WHAT DONALD TRUMP CAN LEARN FROM QUANAH PARKER, GREAT CHIEF OF THE COMANCHES
It’s clear that Donald Trump has come up against his Quanah Parker moment. Whether Mr. Trump can lead the world’s most powerful nation as adeptly and imaginatively as the great Indian chief led his people, first in war and then in captivity, is still to be seen. For all our sakes, The Donald is advised to give it his best shot.
Such a thought would never have occurred to me had I not been reading about the wily, physically magnificent, charismatically spirited chief of the Comanches as I watched presidential election returns come in last week. The work is titled Empire of the Summer Moon. It is written by S. C. Gwynne, a former top editor of Texas Monthly. I recommend the book be placed on Trump’s nightstand—and yours, too. (Or, since Trump professes not to read books, perhaps someone could just read him a few excerpts, if not from the book, from this blog item.)
For me, the initial attraction of Gwynne’s masterpiece of historical storytelling was mostly the setting. The region once covered by the flat, endless, grass-carpeted expanses of “the Comancheria” provided the focus for the first third of my life. When a friend told me this book was the best ever written about the history of West Texas, I was intrigued. Then as I began to see how skilled this half-breed warrior was at switching back and forth between our Brain Technologies’ “Metanoics Circle” decision strategies, I was beguiled. And when it became apparent how closely Trump’s persona, appearance and behaviors mirror Quanah’s, I was riveted.
A few examples:
Their looks. An 1880s-era writer said of Quanah: “He is tall, muscular, as straight as an arrow; look-you-straight-through eyes . . . perfect teeth, raven-black hair—the envy of feminine hearts.”
Their women. Quanah had eight “strikingly attractive” wives. Gwynne notes: “[He] somehow managed to keep them even though he infuriated existing wives by constantly courting new ones.”
Their houses. On his reservation land, Quanah built himself an extraordinary house: a ten-room, two story affair, with a wide, two-story colonnaded porch and enormous white stars painted on the roof.
Their employees. Quanah hired white women to teach his wives how to cook and for then years, employed a Russian immigrant named Ann Gomez as his servant.
Their skill at negotiating. Says Gwynne, “[Quanah] was always a step ahead of everyone else. . . . [He] was as good as most white men at playing the game.”
And yet, there are differences, and this is where Mr. Trump would do well to pay close attention to Mr. Parker’s example (Quanah insisted on adding “Parker” to his Indian name because his mother was a white captive, Cynthia Ann Parker).
Quanah’s curiosity about the future. Says Gwynne, “[This] man who once rode free on the high and windy plains had also lived long enough to witness . . . astonishing technological advances. . . . He found it all fascinating. He wanted to try everything.” He was one of the first in his part of Oklahoma to have a telephone. He had a car. And he tried to found a viable railroad to the Pacific and loved riding in the locomotive.
Quanah’s boundless optimism. Says Gwynne, “In hard times he looked resolutely forward toward something better.”
Quanah’s natural leadership qualities. One admiring Indian agent wrote, “If ever nature stamped a man with the seal of headship she did it in his case . . . . [It] is in his blood.”
Quanah’s high regard for others. Said an Oklahoma storekeeper who knew him well: “He was always kind, never speaking ill of anyone.”
Quanah’s spirit of caring. One of his adopted white sons noted, “He had a great herd of cattle and horses in 1890 and when he died in 1911 he did not have many left because he was so generous. When a person became hungry he fed them.” His “bodyguard” and occasional driver of the old ambulance he used for a motor car was a Comanche named George Washington who was both deaf and unable to speak.
The story in Gwynne’s book that I like best appears close to the end. It tells how Quanah came to Dallas to speak at the 1910 Texas State Fair. He omitted any remarks about his career as a raider and killer of white people but otherwise regaled his usual standing-room-only audience (another similitude he and Trump share) with much of his fascinating life story. Then he added:
“Just one more minute, here is one more say. My ways call for money every time they send me to the fair. Two men came to me about a year ago to go to New York City. ‘I give you $5,000 for tour six months, to take your family over there.’ I say ‘No, you put me in little pen. I no monkey.’ That is all, gentlemen.”
That, too, is a powerful lesson that our new president-to-be can learn from Chief Quanah Parker of the Comanches. None of us are monkeys.
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