Thursday, May 8, 2014

RACHEL PARKER PLUMMER-Tragic Comanche Captive

Rachel Parker Plummer was a cousin to Cynthia Ann Parker. She and her husband and infant son James Pratt lived in Fort Parker along with Cynthia Ann's family and several others. Each family had adjoining farms, which they worked during the day, returning to the fort at night.
On the morning of May 19,1836, a band of Comanche came over the hill toward the Fort entrance and pretended friendship. Ultimately, they entered the open gate of the fort.
The event that followed is now called "The Fort Parker Massacre." Some of the men escaped because they were out in the fields working. Inside the fort, five settlers were killed and five were captured.
The five captives were Rachel Plummer, James Pratt Plummer, age 18 months, Cynthia Ann Parker, John Richard Parker, and Elizabeth Duty Kellogg.
These were soon separated. Cynthia Ann Parker and her young brother John were taken by one band of Comanches. Elizabeth Duty Kellogg was taken by a band of Kichai.
Rachel and her baby son, James Pratt, were taken by a separate band of Comanche. Thus began her 21 month horrendous ordeal as a captive of the Comanche.
She wrote an account of her servitude in slavery which was published in Houston in 1838. It was the first published narrative of an Indian Captive.
In her own words, Rachel tells of her capture.
"I tried to make my escape, but alas, alas it was too late. My efforts to run with my little James Pratt in my arms were feeble, and a big sulky Indian picked up a hoe and knocked me down. I recall that they took my baby from my arms and then dragged me along by the hair."
The Indians dragged her to the main body of the Indian group. She was covered in blood from her wound. She looked for her baby.
"An Indian had him on his horse, and my baby was calling, "Mama, mama,"  barely able to say the words since he was only 18 months old. I began crying and two women came with whips and clubs and began beating me. 
About midnight, they stopped. They now tied a plaited thong around my arms and drew my hands behind me. They then tied a similar thong around my ankles and drew my feet and hands together. They turned me over on my face and I was unable to turn over. They commenced beating me and it was with great difficulty that I could keep from smothering in my own blood."
To further torture Rachel, they brought her baby near so she could hear his cries as they mercilessly beat him. His cries of "Mama, mama" became weaker and weaker.
Then both men and women jumped up and down on her body, causing great harm and distress.
The next day, the tribe began a northern march. Rachel walked without any food at all and barely a bit of water for five days. They tied her at night as before.
"At the time they took off my fetters, they brought James Pratt to me, supposedly to let him suck. As soon as he saw me he hastened to my embrace, his tiny hands covered in blood."
However, they once more took James Pratt away, and she never saw him again.
During the horrendous northern trek, Rachel never had anything to wear on her feet, and snow covered the ground. They made her work most of the night, and with very little sleep, was forced to continue the trek during the day.
In October, she gave birth to her second child--she was pregnant when captured. The Indians had become less hostile and allowed her to keep her baby with her. However, when the baby was about six weeks old, the Indians decided he took too much of her work time, and so one morning they entered her hut and snatched him from her arms.
One large male caught hold of him by the throat and holding him out so his little body dangled, he squeezed until the little one appeared to be dead.
"I tried with all my feeble strength to retrieve him, but others held me down. They threw the babe up into the air and let him fall on the frozen ground, apparently dead. They gave him back to me, and I saw a small sign of life. I washed the blood from his face, but when they saw that he had a little life left, they took him again."
--As the writer of this post, I had a difficult time getting through the next part.--
In essence, they tied a rope around the child's neck and drew its naked body through the prickly pears.  To shorten the details, I will conclude this part by saying they did this repeatedly until his little body was torn to shreds. They brought his body and threw it in Rachel's lap.
It was then that she gave her captives a miniscule amount of silent praise, because they left her alone long enough to grieve a while, dig a hole, and bury her baby. By this time, she had no tears left.
"I sat down and gazed with joy upon the resting place of my infant. I rejoiced that it had passed from the sufferings and sorrows of this world."
Ironically, Rachel's lot among the Comanche improved dramatically close to the day she became free. The women charged with her supervision routinely beat and tormented her. One day, Rachel simply snapped, and began fiercely beating the younger of the two women who she was a slave to. She expected to be killed at any moment, writing “at any second I expected a spear in the back, but instead, the warriors seemed amused, and gathered and watched us fight.” 

Rachel's long captivity might have sapped her physical strength, but it had left her with a surfeit of rage and hate which enabled her to easily defeat the younger woman, and nearly beat her to death. After the fight was over, Rachel was astonished that no one helped the young Comanche woman, and she herself finally helped her to the lodge, and dressed her wounds.
After a year and a half of captivity, the Comanches camped north of Santa Fe when they were approached by Mexican traders who wanted to ransom Rachel. Her rescue had been arranged by Col. and Mrs. William Donoho, a Christian couple who lived in Houston and heard of Rachel's plight. The Donohos, fearing for their life, fled to Independence, Missouri to safety, taking Rachel with them.
Rachel was united with her husband on February 19, 1838. She was emaciated, covered with scars, and in very poor health. She bore a third child on January 4, 1839, and died in Houston shortly thereafter, on March 19, 1839. Her child died two days later.
Late in 1842, Rachel's first son, little James Pratt Plummer was ransomed six years after Rachel and in 1843 he was reunited with his family at around age ten. As a grown man, James married twice and also joined the Confedertate Army. He died while in service.
At the time of her death, Rachel was 20 years old and her fiery red hair had turned grey.
 She wrote:
"I am not only freed from my Indian captivity, enjoying the exquisite pleasure that my soul has longed for."
Oh, God of Love, with pitying eye
Look on a wretch like me;
That I may on thy name rely,
Oh, Lord! be pleased to see.
How oft have sighs unuttered flowed?
From my poor wounded heart,
Yet thou my wishes did reward,
And sooth'd the painful smart.
Celia Yeary
Romance...and a little bit of Texas
 (Also: See my Sweethearts post of August 8, 2012 titled "Who Was Little Johnny Parker?" to learn about Cynthia Ann Parker's little brother.)
The Handbook of Texas On-line
Texas Tears and Texas Sunshine
Internet Archives-"Rachel Plummer Narrative"


  1. Celia, what a sad story. Beautiful poem, isn't it? I don't know how she survived as long as she did.

  2. What a haunting and emotional post. There were parts I could barely read because they were so heart-wrenching. Such brutality. I just can't imagine torturing babies to death like this. At least she died a free woman. The heartache her husband must have suffered during all that is just unimaginable. I was glad for the moment she retaliated against her captures.
    I can only think it must have been hard for you to do this research and write this post, Celia. You did a wonderful job.

  3. Gracious. I hardly know what to say. Hearing of troubles like this, of loss of children, of loss of the right to your body, of starvation and beatings, gosh it puts today's every day woes into perspective.

    We may get upset when someone cuts us off in traffic or a seemingly undeserving person gets a promotion we wanted but we have the freedom to express our opinions, the freedom to lay our heads on our own pillows.

    I've said this before. Thank goodness I wasn't born in frontier times. The life and the obstacles take my breath away.

  4. Amazing story, Celia, and so hard to read in places I can't imagine reading the details. It's so sad Rachel didn't live longer after her captivity was over.

  5. Celia, I read about Rachel Plummer while researching for Dearest Irish, which takes place mainly among the Kiowa, allies to the Comanche. It's definitely not a pretty story. Cynthia Ann was far luckier, probably because she was a child when captured. Peta Nocona's band adopted her and he eventually made her his wife. As wife to a respected war chief, she was a valued member of the tribe.

  6. Caroline--I would have died on the spot. But we as humans really don't know what we can endure unless tested. I'm so grateful I did not have to be in that era. The Comanche were considered one of the most fierce tribes, but all committed such acts. I'm not putting all the blame on Native Americans, nor on the Americans who treated the Indians as they did. You know--that's the cost of human migrations. Sometimes we think we as Americans did something quite horrible, and sure, we did...but that's the nature of conquering another group of people.

  7. Sarah--this was definitely difficult to write, and almost didn't. But once I began, I felt so much sorrow for Rachel, I did. Sure, I omitted a huge amount of other details, for they make a book. The part about the babies just made me sick.
    In one part I read, her husband--much older, it seemed, got her pregnant as soon as she returned home, emaciated with a broken body. She died and then the baby died at two days old. He tried to defend himself against the accusations, saying he didn't hasten her death nor the death of the baby.
    Bottom line, women were of little worth to many men--even their own kind. Ugh.

  8. Maggie--oh, yes, it's really hard to put yourself in their places. Unimaginable. Just the idea of trekking across the continent in a covered wagon spooks me. I would never have left my home! I don't like to move at all, even in this day and time.
    It's bad enough to harm an adults--but that little baby. Remember, her first baby, James Pratt, remained with the tribe and lived with them until he was about 10. He was probably somewhat integrated into the tribe. Thank goodness he was rescued and lived an adult life.

  9. Kirsten--I, too, wished she had lived longer. Probably her internal organs were so damaged, as well as her outer body, she wouldn't have lived anyway. I like to think she was in pure heaven to be back home with her family in her own bed.
    I wished she'd seen her first baby, James Pratt, but she had died before he was rescued.

  10. Lyn--yes, Cynthia Ann Parker was far luckier, although she was a child, she was not treated well at first. She happened to be lucky enough to be favored, and her Comanche baby was Quanah Parker, who became the last chief of the Comanche while free--even though he was a half-breed. In the famous photo of Cynthia Ann holding baby Quanah, you see her hair chopped off in defiance of being rescued. She wanted to stay with the tribe.
    Bless her, she was never happy the remainder of her life.

    1. The baby is NOT Quanah Parker. It is Praerie Flower. Comanche women had their hair always short like that. Only the men wore it long

    2. Correct on the child in the picture being her daughter. Incorrect on the short hair. She cut her hair to show her grief, as Comanche women would do in sorrow. I've read this in many places.

  11. What a sad story. But one I was glad to learn of. It's amazing how horrible human beings can treat others--even babies. I'm so glad I didn't live back then. It's entertaining to write about from the safety of my chair. But I would never have wanted to have to experience the fear of not knowing what would happen from day to day--and what if it had ended up like this? Great post, Celia.

  12. So sad. It calls to mind of the atrocities now going on with the Nigerian girls. It's a shame such unkindness still exists.

  13. Cheryl--yes, we can live other lives through our stories, but we'd never, ever trade places with these pioneers and such tragedies they suffered. We have our own set of fears and pitfalls, but still, we can bathe every night in hot water, turn on our heat of air conditioner, and eat all we want. The majority of us know we won't suffer beatings or cruelty, and yet some in our society do. Even today, among whites and all other colors, one person dominates and tortures another. Unbelievable, but such is life..

  14. Morgan--oh, those precious Nigerian girls. I couldn't think up anything horrible enough to deal those criminals...the worst I can think of wouldn't be bad enough. I hope they rot in hell.

  15. What powerful, horrific story! It was hard to get through it--I can only imagine how difficult it was for you to research and write it.

  16. Might be interesting for some to read late Dallas Morning News Texana author Frank X. Tolbert's book "An Informal History of Texas" & the chapter he entitled "Was Uncle James (Parker) the Villain?"
    In that chapter is a most interesting & revealing letter Sam Houston wrote to my Great-Great Grandfather Luther Thomas Martin Plummer (and Rachel's husband). Houston was a straight-shooter just as my Great-Great Grandfather was.
    * Tolbert was also the originator of Texas famous "Terlingua Chili Cook-Off."

    1. "Ride The Wind" is an amazing book written with an incredible amount of research into Cynthia Ann Parker's capture and life..

    2. It was a hard story to read
      I can't even imagine the horror she went thru (Rachel) talk and abuse however she had that inner will to live


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