Quanah Parker: Part 2

Quanah Parker was an important Comanche chief, a leader in the Native American Church, and the last leader of the powerful Quahadi band before they surrendered their battle of the Great Plains.  With five wives and 25 children, Quanah had numerous descendants. Many people in Texas and Oklahoma claim him as an ancestor. S.C. Gwynne recently published a book on Quanah Parker, and is giving a lecture on him at the museum on April 5. Here is part 2 of my blog on Quanah Parker. If you missed the first part, don’t worry, just click here to read it.

Quanah grew up to be a full warrior by the time he was fifteen years old, when he led a raid to steal horses in the San Antonio area. His reputation grew when, on his second raid, he was intercepted by a company of U.S. Army cavalry. Instead of taking off, Quanah confronted his assailants and managed to steal the cavalry’s sixty mules (Gwynne 2010: 199-201).

These were the years during which the Civil War raged further east. While there were no large scale military encounters in this part of the US, the Civil War did affect the frontier area by siphoning off manpower and money. This left the border wide open to Comanche raids once more (Gwynne 2010:210).

Over time, Comanche raiding changed in nature. Instead of being primarily aimed at stealing horses, these raids became the 19th century equivalent of what would be called political terrorism today: their goal was to roll back the frontier. There was good evidence that this tactic was working (Gwynne 2010: 202). In addition, Quanah retained a burning desire to avenge his father’s death and his mother’s abduction (Gwynne 2010: 202).

After the Civil War, things did not improve. Comanches engaged in cattle raids, which they ended up selling to the army in return for guns and ammunition, to be used in later raids (Gwynne 2010: 223).

In 1868, Quanah took part in a raid that went into Mexico. However, by then the traditional Comanche lifestyle of hunting buffalo and raiding had become a whole lot more difficult. A line of forts had been built in Texas along the San Antonio – El Paso Trail (Gwynne 2010:201). These forts, built by the US after the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo were intended to protect Mexico from raids across the new international border by the Indian tribes of the North. This certainly included the Comanches. One of the men posted to these forts was US Army captain Ranald Slidell MacKenzie (Gwynne 2010: 238).

Ranald Slidell MacKenzie
Image from Wikipedia

In 1871, President Grant placed MacKenzie in command of the Fourth Cavalry on the frontier, placing him squarely in the path of Comanche war parties (Gwynne 2010: 238). This set the stage for the Battle of Blanco Canyon.

MacKenzie’s force consisted of six hundred men and twenty-five Tonkawa scouts. This was the largest force ever assembled against the Comanches to that date (Gwynne 2010:242). True to form, Quanah Parker attacked the force the night of October 10, 1871. He managed to run off some – but not all – of the horses. Still, sixty-six soldiers who had lost their horses were forced to march back east to their supply camp. The rest of the troops continued their search for their attackers. The next day, October 11, they did just that and more. They stumbled across the main body of the Quahadi band, to which Quanah Parker belonged (Gwynne 2010: 243). The Battle of Blanco Canyon had begun.

Blanco Canyon, in Crosby County, Texas, as it looked in 2009
Image from Wikipedia

Traditional Comanche tactics, especially when defending women and children, was for the warriors to face their attackers, buying time for their families to escape. This Quanah Parker and his warriors did. The odds definitely favored the attackers. MacKenzie outnumbered the Comanche warriors, and they were equipped with superior weapons. Quanah Parker and his fellow warriors, on the other hand, had to secure the safety of the entire band, consisting of several hundred lodges. There were large numbers of women and children to be moved out of harm’s way, as were tons of equipment, provisions and supplies, about three thousand horses and mules, as well as cattle and dogs. It seemed like an impossible task to hide them on the open plains, but that is exactly what they did (Gwynne 2010:245).

MacKenzie deployed his trackers, but the band disappeared in the canyons carved by the Brazos river east of the present city of Lubbock. For two days, the Comanche band marched and doubled back, leaving false trails heading in all kinds of directions. The pursuers, new to this part of the country were lost. Finally, mother nature came to the rescue. When at one point, the tribe was sighted and the Anglo force started to gain ground on them, a “blue-norther” roared in. In the face of snow, sleet and winds blowing up to fifty miles per hour, the Fourth Cavalry broke of its pursuit, and the Comanche vanished in the darkness (Gwynne 2010:248).

A blue norther heading toward Landergin Mesa.
Such storms can take a nice warm day and turn it cold, wet, and blustery in a matter of minutes,
a fact well known to anyone who has lived in the Texas Panhandle.
Photo by Rolla Shaller. Image courtesy of Texas Beyond History, Texas Archeological Research Laboratory,
University of Texas at Austin. Photo from Texasbeyondhistory.net

While a success in the short run, the Battle of Blanco Canyon marked the beginning of the end for the Comanche who still roamed the Plains freely. Within a few years, most would be dead, and the survivors forced to relocate to reservations.

Make sure you check out S.C. Gwynne’s lecture on the Comanche on April 5, 2011 at the museum.

The museum’s Plains Indian collection is quite extensive; at its core is the Gordon W. Smith collection, which the museum acquired in 2008. For more information, see here.

Anyone interested in the history of Texas, and its close connection to the history of the Comanches, check out our exhibit on Texas!, on display now at the museum.

Check back next week for the conclusion of the blogs on Quanah Parker.

Quanah Parker

Quanah Parker was an important Comanche chief, a leader in the Native American Church, and the last leader of the powerful Quahadi band before they surrendered their battle of the Great Plains.  With five wives and 25 children, Quanah had numerous descendants. Many people in Texas and Oklahoma claim him as an ancestor. S.C. Gwynne recently published a book on Quanah Parker, and is giving a lecture on him at the museum on April 5. Here is part 1 of my blog on Quanah Parker.

Sometime in 1848, a baby boy was born in a tipi near the Wichita Mountains in what is now southwestern Oklahoma. His name was Quanah Parker. His mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, had been abducted by Comanche raiders in 1836. His father, Peta Nocona, was a powerful war chief of the Quahadi band, one of five bands that made up the Comanche nation. The Quahadi roamed the headstreams of the Colorado, Brazos and Red Rivers in Northwest Texas.

Quanah Parker. Photographed by Lanney.
National Archives Photo - ARC ID # 530911

This is Quanah’s story, and that of his people, both the Comanche and the Anglo settlers in Texas. It is based on a book by S. C. Gwynne, entitled Empire of the Summer Moon. An in-depth interview with the author, conducted in the summer of 2010 can be heard here.

Over the last four centuries, the Comanche nation in general and Quanah Parker in particular exerted a huge influence on the history of the Plains, providing answers to questions such as:

• Why were the East and West Coasts settled by people of European descent before the central portion of North America?
• What are the roots of Texas’ history?
• When, why and how did the Texas Rangers come into being?
• What is the story behind the five shot Colt revolvers?

When the Spanish arrived in the Americas, they re-introduced horses, long gone from this part of the world. They also brought with them firearms. This combination of horse and firepower created profound changes in North American Indian societies. The first known herd of horses to arrive in what is now the United States was brought in with Don Juan de Oñate in 1598. It did not take long before the Apaches mastered horse riding. This made them better hunters and gave them much greater mobility as raiders of agricultural settlements in New Mexico. Those raids started as early as the 1650s. It was a way of life that would culminate in the life of Geronimo. From then on, horses were the principal form of wealth on the Plains.

The Comanches were one of the first Plains Indian Nations to obtain horses. They became America’s most accomplished horsemen.

George Catlin commented on their prowess in the following way:

“Amongst their feats of riding there is one that has astonished me more than anything of the kind I have ever seen or expect to see in my life: – a stratagem of war, learned and practiced by every young man in the tribe; by which he is able to drop his body on the side of his horse at the instant he is passing, effectively screened from his enemies’ weapons, as he lays in a horizontal position behind the body of his horse, with his heel hanging over the horse’s back… in this wonderful condition, he will hang whilst his horse is at fullest speed, carrying with him his bow and shield and also his long lance 14 feet in length.”

Here is how Catlin illustrated this:

Comanche Feats of Horsemanship, George Catlin 1834-1835.
Smithsonian American Art Museum,  Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.

In 1836 the world of the Comanches and that of Anglo settlers clashed at Fort Parker. The Parker family had moved from Illinois to Texas in 1833 and settled on land granted to them by Mexico. By 1835, on the eve of Texas’ independence, about two dozen people representing six Parker families had built a one-acre fort, located about two miles (3 km) west of present-day Groesbeck.

Fort Parker. Image courtesy of Texsbeyondhistory.net

This fort was situated on the western edge of the frontier. There were no Anglo settlements to the west. Gwynne notes:

“Between Parker’s Fort and Mexican California stood Santa Fe and the small, scattered settlements of New Mexico. [T]he fort was so far beyond the ordinary line of settlements that there were hardly any people behind it either. [Emphasis his]) (Gwynne 2010:14).

At this point in time, Texas was the only place where whites and Plains Indians met. Oklahoma was a place where the tribes of the South and the middle-Atlantic states were forcibly relocated to. North of Oklahoma, part of what would become Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas had not been reached yet by white settlers.

On May 19, 1836, a band of about 100 Comanche Indians rode up to the fort. They attacked the fort, killing five of its occupants before riding off with two women and three children. Among the children was nine year old Cynthia Ann. The survivors struggled to make it Fort Houston, near modern-day Palestine, Texas (Gwynne 2010:18).

Cynthia Ann survived, and was treated comparatively humanely, possibly because of the presence of a warrior by the name of Peta Nocona. He would later become her husband and war chief (Gwynne 2010:37).

Attempts on the part of her family to locate Cynthia Ann were unsuccessful. However, Leonard H. Williams, an Indian agent dispatched by the US government in 1846 did manage to find her in what is now Oklahoma. His attempt to purchase her freedom met with refusal from the tribe and Cynthia Ann’s as well (Gwynne 2010:107-108).

Quanah Parker was born two years later, the oldest of three children. As son of a powerful war chief, Quanah led a privileged life growing up among the Comanches. All this changed when he was twelve. In 1860, Peta Nocona led a bloody raid against the frontier. This resulted in the abandonment of hundreds of farms in the area, but also the raising of a posse by a man named Charles Goodnight (Gwynne 2010:173).

Charles Goodnight,
Picture from Wikipedia.

Goodnight tracked Nocona and his fellow raiders, as well as the 150 horses they had stolen. He followed them to a village well inside Comanche territory. Realizing that they were outnumbered the posse returned and organized a full-scale expedition against the village. Forty Rangers, twenty-one army soldiers and about seventy local volunteers left Fort Belknap on December 13, 1860. They were commanded by Sul Ross, at age twenty three already a veteran of the conflict with the Indians (Gwynne 2010:174). Six days later, they reached the village and attacked. Most of the warriors were killed, as were some of the women.

The battle ended with a brief running fight: Ross and another soldier pursued three Indians who had fled on horses. In the ensuing fight, one of the fleeing Indians was killed. He was later identified as Peta Nocona (Gwynne 2010: 177). The others were Cynthia Ann and a child, the son of another white girl who had been abducted by the Comanches and married an Indian (Gwynne 2010:178).

During the attack, Cynthia’s two sons, Quanah and “Grassnut” were separated from their mother. They would never see her again. Cynthia was taken back to Fort Belknap, much against her will. There she recounted her story. Eventually, she was moved from one family member to another but she never quite re-adjusted to Anglo society (Gwynne 2010: 181-193).

The two brothers not only escaped, but managed to make it to a Comanche camp some 100 miles west (Gwynne 2010:195). Quanah’s social status completely changed. He was now an orphan, his father killed, and his mother taken by the army. Moreover, within a year or so, his brother also died. At age 13, Quanah Parker had to stand up for himself, often being treated more cruelly than other orphans on account of his white blood (Gwynne 2010: 199).

Make sure you check out S.C. Gwynne’s lecture on the Comanche on April 5, 2011 at the museum.

The museum’s Plains Indian collection is quite extensive; at its core is the Gordon W. Smith collection, which the museum acquired in 2008. For more information, see here.

Anyone interested in the history of Texas, and its close connection to the history of the Comanches, check out our exhibit on Texas!, on display now at the museum.

Check back next week to learn more about Quanah Parker.

Texas Exhibition! Spotlight on Sam Houston

You can’t miss him if you’re traveling Interstate 45 near Huntsville. He towers over the surrounding land, continuing to watch his beloved Texas, from a height of 67 feet. Who was the man for whom this giant statue was built?

Sam Houston was born on March 2, 1793, in Rockbridge County, Tennessee. He only attended a local school for six months. Houston moved with his mother and brothers to Eastern Tennessee at the age of 13 when his father died.

Rebelling against his older brothers’ attempts to get him to work the family farm and in the family store, Houston ran away to live with the Cherokee Indians. Adopted by Chief Oolooteka, he lived with the Cherokee Indians for three years and was known as “the Raven.” This close relationship would forever affect Houston’s feelings towards Indians.

Houston joined the United States Army when war broke out with the British. During this service he received three wounds that were nearly fatal. General Andrew Jackson recognized Houston’s bravery and Houston became a staunch Jackson supporter. While healing from his wounds, he was appointed a sub-Indian agent and helped Chief Oolooteka’s tribe settle west of the Mississippi.

Houston later opened a law practice in Lebanon, Tennessee. With Jackson’s support, he became a colonel in the state militia. In late 1818, Sam Houston was elected attorney general of Nashville, but later returned to his private law practice in the early 1820s.

Elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1823, Houston worked unsuccessfully to get Andrew Jackson elected President of the United States. Sam was re-elected to Congress for a second and third term, followed by a successful bid for the Governorship of Tennessee.

In grief over the breakup of his 11-week marriage, Houston crossed the Mississippi River and headed to Indian Territory. For another 3 years, Houston again lived with Chief Oolooteka’s Cherokee tribe in Oklahoma. He married a Cherokee woman and became active in Indian affairs, attempting to maintain peace among Indian tribes. After he thrashed Ohio Representative William Stanberry with his cane over an Indian tribe conflict, Houston was tried, reprimanded and fined for the assault. He left his Cherokee family and entered Mexican Texas.

He immediately got involved in Anglo-Texan affairs, serving as a delegate to the Convention of 1833. As unrest grew in Mexican Texas, he considered whether there should be another consultation to attempt to resolve the issues. By October he believed that war between Texas and Mexico was inevitable. In early November, Houston was appointed as the major general of the Texas army. On March 2, 1836, the assembly at Washington-on-the-Brazos adopted the Texas Declaration of Independence.

On March 6, 1836, the Alamo fell to the Mexican Army under General Santa Anna. In the meantime, Sam Houston returned from Washington-on-the-Brazos to his army in Gonzales and they retreated towards the east. The citizens of Gonzales soon followed on foot, burning their town and whatever belongings they couldn’t carry. They wanted nothing left in Gonzales to help Santa Anna’s army.  Many were worried about Houston’s retreat, fearing that he was afraid of Santa Anna’s strength and feeling that their men had died at the Alamo in vain.

However, Sam Houston needed time to train his newly-formed, poorly-trained volunteer army.  The Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, proved General Sam Houston’s ability to lead his army to victory. Santa Anna’s army was defeated in an 18-minute battle, and he was captured the following day.

Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto 
Painting by Harry Arthur McArdle (1836-1908)

Sam Houston became the first elected president of the Republic of Texas, defeating Stephen F. Austin. He served as the Republic’s president for two terms. In late 1836, Sam Houston sent prisoner-of-war Santa Anna to Washington to seek Texas’s annexation to the United States.

According to its constitution, Sam Houston was unable to succeed himself as President of the Republic of Texas, so he ran for and served in the House of Representatives from 1839-1841. He defeated then-President Mirabeau B. Lamar, and again became President of the Republic of Texas in 1841, serving until 1844.  When Texas joined the Union in 1845, Sam Houston served as one of its two U.S. Senators.

Houston was defeated the first time he ran for the office of Governor of Texas, but won the election in 1859. A slave owner himself, Houston opposed secession from the U.S. and was removed from office when he refused to take the oath of loyalty to the new Confederate States of America. He moved with family to Huntsville, Texas, and died there on July 23, 1863.

Texas! Exhibition: Spotlight on Stephen F. Austin

Last week Melodie wrote a blog asking how much you knew about Texas. As we prepare for the opening of our new exhibition Texas! Making History Since 1519, we are dedicated to helping you learn more about the great Lone Star State. So today, Amanda Norris and Pat Dietrich, youth educators at the museum, write to you about Stephen F. Austin.

Stephen F. Austin – general store employee, lead mine manager, circuit judge, diplomat, empresario, and Father of Texas!

The Father of Texas…Is Born

Stephen F. Austin was born in 1793 in Virginia. His parents sent him at an early age to be educated in Connecticut and then later in Kentucky. After he graduated he moved to be with his family in Missouri to work in his father’s general store and manage his lead mine. He later became a circuit judge in Arkansas. After his father unexpectedly passed away, Stephen decided to carry out his father’s vision by moving to Mexican Texas and establishing a settlement.

Stephen F. Austin: Explorer

In 1821, he traveled to San Antonio where the governor authorized his efforts to explore the Texas land between the San Antonio and Brazos Rivers.  Stephen then visited New Orleans and invited colonists to settle on land between the Colorado and Brazos Rivers in Mexican Texas. By December of 1821, many settlers had arrived. However, the new Mexican government, created after Mexico’s independence from Spain on August 24, 1821, denied Austin’s land grant (which was in his father’s name).

The Old Three Hundred

As a result of this new development, Stephen Austin traveled to San Antonio to get approval for his own settlement. He was appointed as an empresario and approved to establish 300 families. He fulfilled his initial contract for 300 families within a few years of his first grant approval. He would later receive contracts for 300 more families in 1825, 1827, and 1828. While they were under Mexican government authority, it was his job to maintain a settlement with people who would be good Mexican citizens. After the Constitution of Coahuila and Texas in November of 1827, Stephen F. Austin turned over authority of his settlement to the Mexican government.

Austin attempted to provide protection for his colonists, many of whom had moved from the United States to escape debts incurred there during difficult economic times. He helped pass a state law that prevented the U.S. from collecting these debts for a period of 12 years. He organized trade ports between the colonists and Mexico. Even though he helped protect his colonists, he never let them forget the benefits of being loyal Mexican citizens.

More Settlers Arrive…In Droves

By 1832, more empresarios established settlements around Stephen F. Austin’s original settlement near the Colorado and Brazos, the families there being dubbed “The Old 300.” With so many U.S. settlers in Mexican Texas, it became difficult for Stephen to continue his overly cautious form of leadership.

The United States wanted to buy Texas, which made the Mexican government nervous about so many U.S. settlers in their country. In response to the perceived threat, the Mexican government passed the Law of April 6, 1830 which disallowed immigrants to move from the United States to Mexican Texas.  The Mexican army was sent to the established settlements throughout Texas to enforce the new law. Stephen F. Austin sided with Santa Anna against the current Governor of Mexico in hopes of gaining his support and maintaining the peace in Texas.

Agitated Colonists

The agitated colonists met at a convention in 1832 to inform the Mexican government about their needs. They requested the repeal of the Law of 1830, no more tariffs, separation from Coahuila, and to be able to set up a state government in Texas. Stephen F. Austin hoped the Mexican government would recognize the need for change, but they did not.

A second convention was organized in 1833; this group asked for what had been requested in 1832, but they also wanted a constitution to be written for the state of Texas. Stephen F. Austin set out for San Antonio to obtain a repeal of the Law of April 1830. Santa Anna disagreed with his actions and had Austin arrested and imprisoned. He was released in December of 1834.

Austin sanctioned the call for a consultation, where delegates would be elected on November 3. Meanwhile, war had broken out in Gonzales on October 1, when Santa Anna sent his army to retrieve a cannon given to the city for defense against neighboring Indians.

Battle Against Santa Anna

Stephen F. Austin, elected to command the volunteer army, led his volunteers in a battle against Santa Anna in San Antonio. In November, the provisional government elected him and others to serve as commissioners to the United States. He returned to Texas in June of 1836, two months after the Battle of San Jacinto. He ran against acting President David Burnet and the Commander of the Texas Army, Sam Houston, but was defeated by the Commander. Austin was appointed Secretary of State by President Sam Houston, a post he would only serve for two months before his death.

Henry Arthur McArdle interpretation of the Battle of San Jacinto.

On December 27, 1843, Stephen F. Austin died at the age of 43. His determination, strong management, and leadership helped shape the Texas wilderness into the state we know today. For these efforts, he is known as the Father of Texas.

Learn even more about Texas in our new exhibition, opening to the public on March 6, 2011. Get a sneak peak at the exhibition during our Texas VIP Nite, March 2 from 6 to 8 p.m. And stay tuned to the blog as we highlight other important people and events throughout the run of the show.