She was christened Cynthia Ann Parker, but she would have told you her name was Naduah “Keeps Warm With Us”.
She was born in 1824, to Silas and Lucy Parker in Illinois. When she was 9 years old the family moved to north west Texas to follow the American Dream – land and a better life. They went to Fort Parker, established by Cynthia’s grandfather, in what is now Limestone County.
But on May 9, 1836, around a hundred Comanche and Kiowa warriors attacked the fort, killing many of the men, including her grandfather. Cynthia and five other captives were led away. One teenage girl escaped; four others, including her brother John, were later released for ransom.
Cynthia was beaten and treated as a slave at first, but her life improved when she was adopted by a Comanche couple, who raised her like their own.
While still barely a teenager she married Peta Nakone, (Camps Alone), a chieftain.
It turned out to be an extraordinary love match.
It was traditional for Comanche chiefs to take more than one wife but Nakone never did. They later had three children; the future and famed Comanche chief Quanah Parker; another son Pecos (Pecan), and a daughter Topsannah (Prairie Flower).
A newspaper account from 1846 describes how a trading party led by Colonel Leonard G. Williams came across a tribe of Comanches camped on the Canadian River. Williams offered a ransom of 12 mules and two mule loads of goods to the tribal elders in exchange for Parker but he was refused, and in subsequent sightings, she would run away and hide. The Indians said she loved her husband and children and did not want to leave them. These reports were not believed.
In the winter of 1860, a small band of Texas Rangers surprised a Comanche meat camp at Mule Creek on the Pease River.
Most of the men were away and the raid turned into a massacre of women and children.
They executed a man they thought was Nakone but later turned out to be a Mexican slave. A Comanche woman attempted to flee on horseback with her daughter but was captured.
It was only then that the Rangers realized that the woman in the deerskin and moccasins had blue eyes – and that she might be the missing Cynthia Parker.
When she overheard her name banded around by the Rangers she patted herself on the chest and said, “Me Cincee Ann.”
Her fate was sealed.
Cynthia Ann and Prairie Flower were taken back to an army post. While traveling through Fort Worth she was photographed with her daughter at her breast and her hair cut short – a Comanche sign of mourning. She thought that her husband was dead and her sons too.
The story of her ‘rescue’ transfixed the nation. She was treated like a returning hero. Texas granted her four and a half thousand acres of land and a pension of $100 per year. Her brother, Silas Junior, was appointed her guardian and took her to his home in Van Zandt County.
But she never warmed to her new life. She was shuttled from one family to another, and often had to be locked in her room to prevent her escaping.
In 1863, she heard that her son Pecos had died of smallpox, and a few months later, Topsannah died of influenza. Cynthia herself died seven years later.
Cynthia-Ann’s is a sad story, and one that continues to resonate. We yet struggle to resolve the consequences of the collision of cultures that took place in the recent – and not so recent – past. It’s a subject that continues to fascinate me and one that I explored in my epic novel, Aztec.
When Hernan Cortes and his soldiers conquered Mexico, they thought they had God on their side – how many of us would think so now? His story is inseparable from that of another remarkable young woman, whose name is now synonymous with the conquest – Malinche. You can read a free excerpt here. It’s about a 6 minute read.