The Gruesome History of the Comanche Tribe w/S.C. Gwynne | Joe Rogan

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S.C. Gwynne

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S. C. Gwynne is an American nonfiction writer. He is the author of the prize-winning "Empire of the Summer Moon" and his latest book "Hymns of the Republic" is now available.

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Transcript

It's kind of hilarious how this conversation came about. You said you got a call from your publicist because your audio book spiked. It spiked like crazy. It was like, what cosmic dust in the outer bands of Jupiter just did that? Because we didn't figure out what it was. It just spiked like crazy. Went nuts. I think it went to number one briefly. So he thought, what did that? Anyway. And it was from an Instagram post. It was. You were, see, my friend Steve Ranella wrote a book called American Buffalo. And I had put on Instagram how great the book was and he did the audio version of it. And a friend of mine on Instagram, he goes by the name of The Jackalope. He's a fellow Hunter S. Thompson enthusiast. He said, you got to read this book. And so he tells me to read your book. And Empire of the Summer Moon. Yeah. Yeah. And it was amazing. I mean, he was absolutely right. And it was so good. And I made an Instagram post about that. There it is. Oh, we got a copy of it. Look at that. Ladies and gentlemen. It's a fantastic book. There's so much good stuff in there. And I just, it was, it was so sad and so gripping and so riveting. We all know that a lot of horrific things happened in the time where the settlers started making their way across the plains and headed west. But God, you just did such a fantastic job of sort of bringing it to life. It's all those things. It's brutal. It's sad. It's incredibly dramatic. I mean, I just think people forget about what the frontier was. It's kind of a nice idea that you get on TV or something. But it was a savage place. Anyway, I was trying to convey it with this. With the minimum possible of people being stank out on ant hills with their eyelids cut off and things like that. There was a lot of that though, right? There was a lot of that. Yeah. I mean, the horrors of it all, it's like, whoof. You know, and I'd never seen, I knew that that kind of stuff had taken place, but I'd really never read it so graphically depicted before this book. What motivated you to write about all this? So what, this is a book about me. I'm a Connecticut Yankee, Massachusetts Connecticut guy. I moved to Texas 25 years ago and I've been there ever since. I didn't know anything about Texas history. Nothing. Beyond whatever you might know about the Alamo or something or Sam Houston or somebody like that. I got there and I just started to, you know, I started to hear about one of the great plains and what they were, which was an alien concept to me. I wasn't sure what the plains were or why they were different than some other part of the country, the high plains. And I came into this idea, I came upon this idea that the last frontier was there, that this is where it all went down. This is where like the end of freedom and limitless, this was, it didn't happen. The frontier didn't push forward until it got to California and then hit the ocean. California settled, the East settled, and then there was this one last place that did not. And it went on for, and there were reasons for that, one of which was the most hostile Indian tribes in the country. Another was that it was, there was no water, water, you know, there was basically only land, no water or timber. But so I got into this and then, you know, lo and behold, there's this, I find out because I live in Texas that there's this principle that lives on this, that lived on this land, the Comanches that determined everything that happened in the American West around them. And that's not an exaggeration. They were because until, you know, the West wasn't won until they lost it. And that was for sure. And so there were two things. One, this arc of the rise and fall of the most powerful tribe, most influential tribe in American history, the Comanches, which was very cool from the Spanish and the horse and all sorts of big stuff that goes on. And then in the middle of that story was this little story of this little nine-year-old girl with, you know, blonde hair and cornflower blue eyes who gets taken in a Comanche raid in 1836, who ends up becoming the, you know, mother of the last and greatest chief of the Comanches. And in fact, her kidnapping and his surrender at the very end of the Comanches, you know, sort of bookend of 40-year war. We never fought a 40-year war against anybody except them. So I ran into this story and I'm just the kid from Connecticut. And it just seemed like the most obvious book in the world. It was just the coolest history. It's a crazy story. And I'd never heard of Cynthia Ann Parker before. Now she's, we have her on your wall. We have a giant metal picture of her on the wall. Because it was so powerful, your depiction of it too, I wanted to find out what she looks like. And what is his name again? Quan? So Quanah? Quanah? Quanah was his, the name he was given. This is on the cover of the book. Right. He, because his mother was Cynthia Ann Parker, which was not, that didn't become, that didn't come out and no one found out that until he was much older. So he was born Quanah as a Comanche. Later in the reservation period when people found out who he was, he identified as part of the Parker family also. Oh, wow. Yeah. So he, as a famous Comanche war chief, and he was one of the most famous and feared, he was Quanah. That's such a crazy story that they killed so many people, but occasionally they would keep people and bring them into the tribe. Right. So there were rules of the frontier at the time, and we're talking about how savage it was, and the rules of the, at least of the Plains Indians, of which Comanches were one, that if you were captured as an adult male, you were killed, tortured to death, either quickly or slowly, depending on how much time they had. If you were a baby, you were killed. They couldn't deal with a baby. Baby was, they were nomads and they were on their horse and they were probably escaping from whatever raid they had just done. They couldn't deal with babies. A teenage girl or a young woman would possibly be killed, but likely turned into sort of a slave. The ones who had a chance of being adopted into the tribe were the, you know, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12-year-olds, because Comanches had trouble keeping their numbers up, and so they instinctively kind of, they would take these captives. And not just from, you know, white people, the Apaches and the Utes and the Navajos and whoever they might take them from. And so what was interesting about the frontier though is that those rules applied, so long, forget about white people arriving in the early 18th century for the moment. Those rules had applied to Indian tribes since forever. You know, that was the assumption of a raid. They all had, it was almost like the golden rule in reverse or the golden rule, do unto others. They all expected that kind of treatment. One of them were shocked when a baby was killed or a pregnant woman was killed. It took the kind of, you know, the Anglo-European civilization of, you know, Newton and Leibniz and the biblical tradition to arrive on the Texas frontier in 1830 and be shocked at what they saw. Very interesting, very savage, very brutal. It was a culture of raiding, essentially. And this is the Comanche culture in particular or Native Americans in general? Well, Native Americans in general, Plains Indians in general. And you know, so Plains Indians, we could kind of start, you know, you would know the names of a lot of them, Arapaho and Cheyenne and Sioux. And these were people who operated out in the great wide open. They were all masters of the horse. What made the Comanche special was that they became the preeminent horse tribe. Don't forget that there weren't any horses in this, in the continent until the Spanish brought them in the 16th century. And so the tribes that got the horse and mastered the horse basically altered the entire balance of power in the plains. And the tribe that got the horse better than anybody else in terms of breaking and breeding and saddling and riding and stealing and hunting on the back of and fighting with the Comanches and nobody was their peer. And so this was not just a Plains tribe, it was the preeminent power on the Southern Plains.