Cynthia Ann Parker

Cynthia Ann Parker and her daughter, Topsannah (Prairie Flower), in 1861

Cynthia Ann Parker, or Naduah (also sometimes spelled "Nadua" and "Nauta," meaning "someone found"; some research has shown that the name Naduah actually means "Keeps Warm With Us"), (ca 1827–1870) was an American woman of old colonial stock of Scots-Irish descent who was captured and kidnapped at the age of nine by a American Indian band which massacred her family and settlement. Cynthia Ann was a member of the large Parker frontier family that settled in east Texas in the 1830s. She was captured in 1836 by Comanches during the raid of Fort Parker near present-day Groesbeck, Texas, witnessing the brutal torture and murder of her grandfather, John Parker and the repeated gang rape of several of her relatives. Parker was abused, sometimes tortured, and heavily discriminated against by the pure Comanche. She was adopted as the wife of Comanche chief Peta Nocona. Cynthia became part of the Comanche band and stayed with them for 24 years. During that time she gave birth to three children before she was "rescued" at age 34, by the Texas Rangers. She spent the remaining 10 years of her life trying to adjust back to civilized life as a Texan. At least once she escaped and tried to return to her Comanche family and children, but was again "rescued" and brought back to Texas. She had difficulty in understanding her iconic status to the nation, which had made her the object of Redemption from the savages. One of her three children was Quanah Parker, the last Comanche chief.


Early life

Cynthia Ann Parker was born to Silas M. Parker and Lucy Parker in Crawford County, Illinois. There is considerable dispute about her age; according to the 1870 census of Anderson County, Texas, she would have been born between June 2, 1824, and May 31, 1825. When she was nine years old, her paternal grandfather John Parker was recruited to settle his family in Texas; he was to establish a fortified settlement against Comanche raids which had been devastating to the colonization of Texas and northern Mexico for generations. Upon arriving in Texas, the Parker family moved to north-central Texas and built a log fort -- which soon became known as Fort Parker -- on the headwaters of the Navasota River in what is now Limestone County. Cynthia's brother James was killed on the way from Illinois to Texas when the wagon lost a wheel and he was struck through the chest with a piece of splintered wood.

Fort Parker massacre

Her grandfather, Elder John Parker, the patriarch of the family, had long experience in negotiating with various Indian nations going back to the 18th century when he was a noted Ranger, Scout, Indian fighter, and soldier of the United States. Consequently, when he negotiated treaties with the local non-Comanche Indians, it was supposed by him and higher authorities that a substantial bulwark had been created to protect the rest of Texas, and that at least the local Indians would be useful allies against the Comanche. However, this was a fatal error; the Comancheria imperium did not recognize treaties signed by subject Indian nations and had such a fearsome reputation that no subject Indians would dare help the white man. Nonetheless the Parker family, its extended kin, and surrounding families established fortified bloc houses and a central citadel -- later called Fort Parker -- for falling back to in case of attack. John Parker and the community lacked sufficient knowledge of the Comanches' military prowess, and were unprepared for the ferocity and speed of the Indian warriors in the attack which followed.

On May 19, 1836, a force of Indian warriors -- said by the Texans to be approximately 500 strong -- composed of Comanches accompanied by Kiowa and Kichai allies, attacked the community. They burned alive families in their bloc houses, killed men, women, and children caught in the open and on the roads. John Parker and his men were caught in the open. They managed to fight a rearguard action for some of the escaping women and children, but soon they too retreated into the fort. The Indians attacked the fort and quickly overpowered the outnumbered defenders. They took John Parker, his granddaughter Cynthia Ann Parker, and some others alive. Four of the captives were sufficiently young and/or female that the Comanche did not kill them. Cynthia watched as the other women were raped and eventually killed, the babies were smashed onto rocks, the adolescent boys were murdered, and the men tortured and killed. The last victim was John Parker. He was castrated and his genitals were stuffed into his mouth; he was scalped and at last killed. Cynthia Parker and five captives, after watching the horror, were led away into Comanche territory. Texans quickly mounted a rescue force. During their pursuit of the Indians one of the captives, a young teenage girl, escaped. Three of the other captives were released over the years as the typical ransom was paid, but Cynthia remained with the Indians for nearly twenty-five years[1].

Cynthia Ann Parker and Peta Nocona

Peta Nocona was one of the chiefs present at the Fort Parker massacre, and as a result of both his lineage and skill formed his own band of the Comanche called the Noconi or Nokoni. As the years wore on, Cynthia was alternately brutalized, abused, and openly discriminated against as she worked as a slave for various families. When she became a woman, she caught the attention of Peta who had become the pre-eminent chieftain in the tribe. He forcibly took Cynthia Parker as his concubine. Peta eventually elevated Cynthia Ann Parker to the status of wife[2]. The couple had three children, famed Comanche chief Quanah Parker[3], another son named Peanuts ( sometimes referred to as Pecos), and a daughter named Topsannah ("Prairie Flower").

Recapture by Texas Rangers at Pease River

In December 1860, after years of searching at the behest of her surviving father and various noteworthy scouts, Texas Rangers deep in the heart of Comancheria, led by Lawrence Sullivan "Sul" Ross discovered a band of Comanche which were rumored to hold American captives. In a surprise raid, the small band of Texas Rangers surprised a force of Comanches in the Battle of Pease River. It was not much of a battle as the majority of the Comanche band was not present in the camp; in the absence of most of the Comanche band's warriors the Rangers killed mostly women and children.

After limited fighting the Comanches realized they were losing and attempted to flee. Ranger Ross and several of his men pursued the man who they had seen giving orders. The chief was fleeing alongside a woman rider. As Ross and his men neared, the other woman held a child over her head; the men did not shoot, but instead surrounded and stopped her. Ross continued to follow the chief, eventually shooting him three times. Although the chief fell from his horse, he was still alive, and refused to surrender. Ross's cook, Antonio Martinez, who had been taken captive and tortured in Mexico after Nocona killed his family, identified the captured chief as Nocona. With Ross's permission, Martinez executed the wounded Comanche.[4]

With this event there was a rush of exhilaration as the Rangers began questioning the woman fleeing with Nocona and other remaining Comanches for signs that this was Cynthia. When Ross arrived back at the campground, he discovered that the woman his men had captured had blue eyes. He assured her that no young boys had been killed in the battle, so her sons, Quanah and Pecos were safe.[5] At last, clutching her 2-year-old daughter, Topsanna (Anglicization: Topsannah), Cynthia in broken English identified herself and her family name.[6] The details matched what Ross knew of the Fort Parker Massacre of 1836.[7]

There is some dispute whether the man killed was actually Nocona or someone else. Cynthia Ann is quoted as stating that the man killed was her personal servant, a Mexican slave called José Nakoni.[8] Cynthia Ann's granddaughter, Nelda Parker Birdsong, stated, "Out of respect to the family of General Ross, do not deny that he killed Peta Nakoni. If it is any credit to him to have killed my father, let his people continue to believe that he did so." [8]

Upon looking at the sorry state of Cynthia's existence, and her broken English, some of the Rangers urged Ross to set her free to return to the Comanches, he considered it best to try to return her to her natural American family. Ross knew many settlers had lost children to the Indians, and many of them might feel this was their child or relative.[citation needed] Ross sent the woman and her child to Camp Cooper and sent a message to Colonel Isaac Parker, the uncle of a young girl kidnapped in the raid.[9][10] When Parker mentioned that his niece's name was Cynthia Ann Parker, the woman slapped her chest and said "Me Cincee Ann."[7] Isaac Parker took her to his home near Birdville, Texas.[11]

Cynthia Ann's rescue had fixed the imagination of the nation. With tens of thousands of Texan families, and many more throughout the U.S. having suffered the loss of family members, especially children in similar manner, Cynthia Ann, especially given her provenance as the granddaughter of a nationally famous American patriot and warrior, born in Baltimore, Maryland, soldier of the wars of the West, only to meet a gruesome end on the banks of far off Texas, had special attention. With her return, there was a literal sigh of relief throughout the country as it gave hope to many and vicariously gave hope to those who had lost it. As a result, in 1861, the Texas legislature granted her a league (about 4,400 acres) of land, a pension of $100 per year for the next five years,[3] and made her cousins, Isaac Duke Parker and Benjamin F. Parker, her legal guardians.[12]

However, as many other accounts testify throughout American history, the state of children so long held in brutal captivity among the Indians, once recovered was not often successful. Cynthia Ann never adapted well to her new life among the Americans, and although white and physically integrated into the community, was ill at ease with the structure, and most importantly at the attention given her. Her brother, Silas Jr., was appointed her guardian in 1862, and took her to his home in Van Zandt County. When Silas was mustered into the Confederate Army, Cynthia Ann went to live with her sister, Orlena. According to some accounts, The chief cause of Cynthia Ann's unhappiness was that she missed her sons and never knew what had happened to them.[3]

Quanah Parker clasping a peyote feather fan


Cynthia Ann Parker's gravestone

In 1864, her daughter, Prairie Flower, caught influenza and died of pneumonia causing extreme grief to Cynthia who now also had lost contact with her sons. When her favorite relative died in the American Civil War, Cynthia never fully recovered. She became sick and died in 1870. She was buried in Foster Cemetery on An County Road 478 in Anderson County near Poynor, Texas. Her son, Quanah Parker, moved her body in 1910 to Post Oak Mission Cemetery near Cache, Oklahoma.[13] He was buried there in February of 1911. Cynthia and Quanah were moved in 1957 to the Fort Sill Post Cemetery at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.[3]
Foster Cemetery Anderson County, Texas 32°02′15″N 95°35′50″W / 32.03750°N 95.59720°W / 32.03750; -95.59720
Post Oak Mission Cemetery Comanche County, Oklahoma 34°37′23″N 98°45′35″W / 34.62310°N 98.75970°W / 34.62310; -98.75970
Fort Sill Post Cemetery 34°40′10″N 98°23′43″W / 34.669466°N 98.395341°W / 34.669466; -98.395341


The city of Crowell, Texas, has held a Cynthia Ann Parker Festival to honor the memory of Cynthia Ann Parker. The town of Groesbeck, Texas, holds an annual Christmas Festival at the site of old Fort Parker every December. The original fort has been re-built on the original site to exact specifications. Several revisionist histories have grown to discuss the story in a different light. In 2010, the historian Paul H. Carlson, professor emeritus at Texas Tech University, published Myth, Memory, and Massacre: The Pease River Capture of Cynthia Ann Parker.


The 1956 movie The Searchers, which was based on an Alan Le May novel, directed by John Ford, and featured John Wayne as an obsessed frontiersman searching for years for his kidnapped niece, is widely believed to have been principally based on Cynthia Ann Parker's story;[14] Natalie Wood and her younger sister Lana Wood portray the kidnapped woman at different ages.

Cynthia Parker is a one-act opera composed by Julia Smith.

The Dutch writer Arthur Japin also wrote a book, "De Overgave" (The Surrender), about the life of the Parker family and the loss of Cynthia Ann.

The character Stands With A Fist in the 1990 movie Dances With Wolves is based on Cynthia Ann Parker.[15]

"Season of Yellow Leaf" by Douglas C. Jones is the fictionalized story of Cynthia Parker's life.

"Gone the Dreams and Dancing", also by Jones, is the fictionalized story of Quanah Parker, Cynthia's son, after he surrendered at Ft. Sill Oklahoma and "walked the white man's road".

"Ride the Wind" by Lucia St. Clair Robson, a fictionalized account of Cynthia Ann's capture and life among the Comanches.


  1. There is some confusion about the correct birth and death dates for Cynthia Ann Parker. Different sources place her birth from 1825 to 1827 in Coles, Clark or Crawford counties of Illinois, and her death from 1864 to 1871 in Anderson County, Texas. However, her presence in the 1870 Anderson County census makes an earlier death date unlikely.
  2. Writing in the Crowell Index on October 8, 1909, Tom Champion opined, "...I am convinced that the white people did more harm by keeping her away from them than the Indians did by taking her at first."


  1. ^ The Comanche Barrier to South Plains Settlement: A Century and a Half of Savage Resistance to the Advancing White Frontier. Arthur H. Clarke Co., 1933
  2. ^ Quanah Parker The Handbook of Texas Online - PARKER, QUANAH
  3. ^ a b c d Michno, Gregory, & Michno, Susan (2007). A Fate Worse Than Death: Indian Captivities in the West, 1830-1885, pp. 35-39. Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Press
  4. ^ Benner (1984), p. 54.
  5. ^ Benner (1984), p. 56.
  6. ^ Pease River - TSHA Handbook of Texas
  7. ^ a b Benner (1984), p. 57.
  8. ^ a b [1], Cynthia Ann Parker.
  9. ^ Camp Cooper, Texas - TSHA Handbook of Texas
  10. ^ Isaac Parker - TSHA Handbook of Texas
  11. ^ Birdville, Texas - TSHA Handbook of Texas
  12. ^ Benjamin F. Parker - TSHA Handbook of Texas
  13. ^ Post Oak Mission Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture
  14. ^ McBride, Joseph (2001). Searching for John Ford: A Life, p. 552. New York: St. Martin's Press.
  15. ^ Aleiss, Angela (2005). Making the White Man's Indian: Native Americans and Hollywood Movies.
  • Benner, Judith Ann (1983), Sul Ross, Soldier, Statesman, Educator, College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press 
  • Exley, Jo Ella Powell (2001), Frontier Blood: Saga of the Parker Family, Texas A&M University Press, ISBN 978-1585441365 
  • Hacker, Margaret (1990), Cynthia Ann Parker: The Life and the Legend, Texas Western Press, ISBN 978-0874041873 

Further reading

External links

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