Saturday, October 26, 2013
Having read Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry and The Son by Philipp Meyer this year, I was very interested to learn more about the Comanches that featured so prominently in these novels and in American history. S.C. Gwynne's Empire of the Summer Moon is a readable non-fiction account of the life of Cynthia Ann Parker, a member of one of the most powerful families in the days of early Texas, who is captured in 1836 at the age of nine by the Comanches and ends up choosing to marry a Comanche chief and stay with the tribe for over twenty years. She has a mixed-blood son named Quanah, who becomes the last and most famous chief of the Comanches. Interestingly, Cynthia Ann is eventually discovered and taken from the tribe, at which point she tried to repeatedly escape back to the tribe. After her daughter Prairie Flower died, Cynthia Ann died six years later after self-starvation and illness.
As white settlers arrived in Texas, the Comanches fought to maintain their tribal lands, which led to brutal battles over four decades. A group called the Texas Rangers was formed especially to deal with the threat of Comanches. Eventually the tribe diminished and the U.S. government provided reservations for the remaining Comanches, who were appalled at this offering, having no initial interest in becoming farmers. Over time, Quanah and other Comanches adopted some conveniences of non-native culture.
Unlike other native tribes, Comanches did not engage in agricultural pursuits or make artisan goods, and they had a simple cultural structure that was not stratified or rigidly organized. They were a hunter-gatherer nomadic tribe (their primary diet was buffalo), and were exceptional horsemen which gave them a major advantage when at war.
So the next time you are in Texas under a bright moon, remember that under that bright moon the powerful Comanches lived and fought, and lived out its legacy as the most powerful tribe in American history.