The story begins with Clark Kent's foster father Jonathan writing to his adopted son about the newly discovered memoirs he has discovered on the family farm. They reveal that the Kent family in the 19th century were noted abolitionists who assisted the personnel of the Underground Railroad, like Harriet Tubman. The family moved to Kansas Territory to promote the cause of creating a free state by running a newspaper for the region.
Unfortunately, the family patriarch was murdered by Border Ruffians who wanted to silence him. Furthermore, the sons, Nathaniel and Jeb, argued and had a parting of the ways so deep about slavery that they found themselves on opposing sides of the American Civil War, with Jeb fighting with the notorious Confederate guerrilla unit led by William Quantrill and Nathaniel fighting for the North and marrying a half-Native American woman who gave him a special traditional spiritual symbol that was apparently a forerunner and inspiration for Superman's chest symbol.
The famous persons scattered through the book are merely a symptom of the real problem: an overabundance of history. THE KENTS reads more like a primer on Kansas during the Civil War that happens to involve the Kents than a story about the Kents that happens to take place in Kansas during the Civil War. Like many sprawling epics, it sprawls too much.
The motivation of Jeb, the bad Kent brother, is weak. He constantly claims he's gotten himself in too deep and can't think of a way out, so he might as well commit another crime. The obvious alternative is to quit, flee, and start a new life elsewhere.
Mary Glenowen, the half-Delaware woman who eventually marries Nathaniel, says she comes from one of the five tribes of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. This seems like a bad mistake, but the story later reveals that she doesn't know her own tribal history.
She gives Nathaniel an "Iroquois healing blanket" with a snake symbol resembling Superman's "S." She spins a whole, uh, yarn about how it represents the union of the Iroquois tribes. Since this claim proves to be false, we never learn the blanket's true origin.
When Mary goes to live with her people, their homes and clothes look authentic. Mary herself is a classic Indian maiden, a dark-haired beauty by Western standards. She stays with her cousin Fall Leaf, who is thoughtful but not insufferably wise. Best of all, he's not the chief and she's not the chief's daughter.
Two other bits are worth mentioning. At one point, the US government forces the Delaware (Lenape) to move from southwestern Kansas to "Indian Territory" (Oklahoma). A mini-Trail of Tears ensues. Perhaps the worst injustice is that the government intermingles the Delaware with the Cherokee and declares they're all Cherokee now. It's an intentional gambit to eradicate the Lenape culture and language.
At another point, Nathaniel and Brian Savage (a "white Indian" named Scalphunter) serve as scouts for George A. Custer. They're on duty when Custer launches his attack on the Cheyenne at Washita. Nathaniel joins in the killing ("Nothing else for it now!") but later feels sick about it.
Indians play only a minor role in THE KENTS, so the series isn't a must-read for fans of Indian comics. It's notable mainly for what it tells us about Superman.
The series doesn't specify Nathaniel Kent's relationship to Jonathan Kent, but the timing suggests that Nathaniel is Jonathan's grandfather or great-grandfather. So Jonathan Kent has one-sixteenth Indian blood, at least.
These days, that might be enough to get him enrolled in the Delaware tribe. In any case, it's fair to say that Superman's values come in part from his father's Indian ancestry.