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Native American Chiefs -- Quanah Parker

Updated on September 24, 2013
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I started writing for HubPages after moving from the Midwest to the Southwest. The Southwest is exceptionally interesting, if hot and dry.

No prerequisites.

No prerequisites because the subject of leading Native American figures is neither the sole domain of schools and universities nor the exclusive property of specific bloodlines. There are those who think differently, that Caucasians should stay out, or unaffiliated scholars mind their own business. But there are also those, myself included, who think that not to know about Chief Joseph or, in the case at hand, Quanah Parker, is equivalent to having United States citizenship, without knowing who George Washington was. Well, at least let's discuss it.

Quanah Parker
Quanah Parker | Source

And then God, perhaps as an afterthought, created Texas.

Texas achieved statehood in 1845 and Quanah Parker was a man of the Southern Plains. His story begins not so much with the Indian Wars of the 19th century but the surrender of the Comanches in 1875. His mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, had been captured at the age of nine, and then later, re-captured by the Texas Rangers. Before he died, at the age of 59, Quanah had her remains removed from Texas to Oklahoma. She died young -- whether Comanche or not, a determination Quanah himself seems to have been unable to make ("All the same people anyway," he reputedly said -- p. 120, Quanah Parker, Comanche Chief). Further, it was not just the Comanches by any means who figured highly into this episode of the Southwest. In the late 1800s, things were quickly coming to a head. A transference of power was in the works from warriors and generals to diplomats and agents. The Treaty of Medicine Lodge in 1867 had already established a reservation consisting of some three million acres, set aside mainly for Kiowa and Comanche. More treaties followed. Not surprisingly, Indian territory was reduced in size with almost every new document, photo session, and list of signatories. America did not develop a policy of extermination, but its behavior both in the field as well as on paper makes one wonder how serious it was about keeping Native Americans alive. As a young man, receiving favor from both American agents and tribal colleagues, Parker dealt directly with many of these travails and burdens. Case in point: growing corn in West Oklahoma. After Indians turned in their weapons, they were given hoes and seeds and instructed to become farmers. This thinking resembles the Morganthau Plan following WWII. It was nothing new: imposing punishment and hardship upon a defeated people. In any event, Comanches failed to grow much corn. That corn is still not grown in West Oklahoma reflects accurately on the lack of wisdom of the DC insiders of the day. In addition, these same unqualified peacemakers refused to feed the starving farmers on the basis of their being able-bodied. Ultimately, Fort Sill provided the unfortunate Comanches with necessities. They tried a last-minute attempt to return to the hunt, but without success.

Native American Independence

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Principal Chief of the Comanche People.

There are theories about great men (women, too). Some aver that all history is mostly a collection of stories of the emergence and eventual fading away of a chosen elite. Others assert that the times dictate what is bound to happen, and that it might just as well have been someone else who seized an opportunity in the offing. Thus it is with Quanah, who comes of age during a time marked by a cessation of hostilities and the implementation of legislature to create an environment in which both Native American and American could live in peace without the threat of bodily harm or riotous uprisings. There were other chiefs with whom he mingled. But few became as accomplished in the political art of dealing with Comanches, Kiowas, Texans, and Americans -- very different people with varied interests. The White, Texan Parkers may have played a part in Quanah's rise, but near the end of the Chief's life, they appear to have lost interest.

Quanah presided over a great deal of land, both on behalf of his tribe as well as himself, personally. In regard to the latter, he had White sharecroppers, and hundreds of cattle, hogs, and horses. He was an astute businessman with Texans, who leased grazing land for their cattle at something like 6 cents per acre. He helped quell a Kiowa uprising and was well-respected by both Indian and White. But Secretary of Interior Henry M. Teller was unhappy about reservation life as it came to include ghost dancing, polygamy, and peyote.

In the 1880s and 1890s, Quanah travelled several times to Washington, DC. Quanah was ambivalent on the subject of peyote. He was known to participate in lengthy ceremonies involving its ingestion, followed by discussions about the visions they engendered. But he was also curt and non-commital when it came to handling puritanical White complaints.

Quanah Parker in Photographs

an imposing figure, Quanah was often photographed
an imposing figure, Quanah was often photographed | Source

State of Sequoyah

The State of Sequoyah was a 1905 proposal that would separate and equalize the Indian Territory from Oklahoma. It was named in honor of Sequoyah, a Cherokee who devised a Cherokee alphabet. In 1907, the proposal was denied by the U.S. Congress.

The documents of DC.

The life and times of Quanah Parker can in part be defined as dealing with a series of legislation involving reservations. There was, for instance, the General Allotment Act of 1887, also known as the Dawes Act, after Senator H.L. Dawes. Its main notion had to do with severalty, which would award each individual recipient so many acres. Parker did well for himself in these terms, but proprietorship was not a normal way of thinking for his tribe. The Jerome Agreement went a step further, having to do with the sale of surplus land, thus opening up an enormous area to White settlers. By this time, Catholic, Mennonite, Methodist, and Baptist Missions came into existence, all with the personal approval of Parker. Schooling was also a matter of contention. Parker had his own views, preferring White schools to Indian, but his progressive ideas were not popular among his own people. Historical photos from the time seem to tell the story: little children dressed after the White fashion with unhappy faces, separated, as they were, from their parents, and probably forbidden to speak their own language. From 1890 to 1900, the White population expanded from 60,000 to 400,000. El Reno Globe, an Oklahoma newspaper, attacked Parker for his opposition to the inundation of so many Whites. But he always seems to have gotten along with White leadership at the top. He road in Theodore Roosevelt's inaugural parade, and when Roosevelt later visited, was able to discuss with him the problem of unemployment on the reservation.

Cynthia Ann Parker 1827-1870

Cynthia Ann Parker's tomb
Cynthia Ann Parker's tomb | Source

God calls Parker home.

Parker did not always get his way, but he was a man hard to get around. The Texas businessmen respected him. His people adored him. He was well-visited, more popular than Geronimo or Red Cloud. But there came a time when his influence waned. Leased land went up from 6 cents an acre to 10 cents against his wishes, as well as the wishes of those, needless to say, with whom he had been doing business. A smallpox epidemic took lives. He broke with an influential Messiah figure, Eschiti. And he lost his seat on the Court of Indian Offenses for being "much married". Special Agent Gilbert Pray later boasted of having reduced Comanche free pasture from 23,000 to 5,000 acres, citing as one of his malicious reasons going against Parker. True enough, Parker was never a full-blooded Indian, but he never relinquished his two long pigtails. In his last days, he enjoyed regaling visitors with stories of hobnobbing with Washington politicos and the like. But he seldom discussed the older days when he used to raid and terrorize Whites. Today there is a monument to him at Fort Sill. But prestige is not a magic shield. In 1915, his grave was robbed. The desecrators made off with several valuables. Perhaps there is something unearthly about it all. Parker liked having a fine house and a good income. But that was never the whole story. In fact, the better part of the story has to do with his keeping the peace, peace with honor, despite the ever-present hostilities that must have gone from external to internal. Which brings us full circle to this very minute: what suppressed yearnings and resentments still brew beneath the politically correct rhetoric of today's television waves?


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