History

1. From Cynthia Ann to Nadua: Becoming Comanche

By Bill Neeley

"We believe that the Church or the kingdom of God set up in the world is a spiritual kingdom – that men in a State of Nature cannot see it."

Elder Daniel Parker wrote the above in Article 8 of the Pilgrim Church established within the parameters of a log fort near the banks of the Navasota River in a portion of Texas claimed by Mexicans, colonized by Americans, and ruled by Comanches. The region known as Comancheria in 1836 was a huge territory (see map}, protected by a population of Comanches estimated at 30,000. It was a small number considering that fighting men at most made up one-fourth of that total. For generations Comanches had protected Comancheria from all comers. Allied with the Kiowas and Wichitas, Numunu (The People), as the Comanches called themselves, fought tenaciously against southeastern tribes driven west by Andrew Jackson's Indian removal policy. Along with their traditional foes, the Pawnees, Osages, and Apaches, enemies were all around, including Cheyennes and Arapahos until peace was made with those two tribes in 1840.

The looks of white men moving into their hunting grounds and building cabins and especially forts alarmed the Comanches. If these newcomers intended to stay, the bison, staple of Comanche life, would leave never to return. Clearly the fort had to be attacked. Though the Indians did not know that these particular white men were Christians, they knew that most whites had medicine houses. Seen as barbarians by all non-Indians on the frontier of Comancheria, the Comanches were aware of the missionary impetus of the Spanish Catholics. But the hard-shell Baptists at Fort Parker, unlike Spanish missionaries, saw the Indians as irredeemable. That attitude would harden on May 19, 1836, when hundreds of Comanches, led by War Chief Peta Nocona, attacked Parker's Fort.

The chief could hardly believe his luck. The gate of the fearsome looking fort was wide open, and Ben Parker, who was standing near the gate, probably doubted if he and his brother, Texas Ranger Captain Silas emerging from his cabin, could shut the gate before the mounted warriors reached them. Instead of attempting that action, the brave Ben Parker, a man in his twenties, approached the Indians in an attempt to treat with them. Silas Parker observed the Comanches as they surrounded his brother Ben. Here in the words of Silas's niece, Rachel Plummer, is what happened next.

"When Uncle Benjamin reached the body of Indians they turned to the right and surrounded him. I was now satisfied they intended killing him. I took up my little James Pratt and thought I would try to make my escape. As I ran across the fort, I met Silas returning to the place where he left me. He asked me if they killed Benjamin. I told him, 'No, but they have surrounded him.' He said, 'I know they will kill him, but I will be good for one of them at least.' These were the last words I heard him utter. I ran out of the fort, and passing the corner I saw the Indians drive their spears into Benjamin. I tried to make my escape, but alas, alas, it was too late, as a party of the Indians got ahead of me. A large sulky Indian picked up a hoe and knocked me down."

Rachel Plummer and her small son, along with her sister-in-law Elizabeth Kellogg, Silas's daughter, nine-year-old Cynthia Ann, and her six-year-old brother John were captured. Killed besides Ben were Silas Parker, Samuel and Robert Frost, and Elder John Parker. Granny Parker was raped, stabbed, and left for dead, though she did survive.

Taking captives had been part of the Comanche economy since the late 1600s as Spanish soldiers and militia, and most Indian tribes in New Mexico, took captives from each other and sold or bartered them for goods or horses. Taking captives was also a means of spreading terror. The Spanish had abandoned Bucareli, south of present Nacogdoches, Texas, after a Comanche attack years earlier. The warriors hoped for a similar result in their attack on Parker's Fort.

But the Parkers and their fellow Pilgrim Church members were destined to rebuild, and the Texas Rangers were determined to avenge Silas's death at the hands of Peta Nocona's Comanches. A young graduate cadet fresh out of military school would later falsely claim to have killed Peta Nocona, but no white man ever bested the formidable Comanche war chief in battle.

The flaxen-haired Cynthia Ann was given the Comanche name Nadua, Someone Found, by her captor Peta Nocona. She must have shared the terror expressed by her Aunt Rachel Plummer as recalled in her account of her experiences with the Comanches after being ransomed and returned to her family twenty-one months after the attack on Parker's Fort. Rachel lived only one year after her repatriation, her health having been broken by sexual abuse from the men and overwork by Comanche women who used Rachel as a slave.

It was much easier for Cynthia Ann than for the adult women because children were raised as Comanches and incorporated into the tribe. The raiders divided into three groups at Grand Prairie, where Dallas and Fort Worth were established some years later. Elizabeth Kellogg went with one group, Rachel Plummer and her son with a second, and Cynthia Ann and John Parker went with Peta Nocona's band.

Their destination was Peace Chief Pahauka's village, and its residents could have been waiting for Peta Nocona's return at Quitaque Creek south of present Quitaque, Texas, or the village sought by Peta Nocona as his band rode deeper into Comancheria could have also been in Palo Duro Canyon, Blanco Canyon, Tule Canyon, the Canadian River or a stream in the Wichita Mountains in present southwest Oklahoma.

Upon arriving in the Comanche village, Nadua was presented to an older couple, probably childless, to raise as their own. Everyone in the village knew her destiny, of course, and it is likely that the young girl realized her future would be as a wife of Peta Nocona. The formidable war chief already had a captive wife from Mexico who was destined to be killed twenty-four years later when Nadua was captured by a force under Lawrence Sullivan Ross and led by chief scout Charles Goodnight to the juncture of Mule Creek and Pease River west of present Vernon, Texas.

In the almost quarter century that she was to live with the Comanches, Nadua learned to love her life. Four years after her capture, emissaries from the Parker family arrived in the camp of Chief Pahauka while, fortunately for them, war chief Peta Nocona was away on a raid. Col. Len Williams, a trader named Stoal, and a Delaware guide arrived asking to see Cynthia Ann. Col. Williams offered to ransom the blue-eyed girl, but her Indian father declared that all the goods the Colonel had were not enough to induce him to part with his daughter. Williams, however, was given permission to talk to Nadua, now thirteen. The Colonel spoke to her about her family and how they all missed her, but she remained silent.

As the white men left the Comanche village, they dreaded the unpleasant task of informing the Parker family that their mission was unsuccessful. They could let the family know that the girl was healthy. The Parkers would not give up, however, and enlisted the aid of federal agents. In August 1846, two emissaries from the government reported that a white girl of seventeen and her brother fourteen were living with a Comanche band camped on the Washita. When goods were offered for her freedom, the girl ran off and hid. The federal agents learned that she was the wife of a chief.

Five years later, about nine years before her capture by Ross and Goodnight, Nadua was seen by white hunters visiting a Comanche camp on the upper Canadian River. Friends of the Parkers, they asked Nadua if she wanted to return to her white family. By now she was a mature woman of twenty-four. She pointed at the two little boys playing at her feet and shook her head. She was a Comanche now, not in blood, but in culture. Her oldest son Quanah was destined for greatness.

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

Full list of historical articles.