13. Frontier Legends: Colonel Charles Goodnight and Comanche Chief Quanah Parker

By Bill Neeley

A young war chief grew into manhood killing every white man, burning every cabin, and stealing every cow and horse he could from the settlers trespassing on lands claimed by Numunu ("The People"), as the Comanches called themselves. One of the cabins under attack belonged to rancher Charles Goodnight, who became a Texas Ranger in 1860, the year he led the force of Rangers and soldiers who captured the white mother of the young warrior who raided Goodnight's ranch and those of his neighbors. The blue-eyed warrior was Quanah, and he rode with his father, War Chief Peta Nocona, in seeking to avenge the loss of his mother, captured while packing meat from a buffalo kill and loading pack animals. She was about to ride to the village where Peta Nocona and her sons Quanah and Pee-nah waited for her and the feast they would have that night.

Fortunately for Nadua, she was not shot in the back like all the other Comanche women, including Peta Nocona's Spanish wife, because Quanah's mother carried an infant daughter named Prairie Flower in a cradle board on her back. Chief Nobah and two or three warriors tried to protect the women, to no avail. The warriors escaped and rode to the Comanche village. Goodnight followed them at a distance and observed the warriors' reaction to the news of the disaster that had befallen their women. The famed frontiersman reported back to the young officer in command that a hasty retreat was in order as men were painting for battle. A revenge raid was certain to come. Two enduring legends left with the Texans as they headed back to Weatherford, county seat of Parker County, named for the white family of the captured Nadua. One was the legend of the long-lost Cynthia Ann's capture and return to her white family. Second was that Sul Ross had killed the dreaded Peta Nocona in the "Battle" of Pease River. To begin with, it was a massacre of women who did not fight back. Only one man, Nobah, not Peta Nocona, was killed. Sul Ross enjoyed a life-long fame based on a lie.

Nadua ("Someone Found") was the Comanche name of Quanah's thirty-three year old mother. Her name until the age of nine was Cynthia Ann Parker. Her father was Texas Ranger Superintendent Silas Parker. On May 19, 1836 while Texans were still reeling from the losses at the Alamo and Goliad, and with the Mexican tyrant who ordered those atrocities under arrest at a plantation along the San Jacinto River, another enemy lay in wait. Parker's Fort, built along the Navasota River east of present Waco, Texas, had a look of permanence offensive to the various tribal members who followed Chief Peta Nocona in the attack on the fort. Wacos, a branch of the Wichita Tribe, and Caddoes made up a portion of the large war party because Texans had attacked their villages. Revenge and terror were on the Indians' minds as they killed Silas and Ben Parker, along with their father, Elder John. Granny Parker was raped, stabbed, and left for dead. But she survived. The Indians took with them two grown women and two of Silas Parker's children: nine year old Cynthia Ann and her brother John, age 6.

Comanches had added to their numbers for generations by taking children from raids in Mexico and Texas. Children were cherished by Numunu, and it was not long before bonds of love and family caused many captured children to assume a new self-identity. Benjamin Franklin wrote about the phenomenon by saying that once the children lived a short while with the Indians, there was no reclaiming them from the wilderness. Cynthia Ann and John were no exceptions. Cynthia Ann accepted her new name, Nadua, and learned to love the elderly couple to whose lodge Peta Nocona had taken her. She soon discovered that she was meant to be one of her captor's wives when she reached maturity. Twenty-four years later Charles Goodnight was the lead scout on the raid that ended Nadua's life among the Comanches and left her husband and two sons in grief. Quanah was in his teens at the time of her capture and was a warrior in his own right.

Charles Goodnight either fought or attempted to avoid fighting Comanches from the action that captured Nadua until 1875, when Quanah's Quahada band of Comanches surrendered to Brevet General Ranald Mackenzie at Fort Sill, Indian Territory. The young war chief spoke English well enough to communicate that he was the son of a captive white woman and a Comanche father. Mackenzie discovered that Quanah's mother had starved herself to death after losing Prairie Flower to a fever only two years prior to Quanah's surrender.

Not long after returning Cynthia Ann to members of the Parker family who lived in Weatherford, Goodnight and partner Oliver Loving left their ranches in Parker County with a herd of cattle destined for the troops at Fort Sumner, New Mexico. They headed southwest and drove the herd across the Pecos River at Horsehead Crossing and then followed the river north to the fort. The Goodnjght-Loving Trail preceded the Chisholm and Western Trails, which passed through Indian Territory a few years later. Goodnight then homesteaded land near Pueblo, Colorado, the home of former Comanche Chief Cuerno Verde.

The fact that Goodnight knew Colorado landmarks may have saved his life in 1878 when Quanah, now Chief of the Comanches, got permission from the Indian agent and commander at Fort Sill to leave the reservation and go to Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle to hunt buffalo. Finding none, since Goodnight had hidden a small herd to prevent the extinction of the species, the frustrated and angry Comanches were forced to kill a few of Goodnight's cattle to sustain themselves. Some of Goodnight's cowboys told him they had seen Indians in the canyon butchering his cattle. Only three years earlier the canyon had been an integral part of Comancheria. Now cattle grazed the lush grasses where buffalo once roamed. It was a tense situation. The frontier scout, cattlemen, and former Texas Ranger left his men to protect his new bride, the only woman in the area for miles around. Goodnight's cowhands were to tell the Indians, if they approached the half-dugout the Goodnights called home, that Mrs. Goodnight had a talking wire. She did not. The Goodnights and the few cowboys who worked for them were on their own. Meanwhile the man whose greatest fame came from his time in Texas rode alone to confront the Comanches and convince them that he was from Colorado. If the Comanches were convinced he was a Texan, he might well not have returned to his bride.

Soon after approaching the Indians, Goodnight dismounted and welcomed Quanah and his band of men and women to Palo Duro Canyon. They conversed in Spanish while menacing Comanches encircled Goodnight and asked him where he was from. He replied "Colorado." After many questions about landmarks in that state, Goodnight convinced Quanah that he was not a Texan, the most hated of all Comanche enemies. At that point Goodnight proposed a personal treaty between Quanah and himself that was to last as long as both men lived. Goodnight told the Indians they could take two cows a day for food, and he gave Quanah a small herd of cattle to take back to his ranch on the reservation. As their friendship grew, they became like brothers. One day while visiting Quanah at his two story Star House, built by five Texas cattlemen as a reward for the chief's leadership in letting their cattle graze on the reservation's lush grass (Goodnjght was not one of the five), the old frontiersman and trail blazer broke down and confessed that he had been lead scout on the raid that captured his mother and returned her to her white relatives. It is likely that Quanah already knew, but was heartened by Goodnight's confession. He asked his friend, whom he knew to have influence in Texas, to go with him to retrieve Nadua's remains from East Texas and rebury her in Post Oak Cemetery on land Quanah had donated from his ranch. The two former enemies rode together on the train that contained Nadua's casket back to the Wichita Mountains. Goodnight, other famous cattlemen, Oklahoma and Texas civic leaders, soldiers, and many Comanches attended her reburial. Whites knew her as Cynthia Ann, but every Comanche present thought of her as Nadua. Two months later Quanah joined her at Post Oak Cemetery, and in the world of the Spirit, reunited with his mother for eternity.

The above was written for My Comancheria Institute by Bill Neeley. Copyright © 2020 Bill Neeley. All rights reserved.

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