In August of 1833, Cynthia Ann Parker’s father, Silas M. Parker, took his family on a road trip. He loaded his wife, five children and all their belongings into the wagons and headed south from Illinois to central Texas.
The wagon train consisted of 31 families including Parker’s grandparents, uncles and aunts. It was a long journey and not without incident. Parker’s brother James was killed when one wagon lost a wheel, and he was hit in the chest by a piece of wood.
The purpose of the trip was the great American Dream: to apply for a land grant. Each head of household was awarded a “headright league” of over 4,000 acres, and the Parkers started calling Anderson County, Texas home.
WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD The newly arrived settlers were well aware of the potential threat of the local Indians. In 1834, Cynthia’s uncle, Daniel Parker, led the effort to build Fort Parker in Mexia, Texas, between Dallas and Houston. Treaties were signed by the homesteaders and many neighboring chiefs leading to a peaceful coexistence, for a while.
In 1836, when Parker was nine years old, several hundred members of the Caddo, Comanche and Kiowa tribes attacked the fort. One Indian approached with a white flag accompanied by enough others to indicate that this was a ruse. Parker’s uncle, Benjamin, tried to negotiate with the attackers to buy time for the women and children to escape. Those five minutes of diplomacy allowed most of them to flee into the wilderness. But Uncle Benjamin, Parker’s father, grandfather and two other men were killed. Parker, her younger brother, a baby and two women were captured by Comanche.
Within six years, all the captives had been ransomed and returned to their families except Parker, but that was her choice. As a new Comanche, Parker’s life was difficult. She was abused and treated like a slave until she was given to a couple who raised her as their own child. Parker was young, so she adapted quickly to her new environment, perhaps first out of survival and then out of devotion. She adopted the Comanche name of Naduah (“She carries herself with grace”), and became totally integrated into Comanche society, eschewing her white upbringing.
HOME IS WHERE YOUR HEART IS Peta Nocona, one of the war chiefs who invaded Fort Parker, started his own Comanche branch called Noconi. Sometime around 1840, when Parker was barely a teenager, Nocona married her. It was customary for the chief to have multiple wives, but Nocona proved his affection by not doing so. They had three children: sons Quanah (“Fragrant”), a future chief of the tribe, and Pecos (“Pecan”), and daughter Topsanna (“Prairie Flower”).
Parker became totally contented with and integrated into the Indian lifestyle and refused more than one offer to return to the Parker family. One time Colonel Leonard G. Williams saw Parker when he was camped with his trading party along the Canadian River. He offered a ransom of 12 mules and two mule loads of goods to the tribal elders to reclaim her and take her home. He was refused, and in subsequent sightings, Parker would run away and hide to avoid being traded back.
On November 27, 1860, Chief Nocona led a raid through Parker County, Texas, named after his wife’s family. Parker played a supportive role in the attack, and it’s not clear if she knew the land belonged to her relatives. The bandits attacked three ranches, stole over 300 horses and violated several women. When they were finished, Nocona and his band hid in a bluff near the Pease River.
Groups of local citizens tried to hunt down the raiders, but they weren’t successful. It took three weeks for Captain Lawrence “Sul” Ross of the Texas Rangers to organize a posse of over 140 volunteers seeking revenge. On December 18, the vigilantes tracked the natives to their hideout, surprised them and dominated them in the ensuing fight. There were few warriors left in the camp, and Parker’s two sons escaped unharmed. There is debate over whether Nocona died during the encounter or later. Even if he didn’t, Parker would never see her husband again.
Parker was trying to escape on horseback with Topsanna. Ross chased and finally captured her. It was a shock to discover that the woman dressed in deerskin and moccasins had blue eyes. Back at camp there was speculation that she looked familiar. Parker tried to communicate with her captors using Comanche and some English, giving credence to theories that she could be the Silas Parker’s daughter who was kidnapped. Ross sent for Parker’s uncle, Isaac Parker, to see if he could identify her. When Parker overheard her name being used in the discussion, she patted herself on the chest and said, “Me Cincee Ann.”
YOU CAN’T TO HOME AGAIN That admission clinched Parker’s destiny. She and Topsanna were taken back to live with her white family. At first Parker and her daughter lived with Uncle Isaac’s family. Her return was celebrated and she was treated like a hero, but that meant nothing to her. She had to be locked in her room to prevent her from escaping. The Texas Legislature tried to help her with a pension of $100 a year for five years and a league (about seven square miles) of land, but that did not compensate for her anguish. Nothing could appease the grief she felt leaving her husband and sons behind. She had been kidnapped and forced to live among people not of her choosing for the second time in her life.
Parker’s brother took responsibility for his sister and niece, moving them into his house. They stayed there until he joined the Confederate Army when they went to live with her sister. Parker led a productive life. She learned to weave, spin wool and sew. Neighbors brought over hides for her to tan, and she created home remedies from the local plants and herbs. She learned to speak English again and was beginning to become literate. All of the activity, however, could not erase the 24 years she spent as a Comanche, and she never assimilated emotionally to her new life.
In 1863, Parker got the news that Pecos had died of small pox. One year later, Topsanna died of pneumonia, and Parker fell into a deep depression. Her despondency isolated her and she often refused to eat. She died in 1870 never knowing that her oldest son, Quanah, had become the last Comanche Chief, and ultimately a bridge between the Comanche nation and white settlers.
QUESTION: How do you react when you’re in a situation outside your comfort zone? What do you do to fit in?
© 2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved