The Comanche Empire


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Pekka Hämäläinen

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From the author of Lakota America, an award-winning history of the rise and decline of the vast and imposing Comanche empire
“Cutting-edge revisionist western history.”—Larry McMurtry, New York Review of Books
“A landmark study that will make readers see the history of southwestern America in an entirely new way.”—David J. Weber, author of Bárbaros

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a Native American empire rose to dominate the fiercely contested lands of the American Southwest, the southern Great Plains, and northern Mexico. This powerful empire, built by the Comanche Indians, eclipsed its various European rivals in military prowess, political prestige, economic power, commercial reach, and cultural influence. Yet until now the Comanche empire has gone unrecognized in American history.
This compelling and original book uncovers the lost story of the Comanches. It is a story that challenges the idea of Indigenous peoples as victims of European expansion and offers a new model for the history of colonial expansion, colonial frontiers, and Native-European relations in North America and elsewhere. Pekka Hämäläinen shows in vivid detail how the Comanches built their unique empire and resisted European colonization, and why they fell to defeat in 1875. With extensive knowledge and deep insight, the author brings into clear relief the Comanches’ remarkable impact on the trajectory of history.

Pekka Hämäläinen is the Rhodes Professor of American History and Fellow of St. Catherine’s College at Oxford University. He is the author of Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power and Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America.

Published in Association with The William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University.

“Hämäläinen succeeds in introducing a new perspective on Southwestern history, mastering Spanish and Mexican historic resources to tell of a horse- and bison-based Comanche empire, Comanchería. . . . Enthusiastically recommended for academic and public libraries.”—Library Journal

“An exhaustively researched and strikingly new interpretation of the nomadic group that dominated the Southwest from about 1750 to 1850.”—Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times

“Perhaps we can simply stipulate that The Comanche Empire is an exceptional book—in fact, one of the finest pieces of scholarship that I have read in years. . . . Hämäläinen has given us a closely argued, finely wrought, intensely challenging book.”—Joshua Piker, William and Mary Quarterly

“This comprehensive history of the Comanche people treats them as an independent power rather than as victims of American westward expansion. And though Hämäläinen frames his arguments within scholars’ debates on proper perspectives toward the Comanche, general readers interested in the history of the Southwest will discover his to be a fascinatingly informative volume in its explanatory and narrative modes. . . . A valuable library resource for its subject.”—Booklist

“Cutting-edge revisionist western history. . . . Immensely informative, particularly about activities in the eighteenth century.”—Larry McMurtry, New York Review of Books

The Comanche Empire is a hugely important documentary survey of the Comanche Nation, as known from documentary sources between the late 17th and the late 19th centuries. . . . By removing the anthropology, material culture, and social history from this study of the Comanche, the author finds room to plunge deeply into the political archives of the time and tell the reader how Comancheria functioned as the midcontinental power brokers of the 1700s and 1800s.”—Ed Baker, Austin Chronicle

“[A] fascinating and richly detailed study.”—Si Dunn, Dallas Morning News

“A fascinating new book details [the Comanches’] unusual and colorful history. . . . Hämäläinen writes well and his narrative has an infectious verve and flow. . . . His broad themes are never in doubt, and the evidence he marshals is both compelling and convincing. He has rescued the Comanches from myth and distortion and given them their due in the sprawling epic that is our American story.”—John Sledge, Mobile Press-Register (AL)

The Comanche Empire is a hugely important documentary survey of the Comanche Nation, as known from documentary sources between the late seventeenth and the late nineteenth centuries.”—Ed Baker, Austin Chronicle

Comanche Empire is an impressive, well-written, and important study that should significantly influence future metanarratives, whether they include all or parts of Texas, the West, the Borderlands, or even general histories of the United States and Mexico.”—Ty Cashion, Journal of Military History

“Hämäläinen’s treatment of the complex relationships between the Comanches and other European and Native American societies is unique. . . . Hämäläinen collates and narrates the events of the eastern and western frontiers through time in such an effective manner that the reader is swept in the flow of an almost seamless narrative.”—Mariah F. Wade, Great Plains Quarterly

The Comanche Empire is the best book anyone has written about the Comanche Indians of the southern plains. For many readers, it will be an eye-opener because of its vigorously advanced argument that for much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Comanches created a mid-continental empire that controlled the economy of a huge part of the West, turned the northern Spanish and Mexican territories into its colonial appendages, and dominated the geopolitics of the both the Republic of Texas and, for a time, the United States in their imperial designs on the Southwest. If you are unused to thinking of American Indians as having this kind of agency in western history, The Comanche Empire will rearrange the furniture in your head.”—Dan Flores, Montana: The Magazine of Western History

The Comanche Empire connects ‘the West,’ understood by American historians to mean the trans-Mississippi Western United States, with ‘the West’ as understood by world historians, through the materialist lens of world systems theory. What emerges is formerly unthinkable: a world of ‘reversed colonialism’ in which the Comanche consciously created a functional empire by exploiting and controlling a huge geographic area and the several Euroamerican states that contested for it. . . . The construction and maintenance of this empire by the Comanche and their sometimes surprising allies, and its Carthaginian destruction by the massed might of US forces, form a grand narrative, convincingly told.”—John Harley Gow, Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d’histoire

The Comanche Empire offers an acute analysis of the rise of the Comanche power.”—Jeffrey Ostler, Western Historical Quarterly

“This book deserves all the accolades it has and will receive. It is certain to be on reading lists for years to come.”—William J. Bauer, Jr., Journal of World History

“Argued with a drama befitting the subject, The Comanche Empire is bound to influence thinking about western history considerably.”—Daniel J. Gelo, Journal of American History

“An important read for any researcher interested in Indigenous North America, the West, or colonization.”—James O’Neill Spady, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History

“Exhaustively researched and beautifully written, The Comanche Empire is much more than a tribal history of an important Plains Indian people. Hämäläinen’s bold interpretation that the Comanches created a uniquely ‘Comanche’ empire that challenged and subsequently dominated the southern plains for over a century forces a complete reevaluation of the various storms that brewed in the colonial Southwest.”—Thomas A. Britten, Historian

The Comanche Empire offers the most radical version of Native sovereignty and agency in its widely noted formulation of an Indigenous imperialism. . . . Throughout the book, Hämäläinen is dedicated in his rich historical narrative.”—René Dietrich, American Studies

The Comanche Empire is a landmark study that will make readers see the history of southwestern America in an entirely new way.”—David J. Weber, author of Bárbaros: Spaniards and Their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment

“This exhilarating book is not just a pleasure to read; important and challenging ideas circulate through it and compel attention. It is a nuanced account of the complex social, cultural, and biological interactions that the acquisition of the horse unleashed in North America, and a brilliant analysis of a Comanche social formation that dominated the Southern Plains. Parts of the book will be controversial, but the book as a whole is a tour de force.”—Richard White, author of The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815

The Comanche Empire is an impressive achievement. That a major Native power emerged and dominated the interior of the continent compels a rethinking of well-worn narratives about colonial America and westward expansion, about the relative power of European and Native societies, and about the directions of change. The book makes a major contribution to Native American history and challenges our understanding of the ways in which American history unfolded.”—Colin G. Calloway, author of One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West before Lewis and Clark

“Hämäläinen not only puts Native Americans back into the story but also gives them—particularly the Comanche—recognition as major historical players who shaped events and outcomes.”—Sherry Smith, Southern Methodist University, author of Reimagining Indians: Native Americans Through Anglo Eyes, 1880–1940

“Pekka Hämäläinen profoundly alters our understanding of the American Southwest, asserting that Comanche expansion and domination eclipsed European imperialism over the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Readers of this ambitious and discerning ethnohistory learn close-up how the Comanches made colonial as well as native communities the building blocks of their own ascendancy. In a counter-narrative to frontier history and a revision of borderlands study, Hämäläinen features the contingency of historical change and the agency of Indian people.”—Daniel H. Usner, Vanderbilt University

Winner of the 2010 John C. Ewers Book Award given by the Western History Association

Winner of the 2009 Award of Merit, sponsored by the Philosophical Society of Texas

Co-Silver medal winner of the 2009 Independent Publisher Book Award in the category of History

Received Honorable Mention for the 2008 PROSE Award in the U.S. History and Biography/Autobiography category, sponsored by the Association of American Publishers

Gold medal winner of the 2008 Book of the Year Award in the category of History, presented by ForeWord magazine

Winner of the Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize presented by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Center for Great Plains Studies

Winner of the 2009 Bancroft Prize, given by Columbia University

Winner of the Caughey Western History Association Prize given by the Western History Association

Received "Recognition of Excellence" in the 2009 Cundill International Prize in History given by McGill University

Winner of the 2008 William P. Clements Prize for the best non-fiction book on Southwestern America, given by the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies at the Southern Methodist University

Winner of the 2009 Norris and Carol Hundley Award for the most distinguished book on any historical subject, sponsored by the American Historical Association Pacific Branch
ISBN: 9780300151176
Publication Date: May 19, 2009
512 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
12 b/w illus. + 8 maps
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