After winning the Mexican War, white Texans turned their attention to expanding control over the vast lands of west Texas. To dominate this huge and forbidding land, they had to subdue everything, man and beast, that called it homemost notably the Comanche people.
With their independence threatended, the Comanche saw their way of life vanishing. But they would claim many lives. Only one chief had both the courage and the wisodm to know that war, no matter how valiantly fought, would end in defeat and humiliation. Quanah Parker, the son of a Comanche chief and a white female captive, rose to lead his peoplenot into abject slavery, but into proud coexistence with an unfolding history that was unstoppable.
Impeccably researched, rich with real-life characters and period detail, this powerful historical novel vividly recounts the decline and fall of the Comanche people and their extraordinary leader, Quanah Parker, from the battlefield to the reservation.
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Viewed from high up on the ridge, the camp looked more like an anthill than the habitation of human beings. The conical structures, dun and buff colored, here and there darker brown, some painted with brilliant swirls of color, others left the same unadorned shade of tan they had been under the skinning knife, were scattered for nearly half a mile along the valley floor. The river, which curved in the bright sun, seemed poised like a blue-bladed scythe about to harvest the tipis. The specks of children darted in and out among them, their headlong turmoil as confusing as that of a swarm of gnats.
On the far side-of the shallow river, two thousand or more horses grazed contentedly, sometimes snorting, sometimes dashing in short sprints, flexing muscles that hadn't been used for several days. On the ridge, the heavy heads of hollyhock waved in the breeze, bees darted in and out among the taller stems, and a thick carpet of flowers in reds, blues, and yellows followed the gentle curve of the slope all the way down to the village.
Standing just outside his tipi, Peta Nocona surveyed the hillside, glanced up at the sun, so hot it was almost white, bleaching the sky of its blue and threatening to parch everything for as far as he could see. Even the flowers on the hillside seemed pale under the brilliant glare. He watched a handful of young boys race toward the riverbank and splash out into the current. Their sun-brown feet kicked up curtains of gleaming silver as they waded in until the water was waist deep and it was no longer possible to run. Then they pushed out still deeper, their chests generatinglengthening vees of blue water out behind them until, almost as one, they dove under the surface, disappearing in a sudden jungle of calves and ankles.
Nocona remembered when he had been young enough to play like that, when he didn't have to worry about where the next buffalo would be found, when the next Osage war party would swoop down on the horse herds and the tipis, when the next hunting party would fall prey to Apaches. It hadn't been that long, maybe twenty winters, but so much had happened in that time that it might as well have been twenty lifetimes.
He walked through the camp, nodding to friends, smiling at children who stopped what they were doing to watch him pass. The attention came with being someone everyone knew would one day be a chief, and there were some who thought that's all there was to it-smile, spread your arms wide, and gather in the glory. But those who thought that way couldn't have been more wrong. Being chief was like living under a cloud, a cloud so dark it obscured even the most brilliant sun, so heavy it threatened to crush the air from a man's lungs, make pulp of flesh and bone, grinding him to paste and then to powder, as if he were no more than a handful of corn between two great stones. They should only know what I know, he thought.
They should only know for one day what it was like to have the lives of so many people closed in your hand. Keeping them safe was like trying to hold a fistful of water. No matter how tightly you squeezed, drops managed to slip away, to land in the dust and disappear as surely as if they had never been. Try to save one, snatch it from the air as it fell, and you lost another and another. All you could do was watch, and try to keep the others safe. If you were naive enough to believe in the Great Spirit, you could pray for his guidance, but Nocona had seen too much to think it did any good. But still, he knew that one day those problems would be his, and he would accept them because the people demanded it, and a man did what his people asked of him. And he would ask the Great Spirit for help, with no great expectation of an answer.
After all, he thought, it was not just the Comanche who asked for His intercession. The Osage prayed, too, and the Apache and the Mexican. He had heard that even the Texans and other white men prayed to the Great Spirit. And it seemed to Nocona that the Great Spirit had a sense of humor of sorts, and a cold detachment that allowed him to stand by and watch while men struggled against one another the way a child stood by and watched armies of ants make war on one another, sometimes even egging the contenders on, not out of malice so much as just to see what might happen if this were done, or that were changed.
And later that day, he knew, he would be leaving the camp behind again, most of the warriors with him, and riding across the Rio Grande and into Mexico, where there were horses to be had for the taking. Others would try to stop the Comanche, of course. There would be Mexican soldiers, who were little trouble, and Apache, who were too much trouble. He wished there were some other way, not knowing what that other way might be, but he was wishing away a thousand years and more of history, trying to change what had always been, and substitute nothing more than the vague notion that another way might be better. He said so around the council fire, but the chiefs always laughed because when they asked what he proposed to take the place of life as they had always known it, all he could do was shrug his shoulders. But he knew they had to change, because a change was coming, and it was better that the matter be decided by the Comanche than by others.
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