So on the longest day of the year I am reading “The Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American history” S. C. Gwynne which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for 2011. Not sure if there is any correlation with the short day at all, but I am fascinated by the story here.
I have always liked reading books about Native Americans. I began in elementary school with “Hominy and His Blunt-Nosed Arrow” by Miriame E. Mason about Miami Indians and the “Song of Hiawatha” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Then as a middle schooler I read James Fenimore Cooper’s “Last of the Mohicans” and “The Light in the Forest” by Conrad Richter. The stories in these works are fanciful and romantic. So much more is known about the Native Americans now, but those stories hooked me. I was sucked into the forest world of these stoic, strong, and independent people in their simple life style. I was quite disappointed by the Indians I saw in the Great Smokey Mountains in the 1950’s, because they did not wear war paint and carry bows and arrows (I had the same reaction when I saw cowboys in Texas without their guns).
As I got older, I read of the very unromantic and more complicated history of the Indians and came to realize that the Smokey Mountain Indians that I had seen were Cherokees whose ancestors had traveled west on the Trail of Tears. I read about the people of the Great Plains and the South West. I traveled through the West where you can’t avoid bumping into Chief Joseph, Sacajawea, Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull. I learned that my grandfather had been ceremoniously welcomed into the Hopi nation. So “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: an Indian History of the American West” by Dee Alexander Brown was an important read at that point.
Recently I read Nathaniel Philbrick’s “The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn” which showed a much more complex battle situation than that usually presented. For example, there were numerous skirmishes going on as Custer rode to his death. So again the issues surrounding the Native American are not simple, not straightforward.
Well, now I am reading “The Empire of the Moon” and learning much more about the Southwest. The book covers the early settlement of that area and tells of the Comanche conquest of the Spanish in Texas, and the nomadic and vengeful Comanche domination of a huge untamed area which includes Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. The book also tells about Quanah Parker, the chief who succeeded in terrorizing settlers in this area, and of his settler family, the Parkers. His mother was Cynthia Ann Parker who, as a child, was kidnapped by the Comanche, married a chief, and did not want to return to the Parker family.
We can imagine what happens ultimately. This is not romantic nor is it fiction. But it still has me hooked.
~ The Reluctant Blogger