June 29, 2008

Comanches ruled an empire

How the Comanche won the west

Raymond Seitz reviews Comanche Empire by Pekka HamalainenBy the start of the 19th century, the Comanche tribe of Native Americans had come to dominate all the southern plains of the present-day United States. Comanche power stretched from the western frontier of French-controlled Louisiana to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and from the waters of the Arkansas River to the northern provinces of Spanish-controlled Mexico. The region today includes most of Texas and Oklahoma, and all of New Mexico and the trans-Rio Grande down to Durango.

So vast was the territory and so complete the sway that Pekka Hamalainen, in this scholarly and eye-opening book, asserts that Comanche dominance deserves to be called an empire. Not an empire in the classic, Western meaning of the word, with a central metropolis and demarcated frontiers, but an empire in the sense of hegemony.

The tribe developed a military, economic and cultural cohesion that rivalled the French and Spanish presence in North America and overwhelmed the many other Indian tribes in the region. Only in the third quarter of the century, when the post-Civil War United States began its real push into the plains, did Comanche pre-eminence fall apart. But for more than 100 years, the Comanche were the 800-pound gorilla of the American West.
Comment:  For more on Comanche history and culture, see Comanche Moon:  Rangers, Tramps, and Thieves.

1 comment:

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Even the Comanche will tell you, 'empire' or not, they never were able to defeat the Kiowa and thus both tribes later transmogrified their conflict into annual spring gaming and trading. Rather civil of them, eh?
All Best
Russ Bates