S.C. Gwynne. Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History

By Jennings, Nathan | Teaching History: A Journal of Methods, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

S.C. Gwynne. Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History


Jennings, Nathan, Teaching History: A Journal of Methods


S.C. Gwynne. Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History. New York: Scribner, 2010, paper 2011. Pp. 371. Paper, $16.00; ISBN 978-1-4165-9106-1.

S.C. Gwynne's impactful work, Empire of the Summer Moon, is a powerful narrative of the tectonic collision of American societies that culminated across the lower Great Plains during the mid-nineteenth century. Arriving at the intersection of Native, Texas, and United States historical fields, the journalist employs the tragic story of Cynthia Ann Parker, an Anglo-Texan settler captured by the Comanche in 1836 who later gave birth to Quanah, the "last chief of the most dominant and influential tribe in American history," as a compelling device to relate the larger geographical confrontation. This meticulously researched journey, centering on the confluence of aboriginal and settler cultures, results in a work that is richly informed by primary sources while benefitting from an engaging writing style.

With such dynamic material, Summer Moon has found great appeal with a diverse readership since publication in 2010. Winner of the Texas Book Award and finalist status for the Pulitzer Prize, Gwynne's seminal history resonates across a wide range of interest topics and academic fields. The fusion of nineteenth century Amerindian and Anglo cultures in the persons of Cynthia and Quanah, in addition to a colorful cast of warriors, soldiers, settlers, and statesmen, makes the narrative a particularly engrossing story. While this setting makes Summer Moon an obvious destination for students, professionals, and enthusiasts interested in Plains Amerindian cultures and United States frontier expansion, it also offers insight into another field of study: military history.

This military significance emerges from the detailed prose that Gwynne uses to create the embattled environment of the western frontier that defined the Parker narrative. Serving as a readily accessible and entry-level work for students and scholars to gain familiarity with timeless concepts of guerrilla warfare, combat adaptation, and distinctive martial cultures, the collision of Comanche, Spanish, Texan, and American forces in northern Texas establishes an arena of "raids and counterraids" that shaped the fate of North America (53). While the military theme is subordinate to the biographical story of the Parker family and the historical importance of Quanah, it nevertheless provides the background and context, unveiled with masterful portrayal, throughout the entire book.

In this manner Summer Moon provides an informative chronicle of how the Comanche empire experienced both epic dominance and crushing defeat on the lower Great Plains. …

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