Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Quanah Parker, Comanche Chief

Quanah Parker, remembered on 100th anniversary of his death

A few years ago returning home from a visit to Norman, Oklahoma, I drove out of the way to Fort Sill. I did so to give my respects to the monument and tomb of the last of the Comanche chiefs, Quanah Parker.

Quanah Parker died 100 years ago Feb. 23. Beside being a well-respected chief of his clan, much of his fame comes from his famous mother Cynthia Ann Parker. She was a young girl when abducted by a Comanche and Kiowa raiding party, May 19, 1836.

The Comanches were a powerful group of tribes from the forests of deep east Texas almost to the Rockies and south to the Rio Grande. They were a wandering, warring band with large herds of ponies and any Indian or white they could capture.

Later Cynthia Ann became the wife of Pete Nocona, a prominent chief and bore him three children. In 1861 some Texas Rangers attacked Nocona’s camp Cynthia Ann was not able to escape. She had one of her children (Prairie Flower) with her and naturally was grief-stricken at being dragged from her home and loved ones. Something the whites never understood.

Prairie Flower died within three years and heart-broken and confused Cynthia Ann died in 1870.

It is thought that Quanah was born about 1852, but little is known of his early years. Many are the books and articles, some better than others, of Quanah, the two abductions of Cynthia Ann.

Quanah Parker, being a powerful and well-known Comanche, found life on the Oklahoma Territory Indian Reservations difficult, but adjusted. In one of several disputes with Washington’s Indian Commissioner Jones, Apache Jones (no relation) spoke up for Quanah: “He [Quanah] is just like light, you strike a match in a dark room and there is light; that is the way with Quanah, wherever he is is light … some of the Indians are jealous.” (Hagan, page 87)

A 1897 photograph of Quanah and three wives, Mah-cheet-to-wooky, Clo-my, and A-er-wuth-takum, at the Smithsonian Institute. Have no idea what the names would be if translated into English. When he got wife number seven, one left him, saying seven was too many.

Quanah enjoyed a celebrity which was rare on Indian Reservations, especially in Oklahoma Territory. The Apache Geronimo had a great deal of notoriety. When Geronimo was transferred to Oklahoma from Alabama he was respected, but never to the degree as Quanah. The Comanches did not mind the Apaches coming, but did not want white neighbors.

Quanah did not like to talk about his years on the warpath or what life was like during those days. He did, however, enjoy telling in detail about his encounters with Washington officials and controversies on the reservation, such as when white people were moving into the reservation. It was not legal, but congress after congress failed to take any action.

Indian Agent Frank Baldwin understood the problem. His support is seen in this quote: “It is their desire that this reservation be kept exclusively for Indians … they have learned to dread the white man, his avarice and cupidity.”

Quanah did not get respect from President McKinley when he protested the lack of land for his people. McKinley’s men quickly escorted Quanah and the Indian representatives out of the room.

But things were better when President Teddy Roosevelt went hunting in Oklahoma, he sought out Quanah and thought well of him. Quanah told him of the need for jobs for the Indians. 480,000 acres were added to the Indians but was difficult to actually own or use as the white pioneers kept pouring into the territory.

In 1910, Quanah finally got to move his mother’s bones from Texas to Post Oak Mission, Oklahoma. At the memorial service Quanah said of his mother: “she loved Indians so well not wan to go back to folks.” The old chief died the next year.

(For the whole story read: “Quanah Parker, Comanche Chief” by William T. Hagan, University of Oklahoma Press.)

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