Thursday, April 28, 2016

"Komantcia" by Harold Keith

Harold Keith's adventure novel-cum-social-study renders an arresting portrait of Comanche territory or what the rival Ute tribe called “Komantcia.”

Our guide through this wild land is Pedro Pavon, a world-class guitarist on tour in northern Mexico, captured by the warlike tribe after watching his mother be scalped.

This is a story of slavery, a slavery to which many settlers were subjected during the annexation of Indian lands by the European cultures.

Keith's well-researched narrative presents tribal cruelty and an unforgiving southwestern landscape as insurmountable obstacles to the protagonist's escape. If you were captured, you stay captured.

Pavon is subjected to the denigrating whims of his abusive master Whip Belt until his traits of Christian charity and physical courage spark a trade to one of the band's most important chiefs.

From here on Pavon begins a dance with his desire to get the heck out and another he feels for a Cheyenne named Willow Girl.

The Comanche launch Pedro onto a path toward themselves. His freedom to roam increases only with
a corresponding wane to his interest in escaping.

That's the set-up without spoiler.

“Komantcia” was first published in 1965 and appears to be out of print now.

Keith combined the true story of a captive Mexican boy's absorption into Comanche life with his own profound interest in the Tribe's ways.

He cites as primary sources Colonel Richard Irving Dodge's “The Plains of the Great West,” and “The Comanches, Lords of the South Plains,” by Ernest Wallace and E. Adamson Hoebel.

The book's narrative arc and English usage are of a conventional kind, yet Keith infuses his enthusiasm – his own enchanting really – into this tale of a unique human race, this reconstruction and recording of a disappeared world.

While intended as “adventure writing for boys,” the story stands out for its excellent scholarship and is sophisticated enough for any adult curious about the the southwest, its mixed Spanish/Anglo/Indian heritage and natural beauty.