The Comanche Empire by Pekka Hämäläinen - review by Frank McLynn

Frank McLynn

Spartans of the Plains

The Comanche Empire

By

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At the beginning of the eighteenth century the Comanches were a small tribe of hunter-gatherers in New Mexico. Once they acquired the use of horses, in three generations they evolved into the ‘Spartans of the plains’ and provided the fiercest of all Native American resistance to the Anglo-Hispanic conquest of the American West. For a hundred years from 1750, the Comanches dominated New Mexico, Texas and even parts of Louisiana and northern Mexico. As Amerindians, the Comanches were even more impressive than the Aztecs or the Iroquois, for until the American Civil War they largely forced Europeans to bend the knee, and did so moreover when the European imperialist impulse was at its height. Although the word ‘empire’ may be author’s hyperbole, the Comanches ruled an extensive domain that worked on a melange of kinship ties, trade, diplomacy, extortion and violence.

So why were the Comanches so exceptional among American Indians? Pekka Hämäläinen, a Finnish scholar of the American West, currently at the University of California, Santa Barbara, argues that, like the Iroquois, the Comanches were fortunate geographically, since their heartland was at once central and peripheral, and at the intersection

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