Quanah Parker

Quanah Parker (Comanche kwana, "smell, odor") (c.1845 or 1852 – February 20, 1911) was a war leader of the Quahadi ("Antelope") band of the Comanche Nation. He was born into the Nokoni ("Wanderers") band, the son of Comanche chief Peta Nocona and Cynthia Ann Parker, an Anglo-American, who had been kidnapped as a child and assimilated into the tribe. Following the apprehension of several Kiowa chiefs in 1871, Quanah emerged as a dominant figure in the Red River War, clashing repeatedly with Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie. With European-Americans deliberately hunting American bison, the Comanches' primary sustenance, into extinction, Quanah eventually surrendered and peaceably led the Quahadi to the reservation at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Quanah Parker
Quanah Parker, c.1890
Personal details
Born1845 or 1852
Elk Valley, Wichita Mountains, Indian Territory (Oklahoma)
DiedFebruary 24, 1911
Quanah Parker Star House
Cache, Oklahoma, U.S.
Cause of deathHeart failure by rheumatism
Resting placeFort Sill Post Cemetery
Fort Sill, Oklahoma
34.669529°N 98.395336°W / 34.669529; -98.395336
Spouse(s)Weakeah, Chony, Mah-Chetta-Wookey, Ah-Uh-Wuth-Takum, Coby, Toe-Pay, Tonarcy
Known for

Quanah Parker was never elected chief by his people but was appointed by the federal government as principal chief of the entire Comanche Nation, and became a primary emissary of southwest indigenous Americans to the United States legislature. In civilian life, he gained wealth as a rancher, settling near Cache, Oklahoma. Though he encouraged Christianization of Comanche people, he also advocated the syncretic Native American Church alternative, and passionately fought for the legal use of peyote in the movement's religious practices. He was elected deputy sheriff of Lawton in 1902. After his death in 1911, the leadership title of Chief was replaced with Chairman; Quanah is thereby described as the "Last Chief of the Comanche," a term also applied to Horseback.

He is buried at Chief's Knoll on Fort Sill. Many cities and highway systems in southwest Oklahoma and north Texas, once southern Comancheria, bear references to his name.

Early life

Quanah Parker's mother, Cynthia Ann Parker (born c.1827), was a member of the large Parker frontier family that settled in east Texas in the 1830s. She was captured in 1836 (c.age nine) by Comanches during the raid of Fort Parker near present-day Groesbeck, Texas. Given the Comanche name Nadua (Foundling), she was adopted into the Nokoni band of Comanches, as foster daughter of Tabby-nocca.[1] Assimilated into the Comanche, "Nadua" Cynthia Ann Parker was wedded to the warrior chief Peta Nocona, (also known as Noconie, Tah-con-ne-ah-pe-ah, or Nocona) ("Lone Wanderer").[1]

Quanah's paternal grandfather was the renowned chief Iron Jacket (Puhihwikwasu'u), a warrior of the earlier Comanche-American Wars, famous among his people for wearing a Spanish coat of mail.

"Nadua" Cynthia Ann and Nocona's first child was Quanah, born in the Wichita Mountains of southwestern Oklahoma. In a letter to rancher Charles Goodnight, Quanah writes, "From the best information I have, I was born about 1850 on Elk Creek just below the Wichita Mountains." [2] Alternative sources cite his birthplace as Laguna Sabinas/Cedar Lake in Gaines County, Texas.[3]

"Nadua" Cynthia Ann and Nocona also had another son, Pecos (sometimes known as Peanuts), and a daughter, Topsana (Prairie Flower). In December 1860, Cynthia Ann and Topsana were captured in the battle of Pease River. American forces were led by Sgt. John Spangler, who commanded Company H of the U.S. 2nd Cavalry, and Texas Rangers under Sul Ross would claim that at the end of the battle, he wounded Nocona, who was thereafter killed by Spangler's Mexican servant. It was believed that Quanah and his brother Pecos were the only two to have escaped on horseback, and were tracked by Ranger Charles Goodnight but escaped to rendezvous with other Nokoni. Some, including Quanah Parker himself, claim this story is false and that he, his brother, and his father Peta Nocona were not at the battle, that they were at the larger camp miles away, and that Nocona died years later of illness caused by wounds from battles with Apache.

"Nadua" Cynthia Ann and Topsana were taken by the Texas Rangers in a raid and were taken into Cynthia Ann's brother's home. After twenty-four years with the Comanche, Nadua refused re-assimilation. Unlike her mother, Topsana began to adapt to her new culture, but died of an illness in 1863. "Nadua" Cynthia Ann Parker died due to hunger strike and influenza in March 1871.

In the Comanche language, kwana means "an odor" or "a smell". Comanche warriors often took on more active, masculine names in maturity, but Quanah retained the name his mother gave him, initially in tribute to her after her recapture.


After Peta Nocona's death (c. 1864), being now Parra-o-coom ("Bull Bear"), the head chief of the Quahadi band, and Kobay-o-burra ("Wild Horse"), the second ranking, Quanah was introduced into the Nokoni band, where the head chief Tirhayaquahip, also called Kiyou ("Horseback"), took him under his wing. After Peta Nocona and Pohebits-quasho, Tirhayaquahip taught Quanah the ways of the Comanche warrior, and he grew to considerable standing as a warrior. He left and rejoined the Quahadi (Antelope Eaters) band with warriors from another band. Quanah Parker surrendered to Mackenzie and was taken to Fort Sill, Indian Territory where he led the Comanches successfully for a number of years on the reservation. Quanah was never elected principal chief of the Comanche by the tribe. The U.S. government appointed him principal chief of the entire nation once the people had gathered on the reservation and later introduced general elections. In October 1867, when Quanah was only a young man, he had come along with the Comanche chiefs as an observer at treaty negotiations at Medicine Lodge, Kansas. Tirhayaquahip made a statement about Quanah's refusal to sign the treaty. In the early 1870s, the Plains Indians were losing the battle for their land with the United States government. Following the capture of the Kiowa chiefs Sitting Bear, Big Tree, and Satanta, the last two paroled in 1873 after two years thanks to the firm and stubborn behaviour of Guipago, the Kiowa, Comanche, and Southern Cheyenne tribes joined forces in several battles. Colonel Ranald Mackenzie led U.S. Army forces to round up or kill the remaining Indians who had not settled on reservations.

In 1873, Isa-tai, a Comanche claiming to be a medicine man, called for all the Comanche bands to gather together for a Sun Dance, even though that ritual was Kiowa, and had never been a Comanche practice. The bands gathered in May on the Red River, near present-day Texola, Oklahoma. At that gathering, Isa-tai and Quanah recruited warriors for raids into Texas to avenge slain relatives. Other Comanche chiefs, notably Isa-Rosa ("White Wolf") and Tabananika ("Sound of the Sunrise") of the Yamparika, and Piarʉ-ekarʉhkapʉ, often spelled as Pearua-akupakup, ("Big Red Meat" or "Red Food") of the Nokoni band, identified the buffalo hide merchants as the real threat to their way of life. They suggested that if Quanah were to attack anybody, he should attack the merchants. A war party of around 250 warriors, composed mainly of Comanches and Cheyennes, who were impressed by Isa-tai's claim of protective medicine to protect them from their enemies' bullets, headed into Texas towards the trading post of Adobe Walls. The raid should have been a slaughter, but the saloonkeeper had heard about the coming raid and kept his customers from going to bed by offering free drinks. Around 4 AM, the raiders drove down into the valley. Quanah and his band were unable to penetrate the two-foot thick sod walls and were repelled by the hide merchants' long-range .50 caliber Sharps rifles. As they retreated, Quanah's horse was shot out from under him at five hundred yards. He hid behind a buffalo carcass, and was hit by a bullet that ricocheted off a powder horn around his neck and lodged between his shoulder blade and his neck. The wound was not serious, and Quanah was rescued and brought back out of the range of the buffalo guns. [4] The attack on Adobe Walls caused a reversal of policy in Washington. It led to the Red River War, which culminated in a decisive Army victory in the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon. On September 28, 1874, Mackenzie and his Tonkawa scouts razed the Comanche village at Palo Duro Canyon and killed nearly 1,500 Comanche horses, the main form of the Comanche wealth and power.

On the reservation

With their food source depleted, and under constant pressure from the army, the Quahadi Comanche finally surrendered in 1875. With Colonel Mackenzie and Indian Agent James M. Hayworth, Parker helped settle the Comanche on the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation in southwestern Indian Territory.[1]

Parker's home in Cache, Oklahoma[1] was called the Star House.[5] Parker's was the last tribe of the Staked Plains or Llano Estacado to come to the reservation. Quanah was named chief over all the Comanches on the reservation, and proved to be a forceful, resourceful and able leader. Through wise investments, he became perhaps the wealthiest American Indian of his day in the United States. At this time, Quanah embraced much of white culture and adopted the surname Parker. He was well respected by the whites. He went on hunting trips with President Theodore Roosevelt, who often visited him.[1] Nevertheless, he rejected both monogamy and traditional Protestant Christianity in favor of the Native American Church Movement, of which he was a founder.

Quanah Parker and Samuel Burk Burnett

The story of the unique friendship that grew between Quanah and the Burnett family is addressed in the exhibition of cultural artifacts that were given to the Burnett family from the Parker family. The presentation of a cultural relic as significant as Quanah's war lance was not done lightly. It is a clear indication of the high esteem to which the Burnett family was regarded by the Parkers. The correspondence between Quanah and Samuel Burk Burnett, Sr. (1849–1922) and his son Thomas Loyd Burnett (1871–1938), expressed mutual admiration and respect. The historical record mentions little of Quanah until his presence in the attack on the buffalo hunters at Adobe Walls on June 27, 1874. Fragmented information exists indicating Quanah had interactions with the Apache at about this time.

This association may have related to his taking up the Native American Church, or peyote religion. Quanah was said to have taken an Apache wife, but their union was short-lived. The Apache dress, bag and staff in the exhibit may be a remnant of this time in Quanah's early adult life. With the buffalo nearly exterminated and having suffered heavy loss of horses and lodges at the hands of the US military, Quanah was one of the leaders to bring the Quahadi (Antelope) band of Comanches into Fort Sill during late May and early June 1875. This brought an end to their nomadic life on the southern plains and the beginning of an adjustment to more sedentary life. Burk Burnett began moving cattle from South Texas in 1874 to near present-day Wichita Falls, Texas. There he established his ranch headquarters in 1881.[6] Changing weather patterns and severe drought caused grasslands to wither and die in Texas. Burnett and other ranchers met with Comanche and Kiowa tribes to lease land on their reservation—nearly 1 million acres (400,000 ha) just north of the Red River in Oklahoma.

Originally, Quanah, like many of his contemporaries, was opposed to the opening of tribal lands for grazing by Anglo ranching interests. But, Quanah changed his position and forged close relationships with a number of Texas cattlemen, such as Charles Goodnight and the Burnett family. As early as 1880, Quanah was working with these new associates in building his own herds.[6] In 1884, due largely to Quanah's efforts, the tribes received their first "grass" payments for grazing rights on Comanche, Kiowa and Apache lands. It is during this period that the bonds between Quanah and the Burnett family grew strong.

Burnett ran 10,000 cattle until the end of the lease in 1902.[6] The cattle baron had a strong feeling for Native American rights, and his respect for them was genuine. Where other cattle kings fought natives and the harsh land to build empires, Burnett learned Comanche ways, passing both the love of the land and his friendship with the natives to his family. As a sign of their regard for Burnett, the Comanches gave him a name in their own language: Mas-sa-suta, meaning "Big Boss". Parker earned the respect of US governmental leaders as he adapted to the white man's life and became a prosperous rancher in Oklahoma. His spacious, two-story Star House had a bedroom for each of his seven wives and their children. He had his own private quarters, which were rather plain. Beside his bed were photographs of his mother "Nadua" Cynthia Ann Parker and younger sister Topʉsana. Parker extended hospitality to many influential people, both Native American and European American. Among the latter were the Texas surveyor W. D. Twichell and the cattleman Charles Goodnight. Of all his white acquaintances, Parker counted Burk Burnett the best. He reportedly said: "I got one good friend, Burk Burnett, he big-hearted, rich cowman. Help my people good deal. You see big man hold tight to money, afraid to die. Burnett helped anybody."

During the next 27 years Parker and the Burnetts shared many experiences. Burnett helped by contributing money for the construction of Star House, Quanah's large frame home. Burnett asked for (and received) Quanah's participation in a parade with a large group of warriors at the Fort Worth Fat Stock Show and other public events. The "Parade" lance depicted in the exhibit was usually carried by Quanah at such public gatherings. Burnett assisted Quanah in buying the granite headstones used to mark the graves of his mother and sister. After years of searching, Parker had their remains moved from Texas and reinterred in 1910 in Oklahoma on the Comanche reservation at Fort Sill.

According to his daughter "Wanada" Page Parker, her father helped celebrate President Theodore Roosevelt's 1905 inauguration by appearing in the parade.[7] In April 1905, Roosevelt visited Parker at the Star House. President Roosevelt and Parker went wolf hunting together with Burnett near Frederick, Oklahoma.[8] During the occasion, the two discussed serious business. Quanah wanted the tribe to retain ownership of 400,000 acres (1,600 km2) that the government planned to sell off to homesteaders, an argument he eventually lost. Quanah asked for help combating unemployment among his people and later received a letter from the President stating his own concern about the issue. The wolf hunt was believed to be one of the reasons that Roosevelt created the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

Marriage and family

Quanah took two wives in 1872 according to Baldwin Parker, one of Quanah's sons. His first wife was Ta-ho-yea (or Tohayea), the daughter of Mescalero Apache chief Old Wolf. He had wed her in Mescalero by visiting his Apache allies since the 1860s and had got her for five mules. After a year of marriage and a visit of Mescalero Apache in the Quohada camps, Ta-ho-yea asked to return home citing as her reason her inability to learn the Comanche language. Quanah sent her back to her people. Quanah's other wife in 1872 was Wec-Keah or Weakeah, daughter of Penateka Comanche subchief Yellow Bear (sometimes Old Bear). Although first espoused to another warrior, she and Quanah eloped, and took several other warriors with them. Yellow Bear pursued the band and eventually Quanah made peace with him. The two bands united, forming the largest force of Comanche Indians.

Over the years, Quanah married six more wives: Chony, Mah-Chetta-Wookey, Ah-Uh-Wuth-Takum, Coby, Toe-Pay, and Tonarcy. A photograph, c.1890, by William B. Ellis of Quanah and two of his wives identified them as Topay and Chonie.[9] Quanah had eight wives and twenty-five children (some of whom were adopted).

After moving to the reservation, Quanah got in touch with his white relatives from his mother's family. He stayed for a few weeks with them, where he studied English and Western culture, and learned white farming techniques.

Founder of the Native American Church Movement

Quanah Parker is credited as one of the first important leaders of the Native American Church movement.[10] Parker adopted the peyote religion after having been gored in southern Texas by a bull. Parker was visiting his uncle, John Parker, in Texas where he was attacked, giving him severe wounds. To fight an onset of blood burning fever, a Mexican curandera was summoned and she prepared a strong peyote tea from fresh peyote to heal him. Thereafter, Quanah Parker became involved with peyote, which contains hordenine, mescaline or phenylethylamine alkaloids, and tyramine which act as natural antibiotics when taken in a combined form. Clinical studies indicate that peyocactin, a water-soluble crystalline substance separated from an ethanol extract of the plant, proved an effective antibiotic against 18 strains of penicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, several other bacteria, and a fungus.[11]

Parker taught that the sacred peyote medicine was the sacrament given to the Indian peoples and was to be used with water when taking communion in a traditional Native American Church medicine ceremony. Parker was a proponent of the "half-moon" style of the peyote ceremony. The "cross" ceremony later evolved in Oklahoma because of Caddo influences introduced by John Wilson, a Caddo-Delaware religious leader who traveled extensively around the same time as Parker during the early days of the Native American Church movement.

Parker's most famous teaching regarding the spirituality of the Native American Church:

The White Man goes into his church house and talks about Jesus, but the Indian goes into his tipi and talks to Jesus.[12]

The modern reservation era in Native American history began with the adoption of the Native American Church and Christianity by nearly every Native American tribe and culture within the United States and Canada as a result of Parker and Wilson's efforts. The peyote religion and the Native American Church were never the traditional religious practice of North American Indian cultures. This religion developed in the nineteenth century, inspired by events of the time being east and west of the Mississippi River, Parker's leadership, and influences from Native Americans of Mexico and other southern tribes.[13][14][15][16][17][18] They had used peyote in spiritual practices since ancient times.


At the age of 66, Quanah died on February 23, 1911, at Star House.[19] In 1911, Quanah Parker's body was interred at Post Oak Mission Cemetery near Cache, Oklahoma.[20] In 1957, his remains were moved to Fort Sill Post Cemetery at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, along with his mother Cynthia Ann Parker and sister Topsannah ("Prairie Flower").[1] The inscription on his tombstone reads:

Resting Here Until Day Breaks
And Shadows Fall and Darkness
Disappears is
Quanah Parker Last Chief of the Comanches
Born 1852
Died Feb. 23, 1911

Post Oak Mission Cemetery Comanche County, Oklahoma 34.62310°N 98.75970°W / 34.62310; -98.75970

Biographer Bill Neeley wrote: "Not only did Quanah pass within the span of a single lifetime from a Stone Age warrior to a statesman in the age of the Industrial Revolution, but he never lost a battle to the white man and he also accepted the challenge and responsibility of leading the whole Comanche tribe on the difficult road toward their new existence."[2]


Although praised by many in his tribe as a preserver of their culture, Quanah also had Comanche critics. Some claimed that he "sold out to the white man" by adapting and becoming a rancher. He dressed and lived in what some viewed as a more European-American than Comanche style. Critic Paul Chaat Smith called "Quanah Parker: sellout or patriot?" the "basic Comanche political question".[21]

Quanah did adopt some European-American ways, but he always wore his hair long and in braids.[1] He also refused to follow U.S. marriage laws and had up to eight wives at one time.[1]

Quanah was never elected principal chief of the tribe by the people. Traditionally, the Comanche had no single chief. The various bands of the Comanche had their own chiefs. The US appointed Quanah principal chief of the entire nation once the people had gathered on the reservation and later introduced general elections.

Family reunion and powwow

The Quanah Parker Society, based in Cache, Oklahoma, holds an annual family reunion and powwow. Events usually include a pilgrimage to sacred sites in Quanah, Texas; tour of his "Star Home" in Cache; dinner; memorial service at Fort Sill Post Cemetery; gourd dance, pow-wow, and worship services.[22] This event is open to the public.

Memorials and honors

Built 1890 34.66889°N 98.648815°W / 34.66889; -98.648815 (Star House built circa 1890)
Relocation 1958 34.634461°N 98.64175°W / 34.634461; -98.64175 (Relocation of Star House 1958)
  • The Quanah Parker Trail, a public art project begun in 2010 by the Texas Plains Trail Region, commemorates sites of Comanche history in the Plains and Panhandle of Texas, the central region of Comancheria.[24]

Several places and buildings were named after him:

  • Quanah, Texas, county seat of Hardeman County. The Quanah Parker Inn is located on U.S. Highway 287. At the founding of Quanah, Parker made this blessing:

May the Great Spirit smile on your little town, May the rain fall in season, and in the warmth of the sunshine after the rain, May the earth yield bountifully, May peace and contentment be with you and your children forever.


  1. Pierce, Michael D. "Parker, Quanah (ca. 1852–1911)". Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture - Oklahoma Historical Society. Archived from the original on 2010-02-05. Retrieved 20 Dec 2009.
  2. Neeley, Bill (September 2009). "The Last Comanche Chief: The Life and Times of Quanah Parker". Castle Books. p. 304. ISBN 978-0785822592. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  3. Clyde L. and Grace Jackson, Quanah Parker, Last Chief of the Comanches; a Study in Southwestern Frontier History, New York, Exposition Press [1963] p. 23
  4. Dixon, Olive King (1927). Life of Billy Dixon. Austin, Texas: State House Press. p. 186. ISBN 0-938349-11-2.
  5. Quanah Parker Star House Archived February 1, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, Preservation Oklahoma, Inc.
  6. David Minor, "Burnett, Samuel Burk, Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 15, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
  7. "Quanah Parker in Headdress", Portal of Texas History, University of North Texas
  8. Cox, Matthew Rex. "Roosevelt's Wolf Hunt". Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture - Oklahoma Historical Society. Archived from the original on October 5, 2011.
  9. "Quanah Parker with Two Wives", Portal to Texas History, University of North Texas
  10. Marriott, Alice Lee; Rachlin, Carol K (1971). Peyote: An Account of the Origins and Growth of the Peyote Religion. Thomas Y. Crowell Co. p. 111. ASIN B0044EQFKC.
  11. McCleary, J.A.; Sypherd, P.S.; Walkington, D.L. (1960). "Antibiotic Activity of an Extract Of Peyote [Lophophora williamsii (Lemaire) Coulter]". Economic Botany. 14: 247–249. doi:10.1007/bf02907956.
  12. Hagan, William T. Quanah Parker, Comanche Chief. University of Oklahoma (1995),ISBN 0-80-612772-4, pg. 57.
  13. Annexation of Native American Land
  14. Indian Removal Act of 1830
  15. Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867
  16. President Andrew Jackson's Manifest Destiny
  17. Red River War of 1874–1875
  18. Texas–Indian Wars 1821–1875
  19. "Quanah Parker Dead. Famous Comanche Chief Once Entertalned Ambassador Bryce". New York Times. February 24, 1911. Retrieved 2011-05-26. Quanah Parker, the famous chief of the Comanche Indian tribe, died at his home here today of pneumonia Quanah Parker's mother was a white girl who was ...
  20. Post Oak Mission Archived November 3, 2011, at the Wayback Machine Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture
  21. Smith, Paul Chaat (2009-05-01). Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong. U of Minnesota Press. p. 146. ISBN 9780816674022.
  22. "QUANAH PARKER REUNION AND POWWOW", Quanah Parker Society
  23. "Tribal Justice on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved January 26, 2019.
  24. http://www.QuanahParkerTrail.com
  25. Oklahoma Department of Transportation. "Oklahoma's Memorial Highways & Bridges - P Listing". Retrieved 2010-06-02.
  26. "Quanah Parker - Fort Worth ~ Marker Number: 14005". Texas Historic Sites Atlas. Texas Historical Commission. 2007.
  27. "NEW NAMES OF MINOR PLANETS" (PDF). The Minor Planet Circulars/minor Planets and Comets. MPC 112429-112436: 112434. 2019-04-06. Retrieved 8 April 2019.

Further reading

  • Weston La Barre, The Peyote Cult, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1938
  • Paul H. Carlson and Tom Crum, Myth, Memory and Massacre: The Pease River Capture of Cynthia Ann Parker, Texas Tech University Press, 2011
  • Pekka Hamalainen, Comanche Empire, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008
  • Jo Ann Powell Exley, Frontier Blood: the Saga of the Parker Family, Texas A & M University, 2001
  • William T. Hagan, United States-Comanche Relations: The Reservation Years, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1976
  • William T. Hagan, Quanah Parker, Comanche Chief, Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993
  • Clyde L. and Grace Jackson, Quanah Parker, last chief of the Comanches; a study in Southwestern Frontier history, New York, Exposition Press, 1963
  • Bill Neeley, The Last Comanche Chief: The Life and Times of Quanah Parker, New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1995
  • Jack K. Selden, Return: The Parker Story, Clacton Press, 2006

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