On the Brighter Side
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Meet Quanah Parker
A book I had on the “I’ll read this one someday” collection was pulled at last. The title is “Empire of the Summer Moon”. It tells the story of the Comanches who were the most powerful Indian tribe in American history. They rode their horses in buffalo hunts, raids on the Apache and other neighboring tribes stealing horses and killing and taking captives. When white settlers began moving into the territory they claimed as their hunting grounds a war began that lasted 40 years before they were subdued. They were notorious for torturing their captives and killing ruthlessly. One of the surprise raids focused against the Parker family settlers where several were killed and a little girl was kidnapped. She was Cynthia Ann Parker. She became a member of the tribe and life as one of them. Eventually a warrior claimed her as his wife and she became the mother of three children. The oldest one was named Quanah.
Cynthia Ann was eventually recaptured by members of the Parker family and taken away to live among her relatives. She was very unhappy and ran away many times in attempts to return to her sons and the tribe. Quanah was about 12 years old at the time and tried to find her but she was dead before he located her years later. In time he had her body moved and reburied next to him.
At the age of 15 Quanah became a warrior and joined in the raids and hunts, earning great respect for his strength, height, bravery and superior intelligence. He was a skillful rider and expert marksman with his bow and arrow.
War with the Americans and Mexicans continued until eventually the death of warriors weakened the tribes and the buffalo hiders destroyed the herds so starvation threatened. Quanah went on a vision quest and believed his dreams told him it was time to surrender and go to live on the reservation. The tribes were promised food and peace, but the food was not always delivered and when received it often made them sick. They wanted meat, not grain, so some left the reservation to hunt to no avail as the buffalo were gone.
Quanah had mastered broken English and became the spokesman for the Comanches. He added the name Parker as his surname and acquired suits which he wore when negotiating with the government. He also wore his Indian clothes when among his people. He made many trips to Washington DC and usually got what he wanted. The terms for reservation life required that he chose only one of his seven or eight pretty wives. He refused as all of them depended on him and were mothers of his 23 or more children. He kept them. His long hair was to be cut short, but he refused and kept it in two long braids even when wearing a suit and hat. Some of the best grassland was reserved for white settlement, but he negotiated and won. No treaty. He wanted a legal deed and he got it recorded. He brought in some of the remaining buffalo and later asked for cattle which were provided. He sold some but also used them for food for his people.
He needed a big home for his big family and help was given. A ten room house was built with porches on all sides. Big white stars were painted on the roof. It became known as Star House. It still stands near Ft. Still in Cache, Oklahoma.
The house featured a large dining room with a long table where he entertained many famous people of that time including Theodore Roosevelt who became a good friend.
He acquired a photograph of his mother holding his baby sister, Prairie Flower, which he had framed and mounted on his bedroom wall.
The house had a fence around it, but often tepees occupied the area beyond it as hungry Comanches came for food. Cattle were killed and everyone was fed. At one time Quanah was wealthy, but he gave most of it away so little was left when he died. Many books have been written about him, some for children and some for adults.
Quanah was born around 1848 and died in 1911 at the Star House. In his remarkable life he was transformed from a warrior to become a respected representative of the defeated Comanche. On his gravestone is written:
“Resting here until day breaks and shadows fall
And darkness disappears
Is Quanah Parker, the last chief of the Comanches.”
Contributed by Marylin Goodwin