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Arts & Culture

Of Summer Moons And The Greatest Of Chiefs, A Wild American Story

The Briscoe Western Art Museum continues its Distinguished Lecture series. I reached its next speaker and he’s a bestselling author and journalist. 

“To the extent that people know me, they know me as S.C.”

That’s S.C. (Sam) Gwynne. He’ll be talking about themes from his book Empire of the Summer Moon.

“I tell the story of the rise and fall of the Comanche Empire, that encompasses really a lot of the history of the West itself. And the other story I tell is the kind of small, personal story inside that, of a 9-year-old girl who gets kidnapped in 1836, taken prisoner by Comanches; becomes a full member of the tribe, marries a powerful war chief, refuses to return to white society, which shocks everyone at the time."

But that wild story doesn’t end there. She bears a son she names Quanah Parker.

“...who becomes the last and greatest chief of the Comanches. So this story of the Parker family takes place inside this larger story of the rise and fall of the Comanches.”

I noted how strange that was .“Figure the odds against that — one of the greatest chiefs was birthed by a white captive.”

“Yeah, I mean…it’s all so perfect. 

Comanche history contains a lot of nuance that Hollywood films never got around to.

“They were the first tribe to really master the horse, and they mastered it better than anybody did, and with the horse, they swept south from the Wind River of Wyoming, to challenge for the greatest food source of the continent, which was the buffalo in the southern plains, and in so doing stopped the Spanish."

As you can tell, Gwynne’s linear linking of seemingly unrelated history weaves a fascinating narrative.

“They literally changed the shape of the West and dictated what happened.”

He’s speaking at the Briscoe, Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. 

We’ve more here.