Biography of a Comanche warrior

Resting here until day breaks
And shadows fall
And darkness disappears
Is Quanah Parker, the last chief of the Comanches

By Sheila Orysiek

Sheila Orysiek

Sheila Orysiek

SAN DIEGO — One would not expect to find a poem based on the  “Song of Solomon” (2:17), inscribed on the headstone of a Comanche warrior, but there was much about Quanah Parker’s life that was unexpected.

He was born to a white woman, Cynthia Ann Parker, who had been captured as a child by the Comanches.  Thus, Quanah Parker was half white.  He spent the first half of his life gaining a reputation for ferocity in the epic battle for cultural survival against the overwhelming numbers of white settlers.  He spent the second half of his life leading the remnants of his people onto the federally mandated reservations.

In “Empire of the Summer Moon, Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History,” Scribner, 2010, the author S. C. Gwynne writes a compelling history of the tortuous and bloody contest between those who came from other continents and wanted to settle the open prairies of the American mid-west and those who already had lived there for thousands of years.  The settlers wanted to build houses, close off the land by way of individual ownership and fences.  The indigenous inhabitants, especially the Comanches, were nomadic and while fiercely defending their territory, had no concept of individual ownership.  The settlers wanted organized government for everyone which to the Indians was an alien cultural concept.

Neither side can claim the moral high ground; enough barbarity, bloodshed and duplicity was shared to tarnish both.   The book covers the sweep of this history long before the birth of Quanah Parker but then narrows down to his life – just as the world of the American Indian narrowed down to the confines of a reservation – and then in the case of the Comanches who survived – to a few acres of land for each.

As a last gasp, to at least re-experience a portion of their ancient culture, a group of Comanches living on a reservation asked permission of the federal authorities to have just one more buffalo hunt.  The permission was granted but when the warriors set out they discovered to their horror – there were no buffalo to hunt.  History had passed them by.

This history is difficult to read but important to know.  The book, though well researched and well written, occasionally strays into the over use of superlatives in describing an event or a character such as:  the “fiercest” warrior or the “world’s best” horsemen.

It is certainly worth reading and knowing the history of that time and place.

*

Orysiek is a freelance writer who specializes in the arts and literature.  She may be contacted via [email protected]. Comments intended for publication in the space below must be accompanied by the letter writer’s first and last name and by his/ her city and state of residence (city and country for those outside the U.S.)

One Response to “Biography of a Comanche warrior”

  1. Steve Larison says:

    My GG Grandfather, My GG Grandmother was one of his six wives, Apache Captive.
    –Steve Larison, Avon Park, Florida

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