C. M. Bell, 1880s
C. M. Bell, 1880s
"Quanah Parker, for instance, is pictured in both tribal clothes and in a morning coat with an umbrella, pocket watch chain and derby. In one photograph he is supported by a rustic wall, in the other by a classical stucco simulation. He is posed near the same ornate column in both photographs.... Parker was Comanche, a wise crossblood leader at the turn of the last century who defended the use of peyote as a religious freedom. The narratives of his religious inspiration, his crossblood uncertainties, are not obvious in either of the photographs. His hair is braided in both pictures but the poses seem to be the causal representations of then and now, tradition and transition, or variations on the nostalgic themes of savagism of civilization. His eyes, not the costumes, are the narrratives..."
Quanah Parker was the last Chief of the Comanches and never lost a battle to the white man. His tribe roamed over the area where Pampas stands. He was never captured by the Army, but decided to surrender and lead his tribe into the white man's culture, only when he saw that there was no alternative.
His was the last tribe in the Staked Plains to come into the reservation system.
Quanah, meaning "fragrant," was born about 1850, son of Comanche Chief Peta Nocona and Cynthia Ann Parker, a white girl taken captive during the 1836 raid on Parker's Fort, Texas. Cynthia Ann Parker was recaptured, along with her daughter, during an 1860 raid on the Pease River in northwest Texas. She had spent 24 years among the Comanche, however, and thus never readjusted to living with the whites again.
She died in Anderson County, Texas, in 1864 shortly after the death of her daughter, Prairie Flower. Ironically, Cynthia Ann's son would adjust remarkably well to living among the white men. But first he would lead a bloody war against them.
Quanah and the Quahada Comanche, of whom his father, Peta Nocona had been chief, refused to accept the provisions of the 1867 Treaty of Medicine Lodge, which confined the southern Plains Indians to a reservation, promising to clothe the Indians and turn them into farmers in imitation of the white settlers.
Knowing of past lies and deceptive treaties of the "White man", Quanah decided to remain on the warpath, raiding in Texas and Mexico and out maneuvering Army Colonel Ronald S. Mackenzie and others. He was almost killed during the attack on buffalo hunters at Adobe Walls in the Texas Panhandle in 1874. The U.S. Army was relentless in its Red River campaign of 1874-75. Quanah's allies, the Quahada were weary and starving.
Mackenzie sent Jacob J. Sturm, a physician and post interpreter, to solicit the Quahada's surrender. Sturm found Quanah, whom he called "a young man of much influence with his people," and pleaded his case. Quanah rode to a mesa, where he saw a wolf come toward him, howl and trot away to the northeast. Overhead, an eagle "glided lazily and then whipped his wings in the direction of Fort Sill," in the words of Jacob Sturm. This was a sign, Quanah thought, and on June 2, 1875, he and his band surrendered at Fort Sill in present-day Oklahoma.
Biographer Bill Neeley writes:
"Not only did Quanah pass within the span of a single lifetime from a Stone Age warrior to a statesman in the age of the Industrial Revolution, but he accepted the challenge and responsibility of leading the whole Comanche tribe on the difficult road toward their new existence."
Quanah was traveling the "white man's road," but he did it his way. He refused to give up polygamy, much to the reservation agents' chagrin. Reservation agents being political appointees of the Federal Government, their main concern was to destroy all vestiges of Native American life and replace their culture with that of theirs. Quanah Parker also used peyote, negotiated grazing rights with Texas cattlemen, and invested in a railroad.
He learned English, became a reservation judge, lobbied Congress and pleaded the cause of the Comanche Nation. Among his friends were cattleman Charles Goodnight and President Theodore Roosevelt. He considered himself a man who tried to do right both to the people of his tribe and to his "pale-faced friends".
It wasn't easy. Mackenzie appointed Quanah Parker as the chief of the Comanche shortly after his surrender, but the older chiefs resented Parker's youth, and his white blood in particular." And in 1892, when Quanah Parker signed the Jerome Agreement that broke up the reservation, the Comanche were split into two factions: (1). those who realized that all that could be done had been one for their nation; and (2). those who blamed Chief Parker for selling their country."
Quanah Parker died on February 23, 1911, and was buried next to his mother, whose body he had reentered at Ft. Sill Military cemetery on Chiefs Knoll in Oklahoma only three months earlier. For his courage, integrity and tremendous insight, Quanah Parker's life tells the story of one of America's greatest leaders and a true Texas Hero.
The Last Comanche Chief, actually the only Chief of the Comanche Nation, was Quanah Parker. Quanah came to power as the Comanche Nation ceased to exist as the Lords of the Plains. He recognized quickly that he had a choice as their leader, hold them to the old ways and watch them die or lead them down the road of acculturation and watch them have a chance at survival. He knew that with acculturation he may watch the culture die but the people themselves would live. Quanah himself clung to many of the old ways including polygamy, braids, and the use of peyote. He also encouraged his
people to become educated, and to accept white ways.
Quanah was the son of Peta Nacona and Cynthia Ann Parker. Peta Nacona was a chief in the Naconis division. After the Pease River massacre Quanah Parker was renamed Tseeta, Eagle, by his father. Quanah was born circa 1850. Cynthia Ann Parker was captured on December 17, 1860 and returned to her white family, along with her 18 month old daughter, Prairie Flower. A few years later Peta Naconi died of an infected wound. Quanah's brother Pecos died of smallpox in 1863 and a few months later Prairie Flower died of influenza. Cynthia Ann starved herself to death mourning the loss of her two
youngest children (White 1). Quanah was now an orphan, one of his father's other wives took him in, but she too later died. Quanah was an outcast in his tribe being part white, a fact he did not know until after his mother had been returned to her white family. After his step-mother's death Quanah had to forage and fend for himself. He worked harder at being a proper Comanche warrior then most of the other boys. He excelled at hunting but still could not break the barrier of his mixed blood.
The Chieftainship is not hereditary, one must earn the right to be called chief. There are two qualifications. First, one must have an outstanding war record. Second, the candidate must show concern for his followers. Quanah excelled as a warrior but as a youth he did not prove to be always so generous with his followers. He did keep the best horses and lions share of the stolen booty for himself. He did provide well for his followers on the reservation in later years. Providing for his followers and the guests that came to visit, sometimes unannounced, necessitated Quanah to seek loans in the last years of his life.
Quanah fell in love with Weakeah but her father, Ekitaocup, forbid their marriage. The young couple eloped and spent several years out on the plains with a growing tribe which Quanah was the leader of. He was gaining a reputation as a fierce warrior and capable leader. Eventually Weakeah's father accepted the marriage and they were able to return to the Comanche Nation. Years later Ekitaocup accompanied Quanah to Fort Worth where he died in an accident. This accident almost killed Quanah too. It also almost ended his career.
Quanah joined raiding parties in his father's old band and in his father-in-law's band. During one raid the leader, Bear's Ear, was killed. Usually after the leader was killed the raiders would become disoriented and cease the raid or scatter and loose their booty. Bear's Ear was killed after the raid while they were being pursued. The raiding party had reached the Red River. They had planned to cross the Red River farther west but with the death of Bear's Ear confusion ruled. Quanah shouted to the men to head north to the river where they crossed the river to safety. His actions saved the remainder of the raiding party and their stolen horses. This lead to his being accepted as a true leader. It gained him the right to speak openly in tribal council, something only the most noteworthy obtained.
A young medicine man named Eschiti led an attack on Adobe Walls, a trading post for buffalo hunters, in 1864. This attack was a miserable failure. Eschiti had told the warriors he had medicine to protect them from bullets. Eschiti's medicine proved false and several warriors were wounded. Quanah was among the wounded. Quanah was wounded while rescuing a fallen comrade, Howeah. Howeah later was recommended to replace Quanah as Chief of the Comanches by Quanah's opposition.
Quanah continued to lead and join raiding parties even after the signing of the Treaty of Medicine Lodge in 18 67. In 1874, Colonel R. S. Mackenzie found Quanah's hidden encampment at Palo Duro Canyon. Leading a charge that scattered the tribes horses, and people, Mackenzie succeeded in breaking many of the Comanches under the command of Quanah. It was another year before Quanah gave up. The pressures on the People became to much and in 1875 Quanah lead his tribe in for a meeting with Dr. Jacob J. Sturm. Dr. Sturm was sent by Lieutenant Colonel J. W. Davidson to try and bring in
Quanah before General Ranald Slidell Mackenzie took over at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Quanah was singled out by Sturm in his journal as "a young man of much influence with his people....who also urged compliance with the colonel's order" (Hagan Quanah 4).
According to oral tradition, Quanah was unsure of taking his tribe to the reservation. He climbed a mesa at Caon Blanco to meditate. Quanah was meditating on his mother's life. She had been captured as a child and adapted to the Comanche way of life. She later was recaptured by the whites and taken back to her family. While sitting at the top he noticed a wolf below him. The wolf looked up at him, howled and then turned northeastward towards Fort Sill. Quanah then looked up to see an eagle gliding overhead, it too headed northeastward. Quanah took this to be a sign and led his
people to Fort Sill and a new way of life.
Sturm then chose Quanah to be one of the messengers to Colonel Mackenzie. Quanah and the other messengers reached Fort Sill the evening of May 13, 1875. Within a few days Quanah had approached Colonel Mackenzie concerning the whereabouts of his mother. Mackenzie sent a letter to the quartermaster of Denison, Texas, asking about Cynthia Ann Parker and her daughter. He received two responses both stating that both mother and child were dead. This interest in his mother proved to be a bonus to Quanah. Mackenzie took an added interest in him and gave him special duties that aided is ascent up the ladder of power at Fort Sill.
Shortly after his arrival at Fort Sill, Mackenzie sent Quanah into the field to retrieve some runaways. Two months after leaving the reservation he returned with 21 runaways. He pleaded the case for the runaways asking for clemency. He made the whites happy by bringing in the runaways and made the runaways happy by keeping them out of prison. Thus started Quanah Parkers career in politics.
Reservation life required a complete societal change for the Comanches. Never before in the history of the Comanche Nation had there been one central leader. Prior to reservation life every clan had their own chief. Actually chiefs, one for peace time and one for war. The white "overlords" were unable to accept this kind of political system and imposed a white political system on the Comanches. Quanah was chosen by the reservation agent to be the primary chief. Quanah proved to be influential not only with the Comanches but also with the Kiowas and Kiowa-Apaches they shared the
According to historical records shortly after arriving at the reservation the Comanches began using peyote. Some historians believe the use predates reservation life. Peyote was a central part of some religious practices. Quanah was a recognized leader in the peyote cult. The participants were all male and the ceremony lasted all night. This religion helped to join the natives in a Pan-Indian movement. The Comanches actually supplied peyote to their greatest Native American enemy, the Tonkawas (Hagan Quanah 56). This religion is the bases for the Native American Church, which is a blend of
Christian and Native practices. Cultural blending was used to curtail agency investigations.
"Prucha reports that the use of peyote in religious rites was shielded by a cultural innovation in the mid-twentieth century - the creation of the Native American Church. By embedding peyote use in a syncretic Indian-Christian religious institution, practitioners were protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution." (Nagel 47)
In the North Plains the Ghost Dance cult was forming. Quanah scoffed at the Ghost Dance. Some Indians at the reservation did follow the Ghost Dance but most did not. There are several theories as to why Quanah did not follow the Ghost Dance. The Ghost Dancers were told that their shirts made them impervious to bullets, the same thing Eschiti had told the Comanches prior to the battle at Adobe Walls. Others speculate that Quanah would not follow another's teachings because he wanted to be the leader. While still others simply state the ideals of the Plains Indians religious beliefs.
"Every man was his own priest and his own prophet - the individual interpreter of the wills and ways of the spirits...power came in mystic visitations, a dream phenomenon or hallucinatory experience. It's authority was absolute; psychic experiences were socially recognized and regarded as the very cornerstone of Comanche cultural life" Ernest Wallace. (Neeley 62)
The Bureau of Indian Affairs was to supply the Comanches on the reservation with food, clothing, blankets and other necessities per the Treaty of Medicine Lodge. The Treaty also stated that the natives could hunt to supplement the supplies given by the government. The game was very scarce on the reservation and feelings towards the natives were very tense off of the reservation. The Comanches needed military escorts to go hunting off of the reservation. After one such hunting trip that had ended in failure, Quanah and his hunting party were accused of stealing horses. In defense Quanah pointed to the horses they rode showing their poor condition. If they had stolen horses they would have stolen horses in better shape then those they rode. Considering the Comanches knowledge of horseflesh this would have been true.
The Comanches began ranching. They started raising cattle. But they also had a problem with the ranchers in the area. Many ranchers from Texas would drive their cattle across the reservation to take their stock to market. The reservation consisted of 3, 000,000 acres of land with a population of 3,000 Native Americans (Hagan Quanah 29). Ranchers used the western section on their way to Dodge City. Because of the ranchers using the land the Bureau of Indian Affairs encouraged the Indians not to use the western section of the reservation.
Quanah saw this as an opportunity to provide for his people. He received a letter from the Indian Agent at the reservation, the letter recognized him as Chief of the Comanches. He would go out into the area where ranchers were seen driving their herds. He would approach the trail boss and show him the letter. He would offer advise as to where the good grass and water was and extract a payment in head of cattle. In this manner he provided extra food for those who followed him.
Quanah also leased out sections of "his" pasture to the Texas ranchers. This was not an actual lease. What he would do is care for the ranchers stock saying it was his own. The rancher would pay a nice sum of money to Quanah for this service. Quanah was paid $50 per month and his four employees were paid $25 per month.
The ranchers approached the Bureau of Indian Affairs with a proposal of leasing the western section of the reservation. At first Quanah was anti-lease. His profitable relationship with the ranchers lead to his conversion to being pro-lease. December 1884 saw the signing of the first lease agreement. The ranchers leased the land at $.06 per acre. The monies received from this lease agreement was referred to as "grass money". The "grass money" was divided up equally amongst the Indians on the reservation, but held in trust by the Federal Government.
During the time of the lease agreements Quanah Parker flourished financially. Quanah was close friends with the ranchers. During their time leasing the range land the ranchers provided Quanah with an invaluable education. An education that he was to use later when dealing with the government concerning allotments.
In 1888 Quanah farmed 150 acres. In 1890 Quanah had 425 head of cattle, 200 hogs, 3 wagons, 1 buggy and 160 horses (Hagan Quanah 42). Quanah was a celebrity, hosting several dignitaries of his time, including hosting a wolf hunt for President Theodore Roosevelt.
Roosevelt understood the Indians. He understood why they fought so fiercely to save their land. Roosevelt was an outdoorsman and as such loved and respected nature. The hunting expedition with Quanah served as the avenue for Roosevelt being made aware of the plight of the Native American. This did prompt Roosevelt to veto the Stephens Bill to open the reservation to settlement. Several months later Roosevelt did sign the revised bill on June 5, 1906.
The Jerome Commission came to the reservation on September 19, 1892. The Jerome Commissions duty was to convince the Indians to sign a treaty allowing allotting of land. The allotments were to be 160 acres each, per the Dawes Act. The Treaty of Medicine Lodge had stated that when allotments occurred the lots were to be 320 acres each. According to The Treaty of Medicine Lodge allotting of the land was to happen in 1898. Quanah pointed this out in one of the meetings. He also started asking how much per acre were the Indians going to get for the land that was being opened up for settlement. An estimate of $2,000,000 had been given for the sum total of money the Indians would receive for the land. The following is an excerpt of this discussion between Quanah Parker and Commissioner Sayre:
Quanah Parker: How much per acre?
Mr. Sayre: I can not tell you.
Quanah Parker: How do you arrive at the number of million dollars if you do
Mr. Sayre: We just guess at it. (Hagan Quanah 69)
Because of Quanah's line of questioning Commissioner Jerome had came up with some figures to give him the next day. But Quanah was onto another line of questioning, he started lobbying for an additional $500,000 (Neeley 213). Lone Wolf of the Kiowas expressed concern for the more impoverished and less educated of the reservation. Quanah agreed with Lone Wolf and went on to say:
"There has [sic] been several statements as to the amount of money that we receive. It is a great deal of money to be paid each person, and if the Indian makes good use of it he can live like Tanananaka and myself. You look around you and see so many good faces, but they will take their money and buy whiskey." (Neeley 211)
He went on to say:
"We think we understand what the commission has said to us, but do not think the commission has understood what we have said....This land is ours, just like your farm is yours; but for one reason we can not hold on to ours, because on the right had is what you are trying to do and on the left hand is the Dawes bill." (Neeley 211)
Quanah had realized he could not stop allotment, only postpone it. He knew he had two options. One, deal with the Jerome Commission or two let the Dawes Act dictate what happened. He chose to deal with the Jerome Commission. It took the Jerome Commission one month to accomplish getting the "signatures" they were after.
Senator Dawes said, "that greed was the element most conspicuously lacking in Indian societies and that without it they could not hope to reach the white man's level of civilization" (Hagan Quanah 72). Greed may or may not have been the driving force behind Quanah Parker but he did use his power to gain personal wealth.
Quanah told the commission that as long as the Jerome Agreement was not ratified he would continue to see to the leasing of the grassland. The Jerome Agreement was ratified 1900. The version that passed the House in March 1900 gave each Indian 160 acres each, did not guarantee them money for the remainder of the land. The Indian Rights Association lobbied against this bill. In a statement they condemned it by saying:
"utterly destructive of that honor and good faith which should characterize our dealings with any people, and especially with one too weak to enforce their rights as against us by any other means than an appeal to our sense of justice" (Hagan U.S. 260)
This pressure lead to another version of the Jerome Agreement. This version gave each Indian 160 acres, an additional 480,000 acres of land to be held communally, and guaranteed the Indians would receive at least $500,000 of the $2,000,000 purchase price for the surplus land. This was the version of the Jerome Agreement that was ratified in 1900. Provisions were also made for the children that had been born during the time of the signing of the Jerome Agreement and its ratification.
Quanah never learned to read but he spoke three languages, Comanche, Spanish and English. Realizing that the only way for his people to survive was to acculturate he encouraged education. Ironically, his own children were not always in school. Lack of space in the schools kept them from attending regularly. In 1893, the Fort Sill Boarding School opened. The addition of this school afforded many children, Quanah's included, the opportunity for an education they would not have otherwise received. Because of the lack of a school in his area Quanah had enrolled his son Kelsey in a white school in
Cache. The residents of Cache protested an Indian in their school.
Officially the reason given for Kelsey being denied access to the school was where he lived, outside of the school district (Hagan U.S. 293). So Quanah enrolled Kelsey in the Fort Sill school. Kelsey was not happy. Quanah's said of the Indian school, "No like Indian school for my people. Indian boy go to Indian school, stay like Indian; go white school, he like white man. Me want white school so my children get educated like whites, be like whites." (Hagan Quanah 111)
In 1908 Quanah offered a piece of his property to be used for a school. The reason for the proposed school was that many Indian and white children in the area where Quanah lived were not in any school district. This school never was built. Rumor was that Quanah's son, White Parker, was to be the teacher. Quanah wanted a white teacher, he felt that an Indian teacher would not speak English well enough to truly teach the children (Hagan Quanah 111).
August 6, 1901, Lawton, Oklahoma was founded five miles south of Fort Sill (Neeley 217). Lawton is a dominant location in the history of the Comanche. During the winter of 1872-73 the Quahadas camped in that area (Wallace 317). Later Quanah would appear in parades in Lawton during their Indian Days Celebrations.
On December 4, 1910, Quanah re-interred his mother's remains. He had brought her body up from Texas to Oklahoma. During the ceremony he said,
"Forty years ago my mother died. She captured by Comanches, nine years old. Love Indian and wild life so well no want to go back to white folks. All same people anyway, God say. I love my mother. I like my white people. Got great heart. I want my people to follow after white way, get educated, know work, make living when payments stop. I tell 'em they got to know [how to] pick cotton, plow corn. I want them know white man's God. Comanche may die today, tomorrow, ten years. When end comes then they all be together again. I want see my mother again then." (Neeley 233-234)
One of Quanah's wishes was to live long enough to see a monument placed on his mother's grave. Two weeks before his death he supervised its installation. After one of his appearances, at an Indian feast, Quanah returned home not feeling well, twenty minutes later he was dead. The Lawton Daily News carried the following obituary.
"Quanah Parker, chief of the Comanches, man among men and chieftain among chieftains, has gone to the Great Father. He died at his ranch near here at five minutes past noon today, twenty minutes after his return from a visit with Cheyenne near Harmon, Oklahoma.
The immediate cause of death was heart failure caused by rheumatism, according to the physician called, Dr. J. A. Perisho of Cache. The Chief was dying on the train coming from Snyder but with primitive stoicism he determined to live until he reached home. His favorite wife, To-nicy, by his side, the dying chief sat quietly, his head bowed and his limbs trembling. When the train reached Cache he arose and walked from the train unaided and sat in the waiting room. Dr. Perisho was called and gave him a heart stimulant and the chief was then rushed to his home in the automobile of his son-in-law Emmit Cox.
He was helped into the house and laid on a couch. He arose unaided while Knox Beal, a white man raised from childhood by the Comanche chief, took off his outer garments.
'Have you any objections to the doctor of the white man treating you?' asked To-pay, one of his wives, in Comanche. 'No - it is good - I'm ready,' said Quanah.
The Indian women seemed to know the end was near. They motioned to the physician, Beal, and a friend to leave the room while the 'Cotes-E-Wyne,' the Indian's last resort, was administered by Quas-E- I, a medicine man.
'Father in heaven this our brother is coming,' prayed the medicine man. Placing an arm about the dying chief, he flapped his hands and imitated the call of the Great Eagle, the messenger of the Great Father.
Then an eagle bone was thrust in Quanah's throat to open it and To-nicy, his favorite, squirted a mouthful of water down his throat. He coughed, gasped, moved his lips feebly, and died, just twenty minutes after his arrival." (Neeley 234-235)
One of the men that was sent to oversee or review the affairs of the reservation was Francis E. Leupp. Leupp was sent in 1903 by T. Roosevelt to investigate claims of corruption at the Wichita Reservation and the Kiowa, Kiowa-Apache and Comanche Reservation. In his report Leupp described Quanah Parker as "always conscious that he is Indian, but never forgetful that the white civilization is supreme, and that the Indians wisest course is to adapt himself to it as fast as he can" (Hagan Quanah 113).
Cynthia Ann Parker and Prairie Flower circa 1861 (Noyes 234)
Quanah Parker (Neeley)
Quanah in his bedroom circa 1897 note picture of his mother (Hagan Quanah 90)
Quanah Parker circa 1910 photo taken at Wright Studio Lawton, OK (Hagan Quanah 123)
Forts in the Comanche Territories
Comanche and Kiowa Treaty of October 18, 1865(Hagan U.S. 22)
Comanche and Kiowa Treaty of October 21, 1867(Hagan U.S. 40)
Kiowa, Comanche and Kiowa-Apache Reservation and Wichita Reservation per the
Treaty of October 21, 1867(Hagan U.S. 41)
American Indian Chief, Quanah Parker
Quannah Parker became chief of the Comanche Indians in 1867 and until 1875 led raids on frontier settlements. A shrewd businessman, he was believed, at one time, to be the wealthiest Indian in the United States.