John Parker (pioneer)

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John Parker marker within Old Fort Parker

Elder John Parker (September 6, 1758 – May 19, 1836) was a Predestinarian Baptist minister, veteran of the American War of Independence, scout and diplomat for the American government, and famous frontier Ranger. He was among the first settlers of Texas before the Texas Revolution and was killed during the Fort Parker massacre in 1836, along with several members of his extended family.

Parker was born in 1758 in Baltimore County, Maryland. His family moved to frontier Virginia while Parker was young and took part along with Daniel Boone and others in scouting the frontier into present day Kentucky and Tennessee. In 1777, the British and Indians launched a series of ruthless campaigns aimed at exterminating the Americans from the frontier. Many of his extended family and family friends, men, women, and children were brutally massacred in the war. As a result, he left home to fight during the next two years in the American Revolution as survivors of the massacres held out in forts, block houses, and frontier settlements, foiling British-led Indian death squads, and launching retaliatory raids on Indian communities. Two years later, in November 1779, he married Sarah "Sallie" White before returning to the war. After John's return to Virginia, the Parkers' first child, Daniel Parker, who was named in honor of friend and compatriot Daniel Boone, was born on April 6, 1781. Other children soon followed.

In the years following the end of the war, Indians on the frontier returned to attacking American frontier families, and for a time pushed back the advances made at the end of the Revolution. Fearing for their family, his wife encouraged him to move elsewhere. Traveling down the old pioneer road about 1785, Parker moved his family to Georgia in search of safer opportunities for a better life.

However, once again Indian depredations--this time encouraged by Spanish and British colonial powers--followed him, and he returned to becoming a frontier ranger in various raids against the Cherokee and other so-called Civilized tribes. After the successful conclusion of these minor but bloody wars, which saw Americans victorious against the Indians in battle and the Europeans in diplomacy, much of the Appalachian area opened up to American settlement. Therefore, in 1803, he once again moved the family, including Sallie, eight children, Daniel's wife Martha "Patsey" Dickerson, and their daughter to newly acquired land bounties for his service during the War of Independence. They settled near Nashboro (present Nashville), Tennessee. By 1817, their family had grown to eleven children, many of whom had married and had children of their own.

The defeat of most of the Indian nations in what is now Southern Illinois opened up further land for settling. In reward for his services in the Northwest Indian War, Parker was awarded additional land bounties. Therefore, the family moved to Illinois and made significant contributions to subsequent intrigues, diplomacy, land development, and Indian fighting in the state. However, in 1824, Sallie died, and in 1825, Parker married the widow Sarah "Sallie" Duty, who had several daughters who had married into the Parker clan.

At age seventy-five, Parker, by now a well-noted frontiersman, surveyor, and patriot, who had years of exemplary service both overtly and covertly on behalf of the United States government, was recruited by Stephen Austin and other Mexican authorities to settle with his extended family and allies on the frontier of Texas, thereby providing a needed bulwark against the devastating Comanche raids. After sufficient preparation and negotiation, Parker and most of his family and several other allied families moved to Texas in 1833.

During 1835, using his vast experience in frontier defense, Parker negotiated with the local Indian tribes, reconnoitered the surrounding area, and eventually coordinated with some of his sons in the building of a fort on the head-waters of the Navasota River, near present Groesbeck in Limestone County, Texas on the frontier of what was then called the Comancheria. The fort stood on the site of past Comanche attacks and was thought sufficient to not only provide protection for the families who all had land grants located, but also to block the route of future Comanche raids.

However, the Parker-led community did not have sufficient intelligence on the full-scale capabilities of the Comanche terror bands, whose speed and ferocity was magnified by their numbers--which at times were in the thousands. Thus, during the early part of May, the community was unprepared for the fast, overwhelming numbers of Comanche warriors which descended to murder, rape, loot, burn and enslave any survivors. On May 19, 1836, following a quick attack which slaughtered those in outlying block houses and burned alive entire families in their homes, the Comanche forces headed straight for Fort Parker and the famed American patriot and Indian fighter John Parker, whilst he and others attempted to rally the community in defense of the fort. But in the rapidity of the Comanche attack and running gun battles which followed, it was clear the Comanche had overwhelming numbers and the community was doomed. Parker ordered as many of the women and children as could be found to be sent off with several hand-picked men, while he and other volunteers made a quick sortie into the Comanche band and diverted them back towards the fort.

Although this was successful, most of the men in the sortie were quickly killed before he and other survivors escaped into the fort, which subsequently proved insufficient to hold off the overwhelming numbers of the Comanche raid. After watching the full horror, he was tortured mercilessly, before being scalped and killed. However, although his wife was seriously wounded, along with another son, they and several other compatriots escaped and eventually gave warning of the approaching Comanche party.

Although Parker and four other members of the Parker clan who were present during the siege were killed at the Fort Parker massacre, several of his kinsmen and children escaped alive, while five remained in the hands of the Comanches. One such family member was his granddaughter, Cynthia Ann Parker, who remained alive in the Comanche nation for twenty-five years and became a member of their tribe.


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