Kavanagh, Thomas W.Comanche Political History: An Ethnohistorical Perspective 1706-18751996Studies in the Anthropology of North American Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press

Thomas W. Kavanagh’s Comanche Political History is a good addition to scholarship in the field of Comanche history and culture. Great Plains, Western, and American Indian historians as well as anthropologists will find it useful.||| Kavanagh begins by questioning how and why people come together and/or disperse politically and whether that dispersal should be viewed as pathological. He then briefly introduces several studies of the Comanches that attempted to trace their origins and classify them in relation to other Great Plains peoples.||| The bulk of this book is devoted to a thorough examination of sources dealing with the Comanches from early Spanish contact to the beginning of the reservation period. Bit by bit Kavanagh uses observers’ accounts to assemble the names of Comanche bands and divisions, their geographic locations, their leaders, their interests, and their relationships with others across time. Far from being the monolithic barrier to Euro-American colonization of the Southern Plains characterized by Rupert N. Richardson in 1933, Comanches, Kavanagh demonstrates, made important contributions as partners in trade and diplomacy.||| In tracing Comanche political history, Kavanagh focuses on resource domains, the sources of tribal income and welfare. These might be trade goods introduced from outside or items Comanches amassed to trade, including horses, captives, and buffalo robes. Resource domains also included political gifts, the goods American Indians expected to give and receive during visits and negotiations with other peoples. The abundance and types of these resource domains influenced Comanche political history by affecting group relationships with other Comanches and non-Comanches and supporting or undermining aspiring Comanche leaders. The image of Comanche political history that emerges from this study is one of great fluidity as bands of Comanches emerge, split, unify, and split again depending on the availability of resources.||| This fluidity in response to changing conditions is a key, according the Kavanagh, to solving the “problem” of the Comanches, who have been viewed by anthropologists and ethnohistorians as failing to meet the definition of a “true Plains tribe” in their lack of organization and organized societies. There were usually several Comanche tribes, Kavanagh suggests. Who they were, where they were, and their numbers depended on the time period under scrutiny.||| Kavanagh concludes his discussion by contrasting Comanche political history with John Moore’s discussion of the ethnogenesis of the Cheyenne “nation.” Whereas the Cheyennes, according to Moore, met challenges and shortfalls in resources and trade by unifying around specific ideas and symbols, the Comanches, according to Kavanagh, chose a much more pragmatic response “through creative cultivation of alternative political-economic resources” (p. 491). The Comanches did not achieve nationhood in the time frame of this work, but the frequent dissolution of associations among them should not be regarded as a failure to organize and unify, according to Kavanagh. It was simply their response to changing conditions.||| Comanche Political History is the result of diligent research into historical sources and field work among modern-day Comanches. The text is very detailed and contains numerous tables, but technical terminology is kept to a minimum.|||

Mary Jane WardeOklahoma State University. Office of University Assessment, 210 PIO, Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA 74078-6043