Recently, my wife and I drove from our home in southern Colorado through the Panhandle of Texas on our way to San Antonio. As we passed through the little town of Quanah, Texas, I was reminded of its namesake, Quanah Parker, who was one of the last Comanche Chiefs. Having grown up near Quanah, I have heard many stories about the great chief and the Comanche and his story is worthy of retelling.
The Comanche tribes once roamed all of the territory we were driving—from southeastern Colorado, western Oklahoma and New Mexico, Texas Panhandle, all the way south through San Antonio and almost to the coast. They were the dominant tribe in the late 1800’s numbering near 50,000. After the Spanish and Mexican colonists settled in present day New Mexico, the Comanche quickly adopted the horse into their culture and used them effectively in warfare. The Comanche were noted for trading captives from raids to the Mexicans as slaves in exchange for rifles and horses. But, they also became notorious for raiding the settlements under the light of a full moon—hence the origin of “The Comanche Moon”.
The story of Quanah Parker begins in 1833 when the Parker family settled in Anderson County in central Texas . There the family
established Fort Parker to house the families and the Pilgrim Church. On May 19, 1836, with all but five men away working in the fields, a large party of Indians, including Comanches, Kiowas, Caddos, and Wichitas approached the fort. Here are pieces of the story from the memoirs of Rachel Plummer who was living in the fort at the time:
“… one minute the fields were clear, and the next moment, more Indians than I dreamed possible were in front of the fort.” She recounted that the Indians approached with a white flag and Benjamin Parker, not believing the flag was genuine, ordered everyone to flee out the back gate of the fort into the forest while he tried to buy time by going out to talk to them. When he came back in, he told Rachel, “run little Rachel, for your life and your unborn child, run now and fast!”
His sacrifice did enable most of the women and children to escape. In all, five men were killed and others left for dead (who had raced back from the fields to fight), while two women and three children were captured. Two of the children, Cynthia Ann Parker, age nine, and her brother were adopted into the Nocona band of Comanches. Cynthia Ann was renamed “Nadua” (Someone Found) and later became the wife of Chief Peta Nocona. They named their first born “Quanah” (Fragrance).
In December, 1860, the famous Texas Ranger, Sul Ross, who was accompanying the U.S. 2nd Cavalry attacked a small band of Comanche at Mule Creek and captured Nadua and her daughter Topsana (Prairie Flower). Quanah and his father were not there at the time, however, Sul Ross claimed he killed Chief Peta Nocona in that battle.
Here is an account by Quanah’s descendant, Vincent L. Parker, “When Quanah was still a young boy, his mother was recaptured in 1860 by Texas Rangers who returned her and her baby Prairie Flower to her white relatives. Cynthia Ann begged to be allowed to return to her Comanche family and made several attempts to escape; but to no avail. Prairie Flower died during this time. Broken hearted, Cynthia Ann sickened and died in 1864. For the rest of his life, Quanah revered the memory of his mother. He added her maiden name “Parker” to his own name.
“Sharp of mind and an intrepid warrior, Quanah emerged as a vigorous and enlightened protector of Comanche interests. The Quahada band of Comanches, fiercest of all bands, was under his leadership. Quanah led Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Comanches, Kiowas and Apaches in their last great surge against white encroachment – known as Battle of Adobe Walls. A military strategist of the first order, he became one of the most feared Indians on the Southern Plains. But the white man was superior in weapons and numbers. The day came when Quanah knew that further resistance would lead only to the annihilation of the Comanches. He counseled his people to lay down their arms and “take the white man’s road.” On June 2, 1875, Quanah and his followers surrendered at Fort Sill. By an ironic twist of fate, it was Quanah who led the Comanches in their final struggle against white encroachment – his mother’s own people – and once again the fighting was over, it was he – as last Chief of the Comanches – who was to lead them up from the bitter ashes of defeat to walk “the white man’s road.” Quanah dedicated himself to the strenuous task of guiding the Comanches into civilization.”
In Part 2, we will take a look at this extraordinary second phase of Quanah Parker’s life.
Author of “The First Raven Mocker”
Book 1 of the seven-book series, “The Cherokee Chronicles”