On This Day in 1836: Cynthia Ann Parker is captured in a Comanche Raid

By Caroline Jones, Library Assistant

On May 19, 1836, a young Cynthia Ann Parker was taken captive during the Comanche raid of Fort Parker. She lived as a Comanche woman for 25 years, marrying a Comanche warrior and having three children, until she was recaptured by Texas Rangers on December 19, 1860 in the Pease River Battle (also referred to as the Pease River Massacre by some scholars). In researching Parker I not only found her life story compelling, but both the variety and the credibility of the sources of her story intriguing and at times conflicting.

Cynthia Ann Parker was born to Lucy and Silas Parker in Crawford County, Illinois. The Parker clan made the journey to Texas and constructed Fort Parker along the Navasota River around 1835. According to Grace Jackson’s biography Cynthia Ann Parker, three generations of Parker’s lived at Fort Parker, along with several other families who followed them to Texas from Illinois. Having left the fort during the Battle of San Jacinto, all returned on April 25, 1836 after the Texan victory. On May 18th, Texas Rangers protecting the fort were disbanded and sent home to their families. The next day, Fort Parker was raided by the Comanche, killing many and taking five captive, including Cynthia Ann and her younger brother John.

Renamed Naudah, Parker grew up as a Comanche. The Handbook of Texas Online notes that Parker resisted attempts made by white traders to ransom her back, but was eventually recaptured at Pease River on December 19, 1860.  Parker was forced to leave her husband and two sons behind, never knowing if they survived the attack. Her young daughter, Prairie Flower (or Topsannah) was captured with her.  Together, they made the journey to Fort Cooper where the surviving members of the Parker family identified and claimed them. Living again with her biological family was a struggle and she made many escape attempts. She moved from her uncle’s home in Birdville to her brother’s in Van Zandt County where she and Prairie Flower lived the rest of their lives. Prairie Flower died of pneumonia in 1864, but it is unclear exactly when Cynthia Ann died. Unfortunately Parker never knew that her surviving son, Quanah Parker, became known as the “last great Comanche Chief.”

Photo of Quanah Parker, the last great Comanche chief, and son of Cynthia Ann Parker.

I first became interested in this story when I found an image of the letter Quanah Parker wrote to Governor Campbell in the Texas Treasures online exhibit. I started looking through the TSLAC catalog for more information on Cynthia Ann in our collections. A surprising find was Comanche Moon: A Picture Narrative about Cynthia Ann Parker, Her Twenty-Five Year Captivity among the Comanche Indians, and Her Son, Quanah Parker, the Last Chief of the Comanches, a comic book version of the story constructed in the style of Texas History Movies. The Texas State Library and Archives Commission’s collections include several copies of this book, including a limited edition hardback gifted by the author to TSLAC. Another interesting book I found was Tracking the Texas Rangers: The Nineteenth Century. The authors question the motives of historical players in this story, such as Texas Governor and former Texas Ranger Sul Ross, and how through cultural bias, revisionist history, and political conquests, major elements of Parker’s story have been altered. Even the political and historical stature of her son Quanah brought the story of the white Comanche woman “into the realms of myth, legend, and folklore” (Tracking the Texas Rangers, 202).

Black and comic book image of The Capture of His Mother - Cynthia Ann"

Cynthia Ann Parker’s story is fascinating for its place in women’s history, Texas frontier stories, and the narratives of “Indian captives.” But its sources, their political leanings, and revisions are of equal interest to historians and curious readers alike.

Books mentioned in this post:

  • Tracking the Texas Rangers: The Nineteenth Century, ZN745.81 G463tr
  • Comanche moon: a picture narrative about Cynthia Ann Parker, her twenty-five year captivity among the Comanche Indians, and her son Quanah Parker, the last chief of the Comanches, 970.3 P223JA1 1979

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *