Cynthia Ann and Quanah Parker

Which American president was befriended by Quanah Parker?

MEMORIES OF THE ALAMO were still fresh when Anglo Texans mobilized for another war, this time against the Indians. They were particularly inflamed by the May 19, 1836, attack on Fort Parker, a family compound in what is now Limestone County; Comanche raiders killed three members of the Parker family and two other men and abducted two women and three children. One was a little girl named Cynthia Ann, whose kidnapping became a cause célèbre. She had long since adapted to Comanche life when she was found 24 years later. The grim irony was that her “rescue” turned her eldest child, Quanah Parker (below, with his mother’s portrait), into the scourge of Texas settlements before he too yielded to the white man’s force.

Cynthia Ann’s birthday is unknown, but she was nine years old when she was stolen away. Her fellow captives were eventually ransomed, but the Comanche wouldn’t sell her. Traders later reported that she had married a warrior; Quanah was born around 1845. In 1860, after Texas Rangers destroyed a Comanche camp near the Pease River, Captain Sul Ross realized that one survivor had blue eyes. It was Cynthia Ann, carrying her infant daughter in her arms.

Retrieved by an uncle, who allowed her to be put on display at the state capitol, she shrank from the society of whites. Her daughter died of a fever around 1863. She died some eight years later—of self-inflicted starvation, some said.

The loss of his mother enraged Quanah, who adopted her last name in homage (and, perhaps, as a taunt). A war chief by the late 1860’s, he retaliated with murderous raids, and the U.S. Army’s entire 4th Cavalry failed to catch him.

An 1874 battle changed things. The hugely outnumbered defenders of Adobe Walls, an isolated Panhandle outpost, used long-range rifles to repel an Indian assault in which Quanah was seriously wounded. The defeat demoralized the Comanche. The next year, Quanah led the remnants of his tribe to the reservation near Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and surrendered.

Unlike Cynthia Ann, Quanah came to embrace white culture: He befriended Theodore Roosevelt and amassed $40,000 worth of railway stock. But he never forswore his heritage. He promoted the religious use of peyote, for example, and disdained monogamy (he had at least five wives).

Quanah died in 1911 and is buried beside his mother at Fort Sill. The inscription on his headstone reads: “Resting here until day breaks and shadows fall and darkness disappears is Quanah Parker, last chief of the Comanche.”

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