History Podcasts

Quanah Parker

Quanah Parker

Quanah Parker, a member of the Comanche tribe, was born near Wichita Falls, Texas, in 1845. His father was Chief Peta Nocona. His mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, was a white woman who had been captured by a war party when she was a child. The couple had three children, Quanah, Pecos and Topsannah.

Peta Nocoma and his warriors carried out several raids on local white settlements and in December, 1860, Lawrence Sullivan Ross and a party of Texas Rangers were sent out to find Peta Nocona. They found his camp on the banks of the Pease River. Peta Nocoma and his two sons, Quanah and Pecos, managed to escape, but most of the party, including sixteen women, were killed. Cynthia Ann Parker was spared because of her blue eyes and European features.

Cynthia and her daughter Topsannah were taken to Camp Cooper where she was identified by Isaac Parker as being the girl who had been kidnapped 24 years ago. Cynthia pleaded to be allowed to return to her Comanche family. This idea was rejected and Cynthia and Topsannah were taken to live in Parker's home at Birdsville.

The Texas legislature voted her a pension of $100 a year as compensation for being kidnapped by the Comanches. Parker did what he could to persuade Cynthia to adopt American ways. This strategy was unsuccessful and eventually she had to be locked up to stop her from returning to Peta Nocona and her two sons.

In 1863 Cynthia received word that Peta Nocona had been killed and her son Pecos had died of smallpox. Soon afterwards her daughter, Topsannah, died of pneumonia. Cynthia now became desperate to be reunited with Quanah. The Parker family refused and eventually Cynthia resorted to going on hunger strike. Cynthia Ann Parker starved herself to death in 1870.

Quanah developed a reputation as a courageous warrior and took part in several raids against buffalo hunters and white settlers. This included the attack at Adobe Walls in June, 1874. He was also desperate to find out what had happened to his mother. In 1875 Quanah surrendered at Fort Sill and was told that his mother had died five years earlier.

Later he accepted that his tribe should live on a reservation in Oklahoma. During the next 30 years he encouraged his people to develop agricultural skills. He also served as a judge on the reservation.

Quanah Parker died at Fort Sill on 23rd February, 1911. He was buried next to his Cynthia Ann Parker and his sister.

About the Quanah Parker Medicine Mounds Gathering

The Quanah Parker Medicine Mounds Gathering is scheduled June 17-20, 2021, at the Medicine Mounds and in Quanah, Texas.

It is a project of the Quanah Parker Society and a dedicated team of volunteers from across Texas and Oklahoma.

The Medicine Mounds, four dolomite mounds southeast of Quanah, are culturally significant to many Comanche, and to the descendants of Quanah Parker. The ranch that currently owns the mounds has invited the Quanah Parker Society to create an event that allows public access to these landmarks while celebrating Comanche culture. Register for a campsite or event.

Events will also take place in the city of Quanah, and at the museum in the ghost town of Medicine Mound.

Larry Gatlin, known for his work with The Gatlin Brothers and the Grand Ole' Opry, has been adopted into the Parker family with the Comanche name of Tsa Muu Ya Keta. He is performing a concert at the Quanah High School Auditorium on Friday, June 18 at 7:30 PM, with The Red Dirt Rangers and Darby Sparkman. All the proceeds from the concert benefit the Quanah Parker Society & Center in Quanah. Get your tickets now.

The Quanah Parker Society & Center

The Quanah Parker Society & Center exists to strategically and sustainably promote the history and cultures that preserve the legacy of the Comanche people and the settlers who came together to courageously create Quanah, Texas, in the 1800s. Learn more.

Quanah and Cynthia Ann Parker: The History and the Legend

The story of Cynthia Ann and Quanah Parker is well-known in Texas history, but their story really began in East Central Illinois. Cynthia Ann&rsquos grandfather, Elder John Parker her uncles, Benjamin and Daniel Parker and other members of the family were among the first white settlers of Crawford and Coles counties. Cynthia Ann was born near present-day Charleston, IL, c. 1827.

From February 7 to April 9, 2015, Booth Library on the campus of Eastern Illinois University hosted an exhibit, as well as several programs and presentations, about Quanah Parker his mother, Cynthia Ann Parker and other members of the Parker Family who were influential in settling the land that is now Coles County, IL.

&ldquoQuanah & Cynthia Ann Parker: The History and the Legend&rdquo looked not only at the history of the family and the lives of Quanah and Cynthia Ann, but it examined the impact their story still has today. In addition to the programs listed below, the series included film screenings of the 1920 silent film &ldquoDaughter of Dawn,&rdquo starring two of Quanah Parker&rsquos children, White and Wanada Parker and &ldquoThe Searchers,&rdquo the John Wayne film inspired by James Parker&rsquos search for his niece, Cynthia Ann. In addition, captivity narratives written by Rachael Parker Plummer and others were examined in a panel discussion titled &ldquoAmerican Captivity Narratives: A Literary Genre of Enduring Interest.&rdquo

Co-sponsors of the Booth Library exhibit and program series were Eastern Illinois University, the Tarble Arts Center, the Illinois Humanities Council and the Texas Lakes Trail. Unless otherwise noted, all of the programs below were presented on Feb. 20-21 on the campus of Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, IL.

On the Trail with the Parkers

Audrey Kalivoda, documentary filmmaker with Mesquite 90 Productions based in Nashville, TN, examines the westward trek of Elder John Parker, who, like many early settlers, constantly was inspired to pull up roots and journey into new, unsettled lands. They traveled across 2,500 miles and through 12 states, settling in Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee and Illinois before ending their journey in Fort Parker, TX. Kalivoda&rsquos presentation and discussion included a viewing of her 2013 documentary, &ldquoFollowing the Parker Trail&rdquo (not included in the recording below).

Preserving Parker Cemetery

Two groups of Parkers were among the first settlers of Coles and Clark counties in East Central Illinois. Local historians refer to them as the &ldquoPreachin&rsquo Parkers,&rdquo with patriarch Elder John Parker, his 13 children and multiple grandchildren, including Cynthia Ann Parker and the &ldquoPrairie Parkers,&rdquo headed by James Parker. Early historical writings claimed no blood relationship between these two groups however, recent DNA testing has proven a familial relationship. In this program, two descendants of the &ldquoPrairie Parkers,&rdquo James David Parker of Memphis, MO, and David Parker of Pendleton, IN, explore the relationship between the two Parker families and describe recent cleanup efforts of the nearby Parker Cemetery, located in rural Coles County.

Parker Pioneer Burial Ground Historic Preservation and Mapping Initiative

Steven Di Naso, geospatial scientist and instructor in the Department of Geology and Geography at Eastern Illinois University, details new technology being used in the restoration of the Parker Cemetery. Di Naso and his students have used state-of-the-art technology and field data techniques to collect, analyze and map this historic burial ground. Once this research has been completed, an accessible, online database will be created to aid in historical and genealogical research, as well as provide a permanent record of the cemetery.

Quanah Parker and the Battle of Adobe Walls

Richard Hummel, professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern Illinois University, presents this overview of the Comanche tribe&rsquos reliance on the buffalo for survival and the effect of the dwindling herds on Quanah Parker and his people. Traditional Native American hunting grounds were being wiped out by buffalo hunters who made a living by harvesting the animals&rsquo hides. This conflict came to a head on June 27, 1874, when Quanah and his tribe battled with buffalo hunters in the Second Battle of Adobe Walls. The outgunned Comanches were eventually forced to give up the fight, and this battle had a profound impact on Quanah as he made future decisions to ensure the survival of his people.

Turning Hell into a Home: Depictions of Native Americans on Film

Robin Murray, professor of English at Eastern Illinois University, takes a look at how American Indians are portrayed in film, from early silent films to later Westerns that often depict them as savages. These include films with characters or storylines inspired by the Parker story, such as &ldquoComanche&rdquo (1956) and &ldquoThe Searchers&rdquo (1956). More authentic portrayals can be found through the eyes of American Indian filmmakers, as evident in the film &ldquoSmoke Signals&rdquo (1998).

Quanah and Cynthia Ann Parker: The History and the Legend

Beth Heldebrandt, public relations director at Booth Library, gives an overview of the story of Quanah and Cynthia Ann Parker, as well as the family of Elder John Parker, which was influential in settling the land and organizing the government of Charleston and Coles County, IL. This program was originally presented at the Crawford County Historical Society Museum in Robinson, IL, on Feb. 12, 2015, and was repeated on Feb. 25 on the EIU campus to an audience of education students. As part of the Booth Library series, these students are assigned to lead more than 200 Charleston fifth-graders through the Parker exhibit and provide them with a related social studies activity.

Quanah Parker

Quanah Parker was a man of two worlds. His father was the famous Peta Nocona, chief of the Noconi (Wanderer) band of Comanche. His mother was Naudah (Cynthia Ann Parker). Naudah was a white woman who was taken captive as a young girl from Fort Parker in Texas, in 1836. Early years Quanah Parker was born around 1852, in a place called Laguna Sabinas (Cedar Lake), near the Wichita Mountains in what is now Oklahoma. The name Quanah translates as “smell,” “odor,” or “fragrance.” Quanah had a brother and a sister, but they both died before reaching maturity. Quanah’s youth was spent in a world where his people were at constant war with the United States and Mexico. In 1860, while Quanah was still a boy, his 24-year-old mother was kidnapped from her husband and sons by a unit comprising soldiers, Texas Rangers, and Tonkawa Indian scouts. In the same raid, Peta Nocona’s band was destroyed, leaving Quanah with no family and no home. The youngster found refuge among the Quahadi Comanche band that lived in what is now northern Texas. War over buffalo In Quanah's youth, white buffalo hunters appeared on the plains to slaughter and nearly eradicate the vast buffalo population for their hides. Given that the buffalo was the Plains tribes' main sustenance, the Comanche beheld the slaughter as a sustained attack on Native American peoples, a direct assault on their very existence, and so Indian resistance erupted. At the Medicine Lodge peace council of 1867, the Quahadi rejected a proposed treaty that called for them to give up their tribal lands, and refused to accept the provision that would confine the Southern Plains Indians to a reservation. Because of that rejection, the Quahadi became fugitives on the Staked Plains (Llano Estacado¹). The Red River War Following the council at Medicine Lodge, Quanah and his band stepped up their raids on Texan settlements. During those raids, Quanah distinguished himself as a valiant natural leader. The Quahadi Comanche waged a war on the plains unlike any war seen by the U.S. cavalry during the plains wars². Those brave Comanche warriors fought with unmatched skill and ability. They established themselves repeatedly in battle to be far superior in combat than their enemy. Even with repeating weapons, cannon, and superior numbers, the Comanche apparently could not be defeated. During the Red River War, numerous tribes — even mortal enemies — made alliances with each other to stop the slaughter of the buffalo and drive the white men from the land. As buffalo hunters spread like a disease onto the buffalo plains, annihilating the Indians' chief source of subsistence, Quanah Parker and the Quahadi targeted buffalo hunters in their raids. To the Comanche, the senseless killing of buffalo for just their hides was an abomination. In June 1874, approximately 700 Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, and Comanche warriors attacked Adobe Walls in the Texas Panhandle where 28 hunters and one woman were staying. The warriors charged and the hunters began to fire. Unfortunately, the hunters' advanced weaponry enabled them to withstand the force of repeated attacks. The Comanches finally withdrew and the alliance fell apart. Quanah was wounded, but emerged from the Red River War as a great chief. Just before dawn On September 28, 1874, Colonel Ranald Mackenzie's 4th Cavalry and Tonkawa scouts stumbled upon a large camp of sleeping Comanches in Palo Duro Canyon and attacked it. They massacred women and children, and destroyed the entire camp. The soldiers and scouts then shot all the horses that the Tonkawa scouts did not keep for themselves. Some of the dead bodies were pillaged and desecrated. They were decapitated and their heads sent to Washington, D.C., for “scientific” study. Colonel Mackenzie issued an order that all Comanche who did not submit to reservation life would be exterminated. An envoy of Mackenzie, doctor and post interpreter Jacob J. Sturm, sought out Quanah and his people with an offer of fair treatment if he surrendered. As women, elders, and children were non-combatants, their welfare was of great concern to Quanah. To the reservation With their land stolen, the wildlife all but gone because of the white invasion and continual warfare with the U.S. Army, Quanah realized that there was no other choice but to capitulate. On June 2, 1875, he and his band — the last free Comanche people — surrendered at Fort Sill in present-day Oklahoma, and were sent to the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Indian Reservation. The Quahadi did not receive the fair treatment that they were promised instead, they were abused and humiliated. Nevertheless, for the following 25 years, Quanah led his people with forceful, yet down-to-earth leadership. He promoted self-reliance. He quickly accommodated himself to the white culture by learning Spanish and English, adopting new agricultural methods, promoting the creation of a ranching industry and leading the way by becoming a successful stockman. He also created wealth for fellow Indians by persuading them to lease surplus tribal lands to white cattlemen. He promoting education for his fellow Indians. To that end, he supported school construction on reservation lands and encouraged Indian youth to learn the white man's ways. His influence also was successful in preventing the spread of the militant Ghost Dance among his people, which generated uprisings elsewhere. Quanah had joined the white man’s world, but he did it his way. He refused to cut his long braids, or forsake polygamy. Over his lifetime, Quanah Parker was reported to have had seven wives and as many as 25 children. Many people are descendants of Quanah Parker. His family has branches on both sides of his heritage, Comanche and white. In 1892, the Jerome Commission coerced the three reservation tribes into accepting an agreement providing for the allotment and sale of about two-thirds of the reservation to the United States. In 1905, Quanah was one of five chiefs chosen to ride in Theodore Roosevelt's inaugural parade. He rode beside Geronimo. Among his friends were cattleman Charles Goodnight and the president himself. Quanah Parker was the only Comanche ever recognized by the U.S. Government with the title, "Chief of the Comanche Indians." He was a major figure both in Comanche resistance to white invasion and in the tribe's adjustment to reservation life. A resilient leader falls On February 11, 1911, while visiting the Cheyenne Reservation, Quanah became ill with an undiagnosed ailment. After returning home, he died on February 23. Two of his wives, To-nar-cy and To-pay, were with him. Sixteen of his 25 children survived him. Quanah Parker was a warrior, compassionate leader, and peacemaker. His funeral was the largest ever witnessed in that part of Oklahoma in which he had lived. At his funeral, he was dressed in the full regalia of a Comanche chief. He is buried next to his mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, in the military cemetery at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Resting Here Until Day Breaks
And Shadows Fall and Darkness
Disappears is Quanah Parker
Last Chief of the Comanche
Born – 1852
Died Feb. 23, 1911

The epitaph of Quanah Parker

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glint in snow
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you wake in the morning hush.
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.

¹A level, semiarid, plateau-like region that marks the southernmost extent of the High Plains, 40,000 square miles of eastern New Mexico and west Texas, between the Pecos River and the Cap Rock escarpment. The Llano Estacado is one of the largest expanses of near-featureless terrain in the U.S. Early Spanish explorers, who placed marker stakes to avoid losing their way on the flat land, named the region.
² The Quahadi Comanche waged a hit-and-run guerrilla war, much as the Patriots did during the War of Independence.

Photo Gallery

– Courtesy Cowan’s Auctions –

– All photos by Johnny D. Boggs unless otherwise noted –

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Legends of America

The last Chief of the Quahadi Comanche, Parker was both a major resistor to white settlers, as well as a leader in the tribe’s adjustment to reservation life.

Quanah was born around 1845 to Chief Peta Nocona and Cynthia Ann Parker, a white captive of the Comanche, near the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma. After 24 years of living with the Indians, Quanah’s mother was recaptured in the Battle of Pease River by Texas Rangers. After his wife’s recapture, Quanah’s father was a broken and bitter man and soon died. However, before his death, he told Quanah of his mother’s capture from the whites and with that, other tribesmen soon began to call him a half-breed and before long, the group split.

Quanah joined the Destanyuka band of the Comanche, but later formed his own band called the Quahadi, which eventually grew to become one of the largest and most notorious Comanche bands on the Great Plains.

When the Quahadis refused to sign the Medicine Lodge Treaty in 1867 they became fugitives, continuing their buffalo hunting way of life and sometimes raiding white settlements in the Texas Panhandle.

In 1871 and 1872, several attempts were made by the Fourth United States Cavalry to subdue them but failed. However, when numerous buffalo hunters began to invade their hunting grounds, Quanah, along with Comanche medicine man Isa-tai, sought to rid those who were decimating their chief source of survival and attacked their camp at Adobe Walls.

Though Quanah had recruited some 700 warriors from not only his own tribe but also that of the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Kiowa, the attack on the Adobe Walls camp, occurring on June 27, 1874, was in vain. The buffalo camp, where only 28 men resided, fought off the Indians with their superior weapons and the warriors were forced to retreat. Quanah was wounded in what is referred to as The Second Battle of Adobe Walls and within a year, Parker and his band of Quahadis surrendered and moved to the Kiowa – Comanche reservation in southwestern Oklahoma.

Though most of the Indians found the transition to reservation life extremely difficult, Quanah adapted so easily that he was soon made chief. For the next 25 years, he provided leadership — promoting self-sufficiency and self-reliance on the reservation — building schools, creating ranching operations, and planting crops. He also served as a judge on the tribal court and established the Comanche police force. Overall, he encouraged the tribe to learn the vast majority of the white man’s ways. However, he did not reject the Comanche traditions altogether, continuing to maintain five wives, refusing to cut his long braids, and rejecting Christianity. Through his own investments, he became a wealthy man, some say, the wealthiest Native American of the time.

Though praised by many in his tribe, Quanah was also criticized for “selling out to the white man.” He also received rebuke because he was not elected Chief by the Comanche tribe, but rather, was appointed the role by federal agents. Because of this and the claim that Quanah was never given the title of chief before 1875, many assert that Chief Horseback is actually the last Comanche chief.

Despite his efforts to protect the tribe and their reservation lands, in 1901, the U.S. Government voted to break up the Kiowa – Comanche reservation into individual holdings and open it to settlement by outsiders.

Parker spent the rest of his life operating his profitable ranch. On February 23, 1911, he died of an undiagnosed illness. He is buried at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Quanah Parker with Wives

Photograph of Comanche Chief Quanah Parker with wives. From left to right are Payi, Quanah Parker, and Chony, who is the mother of Baldwin Parker.

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Provided By

Oklahoma Historical Society

In 1893, members of the Oklahoma Territory Press Association formed the Oklahoma Historical Society to keep a detailed record of Oklahoma history and preserve it for future generations. The Oklahoma History Center opened in 2005, and operates in Oklahoma City.

Quannah Parker’s Abandoned House

I came across the story of Quannah Parker’s house, which still stands today in Cache, Texas – though it’s not in its original location. It’s been moved a couple of times. But it is complete, and still full of Quannah’s furniture. His house is recognizable from the stars on his roof. Apparently he figured that since U.S. military generals have stars, he wanted to have stars too, but bigger, and on his roof.

This is a really cool relic of history which needs to be saved, and unfortunately, it sounds like the property owner isn’t willing to do anything with it, even though many groups are willing to buy it and restore it. One of the fascinating things about the Comanche Indians was that they were so fierce, and inhabited such difficult terrain, that they were pretty much the last holdouts, as far as American Indians go – except of course the Seminoles in the everglades. So we ended up with actual photos, and fairly recent accounts of their lives as some of the last free American Indians.

There is little reliable information about Quanah’s early life. When he was approximately nine, Cynthia Ann was recaptured by whites at the Battle of Pease River, in present-day Foard County two years after that his father died. In later life he recalled that he was a participant in the Second Battle of Adobe Walls, in June 1874, in which several hundred Comanche, Kiowa, Arapahoe, and Cheyenne attacked 28 buffalo hunters but were repelled after a five-day siege. The following May he was part of the Comanche band that surrendered to Colonel Ranald Mackenzie after the Red River War, agreeing to live on the reservation at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Quanah was approximately 23 years old.

Reservation life for the Comanche meant subjecting themselves to the government’s attempt to eradicate their free-range hunting and warring native culture and turn them into settled farmers. The first step in this process was abandoning their annual buffalo hunts and instead drawing government rations of beef, sugar, flour, and coffee. Quanah’s inherent leadership qualities caught the eye of reservation agent James M. Haworth, who in 1875 appointed him head of a beef band, a group of families who drew their rations together.

Chief Accessory: Quannah’s Majestic Headdress, Texas Monthly, by Darren Braun, December 23, 2015.

Lester Kosechata, a great-great-grandson of Quanah Parker, the last great chief of the Kawahari Comanches, recalls many tales of the old chief.

Kosechata, 57, of Noble, was told the stories by his “Grandpa Tom,” Quana’s eldest son. Tom died in March 1954 at 99.

“During the summer when I was young and was not working in the fields, I always had to help my Grandpa Tom because he was old,” Kosechata said. “He smoked oak leaves and I would have to go climb the oak trees for him. I was his favorite, and everthing that he did, he took me with him. I used to lie around on the porch and listen to the stories he would tell. I’d go to what they call the Indian gambling. While waiting to get in the game (the men) would all sit around and tell these stories under these brush arbors.”

Some of the stories they told led Kosechata to believe Quanah was not as beloved by all the Comanches as most people today think.

“They believed in him,” Kosechata said. “But he was very blunt and very mean. He believed things had to be done his way.

“Other tribes looked up to him. He never made a decision off the top of his head but slept on it.

Quanah Parker: Maybe Not a Wonderful Person, But Truly a Great Man, The Oklahoman, by Bonnie Speer, November 14, 1982.

Quannah’s mother is a really interesting character, and deserves her own movie, if anything. She was originally captured by the Comanche as a white settler, and was lucky to survive and assimilate into the tribe. Later they tried to force her to return, and she never did want to nor could she. He was very close to his mother, and she played an important role in his life. This is his mother, circa 1861:

Quanah’s mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, was abducted by Comanche raiders on the Texas frontier when she was 9. She was raised as a Comanche and married Chief Nocona. She had three children, the oldest of whom was Quanah. Cynthia Ann was eventually “discovered” by white men who traded with the Comanches. Her family, having searched for her for years, quickly organized a ransom offer. The Comanches would not sell her. No matter how much they were offered, tribal elders would not sell her. This was because Cynthia Ann did not want to go. Though born white, she was now culturally Comanche, the wife of a chief, with three children she loved.

Many years later, her camp along a tributary of the Pease River was attacked by Texas Rangers. Her husband was killed but her boys escaped. Cynthia Ann was finally freed from captivity, but she saw it as being abducted again. She was now 34. While being escorted to Tarrant County after the battle, she was photographed in Fort Worth with her daughter, Prairie Flower, at her chest and her hair cut short – a Comanche sign of mourning.

She never readjusted to white culture and tried many times to escape and return to her tribe. She begged to go back to her people. As S.C. Gwynne reported in his masterpiece, “Empire of the Summer Moon,” Cynthia Ann knew Spanish better than English. She told a translator: “Mi corazón llorando todo el tiempo por mi dos hijos.” “My heart cries all the time for my two boys” – Quanah and Pecos. But they wouldn’t give her her wish. Her relatives believed she would readjust in time. In truth, she was being held captive a second time.

She never gave up her Comanche ways. She often sat outside with a small fire and worshiped the Great Spirit according to the customs she knew. Sadly, Prairie Flower died of the flu a few years after they were returned to white society. And Cynthia herself died seven years after that, relatively young, essentially of a broken heart.

Quanah Parker: A Mother’s Day Story, Texas Standard, 5/3/16, https://www.texasstandard.org/stories/quanah-parker-a-mothers-day-story/

Quanah’s defense of his native customs included the tribesmen’s right to take as many wives as they could afford. Quanah himself had at least five at one time, and government officials continually harassed him about his polygamy. His position as presiding judge of the reservation’s Court of Indian Offenses was threatened because of his plural marriages, and when he requested government funds to build his sprawling ten-room, two-story home, known as the Star House, he was told that no assistance would be granted to him unless he agreed to live with only one wife. He traveled to Washington, D.C., to discuss the matter with Thomas Morgan, the commissioner of Indian Affairs, and purportedly told him that he would agree to those conditions if Morgan would be the one to tell the other wives to leave. Eventually his Texas rancher friends paid for the house.

Quanah also sustained the use of peyote in religious ceremonies, a practice that increased in the 1880’s and eventually became the foundation of the Native American Church. Starting in 1888, three successive agents at the Fort Sill reservation issued orders forbidding their Indian charges to use peyote in any form, and Quanah blandly assured each that his people were complying while he continued to function as a Road Man, or leader in the peyote ceremony. The secrecy that surrounded the ceremony made this deception possible. Quanah believed that peyote offered solace to his people and defended the practice by saying, “The white man goes into his church house and talks about Jesus, but the Indian goes into his tipi and talks to Jesus.”

By the late 1890’s Quanah had become a national celebrity. He made numerous well-publicized trips to Washington to represent Comanche interests, and in 1905 he rode down Pennsylvania Avenue in Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade, clad in buckskin and wearing a feathered headdress. He also led parades at the Fort Worth Fat Stock Show and the Texas State Fair, in Dallas, and he was much in demand for Fourth of July parades in Oklahoma. Quanah died in 1911, but the headdress he wore on these occasions is now in the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, in Canyon. It is a magnificent assemblage of 62 golden eagle feathers, each trimmed at the top with red turkey or rooster hackles and horsehair and attached to a felt cap and a trailer that falls nearly to the floor. It was a gift to the museum in 1960 from Topay, Quanah’s last surviving wife, a fitting memento of a man who spent his life trying to guide his people along the white man’s road while preserving their identity as Comanche.

Chief Accessory: Quannah’s Majestic Headdress, Texas Monthly, by Darren Braun, December 23, 2015.

This is pretty cool. Here’s the same table and the same chairs, in the same room, now and then:

Another table sitting there with some of the same chairs.

A table inside the Quanah Parker Star House in Cache, Okla., Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

Quannah with his three wives:

You can see a bed in a few of the original pics. It looks a lot like this one, which is still in the house, but it appears to me to be a different – though similar – bed.

After Comanche chief Quanah Parker's surrender in 1875, he lived for many years in a reservation tipi. Parker decided that he needed living quarters more befitting his status among the Comanches, and more suitable to his position as a spokesperson for the white cattle owners. In order to accommodate his multiple wives and children, this two-story ten-room clapboard house with ten-foot ceilings and a picket fence was constructed for Parker. Request for financial assistance was denied by the United States Government. Parker's friends in the cattle business, in particular 6666 Ranch owner Samuel Burk Burnett, financed the building of the house, circa 1890. [3]

The cost of construction was slightly over $2,000 ($48,000 in 2010, adjusted for inflation). In his formal wallpapered dining room with its wood-burning stove, Parker entertained white business associates, celebrities and tribal members alike. Among his celebrated visitors was Theodore Roosevelt. [4] Parker was a founding supporter of the Native American Church. His home was often the scene of practitioners who sought him out for spiritual advice. Parker fed hungry tribal members in his home and was known to never turn away anyone. [5]

The structure was purchased by his daughter Laura Neda Parker Birdsong upon Parker's 1911 death. Originally located near the Wichita Mountains north of Cache on Fort Sill's west range, Birdsong moved the house from its original location to Cache and sold it to Herbert Woesner in 1958. Although no one can be certain why Parker painted the stars on his roof, lore has it that he meant it as a display of rank and importance equal to a military general. The current owner, Woesner's nephew Wayne Gipson, offered the explanation told to him by Parker's descendants that the Chief had been to Washington D.C. to speak with Theodore Roosevelt, and while there had stayed in a "five star hotel". Parker had 10 stars painted on his roof to explain to Roosevelt upon his arrival that he would have better accommodations with ten stars instead of five. [6] The Preservation Oklahoma organization has listed the Star House as endangered. [7]

The Star House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is also on Oklahoma's list of Most Endangered Historic Places. A storm in 2015 further damaged the already crumbling house, but stimulated efforts to preserve and reconstruct it, although preservation efforts are complicated by the fact that the house is in private ownership. A grant from the National trust for Historic Preservation enabled an assessment of the condition of the house and developed a plan to maintain it. [8] The cost of restoring the house was estimated at more than one million dollars. [9]

Quanah Parker: Man of Two Worlds

In the heart of the Stockyards Historic District of Fort Worth stands a statue to famous Comanche Chief Quanah Parker. What tourists may not understand is that there is little reason for it to be there. Quanah never lived in Fort Worth, had no family roots there and visited the Texas city only rarely. Yet this son of a Comanche father and a white mother became Fort Worth’s “native son” in the truest sense. His is the remarkable story of a man with his feet in two cultures who helped heal the wounds of war between them.

He was born and grew up in the world of the fearsome Comanches but died in the white man’s world after making peace with his people’s longtime enemies. His birth name was Quanah, a Comanche word that translates roughly as “odor” or “fragrance.” Years later he added the surname “Parker” as a concession to the white half of his ancestry. The two names symbolized the two worlds of Quanah Parker.

Quanah always said he was born “about 1850,” but various historians have placed the date as early as 1845 and as late as 1852. There is no way of telling for certain since the Plains Indians relied on oral history, instead of written records, to preserve their past. However, 1845 seems more likely, based on a review of the chronology of his lifetime. By Quanah’s account, as told years later to cattleman Charles Goodnight, he was born in a Comanche tepee in the shadow of Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains.

Quanah’s mother was Cynthia Ann Parker, who was taken at age 9 by Comanche and Caddo Indians in a raid on Fort Parker, the family compound at the headwaters of the Navasota River in east-central Texas. It was May 1836, and Cynthia Ann would not see her family for the next 24 years. The raiders escaped with five white captives, including Cynthia Ann and her brother John. The Comanches might have ransomed the girl back to her people, which is what happened to the other four captives, but they admired her toughness and her striking blue eyes. So they adopted her into the Quahade tribe (“Antelope-eaters”), giving her the name Na-u-dah (“Someone Found”).

A few years later, Chief Peta Nocona took Cynthia Ann as his wife. Like most Comanche males, he had several wives, so it was hardly a Boston marriage or a romantic coupling, but it proved a long and happy union. Cynthia Ann grew up thoroughly assimilated into the culture of those who called themselves “the People,” and the children she had by Peta Nocona were all raised in the Comanche way. By 1860, Quanah had a 10-year-old brother, Pee-nah (“Peanuts”) and an infant sister, Toh-Tsee-Ah (“Prairie Flower”).

Quanah Parker’s formative years coincided with the height of Comanche power in the Southwest. They lived up to the name given to them by the Utes, “the people who fight us all the time,” ranging from Kansas and Colorado down into Mexico. Texans were often victims of Comanche raids—and vice versa as the whites retaliated. At the time Quanah was born, the “Lords of the Plains” were battling rival tribes and encroaching on whites for a large territory known informally as “Comanchería.” After the Civil War, the Comanche Indians went into rapid decline as an independent power.

In December 1860, Cynthia Ann was recaptured by a white raiding party to the Pease River led by a future governor of Texas, Lawrence Sullivan “Sul” Ross. The Quahade Comanche Indians, mostly women and children, were caught completely off-guard and massacred, including another wife of Peta Nocona who had been a second mother to Quanah. Cynthia Ann, who was nursing Toh-Tsee-Ah at the time, was recognized as white and thus spared that she might be returned to civilization. Quanah, Pee-nah and their father were away from the camp on a hunting expedition at the time, so they, too, survived.

After he entered politics, Sul Ross would spread the story that he had personally killed Peta Nocona that day, a claim that Quanah, in adulthood, would vigorously refute. He told a Texas audience in 1909: “This damn lie. Sul Ross no kill my father. My father no there on Tongue River [sic]. Gone to Plains for hunting.” In fact, a very-much-alive Peta Nocona would rename his oldest son Tseeta (“the Eagle”) after the battle, a more warlike name signifying that the chief foresaw his son becoming a war chief in his own right some day.

Cynthia Ann passed through Fort Worth on the way to the Parker homestead in northeast Tarrant County. Mother and daughter were objects of curiosity and pity, which only underscored the fact that whites were no longer her people. Although returned to her birth family, at heart she remained a “white squaw.” She died prematurely in 1870, never having seen her sons or husband again after December 1860. Quanah never got over the manner of her dying, telling an audience years later: “My mother was a good woman whom I always cherished. She has gone to her resting place. I, myself, may die at any time. When I do I want to meet my mother in the great beyond.”

He cherished her memory so much that his only request when he first came in to the reservation was for help to find where she had been buried, and after he traded in his tepee for a house, he commissioned an oil painting of her to hang in his bedroom. When he eventually located her grave, he had the remains moved to a cemetery near his Cache, Oklahoma Territory, home and arranged to be buried beside her.

Quanah’s father, Peta Nocona, died two or three years after the Pease River fight, still grieving his personal loss. His death was the second great tragedy in Quanah’s young life, compounded by the fact that on his deathbed the old chief revealed for the first time that Quanah’s mother had not been Na-u-dah, a Comanche squaw, but Cynthia Ann, a white captive.

The next decade saw Quanah’s star rise among the Comanches as he grew into manhood. He easily assumed the mantle of war chief because all his boyhood had been spent training to be a warrior fighting for plunder, honor and revenge. It was how Comanche boys were raised. He was now a member of a warrior caste as ferocious as the Don Cossacks of Russia or the Mongols of China.

He was a magnificent specimen of manhood, possessing the best qualities of his people. Typically, the Comanches were short with stubby legs. One contemporary observer described them as “uncommonly fine-looking men and women… muscular and athletic.” Quanah combined the compact, powerful muscles of his father’s people with the longer build of his mother’s people. By the time he reached adulthood, he stood more than 6 feet tall. He had the high cheekbones of his father’s people and the blue eyes of his mother’s, but his face was all Comanche, with a jutting brow and prominent Roman nose. He learned the ways of his father’s people. Comanches were raised to be cunning but also generous and usually honest. Unfortunately for whites, they were also merciless in war.

Quanah led his share of raids under the full moon (the traditional time of Comanche raids), yet he never displayed the cruelty or taste for blood for which his adopted people were famous. His name was never attached to the torture of captives or the massacre of innocents, although white apologists writing in the 1960s and ’70s may have intentionally obscured such incidents.

Quanah took his first wife, stealing her from the tepee of her father, before he was 20 years old. By 1867 he was sitting in the Quahade councils of war and joined the older chiefs in rejecting the Medicine Lodge Treaty whereby all the Southern Plains Indians agreed to settle down in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) and submit to assimilation.

The Quahades held out for another seven years. During that time, they launched the last Indian raid into Tarrant County in June 1871, chasing homesteaders John P. Daggett and John B. York through the scrub oak north of town, but there were no deaths and no kidnappings on this occasion. Subsequently, Indian depredations continued to plague Parker County, due west of Tarrant, but Fort Worth’s days as a frontier settlement were over.

In June 1874, the Quahades took one more shot at defending their ancestral lands against white encroachment. Quanah led a war party of some 250-300 warriors against 28 buffalo hunters who were forted up in a trading post known as Adobe Walls on the Canadian River. The June 27 attack was repulsed with heavy Indian losses, and Quanah himself was wounded. Afterward, even the most diehard Comanches had to admit the truth: The white man owned the southern Great Plains, and their life of freedom was over. There was no longer any place to hide and no way to survive on the run.

In May 1875, Quanah led the pitiful remnants of the Quahade band—fewer than 100 men, women and children—into Fort Sill, Indian Territory, and surrendered to Colonel Ranald Mackenzie. Quanah identified himself to Mackenzie simply as war chief of the Comanches and son of Cynthia Ann Parker, although at the time he did not know if she was alive or dead. Quanah promised the colonel that he would adopt the white man’s ways.

The Comanches reluctantly settled down to reservation life, living on handouts and staying within the boundaries set by the U.S. government. Quanah’s native intelligence and flexibility allowed him to make the transition to reservation life with the same ease that he had shown going from boy to warrior. Government agents, the new overlords of the Plains Indians, recognized his leadership qualities and designated him a “tribal chief” over all the Comanches, to serve as a liaison between his people and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In effect, it represented a promotion from being merely a war chief of the Quahades. He proved a shrewd and pragmatic leader, encouraging the Comanches to take up ranching and farming, educate their young in government schools and sign contracts with whites. In return, the overlords embraced him as an assimilationist who could be a role model to his fellow Comanches.

Led by Quanah, many Comanche males took up cattle ranching and became relatively prosperous by leasing their grazing lands to white cattle barons such as Samuel Burke Burnett and W.T. Waggoner, both of whom called Fort Worth home. Quanah proved to be a shrewd stockman, as successful at managing his herds and lands as he had been at raiding and making war. He invested the money he made from leasing his grazing lands in railroad stocks and real estate, becoming a businessman of some means, perhaps even the wealthiest American Indian in the United States at the time. He built himself a spacious house near the foot of the Wichita Mountains, which he named “Star House,” but spent as much time away as he did at home. He traveled widely on business and tribal affairs, always with an entourage. He participated in Wild West shows, posed for photographs and gave speeches. He was an eloquent speaker, though he spoke, without affectation, in the broken English of latter-day Hollywood Indians.

Along with his personal wealth, his influence grew. Washington consulted him on Indian affairs and feted him as a “noble savage.” A town in Texas was named Quanah for him, and the Quanah, Acme & Pacific Railway was dubbed the “Quanah Line” by those it served. Although whites had bestowed his designation as tribal chief, most of his own people also treated him with deference because he had proved himself as a warrior. He served as a judge on Comanche tribal courts, which were a combination of English due process and Indian judges. He also encouraged the establishment of a tribal police force to assist white authorities in maintaining law and order on the reservation.

Chief Quanah became the leader of the so-called progressives among the Comanches, while more conservative members of the tribe denounced him as a half-blood lackey of the whites, an “Uncle Tom-tom” as it were. The same pragmatic, openhanded qualities that made him a leader of his own people also allowed him to move easily in white society. He learned to drive a car and wore a business suit when traveling. Yet he never completely turned his back on tribal ways. Rather, he walked a thin line between the two races.

He preferred moccasins to boots and under his Stetson wore his hair in long braids down his back. He also remained faithful to the old religious ways. Historically, the Comanches had never practiced organized religion, but they did believe in spirits and mystical visions. Quanah encouraged them to keep praying to the ancient spirits and even led the movement to use peyote in their religious ceremonies, which helped them cope with the humiliations of being “blanket Indians.” Here, again, he mixed white and Indian heritage in his religion, practicing a highly personal brand of Christianity along with peyote worship and seeing no apparent contradiction. His personal use of peyote coupled with his open advocacy of its use by his people would eventually result in his being recognized as a founding father of the Native American Church.

Quanah made it his life’s mission to keep peace between the two races. Under his leadership, the Comanches did not join the popular uprising known as the Ghost Dance movement when it swept through the Plains Indians around 1890 they thereby avoided the excesses committed by the Sioux up north. Quanah himself seems to have received a free pass from whites for his years of leading war parties. Ranald Mackenzie once declared that he “certainly should not be held responsible for the sins of former generations of Comanches,” ignoring Quanah’s own past aggressions.

In preserving the old Comanche family structure, however, he was on shakier ground. Comanche men had always been polygamists, and Quanah Parker stubbornly retained that part of his heritage. Estimates of the number of wives he took during his lifetime vary from four to eight, and at the time of his death in 1911, he still had at least two living under his roof. Ironically, this defiance of Victorian morals got him into more trouble with the authorities than his years of raiding white settlements ever did. Government agents sniffed at his “much married condition” and even thought they had convinced him to get rid of all but one.

In 1897 he promised Secretary of the Interior Cornelius Newton Bliss that he would take no more wives over and above his current four, but there is no indication that he kept this promise. The Bureau of Indian Affairs tried to be helpful by referring in their reports to all but one of the women as “mothers” rather than wives. But he kept the harem, including To-nar-cy, the “show wife” who often traveled with him.

Quanah’s intransigence on this matter finally got him dismissed from the tribal court in 1898, at which time he publicly acknowledged five wives. By his various mates, he eventually sired 24 children, of whom 19 grew to adulthood and 16 survived him. This remarkable patriarchy was a monument to both his virility and his love of family.

Despite Quanah’s best efforts, the Comanches continued to lose ground to advancing white civilization even after accepting resettlement in Oklahoma. In 1901 the federal government changed policy again by breaking up the Comanche Reservation and redistributing the land in parcels of 160 acres. Many Comanches moved away after this latest betrayal, but Quanah continued to live on his land, and even add to it until he had created a spread of baronial proportions. He also continued to act as tribal spokesman even after the Comanche diaspora.

Tragedy continued to dog his life. In 1906 his 18-month-old son died of whooping cough, a death Quanah took very hard. Later that same year, his 8-year-old son was dismissed from the public school in Lawton, Okla., because the parents of his white classmates considered the boy a half-blood. Quanah had stated earlier in regard to enrolling the boy, “I want my children to become educated men and women.” Now he was forced to reenroll the boy in the local Indian School, but the old chief was “nearly heart-broken” by the blatant discrimination.

Another slap in the face was the fact that in the eyes of the U.S. government he was not even an American citizen, despite being born on American soil and having an American citizen as a mother. As Quanah Parker, noncitizen, he could sign treaties, serve as sheriff of Lawton, negotiate contracts with whites, even own land, but he could neither vote nor enjoy the basic civil rights protections of the Constitution. That situation did not change during his lifetime. Not until 1924 did Parker’s children receive U.S. citizenship along with all American Indians after President Calvin Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act into law.

Quanah never escaped discrimination, but late in life he derived some satisfaction from being a national celebrity whose fame crossed cultural and racial boundaries, much like Geronimo but with more dignity and influence than the last war chief of the Apaches. Business leaders and civic representatives feted him, and practically everyone who met him in person came away an admirer. A congressional investigator in 1904 stated: “If ever Nature stamped a man with the seal of headship she did it in his case. Quanah would have been a leader and a governor in any circle where fate may have cast him—it is in his blood.” It should never be forgotten that that blood came from both his mother and his father.

Among the notable men of his day who called him friend were legendary cattleman Charles Goodnight and U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. He corresponded with Roosevelt and even took part in the president’s 1905 inaugural parade through Washington, D.C. Quanah was a regular invitee to public events in Dallas and Fort Worth, including the Texas State Fair, the annual convention of the Texas Cattle Raisers’ Association and the annual Fort Worth Fat Stock Show.

At the Fat Stock Show in 1909, he brought 38 members of the tribe down with him from Oklahoma, and they set up their tepees near the imposing North Side Coliseum, not far from where the current statue of Quanah stands. After the show, he told one reporter, “Had big time big show lots fine cattle, lots people cattleman, Fort Worth people, old-home folks, all treat me as brother—think big man.” In these public appearances, he played his war chief image to the hilt. Perhaps, it could be argued, he demeaned himself by taking part in the mock Indian attacks that were standard fare in Wild West shows. But he believed they helped shape positive attitudes about the Comanches, so he participated in full Indian regalia.

Quanah’s remarkable personal popularity even extended to his mother’s descendants, the Parker family, who could not bring themselves to hate him. They joined the chorus that proclaimed Quanah, “the greatest of Comanche chiefs.” Quanah himself always believed his mixed heritage was a positive thing. Shortly before he died, he mused that white men and Indians were “all same people, anyway.”

Quanah’s connection to Fort Worth is shaky on historical grounds but part and parcel of local mythology. He made his first visit to “Cowtown” in December 1885, a visit that almost cost him his life. His hosts put him and a father-in-law, Yellow Bear, up in the town’s nicest hotel, the Pickwick. When the two visitors went to bed that night, they extinguished the gas flame but failed to turn off the gas. Both were overcome by the fumes. Yellow Bear died of asphyxiation and Quanah barely survived. Despite this bad experience, he returned to Fort Worth on several occasions in the following years.

Quanah Parker, aka the Eagle, died on February 23, 1911, at Star House, the home he had built. What white men had not been able to do when he was a feared war chief, pneumonia did in his seventh decade of life. Doctors at the time believed his death resulted from a combination of rheumatism and asthma. Some of his own people, however, believed he had been poisoned by his enemies, since he had taken ill suddenly while visiting the Cheyenne Reservation, and they vowed to launch an investigation. At any rate, the controversy soon died down, and he was quietly buried near his home. As he had requested, he was buried not beside any of his wives, but beside his mother in the Post Oak Mission Cemetery. In 1957 the remains of Quanah and Cynthia Ann were dug up and moved to the military cemetery at Fort Sill. This time a pair of impressive monuments were placed over the graves.

Quanah’s death marked the passing of an era in more ways than one. After his death, the Comanches never again called their elected leader “chief.” Instead, they adopted the white man’s title “chairman.” Quanah’s death cut the last ties to the old days when Comanches roamed the southern Plains at will, making war on anyone who dared to enter their domain, terrorizing white settlements and other Indian tribes alike.

For more than four decades, Quanah Parker had been the public face of those Comanches. He was also their first and last media star, filling the same role that Geronimo filled for the Apaches, Sitting Bull for the Sioux and Chief Joseph for the Nez Perces. Unlike those others, however, Quanah made the transition smoothly, almost effortlessly, from savage warrior to successful entrepreneur and public figure. In the tradition of Pocahontas and Massasoit, he became a “good Indian,” who helped forge the bonds of peace between the two races.

Despite his fame and the honors that came his way, Quanah Parker had a difficult life. Beginning with his separation from his mother and the deaths of both parents when he was young to the deaths of a beloved wife and son, he endured the loss of those who were closest to him. He also endured the loss of a certain amount of pride when he was forced to lead his people into captivity. Then after he led them to the reservation, even that was taken away from them by the double-dealing government in Washington. All the wealth and honors in the world could never replace all that he lost during his lifetime. Yet he never sank into bitterness or depression. On the contrary, he was never less than honorable and dignified and often rose to heroism in his role as last Comanche chief.

Quanah Parker’s memory looms large in Fort Worth history. In the same way Fort Worth appropriated Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid of Wild Bunch fame to represent its outlaw heritage, the city appropriated Quanah Parker to represent some sort of mythical Indian heritage. Fort Worth’s image as “the city where the West begins” requires not just the cowboy and outlaw elements but also the Indian element to be authentic. Quanah Parker represents Fort Worth’s tie to a time when American Indians “owned” north Texas and defied whites to take it from them.

Fort Worth native and Wild West contributor Richard Selcer is the author of Hell’s Half Acre and Legendary Watering Holes: The Saloons That Made Texas Famous. Suggested for further reading: The Last Comanche Chief: The Life and Times of Quanah Parker, by Bill Neeley Quanah Parker, Comanche Chief, by William T. Hagan and Quanah Parker: Last Chief of the Comanches, by Clyde L. Jackson and Grace Jackson.

Originally published in the December 2007 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.

Watch the video: Quanah Parker Last Comanche Chief (December 2021).