Cynthia Ann Parker
|Cynthia Ann Parker|
Cynthia Ann Parker and her daughter, Topsannah (Prairie Flower), in 1861
|Native name||Nadua and Nauta|
Crawford County, Illinois
|Disappeared||May 19, 1836 age 9 or 10
Fort Parker, Texas
|Status||Recapture during the Battle of Pease River on December 18, 1860|
Anderson County, Texas
Cause of death
|Influenza due to fasting|
|Fort Sill Post Cemetery
|Parents||Silas M. Parker and Lucy Duty|
|Relatives||Daniel Parker, John Richard Parker|
Cynthia Ann Parker, or Naduah (also sometimes spelled "Nadua" and "Nauta," meaning "someone found" or "Keeps Warm With Us"), (circa 1825-1827 - March 1871) was an American who was captured and kidnapped at the age of nine by a Comanche war band, who massacred her family’s settlement. She was adopted by the Comanche and lived with them for 24 years, completely forgetting her American ways. She married a Comanche chieftain, Peta Nocona, and had three children with him, including the last free Comanche chief Quanah Parker. At age 34, she was finally rescued by the Texas Rangers but spent the remaining 10 years of her life refusing to adjust to life in white society. At least once she escaped and tried to return to her Comanche family and children, but was again brought back to Texas. She had difficulty in understanding her iconic status to the nation, which saw her as having been redeemed from savages. Heartbroken over the loss of her family, she stopped eating and died of influenza in 1871.
Cynthia was born to Silas M. Parker and Lucy Parker in Crawford County, Illinois. There is considerable dispute about her age; according to the 1870 census of Anderson County, Texas, she would have been born 1827. Another dispute is Cynthia's birth middle name. Originally it was Ana but over the years her name was changed due to poor documentation to Ann. When she was nine years old, her grandfather, John Parker, was recruited to settle his family in Texas; he was to establish a fortified settlement against Comanche raids which had been devastating to the colonization of Texas and northern Mexico. Upon arriving in Texas, the Parker family moved to north-central Texas and built a log fort—which soon became known as Fort Parker—on the headwaters of the Navasota River in what is now Limestone County. Cynthia's brother, James, was killed on the way from Illinois to Texas when the wagon lost a wheel and he was struck through the chest with a piece of splintered wood.
Fort Parker massacre
John Parker, the patriarch of the family, had experience in negotiating with various Indian nations going back to the 18th century when he was a noted Ranger, Scout, Indian fighter, and soldier of the United States. Consequently, when he negotiated treaties with the local non-Comanche Indians, it was supposed by him and higher authorities that a substantial bulwark had been created to protect the rest of Texas, and that at least the local Indians would be useful allies against the Comanche. However, this was a fatal error; the Comancheria imperium did not recognize treaties signed by subject Indian nations and had such a fearsome reputation that no subject Indians would dare help the white man. Nonetheless the Parker family, its extended kin, and surrounding families established fortified bloc houses and a central citadel—later called Fort Parker—for falling back to in case of attack. John and the community lacked sufficient knowledge of the Comanches' military prowess, and were unprepared for the ferocity and speed of the Indian warriors in the attack which followed.
On May 19, 1836, a force of Indian warriors—estimates of the number of warriors vary from one hundred to six hundred, but the smaller number is probably more accurate (source: S.C.Gwynne)—composed of Comanches accompanied by Kiowa and Kichai allies, attacked the community. John and his men were caught in the open. They managed to fight a rearguard action for some of the escaping women and children, but soon they too retreated into the fort. The Indians attacked the fort and quickly overpowered the outnumbered defenders. They took John, Cynthia, and some others alive. Cynthia watched as the other women were raped and the men tortured and killed. The last victim was John. He was castrated and his genitals were stuffed into his mouth; he was scalped and at last killed. Cynthia and five captives, after watching the horror, were led away into Comanche territory. Texans quickly mounted a rescue force. During their pursuit of the Indians one of the captives, a young teenage girl, escaped. All of the other captives were released over the years as the typical ransom was paid, but Cynthia remained with the Indians for nearly twenty-five years.
Cynthia Ann Parker and Peta Nocona
Cynthia was soon integrated into the tribe. She was given to a Tenowish Comanche couple, who adopted her and raised her like their own daughter. She forgot her European ways, and became Comanche in every sense. She married Peta Nocona, a chieftain. They enjoyed a happy marriage, and as a tribute to his great affection to her, he never took another wife, although it was traditional for chieftains to do so. They had three children, famed Comanche chief Quanah, another son named Pecos (Pecan), and a daughter named Topsannah (Prairie Flower).
Rescue by Texas Rangers at Pease River
In December 1860, after years of searching at the behest of her surviving father and various noteworthy scouts, Texas Rangers deep in the heart of Comancheria, led by Lawrence Sullivan Ross discovered a band of Comanche which were rumored to hold American captives. In a surprise raid, the small band of Rangers surprised a force of Comanches in the Battle of Pease River. It was not much of a battle as the majority of the Comanche band was not present in the camp; in the absence of most of their warriors, the Rangers killed the women and children.
After limited fighting, the Comanches realized they were losing and attempted to flee. Ranger Ross and several of his men pursued the man whom they had seen giving orders. The chief was fleeing alongside a woman rider. As Ross and his men neared, she held a child over her head. The men did not shoot, but instead surrounded and stopped her. Ross continued to follow the chief, eventually shooting him three times. Although he fell from his horse, he was still alive and refused to surrender. Ross' cook, Antonio Martinez, who had been taken captive and tortured in Mexico after Nocona killed his family, identified him as Nocona. With Ross's permission, Martinez finished him off.
The Rangers began questioning the woman fleeing with Nocona and other surviving Comanches for signs that she was Cynthia. When Ross arrived back at the campground, he discovered that she had blue eyes. He assured her that no young boys had been killed in the battle, so her sons, Quanah and Pecos, were safe. At last, clutching her 2-year-old daughter, Topsanna, she, in broken English, identified herself and her family name. Her information matched what Ross knew of the Fort Parker Massacre of 1836.
There is some question whether the man killed was actually Nocona.[according to whom?] Cynthia stating he was her personal servant, a Mexican slave called José Nakoni.[unreliable source?] Cynthia's granddaughter, Nelda Parker Birdsong, said, "Out of respect to the family of General Ross, do not deny that he killed Peta Nakoni. If it is any credit to him to have killed my father, let his people continue to believe that he did so."
Realizing Cynthia had forgotten most of her English and would be unhappy if separated from the life she knew, some Rangers urged Ross to let her return to the Comanches. However, he felt it best to try to return her to her American family. He knew many settlers had lost children to the Indians, and many might regard her as their own child or relative. He sent her and her child to Camp Cooper. He then notified Colonel Isaac Parker, her uncle. When he mentioned his niece's name was Cynthia Ann Parker, she slapped her chest and said, "Me Cincee Ann." He took her to his home near Birdville, Texas.
Cynthia's rescue captured the country's imagination. Tens of thousands of Texan families, and many more throughout the U.S., had suffered the loss of family members, especially children in Indian raids. She was the granddaughter of a famous American patriot, a Marylander who met a violent end in far off Texas. This gained her special attention and gave hope to those who had lost relatives to the Comanche. In 1861, the Texas legislature granted her a league (about 4,400 acres) of land, an annual pension of $100 for the next five years, and made her cousins, Isaac Duke Parker and Benjamin F. Parker, her legal guardians.
However, as many other accounts show, children so long held among the Indians, did not successfully readapt to their original life. Cynthia never adjusted, and although white and physically integrated into the community, she was uncomfortable with the attention she got. Her brother, Silas Jr., was appointed her guardian in 1862, and took her to his home in Van Zandt County. When he was entered the Confederate Army, she went to live with her sister, Orlena. According to some, the cause of her unhappiness was that she missed her sons and worried about them.
In 1864, Cynthia's daughter, Prairie Flower, caught influenza and died of pneumonia. Losing the only child she had contact with since her rescue caused her to be stricken with grief. She began refusing food and water and resisted attempts to save herself. She died in March 1871 at the home of Orlena O'Quinn and was buried in Foster Cemetery on An County Road 478 in Anderson County near Poynor, Texas.
There is some confusion about her correct birth and death dates for Cynthia. Different sources place her birth from 1825 to 1827 in Coles, Clark, or Crawford counties of Illinois, and her death from 1864 to 1871 in Anderson County. The only record of her death, given as March 1871, is found in the unpublished Susan Parker St. John, "Notebook," at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. The only known document from the period supports the March 1871 date. An 1870 census for Anderson County lists her as a member of the O'Quinn household. It lists her birth year as "abt 1825" and her age as forty-five.
In 1910, her son, Quanah, moved her body to Post Oak Mission Cemetery near Cache, Oklahoma. When he died in February 1911, he was buried there next to her. Their bodies were moved in 1957 to the Fort Sill Post Cemetery at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
- Foster Cemetery Anderson County, Texas
- Post Oak Mission Cemetery Comanche County, Oklahoma
- Fort Sill Post Cemetery
The city of Crowell, Texas, has held a Cynthia Ann Parker Festival to honor the memory of Cynthia. The town of Groesbeck, Texas, holds an annual Christmas Festival at the site of old Fort Parker every December. It has been rebuilt on the original site to exact specifications. Several revisionist histories have grown to discuss the story in a different light. In 2010, the historian Paul H. Carlson, professor emeritus at Texas Tech University, published Myth, Memory, and Massacre: The Pease River Capture of Cynthia Ann Parker.
Fictional and dramatic representations
- The 1954 novel The Searchers, by Alan Le May, is loosely based on Cynthia's life story.
- The classic 1956 movie The Searchers was based on Le May's novel, directed by John Ford, and featured John Wayne as an obsessed frontiersman searching for years for his kidnapped niece. It is thus also very loosely based on Cynthia's story. Natalie Wood and her younger sister Lana Wood portray the kidnapped woman at different ages.
- Cynthia Parker is a one-act opera composed by Julia Smith.
- The Dutch writer Arthur Japin also wrote a book, De Overgave (The Surrender), about the life of the Parker family and the loss of Cynthia.
- The character "Stands With A Fist" in the 1990 movie Dances With Wolves is based on Cynthia.
- Season of Yellow Leaf by Douglas C. Jones is a fictionalized story of Cynthia's life.
- Gone the Dreams and Dancing, also by Jones, is a fictionalized story of Quanah, Cynthia's son, after he surrendered at Ft. Sill Oklahoma and "walked the white man's road".
- Ride the Wind by Lucia St. Clair Robson is a fictionalized account of Cynthia's capture and life among the Comanches.
- Where the Broken Heart Still Beats by Carolyn Meyer is a fictionalized account of Cynthia's return to her American family.
- The 2003 graphic novel Comanche Moon by Jack Jackson depicts Cynthia's life upon her adoption by the Comanches up to the life and death of her famous son Quanah Parker.
- In the 1957 book The Hanging Tree, a collection of short stories by Western writer Dorothy M. Johnson, the story "Lost Sister" is a fictionalized account of the recapture of Cynthia and her difficulty reintegrating into the white world.
- Writing in the Crowell Index on October 8, 1909, Tom Champion opined, "…I am convinced that the white people did more harm by keeping her away from them than the Indians did by taking her at first."
- Cynthia Ann Parker from the Handbook of Texas Online
- Find a grave: Cynthia Ann Parker
- Glenn Frankel, The Searchers: The Making of An American Legend (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), pp. 86-87
- Glenn Frankel, The Searchers: The Making of An American Legend (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), pp. 86-87, citing Susan Parker St. John, "Notebook," pp. 19-20, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History
- J. A. Exley, Frontier Blood: The Saga of the Parker Family (College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2001), p. 3
- The Comanche Barrier to South Plains Settlement: A Century and a Half of Savage Resistance to the Advancing White Frontier. Arthur H. Clarke Co., 1933
- Quanah Parker from the Handbook of Texas Online
- Benner (1984), p. 54.
- Benner (1984), p. 56.
- Pease River from the Handbook of Texas Online
- Benner (1984), p. 57.
- Dennis Muncrief (January 2004). "The Story of Cynthia Ann Parker". Rootsweb. Retrieved April 16, 2013.
- Camp Cooper, Texas from the Handbook of Texas Online
- Isaac Parker from the Handbook of Texas Online
- Birdville, Texas from the Handbook of Texas Online
- Michno, Gregory, & Michno, Susan (2007). A Fate Worse Than Death: Indian Captivities in the West, 1830–1885, pp. 35–39. Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Press
- Benjamin F. Parker from the Handbook of Texas Online
- Post Oak Mission Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture
- First Gravesite of Cynthia Ann Parker: approximately 6 miles north of Brushy Creek off FM 315 on Millnar Road in Foster Cemetery: Texas marker #8793 | 
- Hoberman, J. (February 22, 2013). "American Obsession: ‘The Searchers,’ by Glenn Frankel". The New York Times. Retrieved February 22, 2013.
- McBride, Joseph (2001). Searching for John Ford: A Life, p. 552. New York: St. Martin's Press.
- Aleiss, Angela (2005). Making the White Man's Indian: Native Americans and Hollywood Movies.
- Benner, Judith Ann (1983), Sul Ross, Soldier, Statesman, Educator, College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press
- Exley, Jo Ella Powell (2001), Frontier Blood: Saga of the Parker Family, Texas A&M University Press, ISBN 978-1-58544-136-5
- Hacker, Margaret (1990), Cynthia Ann Parker: The Life and the Legend, Texas Western Press, ISBN 978-0-87404-187-3
- Meyer, Carolyn (1992), Where the Broken Heart Still Beats: The Story of Cynthia Ann Parker, Gulliver Books, ISBN 978-0-15-295602-8
- Robson, Lucia St. Clair (1985), Ride the Wind, Ballantine Books, ISBN 978-0-345-32522-8
- Selden, Jack (2006). RETURN: The Parker Story. Hardcover: 328 pages, ISBN 0-9659898-2-8
- Gwynne, S.C. (2010). Empire of the Summer Moon. Hardcover: 439 pages, ISBN 978-1-4165-9105-4
- Frankel, Glenn. (2013). The Searchers: The Making of An American Legend. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013.