Empire of the Summer Moon
The remarkable life of Quanah Parker – half Commanche, half white – provides a backdrop for astounding tales of hardscrabble and bloody life on the Texas frontier.
To appreciate that Quanah Parker, the son of a captured white woman and a Comanche chief, lived an extraordinary, almost surreal life, consider this: He was a brilliant and vengeful warrior, a war chief at 21 who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of white Americans, and who, in his second act, became a cattle rancher and school board chairman, acted in a movie, and palled around with President Teddy Roosevelt, who invited Parker to his 1905 Inauguration.Skip to next paragraph
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It would be hard to make such a tale tired or uninteresting, and in his first book S.C. Gwynne, formerly an editor with Time and Texas Monthly magazines, doesn’t. Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History gives a blow-by-blow account of the hardscrabble and bloody life on the Texas frontier in the middle decades of the 19th century. Atrocities were as common as blue northers, and lives on both sides of the great divide ended or were disrupted in the most horrific ways. Parker and his white mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, were prime examples.
Parker’’s maternal relatives were homesteading way out on the Texas frontier in 1836, south of modern Dallas, lured there by generous land grants offered by the Mexican government. Even though they had built a fort and were armed, it required courage and optimism to pursue such a lifestyle. Indian raids were common in central Texas, and the Parkers had no backup: no neighbors, no town, no cavalry. To flee the attack that transformed Cynthia Ann into a Comanche, brutally killed five Parkers, and took five more captive, survivors walked 65 miles to Houston and safety.
Cynthia Ann was 9 years old when she was taken, having witnessed the gruesome slaughter of her kin and subsequent abuse of fellow captives by the not-so-noble raiding party. She would resurface 10 years later when a Texas peace delegation spotted her, blue-eyed and light-haired, in a Comanche village, covered in gore from skinning buffalo. She could no longer speak English and wanted to stay right where she was. She was bilingual, however, speaking Spanish and Comanche.
Two years later she would give birth to the first of her three children, Quanah. Not only would he rise to prominence, he would do so for a tribe that put the biggest dent of all in Manifest Destiny, according to Gwynne: “No tribe in the history of the Spanish, French, Mexican, Texan and American occupation of this land had ever caused so much havoc and death. None was even a close second.”