Where authors of the Midwest use words to downplay a particular situation, you will find no such practice in Texas. On the endless prairie there is a lot of room and words are needed to fill the void, BIG WORDS. Take a looks of S.C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon. Gwynne is a reporter for the Dallas Star and his book is about the Comanche nation or as the jacket cover states “The rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American History.”
Right away you know this book wasn’t written by someone from the Midwest. If Leif Enger had written this book, the title would have read The Pretty Decent Run of the Summer Moon.
Although Gwynne methodically states his claim, were the Comanches really an empire? When I hear the word, I think of Romans during the time of Christ, the Nazis during WWII and the Dallas Cowboys during the coke-fueled 90’s. I don’t think of a few thousand Comanche warriors wrecking havoc on the southwestern plains at the turn of the century.
There is no doubt the Comanches were formidable and ruthless but how can Gwynne say they were the best? I bet Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer would have a different opinion. In fact, the greatest skirmish involving the loss of civilians did not happen on the plains of Texas or even Montana. As Gwynne states in his own book “The Santee Sioux rose up in rebellion from their reservation along the Minnesota River. They killed as many as eight hundred white settlers, the highest civilian wartime toll in US history prior to 9-11.”
Gwynne goes on to say the uprising was so vast and overwhelming it displaced forty thousand settlers in the Minnesota territory.
Whether the Sioux or the Comanche were the fiercest cannot be answered for they never met on the battlefield. One thing is for sure. Nobody could handle horses like the Comanche. No other tribe or even Army Calvary had better mounted warriors. The Comanche had an innate ability to handle their horses. They could outrun a better armed foe, ambush in a narrow canyon or steal horses in the dead of night. They were so legendary in this facet of warfare Army Calvary General Ranald S. Mackenzie went to great lengths to secure his herd at night. Expert:
“That night, remembering the painful lessons of Blanco Canyon and Shaking Hand’s Village, and sensing the presence of many Indians, Mackenzie redoubled his precautions. Under his orders, each horse was not only hobbled, meaning that its front legs were tied together, but also cross-side lined, meaning that forefeet were tied to opposite hind feet. Then the soldiers’ tents were draped over the horses and staked into the ground. And with the horses firmly secured, the soldiers dug a 3-foot moat around the horse and filled it with scrub brush and buffalo tallow. Only after the moat was lit with kerosene, the soldier was allowed to sleep provided one end a rope was tied around the horse and the other end around the soldier’s neck. Needless to say, most soldiers forwent sleep.”
Gwynne tells many skirmishes between the Comanche and Texas settlers but one stood out from the rest. It involved one of the last battles of, Quanah, a feared and legendary chief who led a raid against a group of buffalo hunters holed up in a small outpost called Adobe Walls.
Unfortunately for Quanah, the saloon owner at the outpost, a fiery Irishman by the name of James Hanrahan, had advanced knowledge of the attack. But being a business owner, he didn’t want to tell his customers for they would scatter and not pay their bar bill. So, he kept quiet. And to prevent the buffalo hunters from nodding off, he created a fantastic lie by saying the roof would cave in if they didn’t quickly replace the main support beam. The panic caused everybody to pitch in and help, but no Comanche warriors had arrived upon completion. Hanrahan had to think to keep his fighting force awake.
HANRAHAN: Well, since that was a quick, is anybody up for putting in a sink?
CROWD: (GRUMBLES AND MURMURING)
HANRAHAN: You know, there’s a stack of tile in the back room. Does anybody know how to grout?
CROWD: (YAWNS AND SNORES)
CROWD: (DEFINITE SNOOZING)
HANRAHAN: Did someone say drinks are on the house?
Well that was enough to keep the party going when Quanah and his men made their first run on the outpost at four in the morning.
Settlers versus Natives are as old as the endless prairie. But what happens when you bring such a struggle into the home of a modern family…?