Remembering Comanche chief Quanah Parker

One hundred years ago today, Quanah Parker, touted by the US government as the principal chief of the Comanche nation, died in Cache, Okla., aged approximately 62.

Parker was a remarkable individual who led a remarkable life.

He was the son of Comanche chief Peta Nocona and Cynthia Ann Parker, a European American, who had been captured in 1836 at the age of nine and adopted into the tribe. When his father was killed and his mother captured by Texas Rangers in 1860, Quanah was just 12.

The Comanches were never a single unified tribe, but instead traveled in bands. With his father dead and mother gone, Quanah joined the Destanyuka band, where Chief Wild Horse took him under his wing. Though he grew to considerable standing as a warrior, Quanah never felt comfortable with the Destanyuka.

He left and formed the Quahadi band with warriors from another tribe. The Quahadi grew in number, becoming the largest of the Comanche bands, and also the most notorious.

Quanah became a leader of the Quahadi, and led them successfully for a number of years.

In October 1867, Quanah was among the Comanche chiefs who attended treaty negotiations at Medicine Lodge. He refused to sign the Medicine Lodge Treaty and his band remained free while other Comanches signed.

By the early 1870s, the Plains Indians were losing the battle for the right to roam midwestern United States. Following the capture of several Kiowa chiefs, the Kiowa, Comanche, and Southern Cheyenne tribes joined forces in several battles. The US Army redoubled its efforts to round up or kill the remaining Indians who had not settled on reservations.

Still, Quanah struck a fearsome pose, like a character out of Central Casting, according to C.S. Gwynne in his book Empire of the Summer Moon, which details the life of Quanah and the rise and fall of the Comanches. Gwynne recounts the description of Quanah by Capt. Robert Carter, an US army officer who would later win the Medal of Honor.

A large and powerful built chief led the bunch, on a coal black racing pony. Leaning forward upon his mane, his heels nervously working in the animal’s side, with six-shooter poised in the air, he seemed the incarnation of savage, brutal joy. His face was smeared with black warpaint, which gave his features a satanic look. … A full-length headdress of war bonnet of eagle’s feathers, spreading out as he rode, and descending from his forehead, over head and back, to his pony’s tail, almost swept the ground. Large brass hoops were in his ears; he was naked to the waist, wearing simply leggings, mocassing and a breechclout. A necklace of bear claws hung around his neck. … Bells jingled as he rode at headlong speed, followed by the leading warriors, all eager to outstrip him in the race. It was Quanah, principle war chief of the Qua-ha-das. 

In June 1874, a Comanche prophet named Isa-tai summoned the tribes in the Texas Panhandle to the Second Battle of Adobe Walls, in a bid to wipe out several American buffalo hunters.

With Kiowa Chief Big Bow, Quanah was in charge of one group of warriors. However, the Indians were repelled by long-range rifles and, as they retreated, Quanah’s horse was shot out from under him at 500 yards. He was then hit by a ricocheting bullet that lodged in his shoulder.

The attack on Adobe Walls caused a reversal of policy in Washington and led to the Red River War which culminated in a decisive Army victory in the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon. In September 1874, Civil War veteran Colonel Ranald Mackenzie’s troops and their Tonkawa scouts razed a Comanche village at Palo Duro Canyon and killed nearly 1,500 Comanche horses, a source of the Comanche wealth and power.

With buffalo, the main source of Comanche food, becoming increasingly scarce, and under constant pressure from the US army, the Quahadi Comanche finally surrendered in 1875. With Mackenzie and Indian Agent James Hayworth, Quanah agreed to help settle the Comanche on the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation in southwestern Indian Territory.

Quanah’s was the last tribe of Comanches to come to the reservation and he was named chief over all the Comanches on the reservation.

Quanah was never elected principal chief of the tribe by the people. Traditionally, the Comanche had no single chief. The various bands of the Comanche had their own chiefs. The US appointed Quanah principal chief of the entire nation once the people had gathered on the reservation and later introduced general elections.

However, he proved to be a forceful, resourceful and able leader. Through wise investments, he became perhaps the wealthiest American Indian of his day in the United States. At this time, Quanah embraced much of white culture and adopted the surname Parker.

He was well respected by the whites. He went on hunting trips with President Theodore Roosevelt, who often visited him.

On the other hand, he rejected monogamy and had at least five wives.

Quanah never got over the loss of his mother. Cynthia Ann Parker, whose story is as amazing as that of her son.

In May 1836, Cynthia Ann and her family were living at Fort Parker, near present-day Groesbeck, Texas, when they were attacked by a force of Comanche warriors approximately 500 strong.

A number of the fort’s inhabitants were killed and the Comanches took five captives, including Cynthia Ann. The other four were released after the typical ransom was paid, but Cynthia remained with the Indians for nearly a quarter century, being assimilated into the Comanche way of life.

In late 1860, a group of Texas Rangers attacked a Comanche party at what became known as the Battle of Pease River. It was here that Cynthia Ann’s warrior chief husband Nocona was killed and she and her 2-year-old daughter were captured. Cynthia Ann’s discovery was worldwide news, According to Gwynne:

She was the best known of all Indian captives of the era, discussed in drawing rooms in New York and London as the ‘White Squaw’ because she had refused on repeated occasions to return to her people, thus challenging one of the most fundamental of the Eurocentric assumptions about Indian ways: that given the choice between sophisticated, industrialized, Christian culture of Europe and the bloody, savage, and morally backward ways of the Indians, no sane person would ever choose the latter.

Cynthia Ann spent the better part of the next decade trying to return to her Comanche band.

She died alone in 1870 and was buried in Anderson County, Texas. In 1910, Quanah had his mother’s remains moved to Post Oak Cemetery, near Cache. She and Quanah were moved to the Fort Sill military cemetery in Oklahoma in 1957.

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One thought on “Remembering Comanche chief Quanah Parker

  1. Pingback: Remembering Comanche chief Quanah Parker « Indigenous People’s Literature Weblog

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