I am about halfway through Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne. It is one of those books that simply grabs you. A friend of mine got it, and he said, “Bobby, you’ve got to read this.” I got about two chapters into it and bought it for my brother for his birthday. It arrived at his house on Tuesday, he started reading on Thursday evening, and he had finished it by 12:30am the following Monday morning.
It is about Indians (the Comanche), cowboys (the Texas Rangers), and a man named Quanah Parker. My dad had told me about Quanah Parker before I was out of grade school. Quanah was a leader among the Comanches, and the son of a woman named Cynthia Ann Parker and her husband, Peta Nakonah.
Cynthia Ann had been abducted by the Comanches when she was nine years old. If I stop there, you don’t get the full flavor of it. The Comanches killed a lot of her relatives in a quite brutal fashion. If you are of a tender disposition, skip the next paragraph.
The Comanches would drive a spear through a grown man; scalp him; and castrate him, not necessarily in that order. They would rape the women. They scalped and killed some of them too. Some women they took for slaves. It is almost invariable that when I tell this to people, someone will say that whites did a lot of bad stuff to them too. Yes, yes we did. The Comanches were doing this to other indigenous peoples before the whites came along. Whites were doing this to other whites before they crossed the Atlantic.
People are not very nice.
That having been said, the Comanches would sometimes take the children and adopt them in a very loving way. The children responded to this well, and they became Comanches in their hearts. And among themselves, the Comanches were a very loving people. Once you passed the test, you were one of them. The children who were adopted tended to forget what had been done (that paragraph I suggested you might want to skip) to their parents. They also tended to forget English. They became Comanche.
So Cynthia Ann Parker became Comanche; married a Comanche man; and had children. One of these was Quanah. If you’ve seen John Wayne’s movie, The Searchers, that movie was about her.
There is also a considerable amount of material about the Texas Rangers. I’ve seen the Rangers portrayed in movies and on TV, but I had discounted most of that because of, you know, Texas. You take what a Texan tells you, multiply it by 0.75, and you might be in a better neighborhood of the truth. In this case, the Rangers were better than portrayed.
The Rangers learned to fight on horseback. This was a big deal because the Comanches fought on horseback, and if you were on foot when they came after you, you would be treated as in the paragraph I suggested you might skip.
A Comanche warrior could shoot five times with the fifth arrow being shot before the first one hit its target, and because of this, the weapons that the whites had were inadequate. But then Samuel Colt invented a revolver that shot five bullets. When those were done, you could then change out the reloadable cylinder and shoot five more times. When Colt’s revolver came out, no one wanted it for various reasons. Then it came into the hands of the Texas Rangers, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Like I said, I am about halfway through this. My brother said he cried toward the end as he learned the fate of some of the people. I find myself bonding with these historical characters, both Comanche and white like. They were all doing that which was right in their own eyes. It all looks so very brutal to us today, but it is all still in us. It’s there in our core. If we are pressed; if we think our rights are being taken away; if we think we are being insulted. We don’t have to go far.
— Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. He invites you to “like” the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook.