Quanah Parker became a respected leader of the Comanche nation at the end of the Plains Indian Wars. He has spent much of his life caught between two worlds. He was the son of a white settler and a Comanche chief. And he had to lead his tribe in the difficult transition from their ancient traditions to life on the reserve.
Her mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, was captured by the Comanches at the age of nine during an 1836 raid on Fort Parker in central Texas, just east of present-day Waco. She became a full member of the tribe and fully assimilated into the culture. She married Peta Nocona, the leader of the Kwahadi band of the Comanches. The community of Nocona was then named in his honor. Quanah Parker was born probably in 1845 in the Wichita Mountains of southern Oklahoma, although other dates have been suggested and even places as far away as east Texas as his birthplace.
Parker grew up with Comanche traditions on the Llano Estacado, moving along sites across the Texas Panhandle and into New Mexico, Oklahoma and Kansas. In 1860, his mother and sister were captured in a clash with the Texas Rangers at the Battle of Pease River in Foard County and died within a few years. Although Comanche tradition encouraged tribe members to change their birth names once they reached adulthood, Parker kept her birth name as a reminder of his mother.
In 1868, the federal government attempted to make peace with the southern plains tribes and bring them to reservations. Many tribes signed on, but Parker refused. The army sent cavalry units after the Comanches, but the tribe always managed to stay one step ahead. Parker would even raid cavalry camps, steal army horses, and disappear. In 1872, the army abandoned its research. In 1874, the army resumed its search for the Comanches and waged intense fighting against them.
At the end of the Red River War in 1875, Parker was faced with terrible reality. The US military had killed 1,500 of their horses in the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon, and the bison on which the Comanches and other tribes relied had been hunted almost to extinction. With their drastically reduced maneuverability and military strength, and food becoming scarce, Parker had no choice but to deliver his band of Comanches to the military, becoming the last Southern Plains tribe to surrender. They were taken to the Kiowa-Apache-Comanche Combined Reservation in Southwest Indian Territory, or what is now Oklahoma.
Although he is the chief of his own band of Kwahadi Comanches, the federal government appointed him as the chief chief of all Comanches, although the tribe did not select him for the post. Nevertheless, he spoke out on several occasions to defend the needs of the Comanches, their rights and their traditions. He tried to make the Comanches autonomous on the reserves and encouraged the construction of schools on the reserves which highlighted their cultural heritage. There was enormous pressure to open up reserve land for white settlers and lease the land for grazing rights, but Parker resisted. In the 1880s, after years of discussion and negotiation, he made a contract with North Texas cattle barons Charles Goodnight and Samuel Burk Burnett to allow their cattle to graze on a million acres of their land from reserve for a fee. The contract remained in place until 1902, and grazing fees became a constant source of income for the tribes. Parker himself also made the transition to becoming a successful rancher himself, and through investments in the railroads he may have become the richest Native American in the country.
Parker gained a lot of respect among white settlers in his later years. In 1884, the town of Quanah, the seat of Hardeman County, was founded and bears the Parker name. He even appeared at a dedication ceremony, offering a blessing to bless the community, saying, “May the Great Spirit smile on your little town. He has met regularly with many powerful politicians, including President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1902 he was appointed Deputy Sheriff of Lawton.
At a time when federal and state officials were trying to end tribal religious practices in favor of Christianity, Parker has maintained his unwavering support for his ancient traditions. He became a co-founder and leader of what came to be known as the Native American Church, sometimes referred to as Peyoticism, which was a combination of different tribal traditions culminating in the belief that the world was controlled by the Creator, or “Great Spirit ”, and the emphasis on caring for others, forgiveness and unity. Peyote is commonly used as a medicine and for spiritual visions. In 1907, he defended the use of peyote in religious ceremonies at a meeting of the Oklahoma State Legislature committee, stating, “I don’t think this legislature should interfere with the religion of ‘a man. One of his sons, however, would become a renowned Methodist minister.
Parker continued to give interviews and travel to other reservations.
He died at his home in Cache in 1911. He was buried next to his mother. The reserve government was reorganized after his death, replacing the leader with the post of president, making Quanah Parker at the time the last leader of the Comanches.
Dr. Ken Bridges is a writer, historian and native of Texas. He can be contacted by email: [email protected]