By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky
Well, for me, research is very much like coming to a fork in the road and taking the less traveled route. And more often than night, my writer's mind gets sidetracked by a million, "What If?" questions.
As a writer of historical fiction I put many hours into research. I map out detailed timelines and include everything from terrain, weather, travel, fashion, and what (if any) significant event was happening in that area at that particular time. Apart from wanting to be as accurate as possible, research helps immerse me into the period to better create a visual for the reader. I also find it fascinating to learn more about people who were prominent figures (good or bad) at the time and place where my book is set. Would their path have crossed that of my characters? What if they had something in common? What if they knew each other? Just thinking about it can open all sorts of plot possibilities.
Research can also be like falling down a rabbit hole, and it can take time to sort out how (and if) the historical figure should be incorporated into the story. For me, I love bringing real people into my books. They could be passing through, like Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson did in WHISPER IN THE WIND. Or, they could be someone who greatly influenced the hero's past, present and future. The latter is the case for ETHAN BLAKE, the hero in SPIRIT OF THE WIND, and his fictitious connection to the last great Comanche Chief, QUANAH PARKER.
To better understand QUANAH, it is important to focus on a pivotal moment in his life. In December 1860, the Noconas (his father's band of Comanche), were camped near the Pease River. While most of the men were off hunting buffalo and the women were in camp drying meat, 40 Texas Rangers and 21 United States Cavalrymen attacked. After the battle, it was discovered that one of the women had blue eyes and Caucasian features. Although she spoke no English, Ranger Captain Ross and his men suspected she might be Cynthia Ann Parker (missing for 24 years after being taken captive by the Comanche). Isaac Parker, her uncle, was summoned and positively identified her. Parker then took Cynthia Ann and her infant daughter, Prairie Flower, back to East Texas to live with the Parker family.
Not only had 15-year old QUANAH returned to find his mother and little sister taken by the whites, his father would soon die from an infected wound and his younger brother from disease. In short order, he had no one left in his family. A young adolescent, one can only presume anger and a desire for vengeance prompted him to join one of the two most powerful bands of Comanche -- the Kwahadies. The Kwahadies camped on the edge of the Staked Plains of West Texas, and were known for being skillful, persistent raiders.
A year after QUANAH joined the Kwahadies, the Civil War broke out. The forts of Texas were increasingly stripped of men, and 60,000 additional Texans were sent to the Confederate Army. Barely 27,000 men were left behind to defend the entire State of Texas. Needless to say, the Comanche (as well as the Kiowas and other allied bands), were all but unstoppable.
The Kwahadies band of Comanche (which included Quanah) refused to attend the peace talks. However, although Bull Bear (the Chief of the Kwahadies) wanted no part of the Medicine Lodge talks, a curious 22-year old QUANAH surreptitiously kept his ear to the wind to learn what was being discussed. When he heard the US Government wanted the tribes to give up their homelands and live on a reservation where they would be given land, rations, and protection from hostile whites, QUANAH replied: "My band is not going to live on a reservation. Tell the white chiefs the Kwahadies are warriors."
As if the intentions of the US Government were not enough to rile QUANAH's resentment of the whites, he finally learns about his mother's fate. He was told his mother repeatedly attempted to escape, but the Parker family prevented her. And that after his baby sister had died in 1864, his heartbroken mother starved herself to death.
[Pictured: Quanah beside the only photograph of his mother and baby sister at his home, 1884.]
We can only speculate upon the mother-son relationship QUANAH had with Cynthia Ann. It seems rather obvious, it must have been very close. Driven by devotion and love for her, he would one day seek out his mother's people.
As QUANAH dealt with the news about his mother and sister, the Kwahadies ignored the treaty and continued raiding. On a raid in Gainesville, the War Party encountered soldiers. The leader of the War Party was killed. It was at this time that QUANAH distinguished himself as a leader. He assumed command. His actions would promote him as a War Chief who led future raiding parties, and also made him second in command to Bull Bear.
The Indians who signed the Peace Treaty entered their shared reservation, but soon found the pork and cornmeal rations not enough to feed their people. It did not take long before many started leaving the reservation to hunt and raid. Some would work alone, and others would join holdout bands that had not signed the Peace Treaty.
Needless to say, the Comanche band that Mackenzie wanted greatly was the powerful Kwahadies.
In September 1871, Mackenzie assembled 600 troops for an invasion of the Kwahadies camp. Not long after they started riding toward their destination, Mackenzie's men were confronted by War Parties led by QUANAH and Bull Bear. Rather than engage in battle, however, the War Parties followed the troops "rather arrogantly" across the plains. From time-to-time, although a few warriors would race out and make quick-as-lightning thrusts at the cavalry column, they would disappear into the tall grass before they could be followed. This routine continued until 10 October 1874.
In the morning, a small detachment was dispatched to retrieve the horses. When they came upon the Comanche, a group of warriors led by QUANAH raced forth to meet them. QUANAH fearlessly charged straight at the soldiers. After killing one, he dismounted to claim his scalp while the rest of the soldiers fled. Two days later, an arrow to the hip and a blizzard put an end to Mackenzie's determination to chase down the Kwahadies.
However, come March 1872, a healed Mackenzie resumed hunting the Comanche. He also kept a lookout for the traders who were supplying them with repeating rifles in exchange for stolen Texas cattle. Six months later, in September 1872, Army scouts located the camp of the Kotsotekas band. Mackenzie and 231 men surprised the sleeping camp. They killed 23 warriors and took 124 captives.
Worried about what the government would do to their prisoners in captivity, the Kotsotekas warriors who were not captured in battle, relinquished their freedom to life on the reservation. Even the Kwahadies halted their raiding out of concern for the Comanche captives.
Ironically, the Government interpreted the surrender of the Kotsotekas band as proof all of the Comanche were ready to live on the reservation and accept the Peace Agreement. As a gesture of goodwill, in June 1873, the military 'released' their captive Kotsotekas.
Contrary to what the US Government expected, after learning about the release of their captive comrades, the Kwahadies returned to raiding. And once again, Mackenzie was charged with protecting the frontier.
[NOTE: It was later estimated buffalo were being slaughtered at a rate of 1 million per year. By 1886, their number would be reduced from 30 million animals to few than 1,000.]
To fully understand the rage of the Indian nations, during the Medicine Lodge talks, the government promised to keep whites off the Indian buffalo grounds. Instead, they did nothing. Quite the contrary, in fact. Knowing eliminating the buffalo would starve the Indians and force them to depend upon the reservation rations for food, the Army encouraged the white hunters. General Philip Sheridan praised the buffalo hunters. "Let them kill, skin, and sell until they have exterminated the buffalo. Then your prairies will be covered with speckled cattle and the festive cowboy."
In March, after learning hide hunters had set up a base near the deserted trading post of Adobe Walls, the Comanche, Kiowa, Arapaho, and Cheyenne joined together to take action. An inter-tribal federation was formed. Two men were chosen to lead. QUANAH, very much a hero to almost every Comanche warrior, was joined by a (rather delusional) Medicine Man named Isa-tai. Whereas QUANAH trained his warriors to fight, Isa-tai told everyone he had magical powers. Not only could he belch up ammunition, but shield the warriors and their horses from bullets by using a "magical paint". Apparently, the fact Isa-tai had often predicted changes in the weather led many to believe his claims. QUANAH tolerated Isa-tai's claims because he wanted fearless warriors. At this time, Bull Bear (still chief of the Kwahadies) was dying. QUANAH was set to succeed him as Chief, but the attack on Adobe Walls would play a factor.
Along with Isa-tai's prediction the Indian attack on Adobe Walls would drive the white men away and bring back the buffalo, he stipulated the Comanche must hold a Sun Dance to prepare for a victorious attack. It should be noted the Comanche had never celebrated this rite before. Still, near Elk Creek and the North Fork of the Red River, their put together the ceremony.
On 26 Jun 1874, QUANAH and his 700 mixed warriors approached Adobe Walls under cover of darkness. There were 28 men and one woman inside the old fort. Adobe Walls consisted of three main buildings situated about 100 yards apart. Most of the men inside Adobe Walls were asleep until a rather miraculous loud crack woke them.
James Hanrahan, who ran the saloon, later said the noise "had been caused by the splitting of the ridgepole that supported the roof". And as fate would have it, as the men inside (which included a youth named Bat Masterson), propped up the ridgepole, they saw Indians approaching in the predawn light.
QUANAH had lost his element of surprise. Still, the warriors attacked and the hunters fired. Because of their training and Isa-tai's claims of magic, the warriors surged forward. QUANAH positioned himself at the lead. Once he even backed his mount against the door of a building and had the horse repeatedly buck its hind legs to batter it down. In another attack, his horse was shot out from under him and he had to crawl to find cover. Yet it wasn't until a bullet ricocheted and struck him in the back when his superstitious warriors believed the white hunters had their own magic. And they did. They were called Sharps rifles with telescopic sights.
The siege ended on the third day. Because of his unyielding bravery, QUANAH was held blameless in the defeat at Adobe Walls. Isa-tai. on the other hand, was blamed for their failure.
The hunters lost three men. The casualties among the Indians were hard to estimate. In keeping with their tradition, they carried away what dead they could reach. Only 13 bodies were left behind. The hunters decapitated the dead Indians and impaled their heads on sharpened poles about Adobe Walls.
The Indians scattered. Driven by fury they attacked whites and settlements from Texas to Colorado. Their unprecedented rage proved so violent, Washington sent them an ultimatum. Any Indian who did not enroll on the reservation by August 3rd, would be attacked as a hostile. Five columns of cavalry and infantry were sent to attack Kiowa and Comanche hideouts. Mackenzie's command with 600 soldiers carried their campaign to the Staked Plains, determined to defeat QUANAH and his Kwahadies.
Unfortunately for Mackenzie, his highly prized nemesis was not at Palo Duro during the attack. In addition, QUANAH had 400 of his people with him and enough horses to continue life on the run. As for Mackenzie's rather brutal decision to destroy everything in the camp and kill the horses, with the beginning of cold weather, small groups of Comanche and Kiowas surrendered. And in April 1875, a few Kwahadies who had been at Palo Duro Canyon, arrived at the reservation, on foot and half-starved.
QUANAH was now the last surviving Indian Chief roaming free with his people. However, he seemed to accept he could not run much further from fate. While hunting sparse buffalo in the Spring of 1875, a white doctor (who had been told of the Kwahadies Chief's whereabouts from reservation informants), delivered a message to QUANAH from Col. Mackenzie. Put simply, if QUANAH would come to the reservation, his people would receive good treatment. If he did not, Mackenzie vowed he would exterminate his band.
Much to the suprise of the doctor, QUANAH agreed.
Colonel Mackenzie was also present and the two adversaries came face-to-face for the first time. Reportedly, their meeting was brief and subdued. Perhaps both men were "too proud" to reveal their feelings at that moment. QUANAH was now 30 years old. McKenzie was 35 years old.
Among his accomplishments over the remaining years of his life, QUANAH first obtained permission from the Indian Agent to meet his mother's family in Texas. Clad in Comanche buckskin, speaking little English and with only a letter of introduction from the Indian Agent, he set out alone. Perhaps it was the only way he could ease the haunting in his heart about his mother's fate after she was reclaimed by her family.
On occasion, his trek was met with hostility yet many people grew friendlier toward him when they learned his identity. They read the Indian Agent's words with interest: "This young man is the son of Cynthia Ann Parker, and he is going to visit his mother's people. Please show him the road and help him as you can."
As more and more people referred to him as QUANAH PARKER, he liked the sound of it and adopted his mother's family name.
Reaching his mother's Uncle Silas in east Texas, QUANAH was welcomed into their home. He remained with them for a while. He slept in his mother's bed. He improved his English and studied the simple farm tasks such as milking a cow, making butter, cultivating cotton, etc. Then, he returned to the reservation.
He saw that cattle had taken the place of buffalo. Upon realizing the cattlemen had to drive their stock through the Comanche-Kiowa reservation, he charged them $1.00 a head to peacefully continue on their journey. At this time, the Comanche-Kiowa reservation had 3 million acres, more than enough land for the cattle of his people to graze. Knowing he could earn his people even more money, he arranged to lease pasturage to wealthy Texas cattlemen like Dan Waggoner, Charles Goodnight, and Burk Burnett. The arrangements proved quite profitable, bringing in as much as $200,000 a year, which was then divided amongst each and every Comanche.
In 1886, QUANAH PARKER was chosen Chief Judge of a 3-man Court of Indian Offenses. Interestingly enough, he inspired such respect amongst white people that a new town was named Quanah in his honor. The Comanche Chief traveled to the town and addressed the crowd.
"May the Great Spirit always smile on your new town. May the rain always fall in due season. May the earth yield bountifully to you. May peace and contentment dwell with you and your children forever." ~ Quanah Parker
On 04 July 1898, QUANAH was invited to a Fourth of July picnic by Congressman McGuire in Hobart, Oklahoma. Although he was calm and tactful, QUANAH spoke about conservation and the need to care for the land. "We fear your success," he told the citizens. "This was a pretty country you took away from us, but you see how dry it is now."
In 1902, QUANAH was elected deputy sheriff of Lawton, Oklahoma. He accepted the position believing it would help him keep young Comanche out of trouble.
[Pictured: Quanah Parker rides on the far right representing the Comanche. Next to him, Geronimo represents the Apaches.]
QUANAH also went hunting with President Teddy Roosevelt in 1905, at Burk Burnett's ranch north of the Red River in Oklahoma.
In 1907, buffalo are reintroduced at the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Range, after QUANAH convinced Teddy Roosevelt of the need to save the nearly extinct animals.
In 1908, QUANAH is elected President of the local school district that he helped to establish.
In 1910, after finally locating the burial place of his mother and sister, QUANAH has their remains reburied at Post Oak Mission Cemetery in Oklahoma.
In Comanche tradition, a Medicine Man was summoned to the chief's bedside. As the Medicine Man made the symbol of the wings of an eagle over QUANAH, the chief's spirit was called to the Indian afterworld. He was buried alongside his mother and sister in Post Oak Mission Cemetery. However, his grave was robbed in 1915. In 1920, a monument (appropriated by a gift from Congress) is unveiled and erected in his honor at Post Oak Mission Cemetery.
In 1957, QUANAH, his mother and sister are reburied at Chief's Knoll, Fort Sill Cemetery.
QUANAH PARKER's tombstone reads: "Resting here until Day Breaks and Shadows Fall and Darkness Disappears is Quanah Parker, Last Chief of the Comanches. Born: 1852 Died: 23 Feb 1911" Over 4,000 people attended his funeral.
NOTE: The exact date of QUANAH's birth is often listed as 1845. However, his tombstone records his date of birth as 1852. Still, there is some question as to the accuracy of the 1852 date. Since QUANAH emphatically stated he was hunting with his father when the Texas Rangers attacked their village, it seems more likely he was older than 8 years old when his mother and sister were captured.
JORDAN BLAKE, a former Texas Ranger and Pinkerton detective, has tried for years to find out what happened to his older brother. When they were children, much like what happened to Cynthia Ann Parker, a band of Comanche raided their family home. Although Jordan and his sister were miraculously spared in the attack, both his parents were murdered and his 9-year old brother was taken captive. For years, the fate of Ethan haunted Jordan. Yet no matter how hard he tried or how long he searched, he could never find out what happened to his brother.
SPIRIT OF THE WIND is the story of ETHAN BLAKE. As I did research into what might have happened to Ethan, I learned why he proved such a challenge to write. Why did the Comanche let him live? How did being raised by the same Indians who murdered his family affect him? And why was he given the name Windwalker? Understandably, the case of Cynthia Ann Parker came to mind. Yet rather than focus on her, I found myself drawn to her son, QUANAH. After all, Ethan and Quanah are close in age. What if they knew one another? What if they were friends or perhaps close as blood brothers? In many respects, they shared a common history until the world changed for them. As one tries to adapt to life on a reservation; Ethan will have his own struggles as he tries to make peace with his past and move on with his life.
SPIRIT OF THE WIND will follow Ethan's pilgrimage to find himself -- and introduce the one woman who can see him for the man he truly is. I hope you will stay tuned for the soon-to-be-announced release date of SPIRIT OF THE WIND.
If you are interested in reading WHISPER IN THE WIND, it is available in print as well as EPUB formats on Kindle, Kobo, and Nook. For buy links, please visit the Bookshelf page on my website at: https://ashleykathbilsky.com/bookshelf/
Thanks again for stopping by and taking the time to read this post. I hope you found it interesting. ~ AKB
The Great Chiefs - Benjamin Capps (Time-Life Books, New York, NY, 1975)
Following The Trail of Quanah Parker - Johnny D. Boggs (True West Magazine, 2011)
Quanah Parker - Bill Dugan (Harper Collins, 1993)