Chief Quanah Parker on horseback
Chief Quanah Parker on horseback

Quanah, born in 1845, was the eldest son of Cynthia Ann Parker, the girl who was kidnapped and brought up by the Comanche and who married the chieftain Peta Nocona. Quanah means ‘fragrant’.

There is no doubt that Quanah was a great man, and above all a man who knew how to move with the times. As a consequence of his mother being taken back by the Texans, some of his own tribesmen began to call him a half-breed and his answer was to form his own band called the Quahadi which eventually became one of the largest and most notorious Comanche bands on the Great Plains.

The Quahadis refused to sign the Treaty of Medicine Lodge in 1867 which turned them into fugitives, so they returned to a traditional way of life, hunting buffalo and sometimes making raids on white settlements. It was the white buffalo hunters, who shot buffalo wholesale for their hides, that represented the greatest danger to their way of life. Quanah recruited warriors from other tribes and attacked a buffalo hunter camp at Adobe Walls. Although the Indians greatly outnumbered the defenders, they were defeated by superior weaponry and Quanah was wounded although not seriously.

Soon after in 1875 the Quahadis surrendered and moved to a reservation in Oklahoma. Here Quanah morphed into a new role. Maybe it was in his blood, but he found it very easy to adapt to life on the reservation and because of this, he was made Chief of the Comanche by the federal agents; not, however, by his own people.

Quanah’s fellow tribesmen found it immensely difficult to adapt to their new life, not only because of the lack of freedom, but also because there were complications of which they had had no previous experience. Quanah acted as their leader, encouraging them to rely upon themselves and to build a future for their children. He made numerous trips to congress in Washington to represent the interest of the Comanche. He also instigated the construction of schools and ranches, and the planting of crops, and he established the Comanche police force and served as a judge for the tribal court.

Parker in December 1889 wearing European-American business attire
Parker in December 1889 wearing European-American business attire

He didn’t adopt all the white men’s ways, however; he had 8 wives, continued to wear long plaits, and began his own brand of Christianity called the Native American Church movement which involved taking sacred peyote medicine at communion. In 1901 he had the sadness of witnessing his reservation in Oklahoma being broken up into individual holdings. He continued working on his own profitable ranch till his death in 1911.

Quanah was 66 when he died, a wealthy and much respected man. Not only had he been a successful rancher and investor, but also a formidable Comanche warrior. Most important of all, he had helped his people move towards their inevitable future. While some of them claimed he had ‘sold out’ to the white man, the reality was that he had been far-sighted enough to recognise that a primitive tribe could never hold its own in modern-day America and that the sooner they made terms, the better it would go for them.

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