Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Shirleen Davies: Quanah Parker, Comanche Chief

Quanah Parker was born about 1845 to famed war chief, Peta Nocona, and Cynthia Ann Parker, the famed captive of a Comanche raid on Parker's Fort in 1836. In 1860, the Texas Rangers raided the Comanche village where he, his father, mother, and sister were living. Quanah’s father died in the attack and his mother and sister were captured. With the Noconis wiped out from the attack and Quanah, now an orphan, he took refuge with the Quahada Comanches of the Llano Estacado.

Cynthia Ann Parker, Quanah's Mother

Chief Quanah Parker
The Quahadas ("Antelopes")
Quahadas means antelope. The Quahadi (Kwahadi, Kwahari, Kuahadi, Llaneros, Quaahda, Quahada) Indians were a major band of Comanches who dwelled in the southwest in what is called Llano Estacado or the Staked Plains. Antelopes were plentiful there and also a main source of food for the Native Americans who lived in the area.

Of all the Comanche bands, the Quahadas were the supreme warriors. They rejected the Medicine Lodge Treaty Council and refused to go to the reservation as the treaty required. Quanah’s superior skills and strengths in horsemanship, leadership, and military strategy served him and his fugitive band well as he basically held the Texas plains unchallenged, beyond the reach of the US Calvary. For the next seven years, the Quahadas continued to hunt buffalo in the traditional way and raid pioneer settlements in the area.

Quanah on horseback.
Soon, buffalo hunters streamed onto the plains and in turn destroyed the Comanche’s chief source of food. Quanah and a medicine man named Isa-tai, formed a multitribal alliance so they could drive the hunters off the plains. On June 27, 1874, 700 brave warriors—Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Kiowas, and Comanches—attacked twenty-eight hunters and one woman at Adobe Walls. The hunters, with their superior weapons, fended off the repeated attacks. Only one hunter was killed, but the Indians suffered numerous losses and Quanah was wounded. The Indians retreated, and the alliance crumbled. Within a year Quanah and the Quahadas, were suffering starvation. Quanah knew that further resistance would lead to the annihilation of the Comanches. So, on June 2, 1875, Quanah and the Quahadas surrendered at Fort Sill. They were then moved to the Kiowa-Comanche reservation in southwestern Oklahoma.

Adjustment to Reservation Life
Most of the Quahadas had a hard time conforming to life on the reservation. However, Quanah’s adjustment was so smooth, federal agents named him chief. They thought it would help unite the various Comanche bands. This action fell outside the federal government’s jurisdiction and was unheard of in Comanche tradition. But even so, the Comanche agreed to it, since the tribe had been essentially left leaderless. It proved to be a brilliant choice, for over the next quarter century, from the ashes of defeat, Quanah led the Comanches by example, encouraging independence and self-reliance, into the white man’s world of civilization. 

He was all for building schools on reservation lands and advised young people to learn the white man's ways. In fact, his children were educated on the reservation as well as at boarding schools.

Quanah achieved wealth and success from raising his own stock, and he encouraged his people to attain financial security through ranching. Since the ranchers were already using Comanche pasturelands for their herds, he leased grazing lands on the reservation to specific white ranchers. By creating legal agreements with those ranchers, he hoped they would help him prevent ranchers without leases from accessing those grazing lands. He taught his followers to build houses designed like the white man's and to plant crops.

Quanah believed in cooperating with whites and in cultural transformation in the areas of ranching, education, and agriculture. He served as a judge on the tribal court and negotiated business deals with white investors. He traveled many times to Washington DC to represent his people in front of Congress. He also fought efforts to undermine the changes he’d initiated, for example, he prevented the spread of the ghost dance among his people. Quanah also encouraged the establishment of a Comanche police force, to help the Indians handle their own affairs.

He grew rich through his astute investments, including $40,000 worth of stock in the Quanah, Acme, and Pacific Railway. He was a friend of Theodore Roosevelt and many prominent Texas ranchers. In 1905, he even rode in President Roosevelt’s inaugural parade. Quanah was often interviewed by reporters on a variety of subjects, including political and social issues.
Quanah second from left.

However, he was a traditionalist in several ways:
  • ·       He refused to cut his braids
  • ·       Remained a polygamist, maintaining a twenty-two-room house for his seven wives and numerous children.
  • ·       Would not convert to Christianity
  • ·       Belonged to the Native American Church
  • ·       Initiated the use of peyote among the tribes in Oklahoma.

Quanah's daughters.

But, in 1901 the federal government broke the Kiowa-Comanche reservation up into individual holdings and opened it to settlement by outsiders. In the final days of his life, Quanah ran his profitable ranch, continued to build business relationships and friendships with whites, and remained the most influential person among the Comanches. In 1902 his people honored their leader by naming him deputy sheriff of Lawton, Oklahoma.

In February 11, 1911, while visiting the Cheyenne Reservation, he became ill, returned home, and died on February 23.  For his funeral, Quanah was dressed in full Comanche regalia, befitting his position as chief. He was buried beside his mother in Post Oak Mission Cemetery near Cache, Oklahoma.  About 1500 people formed his funeral procession that was over two miles long. Unfortunately, thieves looted his grave four years later, since a large sum of money had allegedly been buried with him.

Due to the expansion of a missile base in 1957, Post Oak Mission Cemetery was relocated and Quanah Parker, the last Comanche Chief, was reburied with full military honors at Fort Sill Post Cemetery in Lawton, Oklahoma, in a section of the cemetery known as Chief's Knoll. Cynthia Ann Parker was moved to that cemetery as well.

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  1. Great info. So many of our American Indians did so much good. I've not learned enough about the tribes in the South. Thank you for this information.

  2. Thank you for this concise bio of an American legend. Seeing the many threads in his life gives a well-rounded picture of the man, chief and much needed leader.


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