Dance with the Dead: Quanah Parker

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Quanah Parker: Last of the Great Comanche Chiefs

By Mike Patterson, ITC volunteer
As the museum prepares for its annual "Dance with the Dead" Halloween party, which encourages guests to dress as their favorite dead Texans, we take a look at some of the heroes, outlaws and legends that added unique character to the state.

Quanah Parker, considered the last great Comanche chief, served as a bridge for his people between their nomadic and turbulent life following the buffalo on the Great Plains to a sedentary life on the reservation in Oklahoma. He himself emerged from a warrior who counted his wealth by the number of horses he owned to perhaps the wealthiest Native American of his time in terms of dollars.
Born in either Oklahoma or Texas – it is uncertain which – and of a date also uncertain – though likely around 1845 – Quanah was the product of two diverse cultures. His mother was Cynthia Ann Parker, a white captive, and his father was Peta Nocona, a Comanche chief. Quanah grew up to lead the most notorious, elusive and fiercest band of Comanches in Texas. Repeated efforts by lawmen and the U.S. Cavalry failed to capture Quanah and his band in the vast expanse of the High Plains of Texas and push them to the reservation in Oklahoma.
The turning point for Quanah was sparked in 1874 when he was instrumental in organizing some 700 Comanche, Cheyenne, Arapaho and Kiowa warriors to attack 26 buffalo hunters holed up in remote trading post called Adobe Walls, north of present-day Amarillo. Despite Quanah’s overwhelming force, they were repulsed by the hunters who were armed with long-range, heavy caliber buffalo rifles. Quanah himself was injured in the battle. The incident was the last straw for the U.S. government. Fed up with the troublesome Comanches, columns of soldiers descended on the Comanche’s Panhandle stronghold in what was to be called the Red River War.
The final stage of the conflict occurred when the army discovered their hiding place in Palo Duro Canyon. At dawn, they descended single-file down a narrow trail into the canyon. Undetected, they attacked the sprawling encampment, and sent men, women and children fleeing through the canyon walls. Although casualties were light, the troopers did capture 1,500 Comanche ponies. These they shot and killed. Without their horses, the Comanches were virtually helpless and hopeless. Quanah soon led his defeated people to surrender to life on the reservation at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
Adapting to reservation life was difficult for many brought up with the freedom of the open plains, but Quanah made the adjustment with apparent ease. He promoted self-sufficiency and self-reliance to his people, provided leadership in the building of schools, created ranch and farming operations, served as a judge on the tribal court and formed the first Comanche police force. While encouraging his people to adapt to the white culture, he clung to some old customs, such as multiple wives – he had eight – refusing to cut his long braids, and rejecting traditional Christianity in favor of the Native American Church and its use of peyote. Through ranching and investments, Quanah grew quite wealthy.
He died in 1911 and is buried alongside his mother, Cynthia Ann, and sister, Prairie Flower, in the Fort Sill Cemetery.


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