AMERICAN INDIAN WOMAN
CYNTHIA ANN PARKER
A captive of the Comanches, Cynthia Ann Parker (ca. 1825 - ca.
1871), was born to Lucy (Duty) and Silas M. Parker in Crawford
County, Illinois. According to the 1870 census of Anderson County
she would have been born between June 2, 1824, and May 31, 1825.
When she was nine or ten her family moved to Central Texas and
built Fort Parker on the headwaters of the Navasota River in
what is now Limestone County. The family developed a community
around the church of her uncle, Elder John Parker, who headed
the Texas branch of the Primitive Baptist Church. As protection
against the Natives of the area, they built substantial walls
around their community and created a company of Texas Rangers
for the area. The settlement became known as Fort Parker. (From
The Lone Star Internet.)
On May 19, 1836, Fort Parker was attacked by several hundred
Caddo, Comanche and Kiowa. They killed several of its inhabitants.
During the raid the Comanches seized five captives, including
Cynthia Ann. Within 6 years, all the captives had been returned
to their White families, except Cynthia Ann who remained with
the Native Americans for almost twenty-five years, forgot White
ways, and became thoroughly Comanche.
Although she was beaten and abused at first, she was soon integrated
into the tribe. Cynthia was given to a Tenowish Comanche couple
who cared for her, and who raised her like their own daughter.
She became Comanche in every sense; was trained in Native ways
and was totally devoted to her adopted parents. The memories
of her White life quickly faded, and every attempt to ransom
her was refused by the tribal council at her request.
It is said that in the mid-1840s her brother, John Parker, who
had been captured with her, asked her to return to their White
family, but she refused, explaining that she loved her husband
and children too much to leave them. She is also said to have
rejected Native American trader Victor Rose's invitation to
accompany him back to White settlements a few years later, though
the story of the invitation may be apocryphal.
A newspaper account of April 29, 1846, describes an encounter
of Col. Leonard G. Williams's trading party with Cynthia Ann,
who was camped with Comanches on the Canadian River. Despite
Williams's ransom offers, tribal elders refused to release her.
Later, federal officials P. M. Butler and M. G. Lewis encountered
Cynthia Ann with the Yamparika Comanches on the Washita River;
by then she was a full-fledged member of the tribe and married
to a Comanche warrior. She never voluntarily returned to White
society. Native American agent Robert S. Neighbors learned,
probably in 1848, that she was among the Tenawa Comanches. He
was told by other Comanches that only force would induce her
captors to release her. She married Peta
Nocona, the young chief who gained fame for his many violent
raids on White settlements in the territory. While it was customary
for prominent Comanche warriors to take several wives, Peta
never took any wife except Cynthia Ann - a mark of extraordinary
devotion and honor for her. They had 3 children: Quanah,
Pecos, and Topsannah (2 boys and 1 girl).
On December 18, 1860, Texas Rangers under Lawrence Sullivan
Ross attacked Peta's hunting camp at Mule Creek, a tributary
of the Pease River. During this raid the rangers captured three
of the supposed Native Americans. Peta was wounded, but managed
to escape with their two sons, Quanah
and Pecos. The Rangers were surprised to find that one of the
Commanche had blue eyes; she was a non-English speaking White
woman with her infant daughter. Col. Isaac Parker later identified
her as his niece, Cynthia Ann. Cynthia accompanied her uncle
to Birdville on the condition that military interpreter Horace
P. Jones would send along her sons if they were found. While
traveling through Fort Worth she was photographed with her daughter
at her breast and her hair cut short - a Comanche sign of mourning.
She thought that Peta Nocona was dead and feared that she would
never see her sons again.
On April 8, 1861, a sympathetic Texas legislature voted her
a grant of $100 annually for five years, and a league of land,
and appointed Isaac D. and Benjamin F. Parker her guardians.
But she was never reconciled to living in White society and
made several unsuccessful attempts to flee to her Comanche family.
After three months at Birdville, her brother Silas took her
to his Van Zandt County home. She afterward moved to her sister's
place near the boundary of Anderson and Henderson counties.
Cynthia Ann's every attempt to return to her people failed,
and she was repeatedly caught and returned.
Even though she refused to speak of her Comanche life, many
fanciful and fictitious stories were written about this strange
and mysterious woman. "Historical fiction" was used
to incite anti-Native American feelings, and these tall tales
eventually became accepted as truth and fact. Never satisfied,
and never at home in a society that was foreign to her, Cynthia
was shuttled from one family member to another. Her grief and
longing for her lost family never left her.
She never adjusted to White life and was often locked in her
room to keep her from running away. In 1863, Cynthia received
word that her son Pecos had died of smallpox, and only a few
months later, her daughter died of influenza. Topsannah's death
from fever in 1863 was the final blow for Cynthia Ann. Often
refusing to speak or eat, she died in 1870 of influenza, at
the age of 43.
At her death she was buried in Fosterville Cemetery in Anderson
County. In 1910 her son Quanah moved her body to the Post Oak
Cemetery near Cache, Oklahoma. She was later moved to Fort Sill,
Oklahoma, and reinterred beside Quanah.
In the last years of Cynthia Ann's life, she never saw her Native
American family, the only family she really knew. But she was
a true pioneer of the American West, whose legacy was carried
on by her son Quanah. Serving as a link between Whites and Comanches,
Quanah Parker became the most influential Comanche leader of
the reservation era. -- Margaret Schmidt Hacker
Native American Women
T. DeShields, Cynthia Ann Parker: The Story of Her Capture (St.
Louis, 1886; rpts.: The Garland Library of Narratives of North
American Indian Captivities, Vol. 95, New York: Garland, 1976;
Dallas: Chama Press, 1991). Margaret S. Hacker, Cynthia Ann
Parker: The Life and the Legend (El Paso: Texas Western Press,
1990). Grace Jackson, Cynthia Ann Parker (San Antonio: Naylor,
1959). Paul I. Wellman, "Cynthia Ann Parker," Chronicles
of Oklahoma 12 (June 1934). Women of Texas (Waco: Texian Press,