The Comanche Empire

by Pekka Hämäläinen, Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn., 2008, $35.

Histories of the Comanches typically focus on the culture and violence on the southern Plains, ending with the tribe’s defeat and removal to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). Pekka Hämäläinen rethinks that story in The Comanche Empire. He portrays the Comanche Nation as an empire—culturally, militarily, politically and economically—that not only rivaled but also eclipsed (at least for a while) many of those in Europe and North America.

The Comanches rose from humble origins to reinvent themselves as “Lords of the Plains” on horseback, becoming an imperialistic force that controlled much of the Southwest, delaying European encroachment until a quick and final collapse in the mid- to late 19th century. Hämäläinen also argues that the United States’ victory in the Mexican War is partially attributable to Comanche raids: “If Mexico’s collapse in 1847 was quick and complete, it was because the nation had to fight two invading powers at once.”

 

Originally published in the October 2008 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here