Glenn Frankel at the University of Texas wrote a book about the John Ford movie, “The Searchers.” It’s release, and stories about it, should remind us of the history of Quanah Parker, the last great, chief of the Comanches. “The Searchers” was loosely based on a true story, the kidnapping of Cynthia Ann Parker, by Comanches, and her subsequent life with the tribe, and her recapture by white relatives. She had married in the tribe — Quanah Parker was her son.
Photographs of Native Americans reside among the publicly and internet available materials of the National Archives. Images can be ordered in sets of slides, or as individual prints, though many are available in quality high enough for PowerPoint works and use on classroom materials. Many of the photos are 19th century.
Quanah Parker stands as one of the larger Native Americans in Texas history. This photo puts a face to a reputation in Texas history textbooks. Texas teachers may want to be certain to get a copy of the photo. His life story includes so many episodes that seem to come out of a Native American version of Idylls of the King that a fiction writer could not include them all, were they not real.
- Quanah’s mother was part of the famous Parker family that helped settle West Texas in the 1830s. Cynthia Ann Parker was captured in 1836 when Comanches attacked Fort Parker, near present-day Groesbeck, Texas, in Limestone County. (See Fort Parker State Park.) Given a new name, Nadua (found one), she assimilated completely with the Nocona band of Comanches, and eventually married the Comanche warrior Noconie (also known as Peta Nocona). Quanah was their first child, born in 1852.
- Nadua was captured by a Texas party led by Lawrence Sullivan “Sul” Ross in 1860, in the Battle of Pease River. Noconie, Quanah, and most of the Nocona men were off hunting at the time, and the fact of Nadua’s capture was not realized for some time. Nadua asked to return to the Comanches and her husband, but she was not allowed to do so. When her youngest daughter, who had been captured with her, died of an infection, Nadua stopped eating, and died a few weeks later.
- Sul Ross was a character in his own right. At the time he participated in the raid that recaptured Cynthia Parker, he was a student at Baylor University (“What do I do on summer breaks? I fight Indians.”) At the outbreak of the Civil War, Ross enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private. Over 135 battles and skirmishes he rose to the rank of Brigadier General, the ninth youngest in the Confederate Army. A successful rancher and businessman back in Texas after the war, he won election as governor in 1887, served two very successful terms (he resolved the Jaybird-Woodpecker War in Fort Bend County, and had to call a special session of the legislature to deal with a budget surplus), refused to run for a third term, and was named president of Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College (Texas A&M) within a few days of stepping down as governor. Ross’s leadership of the college is legendary — students put pennies near a statue of Ross in a traditional plea to pass final exams, among many other traditions. After his death, Texas created Sul Ross State University, in Alpine, Texas, in his honor.
- Quanah Parker’s father, Noconie, died a short time after his mother’s capture. He left the Nocona band, joined the Destanyuka band under Chief Wild Horse, but eventually founded his own band with warriors from other groups, the Quahadi (“antelope eaters”) (also known as Kwahadi). The Quahadi band grew to be one of the largest and most notorious, always with Quanah leading them. The Quahadis refused to sign the 1867 Medicine Lodge Treaties, and so avoided immediate internment to a reservation. However, dwindling food supplies and increasing opposition forced Quanah to retire to a reservation in 1875, in what is now southwestern Oklahoma. This was the last Comanche band to come to the reservation.
- Quanah was appointed Chief of all the Comanches.
- Through investments, Quanah became rich — probably the richest Native American of his time.
- Quanah hunted with President Theodore Roosevelt.
- Rejecting monogamy and Christianity, Quanah founded the Native American Church movement, which regards the use of peyote as a sacrament. Quanah had been given peyote by a Ute medicine man while recovering from wounds he’d suffered in battle with U.S. troops. Among his famous teachings: The White Man goes into his church and talks about Jesus. The Indian goes into his Tipi and talks with Jesus.
- Photo at right: Quanah Parker in his later life, in his business attire. Photo thought to be in public domain.
- Bill Neeley wrote of Quanah Parker: “Not only did Quanah pass within the span of a single lifetime from a Stone Age warrior to a statesman in the age of the Industrial Revolution, but he never lost a battle to the white man and he also accepted the challenge and responsibility of leading the whole Comanche tribe on the difficult road toward their new existence.”
- Quanah Parker died on February 23, 1911. He is buried at Fort Sill Cemetery, Oklahoma, next to his mother and sister.
Quanah Parker’s epitaph reads:
Resting Here Until Day Breaks
And Shadows Fall and Darkness Disappears is
Quanah Parker Last Chief of the Comanches
Died Feb. 23, 1911
- Photos of Quanah Parker at the Portal to Texas History
- Annual Quanah Parker Reunion in Oklahoma
- Lone Star Net entry on Quanah Parker
- Texan Cultures at the University of Texas-San Antonio
- Famous Texans.com entry
- History of the Red River War, 1874, at Texas Beyond History (University of Texas at Austin)
Resources new in 2013:
- February Statesman Selects: THE SEARCHERS (bookpeopleblog.wordpress.com)
- “That’ll Be The Day”: Unpacking The Searchers (eleventhstack.wordpress.com)
- State history group begins annual meeting in Fort Worth (star-telegram.com)
- Comanche tribe starts work on hotel for casino (star-telegram.com)
- Quanah Advances To Area Round (myhighplains.com) (No, this isn’t really relevant to Quanah Parker, other than showing that modern Texas honors the name.)