the book was that the author frankly describes the brutal violence that played a big part of the war with the Comanches. I'm amazed at the risk that families faced by settling beyond the frontier. To illustrate these dangers the author included a photo in the book that I had never seen before. It's of a buffalo hunter scalped and killed (or vice versa) in 1868 near Fort Dodge, Kansas. This hunter was actually scalped by Cheyennes, but scalping was regularly practiced by the Comanches as well as settlers seeking revenge for Comanche raids. Notice the terrain in the photo. There was nowhere to hide.

Since I mentioned scalping....this is a photo of Robert McGee,he was scalped as a child in 1864 by Sioux Chief Little Turtle. It's hard to imagine somebody surviving a wound like that without succumbing to infection.

2nd Battle of Adobe Walls: On June 27 1874, Quanah led a group of about 700 warriors against a group of about 28 buffalo hunters barricaded in an old trading post in north Texas called Adobe Walls. The hunters managed to survive the assault on the outpost. As the Comanches dropped back to a distance that they believed to be out of rifle range to discuss their strategy. The hunters used their highly accurate, long-range, Sharps rifles to pick off the Comanches one at a time. Quanah was wounded in the shoulder and his horse was killed. It was during this battle that Billy Dixon made his famous shot, shooting a Comanche off his horse approximately 1 mile away. Click on the photo below. The man is standing in the approximate location where Dixon took his shot. He's pointing to the ridge where the Comanche was located.


  1. It is always good to learn other other peoples culture. Especially both sides of a story.

  2. VERY interesting. Is there a connection between Peta Nocona and the town of Nocona?

  3. Probably, most towns ware I live are named like that. Native America has influenced the America that every one knows today.

  4. I agree. There was lots of interesting stuff that took place in these parts.

    Steve A-Good Question. My wife asked the same thing. Quick Google check-Yes, it was named after Peta Nocona.

  5. Dan the Man-We've got a good mix of Spanish named towns down south and Native American named towns in east and north Texas.

  6. Thanks, Myles, for sharing that book.

    There are many town names in Indiana of native origin.

    I agree with Dan, we probably will never know the extent to which Native Americans influenced, and continue to influence our culture today.

  7. Great post, Myles. I need to read this book.

  8. Reading your summary and listening to his visit with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, I'm wondering if the author feels there are any comparisons to be made with America's eventual settling of Texas and our incursion into the Middle East (Afghanistan and Iraq). Unpopular as that might sound, because frankly, that empire building is still going on.

  9. Love this book and Texas.