Cynthia Ann Parker

Title: [Cynthia Ann Parker]

Creator: Bridgers, William

Date: 1861

Part Of: Lawrence T. Jones III Texas photography collection

Description: This view is the earliest extant image taken of Cynthia Ann Parker (1827?-1864).

When American settlers came to Texas in the mid 19th century, there were occasionally armed conflicts with the Natives and John Parker coming with his family from Illinois in the 1830s experienced this threat. He built a fortified complex in what is now Limestone County then several hundred Comanche swooped down to attack in 1836. At that time attackers abducted several children and escaped.

Though kidnapped children were usually returned 9-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker was not and was adopted by the tribe. This meant that for more than 20 years she basically became a Comanche in family feeling and mindset. Then though she was later returned to her original family, she found it hard to adjust. Also, she did not live long enough to see her oldest son Quanah became known as the wise Comanche leader who helped his people adjust to a new life on reservations.

After her abduction, the Parker family continued to search for Cynthia Ann and her story became well known. Then in 1860 following a report of a band of Comanche with American captives, the Texas Rangers set out to investigate. In the ensuing confrontation they captured an ostensible Comanche woman who was thought to be Cynthia Ann because she had blue eyes and was light-complexioned. Finally after questioning by an uncle she eventually identified herself.

Local newspapers broke the story and soon the entire state knew about Cynthia Ann’s return to her family. But though only 34, Cynthia bore a haggard appearance, One author put it this way: “...she looked used up. Her 25 years of rough living on the plains took their toll. And the rest of her life would be unkind - full of sorrow.”

Her toddler daughter Topsannah (Prairie Flower) was with her as she went to live with various relatives but she was still very much a Comanche at heart. In fact, a well known photo taken soon after her return shows her with the child and with shorn hair - a Comanche custom for grief,

She eventually settled in the Anderson/Henderson County area and there her daughter came to adjust to her American family, attending school and speaking English. However, the child caught the flu, then pneumonia and died early in 1864. Her mother responded as a grieving Comanche mother – she slashed her body and wailed uncontrollably.

Though some believed her daughter’s death meant Cynthia was to die of a broken heart, actually she lived another several years. She died in i871 at the age of about 46 at her sister’s home.

Meanwhile, Cynthia Ann’s son Quanah was proving to effectively lead his people first against the American military, then after a few years into a new life. After surrendering, he peacefully led his people to live on an Oklahoma reservation and he himself retired to become a prosperous rancher. He continued to be an important representative of his people to the Americans before his death in 1911.

Yet before his death, in 1910 he had his son in law, a U.S. Marshall named Birdsong come to Henderson /Anderson County to locate his mother’s grave for her reburial in Oklahoma. The November 24, 1910 Athens Review described how upon arrival Birdsong was referred to a local man, “Uncle” Dan Donnell who he hoped would help find the right grave in what they thought was the Fosterville grave yard at the edge of Anderson County. However, is possible that initially they had the wrong location. A follow-up article in the December 1 issue then offered more details as Birdsong, accompanied by local Deputy County Clerk E.V. Milner, and another local man Joe Padgett of Poynor went to the Foster grave yard near Poynor and located the grave. However, it was not at first identifiable.

“So long had it been since she was buried that no trace of a grave was there,” the reporter related, “But Mr. Padgett who was present when she was buried and who had seen the grave many times since knew so well its exact location that at first effort the remains were found.” They found just the large bones, including the skull and teeth which may have identified her.

Cynthia’s remains were reinterred in a cemetery near Cache, Oklahoma and the next year Quanah was buried next to her. Then in 1957 the bodies were relocated to the Fort Sill Post Cemetery. Finally the family was reunited in 1965 when Quanah’s sister Topsannah was moved from her grave near Edom to join her mother and brother.

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