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David A. Schwinghammer

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Comanche Warriors (book review)
By David A. Schwinghammer
Last edited: Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Posted: Monday, February 21, 2011

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Recent articles by
David A. Schwinghammer

• The God Particle
• The Three Stooges, book review
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• Empire of Sin, book review
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SC Gwynne does for the Comanches what Dee Brown did for the Plains Indians.

Gwynne’s EMPIRE OF THE SUMMER MOON offers a brief history of the Comanche tribe going back to their origins in Wyoming when they were a ne’er-do-well tribe with little culture or civilization, before they emigrated to the south and embraced the horse. The Apaches were the first tribe to “borrow” the horse from the Spanish, but they didn’t do much with it. The Comanches lived and breathed the horse, eventually becoming “the best light cavalry in the world.”

S.C. Gwynne covers several issues alternately. Perhaps the most interesting is what became of Cynthia Ann Parker, “The White Squaw” who was kidnapped by the Comanches at the age of nine. She eventually married a Comanche chief and often refused to be reunited with her family. Gwynne also focuses on the Texas Rangers, especially baby-faced John Coffee Hays, the most famous of them all, who embraced the Comanche way of fighting. After Hays left for the gold fields, the Rangers reverted to their old defensive tactics. The army was inept in its efforts to control the Comanche problem until Ranald Slidell MacKenzie entered the scene. This civil war hero took the fight to the Comaches in the heatland of Comancheria.

Gwynn does not flinch from the dark side of the most accomplished of the horse tribes. The Comanches set back settlement of West Texas at least twenty years due to their terrorist methods. Adult women were gang raped and sometimes scalped and even babies were murdered. Prisoners were tortured and others were enslaved. Eventually, according the Gwynne, the government embraced a program of genocide, personified by the buffalo hunters who decimated the Indians’ source of food.

Gwynne provides extensive detail on Quanah Parker, the greatest of the Comanche chiefs. Quanah was Cynthia Ann Parker’s son, and he rose to power at the end of Comanche dominance. What is most surprising is how well Quanah adapted to the white man’s world once his tribe surrendered. He was a tough negotiator and even became a rancher.

We get a good look at the life of the most adept of the horse tribes. They didn’t really have a headman or chief. If a young warrior wanted to make a raid on the Texas settlements or steal Mexican horses, he had to convince other warriors to follow him. Quanah was especially adept at building consensus, and it carried over into his life on the reservation. We hear a lot of talk about freedom in the news today, but nobody was ever as free as a Comanche warrior prior to the influx of settlers. 

Dave Schwinghammer's published novel, SOLDIER'S GAP, is available at, new and used.  

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Reviewed by Reginald Johnson 2/21/2011
Excellent review.

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David A. Schwinghammer

Soldier's Gap

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