The history of Comanche Chief Quanah Parker

Lance Tahmahkera holds a beaded portrait he made of his great-great-grandfather Quanah Parker. Parker was a Comanche chief who worked to negotiate peace between Natives and the U.S. government. 

When sending his Native American children to boarding school, Comanche Chief Quanah Parker held his oldest daughter, Weyote, back. 

Parker’s great-great-grandson Lance Tahmahkera, Weyote’s great-grandson, said this was because he wanted her to carry on the traditions of Comanche culture.

“Quanah sent his kids to school, he understood the importance of that, but he took his oldest daughter and he said, ‘You’re not going to go to school. I don’t want you to speak English. I want you to keep our Comanche ways,’” Tahmahkera said. “He had the wisdom to say they want us to transition our lives, but we’re not going to lose our culture.”

In further attempt to remember and celebrate Parker’s history, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill last month to declare the second Saturday in September as Quanah Parker Day.

Parker, who lived from about 1845 to 1911, is remembered for his leadership and bridging the gap between the U.S. government and Native Americans.

“He went from the Indian welfare days into, what I like to call, the modern time period,” local Weatherford historian Jon Vandagriff said. “When he went onto the reservation in 1875, he adopted the white man’s ways, and he encouraged all of the Indians to follow the white man pattern of farming, raising cattle and stuff, and coming onto the reservation and ceasing their fighting.”

Tahmahkera said naming a day after his great-great-grandfather is definitely an honor for Parker’s legacy in Texas. Parker’s leadership had kept Natives off reservations longer than other bands.

“When he did surrender in 1875, his greatness as a leader was showing as he helped transition us from the nomadic hunter-warrior lifestyle to the everyday life that we have now,” Tahmahkera said.

If the name “Parker” sounds familiar, it may be because Quanah Parker is related to former Texas lawmaker Isaac Parker, for whom Parker County is named after. Quanah Parker’s mother, Cynthia Ann, was niece to Isaac Parker.

“We get the misconception when [people] come through the museum that Parker County was named for Quanah Parker or Cynthia Ann Parker,” Doss Heritage and Culture Center Museum Affairs Director Amanda Edwards said. “When we explain to them that it was named after Isaac Parker, then we go through some of that history because back then they probably wouldn’t have named a county after a Native American.”

Edwards said the Doss plans to celebrate Quanah Parker Day, but there is no definite agenda yet.

“I think why [Quanah Parker] is so unique and why he’s such an interesting historical figure is because he tried to kind of look at both sides, and he was very savvy in that he could handle the political side of it and worked with the government as they tried to move them into reservations,” Edwards said.

Pioneers started moving into Indian territory after the Civil War, thus pushing Natives westward, Edwards said. Native populations were nomadic and followed the buffalo herds, which Natives used for many things. Eventually, the U.S. stepped in to establish reservations for Natives because of conflicts and raids between settlers and Natives.

Buffalo herds were being depleted and killed for their sought-after hides, which was part of the reason that Quanah Parker and Comanches discontinued the nomadic lifestyle, Edwards said.

“When [Quanah Parker] became chief, he worked with his people to kind of get away from being so nomadic, started putting down more roots, doing farming,” Edwards said. “He tried to step back their complete reliance on the buffalo.”

Quanah Parker’s mother Cynthia Ann Parker was a white woman who was kidnapped by Natives as a child and raised in the Native community. Later, she was taken back to her white family by Texas Rangers during an attack on an Indian encampment by the Pease River.

Vandagriff said Cynthia Ann Parker’s return with her daughter Prairie Flower was difficult for her and Quanah’s father Peta Nocona. 

“Nocona never did get over her capture,” Vandagriff said. “She and Prairie Flower were gone, and he didn’t know whether they were alive or not, and it wasn’t too long after that that he, I think, kind of gave up because he died out there on the prairie and left Quanah and [Nocona’s other son] Pecos to pretty much fend for themselves.”

Quanah Parker, as an adult, was able to find out more about his mother after his surrender in 1875, Tahmahkera said. Before his death, Quanah brought back his mother’s body to rest back to his home in Oklahoma.

Quanah Parker also took his mother’s last name as his own, which was unusual for Natives, Vandagriff said.

“He respected his mother that much, and so if he was going to become a good white man, he needed to have a last name like they did, and he respected his mother so much that he wanted to take her name as his last name,” Vandagriff said.

Quanah Parker decided to help the Natives transition into reservation lifestyle when he realized that was the only way to survive. Vandagriff said during the Battle of the Adobe Walls in 1874, buffalo hunters defeated Natives by using long rifles that were used for killing buffalo. One of the hunters was able to knock a Native off his horse using the weapon.

“Quanah said, ‘If they can do that at a mile away, we don’t stand a chance,’” Vandagriff said. “So they evacuated the adobe walls and that was the beginning of the end for them.”

When he did settle into reservation life, Quanah would often represent Natives in Washington, D.C., and addressed issues in the Native communities, Vandagriff said.

“He did an awful lot, not only for the Comanches but the Kiowas and some of the others out there because of the respect that he developed among the white men,” Vandagriff said.

Quanah Parker also made a deal with Texas rancher Charles Goodnight, of Goodnight-Loving Trail fame, to preserve buffalo, Edwards said.

“[Quanah Parker] made a deal with them that [the Comanches] wouldn’t hunt buffalo on the JA Ranch, and in return that almost saved the buffalo population from being completely extinct, and then [Comanches] got cattle in return to live off of,” Edwards said. “He was very kind of political, business savvy, which helped, I think, bridge the gap between the nomadic Native American lifestyle that was here pre-settler to being able to live with settlers.”

Through Quanah Parker’s trips to Washington, D.C., he became friends with former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, Vandagriff said. Quanah Parker even appeared in Roosevelt’s inaugural parade.

“Roosevelt respected him because of the power that he had over the Indian tribes, and they became quite good friends and corresponded over the years,” Vandagriff said.

Tahmahkera recalled a story about his great-great-grandfather that he had heard from both the Native and white troop sides. Before he had surrendered, Quanah Parker and his Quahada band were being forced onto reservations by U.S. troops. 

“It was getting around wintertime, and if you’ve ever been out there to West Texas, it is like a pool table,” Tahmahkera said. “There are no trees. You can just see for miles and miles and miles, just land.”

The troops were in pursuit of the Quahada band, and both sides could easily see each other, Tahmahkera said. As the troops were upon them, Quanah Parker talked to the medicine man about the situation. When the medicine man asked what he was to do, Quanah told him to “fix it.” The medicine man smoked tobacco in his pipe, sang a song and prayed, Tahmahkera said. 

Immediately, snow fell, tracks were covered, and Quanah Parker and his band escaped. 

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