American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Parker, Quanah

Title: Quanah Parker
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Although Quanah ("Sweet Fragrance") Parker played a role of great historical significance to the Comanche people and in his role in spreading peyote religion in Oklahoma, controversy surrounds his life. He was born sometime between 1845 and 1863, to a mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, who had been captured from her white family as a nine-year-old and raised as Comanche. Though most of her family was killed during the raid, Cynthia began a new life as a Comanche girl and was given the name of Preloch. She married Pete Nocona in her teens and gave birth to Quanah near Cedar Lake, Texas. The couple also had a daughter who lived to adulthood and a son who died in childhood. Cynthia, along with the daughter, Topsannah, were recaptured by the Texas Rangers in 1861. Both suffered greatly from their removal; Topsannah died in the mid 1860s, and Cynthia in 1870. Pete Nocona passed away in 1866 or 1867.

Quanah was ridiculed by other Comanches for his mixed ancestry; although he was Comanche culturally, he stood out because of his height and thinness, as well as his relatively light skin and gray eyes. Depending on one's opinion on the year of his birth, his role in the tribe during the mid and late-nineteenth century is debatable. It is certain that he fought as a warrior in the Battle of Adobe Walls in 1875 in the Comanches' last great effort to protect the buffalo on their Texas lands from eradication by white opportunists. He is noted by a white man who counciled with the Comanches regarding their surrender as being "a young man of much influence with his people" (Hagan, 1996, 468). Whether he was too young, as some say, to be a war chief who led his people in resisting the reservation for two years following the battle is unknown.

After the onset of reservation life, however, Quanah's role becomes more clear. Although he resisted cutting his hair and giving up any of his eight wives (five of whom he married simultaneously and several of whom were young widows in need of financial support), Quanah was named a band chief by the Indian agent early on and was eventually named a judge in 1886 and principal chief in 1890. When Anglo-American cattle owners encroached on reservation land, Quanah became one of the earliest advocates of leasing and took a position monitoring the land boundaries, for which the cattlepeople paid him. He was also given cattle from time to time and set up his own herd with these and a bull given to him by Charles Goodnight (b. 1836), one of the most prosperous Anglo-American cattle raisers of the time. With the money he earned, Quanah built his famed home, the ten-roomed, doubleporched Star House.

During the early reservation era, Quanah traveled throughout Texas and Oklahoma as a popular celebrity who led many parades on horseback in full regalia. He was one of five chiefs who rode in Theodore Roosevelt's inaugural parade in 1900. Over the years, Quanah made twenty trips to Washington, D.C., working to improve allotment conditions for his people, though he was unable to delay it as long as he wished. Quanah and other Comanches suffered from the loss of lease lands and the use of communally held property, and his finances would continue to trouble him until the end of his life. Two of his wives also left him during this time. Late in his life, Quanah traveled actively as a road-man, leading and attending peyote meetings throughout Oklahoma and testifying on behalf of his religion before state committees. He died on February 23, 1911, and was buried next to his mother and his sister, whom he had moved from Texas and reburied in Cache County, Oklahoma. He was survived by two remaining wives, Tonarcy and Topay, as well as sixteen of the twenty-four children he is known to have fathered. Quanah, Preloch, and Topsannah were all removed to Fort Sill Military Cemetery outside Lawton, Oklahoma, in 1957.

Kimberly Roppolo


Further Reading
Hagan, William. 1996. "Parker, Quanah." In Encyclopedia of North American Indians: Native American History, Culture, and Life from Paleo-Indians to the Present. Edited by Frederick E. Hoxie, 468–69. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.; Malinowski, Sharon, and Simon Glickman, eds. 1996. Native North American Biography. Vol. 1. New York: UXL.; Malinowski, Sharon, ed. 1995. Notable Native Americans. Detroit, MI: Gale Research.; Markowitz, Harvey, ed. 1995. Ready Reference: American Indians. Vol. 1. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press.
 

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