Empire of the Summer Moon is really two books: an awkwardly romanticized account of the Anglo and Native branches of the Parker family tree, grafted onto some even more wispy strands of Comanche social history.
Even if you take the spotty and secondhand historical sources (sometimes culled from yellowed and racist early 20th century books with titles like History of the Manifest Destiny) as gospel fact, Gwynne gives insufficient reason to conclude that the Comanche tribe formed an empire. If there is a freshman anthropology class in your background, you may well ask, "Is this 'Empire of the Summer Moon' a tribe in emperor's robes, or is it really an empire?" Or, "Who was the emperor of the tribe, and is that even possible?" Or, as the exceedingly long title may compel one to ask, "Was this Comanche thing a tribe until the summer moons, when the Comanche then turned into an empire?" You won't find those sorts of debates, let alone answers, here; the arrival of an "empire" is one of those "just so" stories we encounter in Texana.
If you have yet to become acquainted with the operatic three-generation story cycle of both the Indian and Anglo sides of the Parker clan, this well-distributed and -advertised title is an entertaining and easy-to-read starting point. Then go get Pekka Hämäläinen's 2008 study The Comanche Empire (Yale Press), which skips most of the frontier romance and uses original documents and firsthand accounts to assess the evolution of the various Comanche bands encountered by the Spaniards, Mexicans, Texans, and Americans on the South Plains.
S.C. Gwynne will appear at the Texas Book Festival on Sunday, Oct. 17, at 2:15pm at the Sanctuary at First United Methodist Church (1201 Lavaca).
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