On Reading T.R. Fehrenbach's "Comanches: The Destruction of a People" and Jared Diamond's "The World Until Yesterday": A World Without Laws

So while teaching Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian recently, I learned he’d been inspired by T.R. Fehrenbach’s Comanches: The Destruction of a People (1975), so I picked it up. Suffice to say it was a gripping read, as I had a zillion other things to do, and couldn’t put the book down until I reached the last page. If you’re interested in the history of the Southwest, and Texas in particular, I think you’d love the book. It’s more balanced and less histrionic than S.C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon (2010), and more sweeping in scope; while Empire is focused mainly on the latter period of Comanche history in Texas—and particularly on its last great chief, Quanah Parker—Fehrenbach’s Comanches provides a greater context, particularly describing the Comanche raids and depredations in northern Mexico, which figures prominently in Blood Meridian. But I also found a connection of this bloody period of American history with the “traditional culture” worlds Jared Diamond describes in his new book, The World Until Yesterday. Simply put, in a world without “the rule of law,” interactions with strangers could have dire consequences. The horrible violence that unfolded during the Comanches reign in Texas and Mexico was in part due to their not being bound by any laws, but only by their own traditions, in which warfare and violent raids were a rite of passage for young men. Add into that equation that the Comanches were at times justly resisting the oncoming wave of Texan emigrants who eventually displaced them altogether. It’s given me a greater appreciation for the idea of “law and order,” something I was writing about in my recent novel, The Bird Saviors.

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