- Comanche Sundown: A Novel
Historical fiction can be entertaining for both the general reader and for historians. Done well, the genre can spark interest and research into the subject matter and deepen one’s appreciation for history. Comanche Sundown is such a work. Author Jan Reid, a gifted storyteller, spent more than two decades crafting this book and the results are impressive. Reid, whose work has won a number of prestigious awards, lives in Austin, where he writes for various magazines, including Texas Monthly.
Comanche Sundown boasts a rich, active dialogue among its characters as well as a firm grasp of Texas’s nineteenth-century frontier history and the various cultures inhabiting the region. Reid clearly has done his homework. His understanding of Comanche, Kiowa, and Mescalero Apache traditions is particularly impressive. In addition, Reid’s lyrical descriptions of West Texas’s environment are outstanding. He demonstrates an innate feel for the land.
Comanche Sundown reads like a Who’s Who of western frontier history. Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, Bat Masterson, Billy Dixon, Charles Goodnight, John R. Baylor, Cynthia Ann Parker, Ranald Mackenzie, and William Tecumseh Sherman all make appearances in the novel. The book’s main characters are Bose Ikard, the mulatto ex-slave employed by Goodnight, and Quanah Parker, the noted mixed-race Comanche chief. Reid’s narrative includes many famous events in Texas history, the kidnapping of Cynthia Ann Parker (Quanah’s mother), the battles at Pease River (Mule Creek), Palo Duro Canyon, and Adobe Walls as well as the Warren Wagon Train Massacre.
While many of the persons and events in Comanche Sundown are real, it is important to remember that much of the novel’s storyline is fictional. Drawing upon the same techniques employed in Little Big Man, the author rearranges characters and history to suit his purposes. For example, Reid has Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, and Bose Ikard participating in the Second Battle of Adobe Walls in June 1874 although, in reality, they did not. This device works well throughout and often enriches Reid’s lively account. Where it gets problematic is when the “real” history presented is inaccurate.
For instance, Ikard, Goodnight, and Oliver Loving did not blaze the Goodnight-Loving Trail to New Mexico in 1866 (388). West Texas cattlemen (including John Chisum) selling cattle to the Union Army at Fort Sumner during the Civil War laid out the route. Randolph Marcy did not survey the Butterfield Overland Mail Road, his California Emigrant Trail across Texas skirted north of the Butterfield (183). Historically, the Pecos River has never flowed “clear and emerald over the sand” at Horsehead Crossing (94). Three centuries ago, disgusted Spanish explorers described the river as dirty and pig-like, and nineteenth-century sources document the Pecos at Horsehead as much the same. Some of these errors may result from the dated Texas historiography Reid relies upon for his background information. Use of more recent studies would have nuanced the storyline.
Regrettably, two factors might cause people to overlook Comanche Sundown. One is the book’s dust jacket featuring a garish, roughly executed painting, a weak complement to Reid’s polished writing. The second is the glut of Comanche-related titles currently crowding bookstore shelves, including one with a similar [End Page 314] name, among which Reid’s novel might get lost. This would be a shame. After reading Comanche Sundown, one hopes that there is much more in store from this Texas author of considerable talent.