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Politically Incorrect

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The gift of heritage

May 12th is just around the corner and, if you don’t know why that date’s significant, you’d better plan the excuses you’re going to make to your mother.

I’d like to think I’d be organized enough to do something significant for my mother this year; last year, the kids and I planted her a flower garden (complete with miniature pond) at the foot of her porch which promptly, thanks to my great skill with plants, died. Instead of my vision of brilliantly colored blossoms, which would nod and sway in greeting, releasing a sweet scent on the air every time my mother walked up her steps, I presented her with a gigantic kitty litter box right at her front door. I’m sure she thanks me every time she walks past it. Thank goodness I never got around to putting the goldfish in the pond – the cats would have been in seventh heaven!

What I’d really like to do for my mom this year is return to her her heritage – I want to find Nannie Parker. Nannie is my great-great grandmother, the mother of my mother’s maternal grandfather, Will. If you know Texas at all, which is where my mother was born and raised, then you know the significance of the Parker name. Because that name makes Quanah Parker, the last chief of the Kwahadi Comanche, family. Kind of.

In 1834, the Parkers led a wagon train south from Illinois to the dry, dusty heat of Limestone County, Texas. This was only two years after the first wagon trains headed out on the Oregon Trail, and the land the Parkers traveled to was shortly to become the staging ground for an ownership struggle with Mexico, culminating in the decisive battle of San Jacinto in 1836. Mexico wasn’t the only country who claimed this part of Texas as home; the Comanche, sometimes called The Lords of the Plains, and the Kiowa fought long and hard against the new immigrants to the area.

Just two months after the Alamo fell in March of ‘36, a band of raiding Comanche descended on the small settlement of 38 souls at Fort Parker. Many Parkers died that day, including the patriarch, John, and six of the settlement were taken captive, including then nine-year old Cynthia Ann Parker. And thus began one of the greatest love stories, and oft-told legends, of Texas history.

Cynthia, raised by the Comanche, the People, married Pete Nacona, later Chief Nacona, and bore him several children including their first-born, Quanah. Fifteen years after her capture, she was “found” by a party of white hunters and returned to her Parker family, along with her young daughter, Tehtseeah. Cynthia Ann grieved at the loss of her much-loved husband and other children, and is said to have died of a broken heart shortly after Tehtseeah died of fever. Within a year, Chief Nacona was also dead; Quanah said of grief for his missing wife and daughter.

Quanah, who became a great war chief and a thorn in the side of the U.S. Army, never signed a treaty with the whites because he said he would not make a promise he couldn’t keep. But in 1875, this son of a woman who forsook her childhood upbringing to embrace the way of the People, led the remainder of his tribe to the reservation in Oklahoma in peace, encouraging them to live with, and adopt, the ways of the white man. (Though not all of them - Quanah, it should be said, held fast to the customs of polygamy and peyote.)

Quanah became an important Comanche leader, collecting tolls on the cattle herds using the Chisholm Trail to cross the reservation and selling grazing rights to nearby Texas ranchers. He was elected sheriff of Lawton County and served as a tribal judge. He rode in Roosevelt’s inaugural parade in 1905. He went wolf hunting with Roosevelt, and even considered running for the United States Senate as the representative from Oklahoma. Towns and railroads were named after him, and Texans embraced him as one of their own.

This is the family legacy I recently took away from my mother, in my search for Nannie. “You know, Mom, we can’t really be related to Quanah,” I said. “He was born in 1845 and his wives and children were well known. Nannie was born in 1869, and she wasn’t one of them.” My mother’s face set into a pattern I recognized from my earliest years – stubborn. “Quanah’s family,” she said flatly.

“Nannie’s probably part of the Parkers who settled the Fort- she and Will were married there after all. It’s likely she’s a cousin to Cynthia Ann. But there wouldn’t be any Indian blood there,” I persisted. It didn’t matter. Family wasn’t enough – my mother wanted blood ties. And then I crossed the line. “In fact, best I can tell, most of the family seems to have been Irish. Your maternal great-grandmother’s family might have been French, but the Newberrys were Irish.”

“But I don’t want to be Irish!” my mother stated firmly. In fact, there were probably four or five exclamation points in that statement.

An hour later, my mother walked into my house with a headband wrapped around her head. “Look at this!” she said. Can you look at this and tell me that’s not Indian?!”

Of course I couldn’t. I haven’t found Nannie’s parents yet – it’s possible her mother was Comanche. For that matter, I haven’t found her husband’s family yet, either, and any student of Texas history knows that, despite all the fighting between the Comanche, the Kiowa and the immigrating whites, there was a lot of loving that went on as well. If that's the right way to phrase it. Heck, Quanah alone had 22 children. It’s hard to imagine how any Texan in the late 1880s could be born without a little bit of the People’s blood.

I haven’t found those bloodlines, though, and it doesn’t look like any of my research will pay off in time for the May 12th deadline. I did run across an interesting story the other day, though. One Samuel Walker, a Texas Ranger. They named the Walker-Colt .44, the Ranger’s gun, after him. Hmmmmmm. Samuel Walker was a Ranger in the late 1840s. Does mother know her paternal grandfather, Samuel Walker, was living in Texas about that time? It’s not native blood, of course, but it’s Ranger blood... and that’s almost as good. Maybe I’ll have a mother’s day gift after all.

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Author info

Landon Otis

Tagged as:

Family, genealogy, Texas, Mothers Day

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