Literary Frolic Fridays: August, 2019 Edition. Alan LeMay’s The Searchers inspired by the life of Cynthia Ann Parker

In 1821, the Mexican legislature granted Moses Austin’s petition to establish an Anglo-American colony on Texas soil. When, upon his death, deed and title were transferred to his son and heir, Stephen Austin, Governor Martinez permitted Austin to break up the estate and offer land to potential colonists according to the following formula:

Single men: were to be offered 21 acres each
Head of households (male or female): were to be offered 640 acres
Wives of head of households: were to be offered 320 acres
Each child of the head of household: were to be offered 160 acres

Initially, for their own different and dubious reasons, Mexicans and Tejanos in the Mexican legislature were not adverse to Anglos in Texas. Mexicans viewed the Anglos as a buffer between themselves and the Comanche and other Indian nations along their northern border: let the Anglos cultivate the land and take the beatings—either there will be fewer Indians or fewer Anglos. To tempt potential settlers, the Mexican Constitution made Texas settlers exempt from paying taxes and tariffs. Much to the legislators’ dismay, however, the Anglos settled everywhere but where they had hoped—where the Indian nations were located.

For their part, the Tejanos were ambitious to break Texas away from Coahuila and turn it into an independent state: the more Anglos with their rifles and pistols (and their keenness to use them) the better. By 1825, as combative as the Mexicans and Tejanos were with each other, the Anglo settlement explosion along the eastern border gave them both the jitters. By 1832, a census revealed that that the number of Anglos was double that of Tejanos: 6,000 to their 3,000. Unmindful or just insensitive to Tejano land rights and property, the Anglos did whatever they wanted.

Shortly after the victory of General Sam Houston’s army over Santa Anna’s Mexican Republicans at the Battle of Jacinto on April 21, 1836, the Texas Rangers assigned to protect Fort Parker and the settlements in present day Limestone County, Texas were disbanded. The fort had been constructed the year before (i.e. 1835) by the Parker family who had emigrated from Illinois along with three other families related to them by blood or marriage. Though Houston himself worried about the location’s vulnerability to Indian attack, and warnings had been received that 500 warriors were amassing nearby to slaughter the Anglos in a series of successive attacks, the inhabitants of Fort Parker were faced with an immediate dilemma: planting having been delayed by the recent Mexican-Anglo conflicts, the window of opportunity to have enough food to sustain themselves over the winter was quickly closing. Get out there and plant or starve.

Less than twenty-four hours after the Rangers disbanded, with most of the men sowing corn in the fields, a coalition of Comanche, Kiowa, and Caddo attacked; the fort lacked sentries and its gates were left wide open to facilitate quick ingress between the fields and warehouses.

Among the families impacted by the events of that day was that of nine-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker. She witnessed the murder of her father, uncle, grandfather, and two friends. Along with her six-year-old brother, John, neighbors Elizabeth Kellogg, Rachel Plummer, and Rachel’s toddler son, James, Cynthia was abducted by Puhtocnocony (“He Who travels Alone and Returns”). With their bound captives tied to their horses, the warriors rode off until midnight when they stopped and subjected the women to repeated rapes, punches, kicks, and beatings until dawn.

Reaching the High Plains after five days of hard riding, the Indians stopped to divide up their human spoils. One group of Comanche took Cynthia and another John. Collectively, the group then rode north into Comancheria and split up. Within a few months, all the captives—save for Cynthia Ann—had been located: she had been given to Chatua and Tabbi-nocca, a Tenowish Comanche couple who raised her as if she was had been their own biological daughter. Approximately eleven years later, around 1845, Cynthia was married to Peta Nocona, a warrior who had taken part in that raid on Parker’s Fort. It is believed that they ultimately had three children together: two sons, Quanah and Pecos, and a daughter named Prairie Flower.

In 1846, Leonard Williams, a former army colonel turned Indian agent, encountered a group of Comanche encamped along the Canadian River; among them was a woman who, from her blonde hair and blue eyes, he instinctively knew was Cynthia Ann, all grown up (about 19-years-old). Her outward appearance fully testified to the emotional and physical hardships which she had endured. Though the Comanche refused to sell or trade Naudah (“Keeps Warm With Us”), as they now called Cynthia, they did allow Williams to speak with her: weeping, she refused to answer any of his questions, perhaps afraid of being punished—considering that he was told by an elder to hit the trail before one of the younger Comanche knocked him off, Williams thought it was a possibility. Later, when the next chance encounter occurred between her and whites, it was remarked that she had completely divested herself of her Western origin; again, she refused to leave the Comanche, who had now become her people. As for themselves, the Comanche hadn’t felt the slightest inclination to let her go.

In November, 1860 two hundred and fifty Comanche (including Naudah) were led on a raid by Puhtocnocony against isolated cabins, ranches, and farms in Parker, Young, Jack, and Palo Pinto counties; at least six people, five of which were women (one being pregnant) were killed. All were tortured to death and scalped, the women being raped beforehand. In pursuit was a coalition of 110 soldiers (20 Texas Rangers, 70 volunteer militiamen, and 20 men from the Second Cavalry) nominally led by twenty-two-year old Captain Lawrence Sullivan Ross of the Texas Rangers. Receiving intelligence that the Indian party had encamped near the confluence of the Pease River and Mule Creek stream, in Margaret, present day Hardeman County, the men rode through the freezing night in a torrential downpour. By sunrise, the Rangers and cavalrymen caught up with the Indians and obtained the high ground. Ross understood that if the Indians, who were in the process of packing for their imminent departure, moved on, his men and horses, fatigued and freezing, couldn’t possibly keep up.

As the Rangers rode towards the encampment on the plain, the Cavalrymen cut off the right to prevent a retreat. It is not known whether or not in the heat of the moment the men recognized that the group was then comprised mainly of squaws and old men (unbeknownst to the whites, the braves, shortly beforehand, had left the women and aged behind as they rode ahead towards the main winter encampment). When it was all over, hardly any of the Indians that were there escaped being shot to death. Nauda, caught trying to escape with her baby girl, Prairie Flower, was brought back to the scene of slaughter. Somewhat calmed by the Rangers’ assurance that if her two boys were not among the dead that they were still alive, Nauda went to each of the Indians that had been killed and prayed over them. She was subjected to the sight of the soldiers looting the teepees and enacting the same violence to the corpses of her dead as the Indians had to those of the whites; after which, the mounted troops rode their steeds over what was left of the corpses and set a blaze to immolate the remains.

During questioning, Nauda claimed to be ignorant of the English language and unable to recall anything about her past save for indistinct, hazy memories concerning the attack on Fort Parker and her capture. Almost positive that Nauda was indeed the famous Cynthia Ann Parker, Captain Ross dispatched a letter to her 63-year-old uncle, Isaac Parker, who set out on a solitary 135 mile buggy journey from outside of Fort Worth, Texas to rendezvous with the soldiers at Fort Cooper, arriving in mid-January, 1861. Though she acknowledged herself to have once been Cynthia Ann Parker, for all tense and purposes, she was Nauda, and wanted nothing more than to be reunited with her two sons and her people, the Comanche. Such was not to be. Cynthia was given no other option than to ride back with Isaac.

Forced to wear alien clothes, eat alien food, sleep in a bed, worship in a church, hear and attempt to speak an alien language, observe alien customs regarding behavior and deportment, Cynthia hated every minute that she and her daughter were not among the Comanche. Reasoning that younger family members would be better suited to handle Cynthia and her daughter’s “Westernization,” they were both sent to stay with Isaac’s son, William, and his wife, Mattie. Months later, Coho Smith, a Parker house guest who had learned Comanche while having been one of their captives, spoke it to Cynthia. Excited, desperate and frantic, she begged him over the course of several hours to restore her and Prairie Flower to her two sons and to her people. He tried to explain that two wars were then being fought simultaneously, one between the Union and the Confederate States of America and the other between the Comanche and Texans: should they try to go north towards the Comanche, someone from one of those four groups would surely kill them.

Ultimately, Isaac Parker regarded his having taken his niece away from the Comanche as a tragic mistake, one, along with Prairie Flower’s death from brain fever at the age of nine, contributed towards the grief which drove her to self-starvation and an early death.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Frankel, Glenn, The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2013.

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