Monday, September 13, 2010

Quanah Rides Again -- My town Monday

 In what has become a reoccurring theme I screwed up again and did not gather the necessary pictures for my planned My Town Monday post. So I am reposting an old one. This one originally ran on June of '08 and is one of the most popular older posts on my blog. I get a few visits a week from someone googling Quanah Parker and landing on my blog.


Quanah Parker - A My Town Monday Post

A few weeks back I did a My Town Monday post about legendary cattleman and Panhandle founding father Charles Goodnight. Goodnight established a ranch in Palo Duro Canyon and is regarded as a pioneer for doing so, yet the second largest canyon in the United States was home to native Americans for centuries before the first white men ever set foot in the area. (Palo Duro Canyon lies south east of Amarillo. There is a state park which I've linked to above, but a good portion of the land is private property and I actually live in a small finger at he head of the canyon.) Not anymore. I now live inside Amarillo's city limits.
This week, I'm going to discuss the last of the native people to call the canyon home and specifically their leader Comanche Chief, Quanah Parker.

Quanah Parker was the last Chief of the Comanches, He never lost a battle to the white men. he was never captured by soldiers, and his followers were the last tribe of the Staked Plains to succumb to the inevitable and surrender to life on the reservation.

The name Quanah translates to fragrant. Quanah was born about 1850. He was the son of Comanche Chief Pete Nocona and Cynthia Ann Parker, a white girl that had been captured in 1836 at Parker's Fort, Texas. Cynthia Ann spent 24 years living with the Comanche but was recaptured in 1860 by a group of soldiers who were notified of her whereabouts by Charles Goodnight. Sadly, Cynthia Ann did not re-adapt to "civilized living" well and died a few years later after starving herself to death.

Quanah's father died shortly thereafter due to an infected wound leaving him an orphan. One of his father's other wives took him in, but she soon died as well. Quanah became an outcast because of his mixed blood, a fact he only discovered after his mother's recapture. After his step-mother's death Quanah fended for himself. He worked hard to be a proper warrior, and he excelled at hunting, but still could not break the barrier of his mixed blood.

The Comanche Chieftianship was not an inherited right. It was earned through one's war record and his concern for his followers. Quanah excelled as a warrior but after such a tumultuous upbringing he was not always generous with his fellow warriors. As a crossbred warrior, Quanah had many dissenters and did not feel quite at home in any band of the Comanches until he formed his own band called the Quahadi, which means Antelope Eaters.

Quanah fell in love with girl named Weakeah but her father, Ekitaocup, refused to accept the relationship so the the young couple eloped and spent several years out on the plains with his growing tribe. He was gaining a reputation as a fierce warrior and capable leader. Eventually Weakeah's father accepted the marriage and they were able to return to the Comanche Nation.

Quanah's Quahadi's joined raiding parties in both his father's old band and in his father-in-law's. During one raid the leader, Bear's Ear, was killed by pursuers as they neared the Red River. The warriors had planned to cross the Red River farther west, but with Bear Ear's death the group became confused. Quanah rallied the bands and headed north where they crossed the river safely. His actions saved the remainder of the party and their stolen horses. This led to his being accepted as a true leader and gained him the right to speak openly in tribal council. Something only a few ever obtained.

As leader of his band Quanah, refused to sign the treat at Medicine Lodge in 1867. Most of the Plains Indians accepted the treaty at that time and attempted to settle into a life of farming on the reservation but Quanah's warriors chose to remain on the warpath as he believed the latest treaty to be just another deception in a string of lies from the white men.

He was nearly killed in the battle at Adobe Walls in 1874, (a post I plan for another day) but for a number of years The Quahadi outsmarted and outmaneuvered the US Army led by Colonol Ronald S MacKenzie, but by late spring of 1875 the band was tired and starving after the Army had decimated their winter camp and killed their horses at the bottom of Palo Duro Canyon.

Colonel MacKenzie dispatched a man named Jacob Sturm who was a doctor and an interpretor to seek Quanah's surrender. After hearing the man's plea, Quanah rode to a mesa, where he spotted a wolf. The animal howled and trotted away to the northeast. As the wolf left an eagle flew overhead flapping its wings in the direction of Fort Sill. Quanah took these as signs and on June 2, 1875, he and his band surrendered at Fort Sill in present-day Oklahoma.

But that is not the end of Quanah's story.

The Comanche Chief accepted his fate as a "civilized indian" but he held onto his role as leader just as fiercely as he once fought the settlers who invaded his land. Some members of the reservation called him a sellout for abandoning traditional attire and donning the white man's suit, but Quanah kept his braids, smoked peyote, and refused to give up any of his five wives.

In a mix of old tradition and new ways he invested in a railroad, negotiated grazing rights of the new Comanche land with cattlemen including Charles Goodnight whom he now counted as a friend. Quanah also became a reservation judge and lobbied congress on behalf of the Comanche Nation. He was counted as a friend by President Theodore Roosevelt and at one time was considered the richest Native American in the country. His fortunes were depleted however as he took care of many of those who lived on the reservation. It probably didn't help that he fathered 25 kids either.

Quanah also founded the Native American Church which believes in the spiritual use of peyote. He believed that smoking the cactus buttons allowed him to communicate with Jesus. Here is a famous quote from Quanah ...

"The White Man goes into his church and talks about Jesus. The Indian goes into his Tipi and talks with Jesus."

Quanah Parker died February 23, 1911.

Biographer Bill Neely wrote this about him ...

"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 accepted the challenge and responsibility of leading the whole Comanche tribe on the difficult road toward their new existence."
Here is the inscription on his tombstone ...
Resting Here Until Day Breaks
And Shadows Fall and Darkness
Disappears is
Quanah Parker Last Chief of the Comanches
Born 1852
Died Feb. 23, 1911.
The Texas town of Quanah, near the medicine mound where the Comanche Chief made the decision to surrender, is named in his honor.
Check here for more MTM links to learn about other places all over the globe. 

Terrie Farley Moran of Women of Mystery explains a great organization (supported by a special anthology) that works in towns across the nation to build homes for disabled vets.*


Charles Gramlich said...

He cut a pretty fine figure, I must say.

Bill Crider said...

Being from Mexia, I've heard about Quanah all my life. The Parker family still has reunions in Mexia, I believe.

Terrie Farley Moran said...


I remember this post from two years ago, but I have to say, it is just as impressive the second time around.


Barrie said...

I can see why this is such a popular post! This guy was definitely ahead of his time. Also, my post is up. Finally. :)

Ricky Bush said...

Quanah Parker takes me back to 7th grade Texas History. Always loved that tale, thanks for reviving it.

Erica M. Chapman said...

Great story! Interesting stuff I didn't know ;o) Thanks for sharing.

Old Kitty said...

Oh wow!! What a story!! What a character! How amazing is this! I really enjoyed reading this, thank you. I love the larger than life characters that make or break a nation and you can't get more "how modern america came about" than Quanah Parker's biography. Amazing.

Take care