Cynthia Ann Parker
Stories of Texas Women
On May 19, 1836, less than a month after the Battle of San Jacinto, a large group of Comanches and Kiowas approached Fort Parker, a small settlement in central Texas about an hour east of the present day city of Waco. Inside the fort were six men, eight women and nine children, all members of the prodigious Parker clan who had immigrated to Texas from Illinois in 1833. Another eleven male family members were less than a mile away working in the fields. The Indian band approached the settlement under a white flag and requested beef and directions to the nearest water source. Although mistrustful of the group, Benjamin Parker sought to appease them. Meanwhile, many of the women and children began to flee the fort through the back exit.
When Benjamin Parker returned to the Indian band he was attacked with warriors baring lances, clubs and arrows. Over the course of the next ninety minutes, the group proceeded to ransack the settlement killing five of the Parkers and severely abusing and wounding Granny Parker, the clan matriarch. Five others: Elizabeth Kellogg, Rachel Plummer, James Pratt Plummer, John Parker and Cynthia Ann Parker were taken as captives. Twenty-three other members of the extended family were able to escape the slaughter, eventually making their way by foot down the Navasota River to Fort Houston, some sixty-five miles to the east. Meanwhile, the Comanches and Kiowas fled to the northwest. The Indian raiders eventually split into three groups. One group took Elizabeth Kellogg, another Rachel Plummer and her eighteen month old son James. The final group had with them seven-year old John Parker and his nine-year old sister Cynthia Ann.
Cynthia Ann and John were the children of Silas and Lucy Duty Parker. Both were born in Illinois and migrated to Texas with their parents and the rest of the extended Parker clan in 1833. Unlike their aunts Elizabeth and Rachel, who were adults at the time of their capture and were abused during the raid and treated as slaves afterwards, Cynthia Ann, John and their cousin James were integrated into the bands they traveled with as adopted children. This practice of adopting captured children was quite common among the Plains Indians as low birth rates combined with the hard nomadic lifestyle resulted in dwindling numbers in several of the bands. Some of the captive children, like John and James Parker, lived with the Indians for several months or years before eventually being killed or ransomed back to white society. Others simply disappeared into their adopted families.
For a time Cynthia Ann Parker simply disappeared. Her uncle James Parker, Rachel Plummer’s father, spent years looking for the five Parker captives. All but Cynthia Ann were found and ransomed, beginning with Elizabeth Kellogg only three months after the raid and ending with John and James six years later in 1842. Cynthia Ann, however, had seemingly vanished until 1846 when she was spotted by Leonard H. Williams, an Indian agent who was acquainted with the Parkers and had met Cynthia Ann prior to her capture. Williams tried to ransom Cynthia Ann, but the now nineteen year-old was married to an Indian warrior with whom she had children, and she had little interest in leaving her family for a life she could barely remember. Throughout 1847, Indian agent Robert Neighbors campaigned for Cynthia Ann’s return without success and she was not seen again by a white man until the 1850s when Captain Randolph Marcy, United States Army officer and author of the Prairie Traveler, reported seeing her.
Not much is known specifically about Cynthia Ann’s time with the Comanches, but her life was probably that of a typical Comanche woman. Comanche women were responsible for the bulk of the work in their nomadic camps. Their responsibilities included everything except hunting and killing, although they did regularly join Comanche men on raids to provide logistical support. The bulk of their labors centered around processing buffalo kills and setting up and breaking down the nomadic camp. Comanche bands would typically migrate approximately every two weeks and the women were responsible for all aspects of the move. While male children spent their childhood learning to ride horses, shoot arrows, and other warrior crafts, female children were expected to help with domestic chores. In this way Cynthia Ann, or Nautdeh as she was christened by her new people, would have begun to learn the Comanche language and been integrated into the tribe following her capture.
Cynthia Ann eventually married Peta Nocona, a chieftan who had actually taken part in the raid on Fort Parker. The couple had three children: Quanah, Peanuts and Prairie Flower. The family lived with many Comanche bands over the years moving throughout present day Texas and Oklahoma. In December 1860 the family was camped along the Pease River with a small band of Comanches when they were attacked by a group of Texas Rangers under the command of Sul Ross and members of the U.S. Second Cavalry. Peta Nocona was killed in the assault and Cynthia Ann and her daughter Prairie Flower were captured. Cynthia Ann had spent twenty-four years living as a Comanche before being unwillingly reunited with her Anglo family. Cynthia Ann never fully reintegrated into white society. She passed away in 1870 spending the last decade of her life living with a series of Parker relatives morning the loss of her husband and her sons, who she believed had also been killed in the raid, and the loss of her Comanche life.
Cynthia Ann Parker was but one of many children and women taken captive by Comanches on the Texas frontier, yet she is the only one of the captured whose story is taught to school children today. There are several possible explanations for this. Perhaps it is because the massacre at Fort Parker and capture of Cynthia Ann and the others gained such notoriety in 1836. Such attacks were still novel at that time and the Texas press paid considerable attention to the story. Maybe it is because the Parker family was a powerful and politically connected family, her uncle Isaac was a prominent politician and uncles James and Daniel were representatives at the Consultation of 1835. Sam Houston himself even put up the money to ransom back Elizabeth Kellogg.
Certainly Cynthia Ann giving birth to Quanah Parker is a factor in why her story is still told today. Cynthia Ann and Peta Nocona’s second child did not die in the battle at Pease River as Cynthia Ann had believed. Instead, the orphaned Quanah joined the Quahada Comanches and went on to be a great chief in his own right. Whatever the reason, people today continue to tell the story of Cynthia Ann Parker and remember her unique role in bridging the Comanche and Anglo cultures and shaping Texas history.
 There is considerable debate over Cynthia Ann’s age at the time of her capture. Some sources place her age at nine years old at the time of the family’s move to Texas, in which case she would have been thirteen or fourteen at the time of the raid.
 For other accounts of Indian captives during this time see Scott Zesch’s Captured: The True Story of Abduction by Indians on the Texas Frontier. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004).
 The Alan Le May novel The Searchers, and the John Ford film adaptation starring John Wayne, are loosely based on his search.
 Like many parts of Cynthia Ann’s story, whether or not Peta Nocona was in fact killed during the battle remains controversial. Many sources identify him as the Comanche chief killed during the battle, but other sources say he was not even in the camp at the time of the fight.
James T. DeShields. Cynthia Ann Parker: The Story of Her Capture. St. Louis, privately printed, 1886.
S.C. Gwynne. Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History. New York: Scribner, 2010.
Margaret Schmidt Hacker, “PARKER, CYNTHIA ANN,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fpa18), accessed November 29, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on November 3, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Brian C. Hosmer, “PARKER, QUANAH,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fpa28), accessed December 01, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Rachel Lofton, Susie Hendrix and Jane Kennedy, eds. The Rachel Plummer Narrative: A Stirring Narrative of Adventure, Hardship and Privation in the Early Days of Texas, Depicting Struggles with the Indians and Other Adventures. Palestine, Tex. : s.n., 1
This article originally appeared in the December 2014 edition of The Alamo Messenger, the Alamo’s monthly history newsletter. Subscribe Here