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Tintype photograph of Cynthia Ann Parker taken in Austin in February 1861, shortly after she was returned to her biological family.[19] Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The Aftermath of the Attack on Fort Parker in the Records of the GLO Archives

In 1833, a group including the extended family and associates of John Parker, a Baptist minister and veteran of the American Revolution, began to relocate from Illinois to Texas.[1] Of the thirty-eight people who accompanied Parker, a portion settled near present-day Groesbeck, east of Waco.[2] On May 19, 1836, tragedy struck the Parker family in the form of a Native American raid that killed five, including John and two of his sons, Silas and Benjamin. The attack also resulted in the abduction of five more settlers, including Silas’ son John and daughter Cynthia Ann. Documents in the GLO Archives help tell the story of the Parker family in Texas and their impact on the histories of Texas, Oklahoma, and the Comanche Nation.

[left] Application for Admission to Austin’s Colony for Silas M. Parker, 22 May 1834, Box 27, Folder 39; [right] Title for Silas M. Parker, 1 April 1835, Box 35, Folder 36, Records of the Spanish Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

After his arrival in Texas, Silas M. Parker applied for admission to Stephen F. Austin’s Colony on May 22, 1834, indicating that he was a married man 32 years of age, accompanied by his wife Lucinda, age 23, and four children.[3] He received title to one league of land (4,428.4 acres) in Austin’s “Upper Colony” on the waters of the Sterling Fork of the Navasota River in present-day Limestone County on April 1, 1835.[4]

Silas Parker’s land grant in Limestone County. Many of the surrounding grants were families who came to Texas with the Parkers and made use of Fort Parker. The dashed lines indicate that titles were issued in conflict with a senior survey. [detail] Eltea Armstrong, Limestone County, Austin: Texas General Land Office, 1971, Map #73221, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Aware of the potential for danger on the frontier, including violence between settlers and Native Americans, Silas and his brother James began building Fort Parker in the summer of 1834, prior to receiving title to the land. The fort, which covered nearly an acre of land, consisted of “a stockade of split cedar timbers planted deep in the ground, extending fifteen feet above the surface.” The stockade featured “port holes, through which, in case of emergency, fire arms could be used” as well as “two log cabins at diagonal corners” with their own firing ports. Inside the fort were “six tiny cabins” and a “huge double gate” facing south.[5] Isolated from other Anglo settlements, Fort Parker became a rallying point for eight or nine families in the area, who worked as farmers and hunters.

A replica of Fort Parker was constructed for the Texas Centennial in 1936. This image is from a postcard ca. 1950. Credit: Bullock Texas State History Museum via Limestone County Historical Museum.

Nearly a month after the Battle of San Jacinto, on the morning of May 19, 1836, when most of the men from the fort left to work their fields, a large contingent of Native Americans including Comanches, Kiowas, Caddos, and Wichitas, numbering in the hundreds, arrived at Fort Parker. Accounts differ as to the reason for the show of force. The fort had existed free of attacks thus far;[6] however, John Parker was accused (though not convicted) of “having stolen horses in company with Indians, only to cheat them out of the proceeds,” and some believe this was the cause for the conflict.[7]

Fort Parker was located near the northeastern edge of Austin’s “Upper Colony” close to present-day Groesbeck in Limestone County. [detail] Joan Barnett Kilpatrick, Austin’s Colony 1821–1836…, Austin: Texas General Land Office, 1993, Map #1675, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Benjamin Parker, Silas’ brother, went out to parley with the Native Americans under a truce flag, and upon his return to the fort, reported that he believed they wanted to fight. Against Silas’ wishes, Benjamin returned for further negotiation in hopes to pacify the situation, but he was attacked and killed.

The Native Americans then attacked the fort, which had become “somewhat careless and restive” in the absence of any attacks.[8] “Numbering but three men, wholly unprepared for defense,”[9] it was quickly overrun. The final death toll included Silas Parker, his brother Benjamin, his father John, Samuel M. Frost, and Frost’s son Robert. Silas’ nine-year-old daughter Cynthia Ann and five- or six-year-old son John were captured, along with Mrs. Elizabeth Kellogg, Mrs. Rachel Plummer, and her infant son James Pratt Plummer.

[detail] Kenneth Helgren (artist), Great Military Map of Texas…, Austin: Texas General Land Office, 2006, Map #83432, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

The captives were divided among different tribes and were held for various amounts of time. Kellogg was ransomed first and returned to her family after about six months, while Rachel Plummer suffered for a year and a half before being rescued and eventually returned to her father in 1838. Her son James was ransomed in 1842, and he returned home in 1843.

The Parker children, however, experienced a different fate. They were abducted by the Quahada Comanche, whose territory included the Staked Plains, an area “so far removed from the settlements that the two children could not be recovered.”[10] Both children were assimilated into the tribe and raised as Comanches.[11] John became a warrior and married a Mexican woman. The Comanches left him for dead when he contracted smallpox and attempted to take his wife with them. She escaped, however, and returned to nurse John back to health, after which he went to “live with his wife’s people.” He fought in a Mexican company for the Confederacy in the Civil War before returning to Mexico. Cynthia Ann’s time with the Comanche was considerably longer, lasting 24 years and seven months before she was caught by a group of Texas Rangers and returned to her biological family.[12]

Cynthia Ann Parker and her daughter Topsannah, ca. 1861. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

As she grew up and adapted to life with the Comanche, Cynthia Ann, renamed Naudah, was spotted by Anglo settlers who attempted to aid in her return. She refused to leave, however, and ransom offers were declined by her captors. She married a young warrior named Peta Nocona, who became a chief, and together they had three children: Quanah, Pecos, and Topsannah.

On December 18, 1860, Lawrence Sullivan (Sul) Ross led Texas Rangers to attack a Comanche camp in retribution for recent raids. Long described in Texas annals as the “Battle of Pease River,” modern research offers insight on the actions that lead to the recovery of Cynthia Ann Parker.[13] As during her 1836 abduction by the Comanches, there were few armed men present for protection, and Ross’ Rangers won decisively. The engagement ended with the deaths of around seven Comanches, including Cynthia Ann’s husband, Peta Nocona. The men took away three “Indian” captives, including an Anglo woman with blue eyes and her daughter. Cynthia Ann’s uncle, Colonel Isaac Parker, was able to identify her, and she was taken against her will to be reunited with her Anglo family, leaving her Comanche family behind.

Voucher of Certificate for Cynthia Ann Parker, 30 April 1861, Special Acts 000358, Texas Land Grant Records, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

In recognition of her ordeal, the Texas Legislature passed a special act on April 8, 1861, that granted Cynthia Ann Parker a league of land and named her cousins Isaac Duke Parker and Benjamin F. Parker her trustees.[14] This supplemented another act granting Parker a pension of $100 per year for five years, “to the support of the said Cynthia Ann Parker, and for the support and education of her child.”[15] However, despite this provision, she never became fully accustomed to the Anglo lifestyle and grieved for the loss of her husband and the two Comanche children whom she dearly loved. Multiple attempts to flee to her Comanche family failed. She learned that her son Pecos died from smallpox, and after her daughter died from influenza, she refused to eat or speak, passing away shortly afterward.[16]

Cynthia Ann Parker’s legacy survived in the form of her son, Quanah. As a leader among the Comanche, he resisted the transplantation of native peoples to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Quanah’s Quahada band of Comanches refused to participate in the Medicine Lodge Treaty or relocate to a reservation, and instead spent years hunting the plains of Texas out of range of the U.S. Army. After a failed raid on buffalo hunters at Adobe Walls and increased pressure from the Army, the situation became untenable for the Quahadas, and they eventually conceded to being relocated to a reservation.

Quanah Parker, photograph, Date Unknown; (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth19939/: accessed May 30, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Tarrant County College NE, Heritage Room.

While adjusting to reservation life, Quanah Parker was named chief in an attempt to unite the various bands of Comanches.[17] In that role, he advocated for gradual cultural and economic assimilation with the Anglos. He helped found the Native American Church, which “blended traditional Indian beliefs, peyote use, and Christianity,” and he pioneered a land leasing program on Comanche lands, earning about $55,000 a year in “grass money.”[18] Parker remained influential among the Native Americans until his death in 1911.

Detail from Eltea Armstrong’s 1971 map of Limestone County showing an illustration of Fort Parker and a summary of Cynthia Ann Parker’s story.

The effects of the Fort Parker Massacre are seen through the intertwined histories of Texas, Oklahoma, and the Comanche Nation. The same tragedy that resulted in the deaths and captivity of several members of the Parker family also produced a chief who first resisted and then sought to integrate his people into the expanding reach of the United States. Stories of the massacre endure, and it was memorialized at the General Land Office by accomplished draftsperson Eltea Armstrong on her 1971 map of Limestone County, as well as by artist Kenneth Helgren on the 2006 Great Military Map of Texas. The location of the massacre is currently maintained as the Old Fort Parker replica historic site, north of which sits Fort Parker State Park.

[1] “Documenting the Parker Family Story at the Texas Collection (Part 1)”, The Texas Collection Treasures Old and New blog, January 29, 2016. (Accessed May 30, 2018).

[2] John Henry Brown, Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas (Austin: L.E. Daniell, 1880 [original], Greenville: Southern Historical Press, Inc., 1978 [reproduction]), p. 39; Jo E. Exley, Frontier Blood: The Saga of the Parker Family (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2001); Handbook of Texas Online, Jack K. Selden, Jr., “Parker, Silas M.,” accessed May 14, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fpa29. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

[3] Application for Admission to Austin’s Colony for Silas M. Parker, 22 May 1834, Box 27, Folder 39, Records of the Spanish Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

[4] Title for Silas M. Parker, 1 April 1835, Box 35, Folder 36, Records of the Spanish Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

[5] J.W. Wilbarger, Indian Depredations in Texas (Austin: Hutchings Printing House, 1889 [original], Statehouse Books, 1985 [reproduction]), p. 303; Exley, Frontier Blood, p. 42; Handbook of Texas Online, Art Leatherwood, “Fort Parker,” accessed May 14, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/uef13. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

[6] Wilbarger, Indian Depredations in Texas, p. 304.

[7] W.W. Newcome, Jr., The Indians of Texas (Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1961), pp. 344–345; David La Vere, The Texas Indians (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2004), p. 183.

[8] Wilbarger, Indian Depredations in Texas, p. 304.

[9] Brown, Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas, p. 40.

[10] Paul I. Wellman, “Chronicles of Oklahoma Volume 12, №2 June 1934 CYNTHIA ANN PARKER,” Chronicles of Oklahoma, Accessed May 14, 2018.

[11] Acts of captivity and enslavement were perpetrated by many different groups in the American Southwest, including Spaniards and other European explorers, Americans, and native peoples. Reasons for the practices varied among the groups, and included ransom for profit, the extraction of forced labor, reconstitution of kin groups, cultural dominance or “civilization,” and others. For more on the complex slave system of the southwest, see Andrés Reséndez, The Other Slavery — The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016); Barbara Krauthamer, Black Slaves, Indian Masters: Slavery, Emancipation, and Citizenship in the Native American South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013); Pekka Hämäläinen, The Comanche Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008); Juliana Barr, Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009); and James F. Brooks, Captives and Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest Borderlands (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002).

[12] Brown, Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas, pp. 40–41; Handbook of Texas Online, Llerena B. Friend, “Parker, John,” accessed May 14, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fpa25. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

[13] Paul H. Carlson and Tom Crum, Myth, Memory, and Massacre — the Pease River Capture of Cynthia Ann Parker (Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 2012).

[14] Hans Peter Mareus Neilsen Gammel, The Laws of Texas, 1822–1897, Austin, TX: 1898, Vol. 5, Chapter XXIX, p. 426.

[15] Gammel, The Laws of Texas Vol. 5, Chapter XXV, pp. 423–424.

[16] Hacker, “Parker, Cynthia Ann”; La Vere, The Texas Indians, p. 203.

[17] Handbook of Texas Online, Brian C. Hosmer, “Parker, Quanah,” accessed May 30, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fpa28. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on February 21, 2018. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

[18] La Vere, The Texas Indians, p. 217. “By 1885, Texas cattlemen were running 75,000 head of cattle on the Kiowa-Comanche reservation, using 1.5 million acres and paying only six cents an acre per year.” The author notes that this was less than market value for the use of the land.

[19] Lawrence T. Jones III, “Cynthia Ann Parker and Pease Ross: The Forgotten Photographs” in The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 93, №3 (Jan. 1990), pp. 379–384. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30241332.

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