8. Quanah Parker: Chief of the Comanches

By Bill Neeley

When Quanah surrendered to Mackenzie, he told the commanding officer that his mother had been captured from a white family in Texas when she was a child. Mackenzie contacted Texas officials and learned that Cynthia Ann Parker had been captured at the age of nine from Parker's Fort on the Navasota River in east Texas, and that she had been recaptured twenty-four years later and returned to her white family, and that she was Quanah's mother. Unfortunately she had passed away. After her daughter Prairie Flower died of a fever a few years before Quanah's surrender, Nadua had starved herself to death. The unusual circumstances of Quanah's parentage must have influenced Mackenzie to some extent in Quanah's favor. At any rate, the agent and post commander chose Quanah, who had now learned the name of his mother's white family and had taken it for his own, as chief. Henceforth he would be Quanah Parker, Chief of the Comanches.

That he spoke English, and none of the other Comanche leaders did, must have influenced the government's choice of Quanah as chief. What made it hard for Quanah is that he was not elected by his own people; yet he was expected to lead them. At first, Quanah rejected the position, but his fellow Quahada, Wild Horse, encouraged Quanah to accept and pledged to support him in the role. One who didn't, however, was another Quahada, Esa-tai, whose politicking with Dr. Sturm had come to naught. The Wolf Prophet would stew in jealousy and resentment in the decades to come and was destined to influence others to whisper in the agent's ear about the bad doings of Chief Parker that would culminate in an undercover investigation on the reservation by Francis E. Leupp, an agent sent by the secretary of the Department of the Interior, to see if Quanah should be removed as chief. The year was 1903.

One can infer that Esa-tai had sought to discredit Quanah from the time he was appointed chief until he was investigated for abuse of office. After checking out all of the accusations of Quanah's wrong-doing and unfitness for office, Leupp made the following report to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. "I received one day a warning that I had better put Quanah Parker, the chief of the Comanches, through a very rigid examination as it was understood that he had caused allotments to be given to 10 Indians who never surrendered and are yet in Mexico. I accepted the warning in the spirit in which I assume it was offered; but with all my searching, including inquiry of Quanah and everyone else who presumptively would or could know of such a transaction, I have been unable to find any trace of it." Another accusation against Quanah was that he had allowed a Mrs. John Le Barre and her ten children to receive allotments. Three or four years ago," Leupp reported, "she appeared on the reservation and applied for admission into the Comanche tribe, of whom Quanah is chief, claiming to be the daughter of two full-blooded Comanches, who had been captured by Mexicans and carried across the border many years before. A committee of the tribe went over to Mexico to investigate her story, and on their return reported that it was true." As it turned out Congressman Stephens of Texas had been responsible for placing the names of the Le Barre family on the tribal roll, and Quanah had nothing to do with it.

Leupp concluded his report as follows: "These cases and dozens of like tenor had nothing whatever behind them except falsehood. The choice by the Comanches of Quanah Parker as their chief dates back to the memory of any but the oldest members of the tribe, and if ever nature stamped a man with the seal of leadership she did it in his case. Quanah would have been a leader and a governor in any circle where fate may have cast him – it is in his blood." Then came the ultimate rebuke of Quanah's detractors. "His acceptability to all except an inconsiderable minority of his people is plain to any observer, and even those who are restless under his rule recognize his supremacy. The only interference with his chieftainship of which I could learn was made by the authorities in Washington, who were once moved by the false representations of an interested party to raise Esa-Tai to a place of equal if not greater power. The mistake was promptly discovered, however, and the old conditions restored."

Quanah Parker led his people along the difficult road of transitioning from the old life to the new, and he did so with honor and dignity.

The above is excerpted from The Last Comanche Chief: The Life and Times of Quanah Parker by Bill Neeley. Copyright © 1995 Bill Neeley. All rights reserved.

Full list of historical articles.