Published on November 10, 2010 by John
Quanah Parker (ca. 1852–February 23, 1911) was an important Comanche chief, a leader in the Native American Church, and the last leader of the powerful Quahadi band before they surrendered their battle of the Great Plains and went to a reservation in Indian Territory. He was the son of Comanche chief Peta Nocona and Cynthia Ann Parker, a European American, who had been captured at the age of nine and adopted into the tribe. Quanah Parker also led his people on the reservation, where he became a wealthy rancher and influential in Comanche and European American society. With five wives and 25 children, Quanah had numerous descendants. Many people in Texas and Oklahoma claim him as an ancestor.
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Quanah Parker’s mother, Cynthia Ann Parker (born ca. 1827), was a member of the large Parker frontier family that settled in east Texas in the 1830s. She was captured in 1836 (at age nine) by Comanches during the raid of Fort Parker near present-day Groesbeck, Texas. Given the Indian name Nadua (Someone Found), she was adopted into the Nocona band of Comanches.
Assimilated into the Comanche, Cynthia Ann later married the warrior Nocona, (also known as Noconie, Tah-con-ne-ah-pe-ah, or Peta Nocona). His father was the renowned chief Iron Jacket, famous among the Comanche for wearing a Spanish coat of mail. He was said to have the power to blow bullets away with his breath.
Nadua and Nocona’s first child was Quanah (Fragrance) born in the Wichita Mountains. The exact birthplace is debated, but Quanah visited what he understood to be his birthplace at Laguna Sabinas (Cedar Lake) in Gaines County, Texas in his later years. They also had another son, Pecos (Pecan), and a daughter, Topsana (Prairie Flower). In December 1860, Nadua (Cynthia Ann) and Topsana were captured in the battle of Pease River by Texas Rangers under Lawrence Sullivan Ross. Peta Nocona, Quanah, and most of the adult men were out hunting when Ross’s men attacked. Returning to the aftermath of the raid, they found it difficult to get information; only a few people had survived.
Meanwhile, Nadua (Cynthia Ann) and her mixed-race daughter were reunited with her white family, but after having made her life 24 years with the Comanche, she wanted to return to them and her husband. She was never permitted to do so. Her daughter Topsana died of an illness in 1863. Cynthia Ann lost her will to live and starved to death in 1870.
Soon after the Pease River battle, Nadua’s husband Peta Nocona was said to be a broken, bitter man. Later wounded during a raid with Apaches and already in ill health, he soon died. Before his death, he told Quanah of his mother’s origins and adoption into the tribe. With this revelation, other tribesmen taunted Quanah as a half-breed. The band split after Nocona’s death.
Quanah joined the Destanyuka band, where Chief Wild Horse took him under his wing. Though he grew to considerable standing as a warrior, he never felt comfortable with the Destanyuka. He left and formed the Quahadi (Antelope Eaters) band with warriors from another tribe. The Quahadi grew in number, becoming the largest of the Comanche bands, and also the most notorious. Quanah Parker became a leader of the Quahadi, and led them successfully for a number of years. In October 1867, Quanah was among the Comanche chiefs as an observer at treaty negotiations at Medicine Lodge. He made a statement about his refusal to sign the Medicine Lodge Treaty. His band remained free while other Comanches signed.
In the early 1870s, the Plains Indians were losing the battle for their land with the United States government. Following the capture of the Kiowa chiefs Satank, Adoeet (Big Tree), and Satanta, the Kiowa, Comanche, and Southern Cheyenne tribes joined forces in several battles. Colonel Ranald Mackenzie led US Army forces to round up or kill the remaining Indians who had not settled on reservations.
In June 1874, a Comanche prophet named Isa-tai summoned the tribes in the Texas Panhandle to the Second Battle of Adobe Walls, where several American buffalo hunters were active. With Kiowa Chief Big Bow, Quanah was in charge of one group of warriors. He was shot twice in the conflict. In the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon, on September 28, 1874, ManKenzie and his Tonkawa scouts razed a Comanche village and killed nearly 1,500 Comanche horses, a source of their wealth and power.
With their food source depleted, and under constant pressure from the army, the Quahadi Comanche finally surrendered in 1875. With Colonel Mackenzie and Indian Agent James M. Hayworth, Parker helped settle the Comanche on the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation in southwestern Indian Territory.
Parker’s home in Cache, Oklahoma was called the Star House. Parker’s was the last tribe of the Staked Plains or Llano Estacado to come to the reservation. Quanah was named chief over all the Comanches on the reservation, and proved to be a forceful, resourceful and able leader. Through wise investments, he became perhaps the wealthiest American Indian of his day in the United States. At this time, Quanah embraced much of white culture and adopted the surname Parker. He was well respected by the whites. He went on hunting trips with President Theodore Roosevelt, who often visited him. Nevertheless, he rejected both monogamy and traditional Protestant Christianity in favor of the Native American Church Movement, of which he was a founder.
The man known today as Quanah Parker came from a culture where surnames were unknown. A man’s identity was contained in a single word. Family oral traditions indicate that the name Quanah, as recorded in history, was an Anglo corruption of the Comanche word ‘Kwihnai, which translates as “eagle”.
The story of the unique friendship that grew between Quanah and the Burnett family is addressed in the exhibition (where?) of cultural artifacts that were given to the Burnett family from the Parker family. The presentation of a cultural relic as significant as Quanah’s war lance was not done lightly. It is a clear indication of the high esteem to which the Burnett family was regarded by the Parkers. The correspondence between Quanah and Samuel Burk Burnett and his son, Tom Burnett, expressed mutual admiration and respect.
The historical record mentions little of Quanah until his presence in the attack on the buffalo hunters at Adobe Walls on June 27, 1874. Fragmented information exists indicating Quanah had interactions with the Apache at about this time.
This association may have related to his taking up the Native American Church, or peyote religion. Quanah was said to have taken an Apache wife, but their union was short-lived. The Apache dress, bag and staff in the exhibit may be a remnant of this time in Quanah’s early adult life.
With the buffalo nearly exterminated and having suffered heavy loss of horses and lodges at the hands of the US military, Quanah was one of the leaders to bring the Quahada (Antelope) band of Comanches into Fort Sill during late May and early June 1875. This brought an end to their nomadic life on the southern plains and the beginning of an adjustment to more sedentary life.
Burk Burnett began moving cattle from South Texas in 1874 to near present-day Wichita Falls, Texas. There he established his ranch headquarters in 1881. Changing weather patterns and severe drought caused grasslands to wither and die in Texas. Burnett and other ranchers met with Comanche and Kiowa tribes to lease land on their reservation—nearly one million acres just north of the Red River in Oklahoma.
Originally, Quanah, like many of his contemporaries, was opposed to the opening of tribal lands for grazing by Anglo ranching interests. But, Quanah changed his position and forged close relationships with a number of Texas cattlemen, such as Charles Goodnight and the Burnett family. As early as 1880, Quanah was working with these new associates in building his own herds. In 1884, due largely to Quanah’s efforts, the tribes received their first “grass” payments for grazing rights on Comanche, Kiowa and Apache lands. It is during this period that the bonds between Quanah and the Burnett family grew strong.
Burnett ran 10,000 cattle until the end of the lease. The cattle baron had a strong feeling for Indian rights, and his respect for them was genuine. Where other cattle kings fought Indians and the harsh land to build empires, Burnett learned Comanche ways, passing both the love of the land and his friendship with the Indians to his family. As a sign of their regard for Burnett, the Comanches gave him a name in their own language: Mas-sa-suta, meaning “Big Boss.”
Parker earned the respect of US governmental leaders as he adapted to the white man’s life and became a prosperous rancher in Oklahoma. His spacious, two-story Star House had a bedroom for each of his seven wives and their children. He had his own private quarters, which were rather plain. Beside his bed were photographs of his mother Nadua (Cynthia Ann) and younger sister Prairie Flower. Parker extended hospitality to many influential people, both Native American and European American. Among the latter was the well-known cattleman Charles Goodnight.
Of all his white acquaintances, Parker counted Burk Burnett the best. He reportedly said: “I got one good friend, Burk Burnett, he big-hearted, rich cowman. Help my people good deal. You see big man hold tight to money, afraid to die. Burnett helped anybody.”
During the next 27 years Parker and the Burnetts shared many experiences. Burnett helped with the construction of Star House, Quanah’s large frame home, which bore the inverted white stars signifying his rank. Burnett asked for (and received) Quanah’s participation in a parade with a large group of warriors at the Fort Worth Fat Stock Show and other public events. The “Parade” lance depicted in the exhibit was usually carried by Quanah at such public gatherings. Burnett assisted Quanah in buying the granite headstones used to mark the graves of his mother and sister. After years of searching, Parker had their remains moved from Texas and reinterred in 1910 in Oklahoma on the Comanche reservation at Fort Sill.
According to his daughter Wanada Page Parker, her father helped celebrate President Theodore Roosevelt’s inauguration by appearing in the parade. Roosevelt visited Parker at Star House and they went wolf hunting together with Burnett.
Quanah’s first wife was Weakeah, daughter of Comanche chief Yellow Bear. Although first espoused to another warrior, she and Quanah eloped, and took several other warriors with them. It was from this small group that the large Quahadi band would form. Yellow Bear pursued the band and eventually Quanah made peace with him. The two bands united, forming the largest force of Comanche Indians.
Over the years, Quanah married four more wives. A c. 1890 photograph by William B. Ellis of Quanah and two of his wives identified them as Topay and Chonie. Quanah had twenty-five children with his wives. Many people in north Texas and south Oklahoma claim descent from Quanah. Reportedly more Comanches are related to Quanah than any other chief. One grandson became Comanche chairman, the modern “Chief” of the tribe.
After moving to the reservation, Quanah got in touch with his white relatives from his mother’s family. He stayed for a few weeks with them, where he studied English and western culture, and learned white farming techniques.
Quanah Parker is credited as one of the first big leaders of the Native American Church Movement. Parker adopted the peyote religion after being gored in southern Texas by a bull. Parker was visiting his mother’s brother, John Parker, in Texas where he was attacked, giving him severe wounds. To fight an onset of blood burning fever, a Mexican curandera was summoned and she prepared a strong peyote tea from fresh peyote to heal him. It was from this incident on that Quanah Parker became involved with peyote .Peyote is reported to contain hordenine and tyramine, phenylethylamine alkaloids which act as potent natural antibiotics when taken in a combined form.
Parker taught that the sacred peyote medicine was the sacrament given to the Indian Peoples, and was to be used with water when taking communion in a traditional Native American Church medicine ceremony. Parker was a proponent of the “half-moon” style of the peyote ceremony. The “cross” ceremony later evolved in Oklahoma due to Caddo influences introduced by John Wilson, a Caddo-Delaware religious leader who traveled extensively around the same time as Parker during the early days of the Native American Church movement.
Parker’s most famous teaching regarding the spirituality of the Native American Church:
“The White Man goes into his church and talks about Jesus. The Indian goes into his tipi and talks with Jesus.”
The modern reservation era in Native American history began with the adoption of the Native American Church and Christianity by nearly every Native American tribe and culture within North American and Canada as a result of Parker and Wilson’s efforts. The peyote religion and the Native American Church were never the traditional religious practice of North American Indian cultures. This religion developed in the nineteenth century, inspired by events of the time, Parker’s leadership, and influences from Native Americans of Mexico and other southern tribes. They had used peyote in spiritual practices since ancient times. Parker became wealthy as peyote became an important item of trade, combined with his ranching revenues.
Quanah died on February 23, 1911 at Star House. He was buried at the Fort Sill Cemetery, beside his mother and sister. The inscription on his tombstone reads:
Resting Here Until Day Breaks
And Shadows Fall and Darkness
Quanah Parker Last Chief of the Comanches
Died Feb. 23, 1911
The biographer Bill Neeley wrote: “Not only did Quanah pass within the span of a single lifetime from a Stone Age warrior to a statesman in the age of the Industrial Revolution, but he never lost a battle to the white man and he also accepted the challenge and responsibility of leading the whole Comanche tribe on the difficult road toward their new existence.”
Although praised by many in his tribe as a preserver of their culture, Quanah also had Comanche critics. Some claimed[who?] that he “sold out to the white man” by adapting and becoming a rancher. He dressed and lived in what some viewed as a more European-American than Comanche style. Quanah did adopt some European-American ways, but he always wore his hair long and in braids. He also refused to follow US marriage laws and had up to five wives at one time.
Quanah was never elected principal chief of the tribe by the people. Traditionally, the Comanche had no single chief. The various bands of the Comanche had their own chiefs. The US appointed Quanah principal chief of the entire nation once the people had gathered on the reservation and later introduced general elections.
The Quanah Parker Society, based in Cache, Oklahoma, holds an annual family reunion and powwow. Events usually include a pilgrimage to sacred sites in Quanah, Texas; tour of his “Star Home” in Cache; dinner; memorial service at Fort Sill Post Cemetery; gourd dance, pow-wow, and worship services. This event is open to the public.
1970, Star House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
An exhibit describes Parker and the Second Battle of Adobe Walls at the Hutchinson County Historical Museum in Borger, Texas.
Several places and buildings were named after him:
“May the Great Spirit smile on your little town, May the rain fall in season, and in the warmth of the sunshine after the rain, May the earth yield bountifully, May peace and contentment be with you and your children forever.”