The Story of Quanah Parker
Some time ago we wrote an article about the life of Cynthia Ann Parker. The Comanche Indians captured Cynthia Ann, a nine-year-old white girl, in the 1830's when Parker's Fort was raided on the Texas Frontier. Years later, she married and Cynthia had several children with her husband Peta Nakoni, a chief of the Comanche, one being Quanah Parker.
While attending Oklahoma State University in 1968, I lived in an unnamed dormitory, which had been recently built. The OSU Board of Regents quickly decided to name the new dormitory after some politician. Now, we residents decided that there were enough buildings, highways and bridges named after politicians and regents and informed the Board of Regents that we residents wanted to name the new dorm ourselves. The Regents finally allowed us to name the dorm if it was respectable. I assume that this meant we could not name it the Gypsy Rose Lee Men's Dormitory or something like that.
The residents of the dorm formed an election committee and asked each resident to submit proposed names. This process lasted about a month and we then went into a process of eliminating the less objectionable titles to a list of ten names. The names were posted in the dorm lobby and the names were pared down by straw vote to five names.
An election was then held and we all campaigned for the name of our choice just like the Presidential race. When the election results were known, Quanah Parker won by a landslide. The Board of Regents accepted our choice and named the residence the Quanah Parker Hall. A few weeks later the Regents sent a very large portrait of Quanah Parker and it was hung in the lobby so all could see the namesake of the dorm. So, that is how Parker Hall on the OSU campus got its name.
I personally campaigned for and voted for this name. I felt that it was only appropriate to name the residence after an outstanding Oklahoman who had truly contributed to the state and people without being a politician. There is something very unsavory about naming public buildings for politicians. We feel that now would be a good time to further discuss the life of this most remarkable man.
After Cynthia's capture, she lived with the Comanche as any other member of the tribe. She learned the wild spirit of the Comanche and their free and wondering ways around the Llano Estacado. When Cynthia was about nineteen-years-old, Peta Nakoni took her as his wife. Quanah was born in 1847 according to his estimate.
When the Texas Rangers captured Cynthia it was rumored that the Rangers had killed her husband. In 1861, Cynthia Ann and a group of Comanche women and Mexican slaves were at a "meat camp" killing and preserving meat for the winter when attacked by Texas Rangers led by Captain Sull Ross. It has been widely written that Peta Nakoni was killed at the raid but this is untrue. The personal servant of Cynthia who was a Mexican slave was known as Jose or "Joe" Nakoni taking his masters last name. When the Rangers asked Cynthia who was the man killed she answered truthfully, Jose Nakoni.
Peta Nakoni was not killed by the Texas Rangers or Sull Ross that day as he was leading a raiding party hundreds of miles away. The camp raided by the rangers was a temporary meat camp populated by women, Mexican slaves and old people. The Rangers managed to kill a lot of women and old people in that "battle". But, like so many other stories in Texas history, the legend took a life of it's own and the truth is often difficult to discern. Upon the death of Peta Nakoni, the rightful title of Chief should have been Quanah's but other members of the tribe seized the chief ship. It would take Quanah several years to regain the title. He served well as a war chief and was a brave and courageous warrior as well as a great orator and advisor among his people and other tribes such as the Kiowa and Apache.
This ability to communicate well with his people and the other tribes eventually brought him to the position of Chief of his band of Comanche. The last great battle he waged against the white intruders into his country occurred in 1874.
Quanah Parker was the leader of the 700 Comanche and Kiowa braves who attacked the buffalo hunters at the famous fight of Adobe Walls, in June of 1874, in the Texas panhandle. This is the battle where buffalo hunter Billy Dixon made the famous "mile long shot".
On the second day of the battle, the Comanches had retreated to a camp some distance from Adobe Walls. A scouting party was sent to see what the Indians next move should be. The buffalo hunters saw about a dozen warriors on a ridge observing them about a mile away. Billy Dixon was known as the best shot in the West. At the urging of the other hunters he was compelled to take a shot at the Indians. He took aim at one of them and shot the brave off his horse. This immediately ended the battle and the Comanches withdrew.
Two weeks after the battle, Gen. Nelson A. Miles ordered a U. S. Army survey crew to measure the shot. It was 1,538 yards or 9/10ths of a mile. Billy Dixon never acknowledged the shot as anything but sheer luck.
Being badly wounded, Quanah and his tribe began the trek to Ft. Sill in the Leased District in the Indian Territory. The band of Comanches arrived at Ft. Sill and under a white flag surrendered to Col. R. S. McKenzie.
The way of the white man was hard for the free spirits of the Comanche. Quanah, at first, refused to accept the idea that the wild Comanche should learn to plant cotton and corn or to walk the "Jesus Trail".
On one occasion, Quanah lead his band from Ft. Sill and spent the winter in the Palo Duro Canyon two hundred miles west of the fort. In the spring a detachments of Cavalry was sent to bring in the Comanche. Just as the Comanche were traveling back to Ft. Sill, the cavalry arrived just as they were riding out of the canyon. Before anyone could tell what was happening a battle ensued and Quanah rode in between the Indians and the cavalry and stopped the shooting before anyone else could be killed. They returned peaceful to Ft. Sill.
In 1901, the Comanche were allotted 160 acres each and the rest of the land of the Comanche-Kiowa reservation was put up for lottery for the white settlement of the area. Quanah chose a place near Cache where a wealthy Texas cattleman named S.E. Burnett built a large house for Quanah. The lumber was hauled in from Vernon, Texas and a twenty-two-room house was built. With all the children and Quanah's seven wives a large house was required. Each of the wife's bedrooms was furnished identically so there would be no quibbling as to which wife got the better room.
When the Commissioner of Indian Affairs approached Quanah about having five wives he said that Quanah now lived in the United States and would have to live by it's laws. The Commissioner told Quanah that the white men who were his neighbors had only one wife. He then said that he would have to send away all his wives except for one.
Quanah replied, "You tell um" and just stared at the Commissioner. After a few minutes the Commissioner realized what Quanah was referring to and did not answer. Quanah then said "You tell me which wife I love the most - you tell me which wife will cry the most when I send her away - you tell me and then I pick um." The Commissioner quickly changed the subject and Quanah kept his wives. When he died, Quanah had only two wives left but had as many as seven in his life.
Cynthia Ann never re-adapted to the white culture. Broken in spirit and a misfit among whites, Cynthia refused to eat and starved herself to death in 1870. Cynthia was buried in Henderson County, Texas in the Fosterville cemetery.
On many occasions, Quanah went to Washington D.C. to represent his people. On one trip he succeeded in having Congress appropriate $1,000 to remove his mother's body in Texas and re-interred in the Post Oak Cemetery near Indiahoma. Finally, his mother's remains were removed to the Comanche lands near Ft. Sill on December 4, 1910.
On February 11, 1911, word was sent by telephone that Quanah was sick and would be returning by train from the Cheyenne lands where he had been attending a medicine feast. Arriving in Cache, he was taken to his home where a medicine man and a white doctor were called to attend the aging chief.
Quanah asked the medicine man to pray to God for his soul. This the shaman did and within twenty minutes of arriving home, Quanah Parker, the last great Comanche chief died on February 21, 1911.
His death and funeral attracted attention all over the United States and almost 2,000 whites and Indians gathered at the mission making a funeral cortege of almost two miles. The body of the dead chief was decked in the regalia of a Comanche warrior, a suit of buckskin, gold band rings on every finger, a sparkling brooch pin, a silver dollar over each eye, and it was rumored that many other valuables, even a large sum of money, was buried with him.
A watch was kept over the grave for almost a week, but it was not until four years after his death that ghouls entered the grave and robbed it of many of its valuables. One Sunday, one of the chief's wives came to mourn over the grave, when she saw the partially filled grave with bits of the casket and bones lying here and there, she fainted away. Other Indians hurried toward her, found what was wrong and spread the news rapidly. The tribe was much aroused with indignation that, even in death, their beloved chief could not rest undisturbed. An all-night vigil was kept over the grave after the discovery of the desecration of the grave. The following day his remains were picked up one by one by the men and passed to some Indian women, who washed the bones in a tub of water and in turn passed them to others, who dried them with their costly blankets and reverently placed the remains in a new casket.
After his death the Government denied the Comanche Indians the right of another chief, and instead are now are represented by a tribal committee which looks after the interests of the tribe.
Here we end the story of Quanah Parker whom I believe is one of the most
fascinating men who ever inhabited the Indian Territory or America. I have
one question to ask here. Why is there not a holiday to celebrate the life
of a man who was a Native American?
For more reading on this most fascinating man, please consult Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 1, No. 3, June, 1923, pp 243-252, from which this article was partially referenced.
© - Contributed by Dennis Muncrief - March, 2004.