News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion Columns

July 11, 2013

RONN MOTT: Comanche Moon

According to S. C. Gwynne, Comanche braves would ride hundreds of miles across the southwestern plains and arrive at their destination using their own sense and knowledge of the area to arrive on time and at the spot where they intended to go. His book is called, “Empire of the Summer Moon.”  

When I am in route to go somewhere and have to spend time in airport terminals, I always look for a book that will totally hold my interest. This book about the actual empire of the Comanche Indians held me transfixed. For example, only two tribes would kill a person on sight just for being in their territory. One was the Blackfeet, along the northern edge of the Rockies, and the vast territory controlled by the Comanche, about 240,000 miles of arid plains. The early maps showed this area as the great American desert, but it fed the Comanche (because of buffalo) and it was a place they could raise horses. It was also somewhere they could constantly lose the white men who chased them.  

The Comanche almost made an art out of raising and breeding horses. They would then sell and trade the ones they didn’t want to keep. The other instrument of trade with this most fierce Indian tribe was buffalo hides, which the men killed and the women skinned and dressed for the purpose of sale.

This book highlights and follows the history of perhaps the strongest war chief that ever lived. It is too bad that Quanah Parker, the chief we’re reading about, died before movies. He was taller than nearly every other Comanche, approximately six feet, two inches with classic good looks, dark skin and grey eyes.

Yet, this best-looking and most war-like of Indian chiefs west of the Mississippi was only half Indian. He was the product of an Indian war chief and Cynthia Ann Parker, a white woman who had been captured by the Comanche at the age of 9. (The Comanche also made a huge living from taking hostages and selling them back to the white man for high prices.)

Ironically, many other Native American people who grew such famous crops as corn, beans and squash, failed to impress the Comanche because the Comanche never grew anything. They sustained themselves by trading or buying from other tribes, or stealing food from them.

Cynthia Ann Parker hated every minute she spent as an adult in white company. She was assimilated into Comanche culture and she had two Comanche sons she loved. Quanah and his younger brother, Peanuts, were her cherished pride. I found this book utterly fascinating because, in my years of study about American history, I knew too little of these proud warriors of the Plains and their culture.

You don’t have to be a history nut, as I am, to enjoy this book. It is the great story of the American West and S. C. Gwynn tells it so well and so honestly that it outshines any movie about the West I have ever seen, including a couple of Academy Award winners, “Dances With Wolves,” and “Red River.” I not only recommend this book to you, but it should be required reading at the high school or collegiate level.

 “Empire of the Summer Moon” puts your mind in that desolate, dry, dusty area of the country so well you’ll be wanting a tall glass of something cold and wet to accompany your reading.

Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on Tribstar.com, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.

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