Book: Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne


[Subtitle: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian Tribe in American History.]


The Comanches operated in what is known as the high plains; a swath of land from Colorado, southwest through Texas; and had done so for hundreds of years. The most salient fact about the high plains was that no trees existed there; it rained very seldom, which supported the high grasses, and the millions of Buffalo that roamed there freely.


The Comanches were the largest and most powerful tribe that existed in American History. Yet, shockingly, they were not organized. There were many Comanches tribes who co-existed with their fellow Comanche tribes. But they had no one Chief or CEO or Top Dog over all Comanche tribes.


Comanches were arch-enemies of, and had a deep hatred for, the Apaches; who the Comanches eventually drove off the high plains.


Selected Excerpts:


Few historians would argue that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which a defeated Mexican republic signed on February 2, 1848, in the wake of a lopsided war, was as momentous an event in American history as the signing of the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.”



Before the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty, the American West consisted of the old Louisiana Purchase lands. In the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty, Mexico gave up its claims north of the Rio Grande; with that, the U.S. acquired the old Spanish lands which included Texas, Arizona, Colorado, California, Utah, New Mexico and Nevada.


This Treaty changed everything in the West. At the time of the Mexican war (1846-1848) this was still mysterious, dangerous, untraveled land. Much of it (from Canada to south Texas) had never been explored by white men.


The continents’ heart had been pierced in 2 places: the Oregon Trail and the Santa Fe Trail; these were merely highways down which relatively small numbers of pioneers traveled. They did not draw settlement: westering pioneers did not stop in the middle of the Oregon Trail and build a cabin.


The problem for the Comanches was that they now stood directly in the way of American nationhood. They were now surrounded by a single political entity. With the annexation of Texas, they were no longer dealing with a quirky, provincial republic with few resources, devalued currency, and a patchwork citizenry; they were now a principal concern of the federal government, with its visions, blue-coated armies, vaults full of tax money and complex politically charged Indian policies.    


In 1849, the flood gates opened. The Gold Rush was the first great exercise of America’s spatial freedom. People poured giddily into the West in numbers that would have been unthinkable just a year before.


Comanche power had long resided in sheer military superiority: the ability, man for man, to outride and outshoot the non-Comanche residents. Now for the first time, came a serious challenge. This challenge came in many forms of dirty, bearded, violent and undisciplined men belonging to no army, wearing no insignia or uniforms.


They were called many different names --- finally morphing into a name that everybody agreed upon i.e. the Texas Rangers.




2nd Abridged Excerpt from "Empire of the Summer Moon” by S.C. Gwynne.


The Texans greatest disadvantage lay in his horse and his horsemanship. American horses tended to be work plugs, plodding and incapable of running with the fleet, tough and nimble Indian ponies. Comanches fought entirely on horseback and in a way no soldier or citizen in North America had ever seen. The Comanches had been fighting this way for 200 years. War was what they did. The conquest of the Apaches over a generation had caused a profound change in Comanche life.


This war-without-quarter rained down on the hapless white farmer of the western frontier. The only real chance they had was to circle the wagons and hope they could kill enough Indians to make it too costly for them continue. Mostly the settlers did not stand a chance. The Texan solution to these problems was unique in western military history. About 1835, they started forming ranging companies that violated every rule of military organization and protocol, every standard of hierarchy that allow a traditional army to function.


They were meant to step into the void left by the Army that had fought at San Jacinto, almost all of which had been furloughed by 1837. They were called "Rangers” (the first official use of that name); they were commissioned to hunt Indians and defend the frontier. They were not provided guns, men, mounts, uniforms, provisions or barracks. The only thing the government reliably provided was ammunition. Oddly, since almost nothing was given to them, there seems to have been no real problem with recruitment.


The western part of Texas in those days was awash in young, reckless, single men with a taste for wide open spaces, danger and adventure. They liked the idea of killing Comanches and Mexicans. Without them the idea of ranging companies would never have worked. Texas primitive Indian fighting organizations developed from 1836-1840.


The Rangers were simply what was needed, and they grew organically from that premise. Since they were untried young men and did not know any better, they adapted quickly to the lethal new world of horses and weapons and Indian tactics. The Rangers were a rough bunch. As time went by, and so many of them were killed, it created a sort of natural selection in their ranks; they got even rougher, more brutal and more aggressive.  


So, it was remarkable that this group of violent, often illiterate and unmanageable border ruffians would give their full and unswerving allegiance to a quiet, slender 23-year-old with a smooth, boyish face, sad eyes and a high-pitched voice.


His name was John Coffee Hays. He was called "Jack”. The Comanches, who feared him greatly, called "Captain Yack”.


He was the uber-Ranger, the one everyone wanted to be like, the one who was braver and smarter and cooler under fire than any of the rest of them. He was one of the finest military commanders America has ever produced. Though he fought on the Texas frontier and Mexico for less than 12 years, he personally put an indelible stamp not only on the Texas Rangers --- an organization that might be said to have arisen in imitation of him --- but also the American West.


John Coffee "Jack” Hays was not afraid of anything. He was the first great Indian fighter on the plain’s frontier --- he was the legend that spawned a thousand other legends, dime novels and Hollywood movies. He began to make a name for himself as an Indian fighter, especially one who knew how to keep his men alive. In 1840, at the age of 23, Hays became Captain of the San Antonio station of the Rangers. They had been officially established by the Texas Republic, but they had to furnish their own arms, equipment, horses and food. There was no pay at first.


Hays demanded that his recruits learn how to ride. They used agile and fast horses, the product of local breeding of mustangs with the Kentucky, Virginia and Arabian strains. Those horses were heavier than Indian mounts, but they could run with the Comanche mustangs and keep up with them over long distances. Under Hays the ranging companies, rarely numbering more than 15-20 men, began to behave more like the Indians they hunted.


They moved as lightly over the prairie as the Indians did, and lived as the Indians did, without tents, using a saddle for a pillow at night. Each man had one rifle, two pistols and a knife. Like the Comanches, the Rangers often traveled by moonlight. Hays’ men would sleep fully clothed and fully armed; ready to fight at a minute’s notice.    


None of this behavior had any precedent in American military history. No cavalry anywhere could bridle and saddle a horse in less time than the Rangers. Hays insisted that his men practiced both shooting and riding. Note that these men were charging and shooting on horseback, a concept taken entirely from the Comanches. It represented an enormous advance in anti-Indian warfare. No one who had fought Comanches ever believed that there was any advantage to fighting them dismounted, on open ground.


Despite his success fighting Comanches, Hays still faced one very large and intractable problem; his single-shot, hard to reload rifles and old-style pistols. They put his men at a severe disadvantage against Comanches who carried 20 arrows in their quivers.


In 1830, a 16-year-old with big ideas and a knack for intricate mechanics, named Samuel Colt was working on a revolving pistol. In 1838, the manufacture of the .36 caliber, 5-chambered revolving pistol began. However, the U.S. Government could not see any application for it and refuse to subsidize it. Nor did the pistol seem to interest private citizens. But in 1939 the 2ndPresident of the Republic of Texas (following Sam Houston) ordered the Texas Navy to order 180 of these pistols.


These pistols were never used by the Texas Navy but somehow, they ended up in the hand of John Coffee Hays. The Rangers immediately grasped the significance of this revolving pistol. The new Colt revolver had many weaknesses. It was fragile. The caliber of bullets were too light; and it was not terribly accurate.


It used preloaded cylinders which meant a Ranger armed with 2 pistols and 4 preloaded cylinders, had 40 shots. The Rangers practiced until they could be effective with the Colt revolving pistols. But the cylinders were difficult to change and when they were empty, a man in the field could not reload them. That, however, did not change the basic, astounding fact of a revolving chamber. The Rangers were convinced of it’s potential.


The test came in what is known as the Battle of Walnut Creek. It became the defining moment in the history of Texas and the American West. Hays and 14 of his men attacked 75 Comanches. The Rangers were dropping Comanches at an alarming rate. They killed 40 Comanches but after an hour, the Rangers ran out of ammunition. Hays coolly called out and found one of his men who still had a bullet in his pistol. He told his man to locate the Chief and shoot him. He did.


The Comanches in wild affright, at the loss of their leader, scattered in every direction --- which is common behavior for Comanches.


Though it would take a while for everyone else on the frontier to realize what had happened at Walnut Creek, it would take the Mexican War to make the U.S. Government understand what it meant --- a fundamental paradigm-shattering change had occurred. The Americans could now fight entirely mounted against the Indians with pistols that "never emptied”, whose frequency of firing nearly matched that of the Comanches (who were known to be able to fire off 10 arrows in a minute). The odds had been evened up.


Still no one outside of Texas understood what Samuel Colt had done. In 1844, Colt’s invention was a failure. His company had gone bankrupt in 1842. Colt did keep his patents. He spent 5 years in poverty. Colt had heard of the success of the Ranger and wrote to a member of the Rangers named Samuel Walker.


The war in Mexico had started and the Texas Rangers had volunteered. They made an extraordinary impression on the U.S. Army in Mexico. It was like nothing anyone had ever seen before. Unlike almost everyone else in the Army, the Rangers preferred to fight mounted. The Rangers 5-shot revolving pistols and their ability to wield them with deadly accuracy from horseback, were the wonder of the Army. So much so, that the Army ordered 1,000.


There was one problem. Colt had not made a revolver in 5 years. Also, he had no money and no factory. But with his Army contract in hand for 1,000 pistols at $25 each, he convinced his friend Eli Whitney to make the pistols. Then, something remarkable happened. Colt asked Samuel Walker to help him with a new design. Walker explained that it need a bigger caliber, it had to be heavier, more rugged with a longer barrel. It was Colt’s idea to use 6 chambers instead of 5.


The result, the .44 caliber Walker Colt, was one of the most effective and deadly pieces of technology ever devised, one that would kill more men in combat than any sidearm since the Roman Short Sword. It saved Samuel Colt. Despite losing a few thousand dollars on the deal, Colt later became one of the richest men in America.                                                                                                                                                                =====================

3rd Abridged Excerpt from "Empire of the Summer Moon” by S.C. Gwynne.

Since the Great Plains were well known for not having trees, and since all Comanche tribes were nomadic, what, you ask, did they use for fires? It turns out that dry Buffalo dung, makes great fire wood. And back then there were millions of Buffalo on the Great Plains.


On December 29, 1845, Texas became the 28th State to join the Union. The Texas State legislature chose their 2 allotted U.S. Senators --- one of which was the former President of the former Republic of Texas: Sam Houston. [Note: U.S. Senators were selected that way until the 17th Amendment was passed in 1913].


Aside from the sheer onslaught of immigrants (Germans, French, Norwegians, etc.) that were pushing westward into Texas, the other attraction for living in Texas was that each family head, that was willing to settle in Texas, was given (free) 4,000 acres tax free. The Parker family was well-off as it was but there were several Parker families immigrating to Texas together. So, they owned a lot of land.


The book goes through several various Comanche raids on various Texas farmers. But the focal point at this point in the book was Cynthia Ann Parker --- which we first heard about in the beginning of the book --- when (in 1836), at the age of 10, she was kidnapped by Comanches who killed her father and mother. After the Comanches had kidnapped Cynthia Ann Parker and taken her to their location, she somehow survived the Comanche women, who liked to torture white women captives, and managed to meet and marry the main Comanche Chief (she was one of his 2 wives) and had 3 children by him. When I ask people if they were familiar with the name Cynthia Ann Parker, most looked at me like "who?”.


Cynthia Ann Parker was a very well-known name at the time (1837-1860). Mainly because one of her uncles, who survived the Comanche attack, was not only out looking for her for years; but was also advertising in local newspapers, for all those years, that he was looking for his brother’s daughter: Cynthia Ann Parker.


Some years after Cynthia Ann had already assimilated into her particular Comanche tribe, and had had children, some white Texas trapper, who had heard of her, discovered her while visiting the tribe. He was able to communicate with her, only to find out that she did not want to leave the tribe. That was shocking news when it hit the local newspapers.


This portion of the book, was written to make a point. When Comanches fought, they were particularly brutal. The story (in 1860) that caused a gigantic upset in the community and set several actions in motion, was when a peaceful family, who were living on their own property on the Plains, were having dinner in their own cabin.


Several Comanches walked into their cabin uninvited but regardless of that, the family invited them to sit down and join them for dinner. After dinner, the Comanches killed the man and gang-raped and scalped his 9-month pregnant wife; and left her. She did not die --- for a few days. She made it back to her cabin where she was found and was lucid enough to explain what had happened. She died within days and her baby died as well. However, the news got into the local newspapers. There was total outrage in the community.


Reportedly hundreds of families just pulled up stakes and headed back east. But the outrage was so great, that some brave men, who had stayed, started to organize a posse to go after the Comanches. Their hatred of Indians was intense. After Texas gained Statehood (1845), the Texas Rangers were disbanded, replaced by the U.S. Army, who had no clue how to fight Indians. John Coffee "Jack” Hays had joined the Gold Rush and was long gone --- now the Sheriff in San Francisco. There were no Texas Rangers to call on.


The locals did not discern between the various Indian tribes. The Comanches were the worst, but to the locals, they were all Indians; Indians were Indians --- now they hated all Indians. They locals who stayed, managed to get together roughly 100 men to go after the "Indians”. The Indians they were trailing were the Comanches who raped that women.


The Texans went to a location where a scout had last seen several hundred "Indians” (Comanches). By the time they got there, they found that only a few dozen were still there --- mainly women --- they were just finishing packing up their belongings and meat, preparing to leave and follow their men, who apparently had left a few days before. In their rage, the Texans attacked and killed anything that was there (men, women and children).


Several Comanches ran and were tracked down and killed. One Comanche who ran, was carrying a baby --- she turned and pulled her top open to 1) show her breasts so they would see that she was a woman, and 2) to show that she was white. Indians were generally brownish; so "white” stood out. For some reason, they did not kill her. But they tracked down a male Indian (Comanche) who was further away and killed him. He turned out to be Peta Nocona, Chief of the most powerful Comanche tribe on the Plains who had foolishly stayed back to help his wife --- who was the "white” woman they had just captured.


It turns out, their 2 sons were also there but had gotten away; one of which was Quanah, who later became the baddest Comanche of them all, on the Great Plains.


When the Texans discovered that they had captured Cynthia Ann Parker, and the locals found out, they were very interested. She was treated like a new zoo animal. One of her uncles came to her rescue. Of course, she did not want to be rescued by white people. But she slowly came around; partly because her young daughter "Prairie Flower” (the baby she had when captured) was getting along well with the other white kids and was learning English rapidly. Things were getting better for Cynthia Ann until Prairie Flower got sick and died from pneumonia. It was too much for Cynthia Ann and she went into a health decline and finally died of influenza 6 years later.


In January 1861, the anti-Union sentiment in Texas was in full cry. In February 1, 1861, Texas voted to secede from the U.S.A.


On April 12, 1861, Confederate batteries opened fire on Fort Sumner in Charleston Harbor, signaling the start of the Civil War.


Indian fighting went on hold.



4th Abridged Excerpt from "Empire of the Summer Moon

With a several-year lapse in the Indian fighting due to the Civil War, Gwynne introduces Quanah Parker.


Quanah was 12 when his father (Peta Nocona) was killed, and his mother (Cynthia Ann Parker) was captured. Since Quanah’s father had been a powerful Chief, when Quanah reunited with his Comanche tribe, he instantly became a little renowned orphan; not at all enhanced by being half-White. But Quanah was smart, and he was physically very agile. He was several inches taller than the other Comanche boys. He made a name for himself during this period when no White folks were out trying to kill Indians.


Quanah Parker emerges later as a vicious foe when the fighting against the Indians picks up again after end of the Civil War (May 1865).


What became more noticeable, reading this book for the 2nd time, is how unorganized and totally inept Indians were back then. They owned the Great Plains for well over 150 years and did nothing with it. The modern horse was introduced to North America in 1519 by the Spanish conquistadors Hernán Cortés brought 15 horses to the Mexico mainland.


Comanches emerged as a distinct group before 1700, when they broke off from the Shoshone people living along the upper Platte River in Wyoming. In 1680, Comanches acquired horses from the Pueblo Indians after the Pueblo Revolt. They separated from Shoshones, as the horses allowed them greater mobility in their search for better hunting grounds.


The horse was a key element in the emergence of a distinctive Comanche culture. It was of such strategic importance that the Comanche broke away from the Shoshone and moved southward to search for additional sources of horses which the Comanche utilized for transportation (they were nomadic), trade and most importantly: war and for hunting buffalo.


The Comanche may have been the first group of Plains natives to fully incorporate the horse into their culture. War was their culture.


 Comancheria, the former territory of the Comanche including large portions of Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Kansas


By 1770 the Comanches were "so skillful in horsemanship that they had no equal, so daring that they never asked for or granted truces, and in possession of such a huge territory that they had no need to covet the trade pursued by the rest of the Indians." During that time, the Comanche population increased dramatically because of the abundance of buffalo, an influx of Shoshone migrants, and their adoption of significant numbers of women and children taken captive from rival groups.


Comanches never formed a single cohesive tribal unit, but were divided into almost a dozen autonomous groups, called bands. These groups shared the same language and culture, and rarely fought each other. They were estimated to have taken captive thousands of people from the Spanish, Mexican, and American settlers in their lands.


This statement above bears repeating: Comanches never formed a single cohesive tribal unit. There was no one Overload, No CEO or No Head of the Comanche nation; there were many Chiefs. Comanches NEVER created a system of government. They NEVER advanced their culture. They shunned farming, building houses, or otherwise absorbing part of the culture that was starting to surround them. The one and only measurement or method of moving up in a Comanche tribe was to be a great warrior. That was it!!! The one and only measurement of wealth amongst Comanches, was the number of horses (and later cattle) they had.


It was stunning what happened to the Comanches. It is a testament to failure on a grand scale. On the flip side, it makes it more remarkable how the U.S.A. developed and came to become the 50 United States of America.


The Comanche nation was down from over 12,000 to 4,000. The hunting and killing of Comanches and various "White Man” diseases had killed thousands of Indians (including Comanches). It is remarkable how long it took the Comanches to figure out (due to the Civil War) that border defenses had lapsed; and how long it took them to grasp this massive shift in the balance of power. The Comanches had no way to, and apparently no interest in, developing an adequate, reliable and fast Comanche-wide communication systems.


With the Civil War going on, various Indian tribes now had time to settle some scores. There was plenty of Indian-on-Indian killings. Some Indian Tribes had started to accept moving to Reservations. While no organized groups were hunting and killing Indians, it did not stop the explosion of settlers moving into Texas. Indians did not like settlers. There was one instance where Sioux Indians rebelled from their Reservation and killed over 800 white settlers. It was the highest civilian wartime toll in U.S. history prior to 9/11.


By 1863 it had become clear to most of the free-ranging horse tribes on the southern plains that there were no solders to stop them. By 1864, they were riding roughshod into settlements from Colorado to South Texas. Huge stretches of land that had been settled as far back as the 1850s became completely depopulated. Comanches completely shut down the Santa Fe Trail. The Overland Mail abandoned its stations for 400 miles. Cheyenne raids cut off supplies to the Colorado mining camps where people were starving.


The frontier again rolled back, in some cases up to 200 miles, cancelling 2 decades of westward progress. In October 1864, a force of 700 Comanches and Kiowa warriors, under Comanche Chief Little Buffalo, rode across the Red River and attacked a settlement consisting of 60 houses. There was nothing to stop them. No fear of Rangers or federal forces. No commanders like John Coffee Hays.


This sort of raid was duplicated all along the frontier this year. In late 1864, Brigadier General James Carleton, ranking U.S. Army office in the territory of New Mexico, along with legendary scout Kit Carson, conducted a massive campaign against the Navajos in New Mexico, finally forcing 8,000 of them on to a reservation. Unfortunately, that reservation was on the margin on Comancheria. It was not long before the western Comanche bands figured out how exquisitely vulnerable their old enemies were; swooping down attacking Navajo villages, stealing sheep, horses, women and children.


Carleton was infuriated by the relentless Comanche attacks on army supply caravans on the Santa Fe Trail. Those supply caravans contained both food that would ensure the Navajo’s survival and the communications that served as the General’s only contact with his colleagues out east. In November 1864, Carleton dispatched Colonel Kit Carson on a punitive expedition into the most remote and historically inviolable of the Comanche heartland, in the Texas Panhandle, inhabited by the fiercest and most remote Comanche Tribes. Only a few white men had been there before. No Texas Ranger had ever had the courage to track Comanches into that area; that had long been considered certain death.


Perilous though it was, if there was one man in the country who could actually lead such an expedition, that man was Kit Carson.


Kit Carson was one of the most storied figures in the American West. He was a national hero. He had married several Indian wives, was fluent in a number of Indian languages, and he was a successful Indian fighter, including against Comanches. He knew what he was doing. On November 14, 1864, four days after Abraham Lincoln was reelected President and the day after Sherman burnt down Atlanta, Carson rode out of camp with 14 officers, 321 enlisted men, and 72 Apaches and Ute scouts.


The Utes were bitter, traditional enemies of the Comanches, and the Utes were not frightened, as most white men were, by the appalling emptiness of the buffalo plains. After 12 days, the scouts spotted the Comanche and Kiowa lodges. That night, they rode silently and in darkness down into the Canadian River valley, under strict orders not to talk or smoke. They dismounted and stood shivering in heavy frost and holding their horses by their bridle reins until the first grey streaks of dawn.


They moved forward at daylight, dragging with them two Howitzers. The Howitzers were short-barreled, large-caliber guns that fired 12 lb payloads. Their advantage was that they were extremely mobile. They also packed a nasty wallop, especially when used against crowds of people. They fired two types of ammo: spherical case shot and canister.


Spherical case shot consisted of a single round iron shell filled with 82 musket balls packed in sulfur with a small bursting charge of gunpowder. Canisters turned the Howitzer into the equivalent of a giant sawed-off shotgun, spewing 148 .69-caliber lead musket balls with every shot. No one among Carson’s troops knew that the two Howitzers would mean the difference between life and death, victory and defeat for the expedition.


About 8:30am, Carson’s troop swept into a Kiowa village of 176 lodges and caught them completely by surprise. Meanwhile, Carson’s main force pressed toward the much larger Comanche camp. They stopped at the ruins of a trading post known as Adobe Wells. There, about 10:00am, they engaged 1600 Comanche and Kiowa Indians. The battle did not last long. The Howitzers, which had been dragged, set up and loaded on a 30’ hill nearby, fired. Instantly, the Comanches and Kiowas, who had been charging furiously along the battle-line stopped, stood high on their stirrups, and watched as the case shot exploded and exploded again.      


No weapon like this had ever been seen on the high plains. In the account of Captain George Pettis, who was with Carson at Adobe Wells, "the hostiles gazed, for a single moment in astonishment, then, guiding their horses away from us, and giving one concerted, prolonged yell, they went on a dead run for their village. When the 4th shot was fired, there was not a single enemy within the extreme range of the two Howitzers.”  


Instead of pursuing the fleeing Indians, Carson gave his men a break; they had been marching or fighting for 30 hours straight. After eating, drinking and relaxing, Carson’s idea was to mount up and go finish the Indians off. However, in the 30 minutes that Carson’s men had relaxed, the Indians had regrouped. The battle resumed at full intensity and it soon became clear that the Comanches and Kiowas had figured out at least some of the antipersonnel characteristics of the Howitzers.


The Chiefs spread their warriors out. Pettis wrote "Their policy was to act singly and avoid getting into masses. The tactic worked and the Howitzers were only fired a few times. On one of those occasions, the shell passed directly through the body of a horse on which a Comanche was riding at full gallop and went some 300 yards before it exploded. The horse, on being struck, went head-foremost to earth, throwing his rider 20’ into the air with his hands and feet sprawling in all directions.”


Meanwhile, the Indians mounted a furious attack. But something else was happening. Carson noticed that more and more additional Comanches were joining the battle, Pettis noted that Carson’s forces were facing what appeared to be over 3,000 Indians under the legendary Comanche Chief Ten Bears. After 5 hours, it was getting to be mid-afternoon, Carson gave the order to fall back. They went back to a small Kiowa village, but it was full of Indians. After a while, Carson was surrounded; they could not get into the village.


Carson ordered the Howitzers be taken to a small hill near the Kiowa village and they boomed forth case and canister, driving the Indians out of the village and allowing his men in. They plundered it --- the lodges were full of coveted buffalo robes --- and then burned it down. Darkness fell and Carson’s retreat continued. The Indians followed. Carson’s men rode almost continuously for 4 days. The Indians did not renew their attack. They had just fought one of the largest battles ever fought on the Great Plains.                                                                                                      ========================== 


Abridged Excerpt #5 from "Empire of the Summer Moon


Ranald Slidell Mackenzie graduated 1st in his class at West Point in 1862. Gwynne now introduces another well-known name: George Custer --- who finished last in his West Point 1861 class. Both served in the Civil War. Mackenzie served with more distinction. By Appomattox, he held the brevet ranks of Brigadier General of the regular Army, and Major General of the Volunteers. He was 24 years old.


After the Civil War, Mackenzie remained in the Army, reverting to his actual rank of Captain. By 1867, he was promoted to Colonel and took command of the 41stInfantry (an all-black regiment). By 1971, he was given the command of the 4thCavalry on the frontier. In one battle, Mackenzie had 2 of his fingers blown off --- thereafter his men called him "3-finger Jack”. [It was never explained where the name "Jack” came from; it appears to have been a popular nickname.] This, as much as anything else, was a major step in the end of the Comanches. Meanwhile, George Custer, who had also stayed in the Army, had been given the command of the 7th Cavalry. We all know what finally happened to Custer.


This period saw much more hunting and killing of Comanches and other Indians. Mackenzie had the largest force that had ever been on the plains. By this point, the Army had both Colt revolvers and repeating Spence carbines with several hundred rounds each. The U.S. Army now had the upper hand. The Comanches had nothing like them.


On the other side, Quanah had become a Chief, alongside Bull Bear and Wild Horse. Quanah was Chief of the most terrifying group of Comanches remaining on the plains. It was soon discovered that Quanah was a brilliant tactician who made Mackenzie’s job very much more difficult. It was a case of too little, too late.


It was downhill for the remaining Comanches and other Indian tribes. Indian Reservations were becoming much more attractive. The free Comanches were running out of time. The continued influx of immigrants (Germans, French, English, Spanish, Scandinavians, etc.) demanded a larger, more powerful presence of the U.S. Army.


The U.S. Army could now establish and maintain bases on the frontier itself --- meaning they could stay out hunting Comanches indefinitely. The Comanches were nomadic and did not have that option; not to mention how much easier it was to track them --- they did not use wheels --- all their possessions were dragged on poles.


Mackenzie was the most successful Indian fighter on a massive scale. He made a highly significant contribution to the exploration and opening of the Great American West. He had found two routes across the treacherous plains. The discovery of the roads and the good water would make it possible to keep Indians constantly on the run until they would surrender, or all be surprised and captured or killed.


The Comanches were losing their identity. Where once there were tens of thousands of Comanches, in single unified bands, living in camps that wound for miles along the Brazos or Canadian or Cimarron rivers, now groups blurred affiliations numbering only in the hundreds --- huddled together against the harsh emptiness of the plains.


By 1890, Quanah was known as "Quanah Parker: Principal Chief of the Comanches”. There had never been such a person before in the history of the Comanche Tribe. By this time, he had surrendered and was living on a Reservation in Oklahoma. He died there in 1911.


Buffalo hides were valuable. Between 1870-1881, at least 31 million Buffalo were killed --- stripping the plains almost entirely --- destroying any last hope of that any horse tribe could be restored to its traditional life. Buffalo, like Comanches, were not the most intuitive. Buffalo would stand in a group and not move while one after the other was shot dead. The Comanches, like the Buffalo, were not the brightest.


Nonetheless, Comanches were the largest, most bad-ass Indians on the High Plains. They owned it all, once they chased the Apaches et al to the edges. There was nothing to get in their way, on the Great Plains, for hundreds of years. The Comanches did nothing to capitalize on their incredible opportunity. Forget that the Indians in general did not coalesce and form any sort of government; the Comanches themselves did not coalesce. There were 5 major bands of Comanches and they did not form one overarching group. Other than not killing each other, there was no one leader. The best a Comanche could do was fight and accumulate a lot of horses. Incredible!!


Comanches had no knowledge of Europe, Roman Armies, or the like. They had no hierarchy. They NEVER researched, developed or created: houses, farms, hospitals, colleges, Engineers, Doctors, Artists, electricity, plumbing, roads, sewers, water systems, etc. The men fought and hunted; the women had children, cooked and did all the chores.


The only advancements the Comanches ever made were when they acquired and learned about horses, and later when they got Colt Revolvers. They started using things like pots, blankets, etc. but that only happened because it was with the Americans that they had killed. Even then they never learned. It never made them curious as a body of people. In that way, they were incredibly stupid.


Considering that they had the High Plains all to themselves basically for hundreds of years, their lack of progress as a supposedly organized group and society, it was startling, if not shocking. While they could have never stopped the onslaught of the westward migration of Americans, they could have been a much more formidable force that could have negotiated better terms.


Now a couple hundred years later, they have Casinos which brings in a lot of money for the benefit of their fellow Indians. This will allow Indians to advance more than they have. Their children will have access to higher learning institutions which will translate into Indians in general becoming better absorbed into American society. All good.


There are similarities in the U.S. today along the lines of shrinkage. Fraternal organizations like: Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), American Legion, Elks, Free Masons, Knights of Columbus, Sons of Norway and other fraternal organizations are all shrinking. The advent of Cable TV, Netflix, Redbox, freeways and the internet is dramatically diminishing their numbers due to so many options.


It is very possible that all military veterans, who belong to one of the veteran groups, may coalesce into one central veteran organization. Unlike warring Indians, there will always be an unending stream of U.S. military veterans. So, veteran organizations will survive --- but maybe not as they do today.

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