Snippet of History's Women: Early America: Cynthia Parker - Frontier Survivor

History's Women: Early America: Cynthia Parker - Frontier SurvivorCynthia Ann Parker
Comanche Captive
1834–1871 A.D.

When Comanche Chief Quanah Parker and the members of his tribe in the 1870s entered a new life on a reservation they ceased their struggles to survive hunting the gradually disappearing buffalo on their lands in west Texas.  And though the transition to their new life was not easy, Quanah and his people adapted and survived, and even prospered in many ways. Also, their chief became not only personally successful in his new life he also associated with prominent Anglos in business and government. Yet, despite all this, he remained very much a Comanche.

However, this quality of pragmatic adaptation had first been demonstrated by his mother Cynthia Ann, who demonstrated similar traits after she was abducted as a nine-year-old child and then lived her life as a Comanche.

Cynthia Ann Parker and her family first settled in Texas in 1833, arriving from Illinois to build what became known as Fort Parker in 1836 in Limestone County, east of Waco.  Father John Parker, and his sons Benjamin, Silas and James did not seem to have any problems with the local Indians so they often the fort gates open.

Then on May 19, 1836 a group of Comanche and some allies arrived at the fort asking for food and water. The men present were wary of the newcomers, so as they talked to them, they urged the women and children flee out the rear. However, as suddenly the Indians spilled into the fort, they cut down Benjamin and Silas. John Parker and his wife then overtook the other fleeing family members, including Silas’ wife Lucy and their four children.  As they threatened the terrified Lucy, she followed their instructions and lifted nine-year-old Cynthia Ann and six-year-old John up to her attackers. The Comanche rode off bearing the children and other captives on their ponies.

So why the Comanche attack?  One possible reason was to abduct those they could later ransom or adopt. Many tribe members had died recently from epidemics, so they often captured women to marry and add to their labor force while the captured children were often adopted by the tribe members. This is what happened to Cynthia Ann as she joined the family of a Comanche couple who came to raise her as their own daughter.

Yet though other Anglo captives were usually ransomed or rescued, with Cynthia Ann it was not the case. Over time her links with her past faded and weakened and the Comanche culture became her own.  A few years later Cynthia Ann married a Comanche warrior named Peta Noconoa, and they had two sons Quanah, Pecos and a girl Topsannah – also called Prairie Flower.

Meanwhile, though her family and others repeatedly attempted to get her to return, she refused since she simply did not want to leave her Comanche family.

Then everything changed when in December, 1860 a military force raided an Indian hunting party, killing the men and also some women.  Charlie Goodnight, later a prominent cattleman and close friend of Quanah Parker’s, was a scout in the attack and related how disturbed he was at the slaughter.

“After the fight we all returned to the cottonwood grove along the river to camp, taking with us [a]squaw and her infant-in-arms; we rode right over her dead companions,” he recalled many years later. “I thought then and still think how exceedingly cruel this was.”

Goodnight was so affected by this woman’s grief that he approached her. “Through sympathy for her, thinking her distress would be the same as that of our women under similar circumstances, I thought I would try to console her and make her understand that she would not be hurt.”  However, as he got closer he was surprised to discover that she had blue eyes and light hair.

Was this the long lost Cynthia Ann Parker?  It seemed likely, but to be sure her uncle Col. Isaac Parker was called in from his home in Fort Worth to make the identification. However, there was the language barrier and as they asked their questions in English the woman seemed oblivious and unresponsive.  Finally Parker remarked, “If this is my niece, her name is Cynthia Ann.”

At that the woman stood and tapped her chest. “Me, Cynthia Ann!” She announced.

She and her small daughter went to live at Col. Parker’s home near Fort Worth and on their way there her uncle had a picture taken of her.  In this familiar image, Cynthia Ann, her child at her breast, stares into the camera. With her hair cut short (a Comanche indication of grief since she had seen her husband killed and her sons disappear) she appears gaunt and as one source put it – “used up.”  She was only about thirty-four.

Cynthia Ann found adjustment difficult as she lived with various relatives, then in 1862 she went to live with her brother’s family in the Henderson and Anderson County areas where her daughter attended school. However, in in 1864 the child succumbed to what was probably the flu and Cynthia Ann responded with traditional Comanche grief – slashing her arms and breasts.

Cynthia herself lived a few more years, probably dying in early 1871. She was buried in in the Foster cemetery near Poynor; yet in 1910 her son Quanah, then an influential Comanche leader, had her remains removed to Oklahoma to be re-interred. He died the next year and eventually all their remains were relocated to the Fort Sill Post Cemetery at Lawton. An honor for a woman whose love for her adopted people perhaps inspired her son to lead them wisely and well.


The Disappeared, Part 1 by Mel W. Rhodes, Parker County Today July 2015

Anne Adams is a retired church staffer. She lives in East Texas and has an historical column for a local newspaper. She has published in Christian and secular publications for more than 40 years.