The Story of Cynthia Ann Parker
The Story of
Cynthia Ann Parker
In 1825 a little girl was born in Crawford County Illinois, who was christened Cynthia Ann Parker, and this little girl was to become an American legend.
The Parker families were members of the Primitive Baptist Church and in 1834 they moved to central Texas where Daniel John Parker, Cynthia’s uncle, became the head of that section of the Baptist Church. To protect themselves from raiding Indians the family built substantial walls around their community and created a company of Texas Rangers to help with defence. This settlement was forever to be called Fort Parker. The fort was built near present-day Groesbeck in Limestone County, Texas, which is about 50 miles from present day Waco.
On 19th May 1843, when Cynthia was nine years old, Comanche, Kiowa, Caddo and Wichita Indians attacked old Fort Parker. Although the Parkers had made peace with some of the local tribe the confederation that attacked them came from further north. The raid may have come about because there was a troop of Texas Rangers in the area. Texas Rangers and Comanche did not mix well, atrocities happening on both sides.
Although the Indians approached the fort under a flag of truce, it was obvious to the white people that the Indians were going to attack. Eighteen settlers managed to get away but two women and five children were captured, including Cynthia Ann and her brother John. The rest of the settlers, including Cynthia Ann’s parents were killed. Within six years five of the captives were ransomed, but by this time Cynthia had become thoroughly Indian in her ways and thinking and did not want to return to ‘civilization’.
Like many other white captives (1)Cynthia very soon integrated into the Indian way of life, refusing to return with her brother John when the chance arose for her to go back to ‘civilisation’ in the mid 1840’s. Every attempt to ransom her was turned down by the tribe, allegedly at her own request, as she always claimed that she loved her husband and children too much to return to the white man’s way of life. Cynthia never voluntarily returned to white society.
She had married a young chief who made his mark with very bloody raids on white settlers, many of which took place in Texas. Although it was the custom for a Comanche warrior to have several wives, Cynthia’s husband, (2)Peta Nocone, never took any wife other than Cynthia Ann, which was a great mark of honour shown to her. Cynthia and Peta had three children: two boys and a girl. First born was (3)Quanah, who was to earn great fame later in life. Pecos was the second son, and the little girl was called Topsana, which translates as Prairie Flower.
In December 1860 Peta Nocone and his small band on a raiding trip in the Texas Panhandle made a hunting camp at Mule Creek, a tributary of Pease River near modern day Childress. On the morning of 19th December a troop of forty Texan Rangers commanded by Lawrence Sullivan “Sul” Ross supported by a Sergeant John Spangler and twenty regular cavalrymen of Company H of the U. S. 2nd Cavalry, struck the camp with complete surprise. There were about fifteen Indians in the camp, eight squaws, a couple of old men, possibly three warriors and Cynthia Ann’s two young boys. This action went down in history as (4)The Battle of Pease River but it was not so much a battle but more a massacre. At the end of the fight there were only three squaws left alive. Cynthia’s two boys somehow managed to escape but Peta Nocome was killed.
When the rangers discovered that one of the three Comanche captives had blue eyes she was taken back to their camp where her uncle, Col Isaac Parker identified her. Cynthia was thirty-five years old at the time and had completely forgotten how to speak English. However when her uncle identified her she patted her breast and said “Me Cynthia” which were the only English words she knew. Her uncle took Cynthia Ann, with her infant daughter, to Birdville, Texas. While she was there she had an iconic photograph taken of her with Topsana at the breast. No white woman would ever have been photographed breastfeeding at that time, so I think this only shows that people looked on her as a heathen curiosity and insisted on referring to her as “the white squaw”. You can see in the photograph that her hair was cut short as a Comanche sign of mourning. Cynthia was convinced at this time that her husband and two boys were dead. The look in her eyes shows only grief, misery and utter bewilderment.
In 1861 she was voted a grant of $100 annually for five years and was also given land by the Texas legislature. Although her white family tried to take care of her she never lost her longing for her old Indian way of life. She tried unsuccessfully on many occasions to return to her Comanche people but was always caught and brought back. Cynthia Ann was never allowed to meet her Indian family again, sometimes being locked in her room for days on end to stop her running away.
In 1863 news arrived that her son Pecos had died of smallpox and very soon afterwards her little girl Topsana died of the ‘flu and this proved the last straw for Cynthia. She would go for weeks refusing to speak or eat and in 1870 she also died of the ‘flu at the age of 43. She was buried in Fosterville Cemetery, Anderson County, Texas. Later, she was re-interred in Oklahoma near Cache and was finally moved to Fort Sill where she was laid to rest next to her eldest son Quanah. Quanah Parker was Cynthia Ann’s legacy to her Comanche people. He was to become one of most influential leaders of the reservation era helping his people bridge the yawning gap between the wild Comanche and the white people.
(2) Peta Nocona’s father, Iron Jacket, was very well known in his day by both white and red men. He got his name from the fact that he wore a coat of chain mail of Spanish origin. He was a great leader and fighter for the Comanche.
(3) Quanah Parker was the last Comanche chief and founded the Native American Church. He was leader of the last powerful band of Comanche to relinquish the fight for the Great Plains. He subsequently led them onto a reservation in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). He became a very wealthy rancher and a great friend of Charles Goodnight, rancher and inventor of the ‘Chuck Wagon’. Quanah had 7 wives and 25 children and many descendants. Quanah Parker died on 23rd February 1911 and is buried at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He was one of the last great Indian leaders.
(4) Sometime after The Battle of Pease River, Sul Ross made the claim that he had killed Peta Nocona in single-handed combat while the battle was raging. I find this hard to believe as there were 61 rangers and troopers attacking a very small camp and the action could only have lasted, at most, about three or four minutes. I think this claim was stretching credulity to the limit as in an action like that confusion reigns. However, the ploy to gain recognition obviously worked as later in life Lawrence Sullivan ‘Sul’ Ross became the 19th Governor of Texas in 1886 and went on to become a very respected Governor, so much that there is a University named after him in Alpine, Texas.