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QuanahQuanah Parker

leader of the Quahadi Comanche who helped them accept life on a reservation, and who himself became the wealthiest Indian in all of North America

Quanah was born near what is now Lubbock, Texas, sometime between 1845 and 1850. He was the son of a Comanche chief named Peta Nocona and Cynthia Ann Parker, a white woman who had been captured during a raid on Parker's Fort in 1836. His name was taken from the Comanche word kwaina, meaning fragrant. Orphaned in 1860, he took refuge with the Quahadi ("Antelope") Comanches of the Llano Estacado.

The Quahadi were, by the 1860's, the most aloof and warlike of all Comanche bands, having refused to attend the Medicine Lodge Treaty Council and move to reservation lands. For seven years they were able to live and hunt virtually uncontested on the Texas plains, and Quanah soon became known as an accomplished horseman and able leader. Twice the Fourth United States Cavalry tried to capture and subdue them (in 1871 and 1872), and twice it failed. In fact, on October 9, 1871, Quanah and several followers even managed to raid a cavalry campsite and steal several horses without being detected. As more and more white hunters began moving in on the great bison herds, however, it became more and more difficult for the Quahadi to evade the soldiers. In an attempt to drive the hunters out, Quanah and a medicine man named Isa-tai formed a multitribal alliance dedicated to preserving their ancestral lands. On June 27, 1874, some 700 Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Kiowas, and Comanches attacked the small settlement of Adobe Walls. Of the 28 men and one woman in the settlement, only one casualty was counted; 15 Indians were killed, however, and many others, including Quanah, were wounded. The alliance quickly crumbled, and Quanah knew it was only a matter of time before the Quahadis would be rounded up. Rather than face possible extermination, he decided it was time for the Quahadi to surrender, and on June 2, 1875, his band moved to a reservation near Fort Sill, in what is now southwestern Oklahoma; they were the last Plains tribe to enter a reservation.

Unlike most other tribes, the Quahadi Comanche took to reservation life rather well, thanks in large part to Quanah. By now a respected leader of his people, federal agents named him chief in hopes of uniting the various Comanche tribes. Despite there being no precedence for such an action in either U.S. or Comanche history, the Quahadi acquiesced in the decision, and Quanah was from then until his death the official spokesman for his people. Under his guidance and encouragement, the Quahadi began farming their land, building homes in the style of white people, and sent their children to school. He encouraged the Quahadi to increase their income by leasing pastureland to white ranchers, and became a rather wealthy rancher in his own right. He even successfully prevented the spread of the Ghost Dance amongst his people. Because of his actions in getting the Quahadi to "conform," he was able to obtain full U.S. citizenship rights for every member of his band long before any other chief was able to do the same for their own people.

Believed to be the wealthiest Indian in all of North America in his time, Quanah was frequently interviewed by magazine reporters concerning political and social issues, counted Theodore Roosevelt as one of his friends, and was a close associate of several prominent ranchers in the Texas Panhandle. But Quanah did not give up all of his Comanche ways -- he continued to care for seven wives throughout his life, refused to cut his long braids, and steadfastly rejected Christianity, even after his son White Parker became a Methodist minister.

Despite Quanah's successes, he was unable to prevent the Quahadi from suffering the same fate as every other reservation Indian. In 1901, the federal government broke the Kiowa-Comanche reservation into individual holdings and opened it to settlement by white settlers, displacing those Quahadi unable to purchase their individual lots. Quanah was one of the few who was able to keep his ranch, and he maintained his position as the most influential of the now far-flung Comanche until his death. In 1902, he was named Deputy Sheriff of Lawton, Oklahoma, by his own people.

On February 11, 1911, while visiting the Cheyenne Reservation, Quanah was struck with an undiagnosed ailment. He died at his home on February 23, and was buried beside his mother in Post Oak Mission Cemetery near Cache, Oklahoma. When the expansion of a nearby missile base forced relocation of the cemetery in 1957, the remains of both Quanah and his mother were moved to Fort Sill Post Cemetery in Lawton, where he was reburied with full military honors in the section now known as Chief's Knoll on August 9, 1957.

SEE ALSO
Texas
Bison
Oklahoma
Theodore Roosevelt

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> Indians of North America >> Tribal and Individual Biographies

This page was last updated on 02/23/2017.