In Market: Myth made man: The life of Quanah Parker

 This column was originally published on November 30, 2012

Texas is a land of myth and wonder.

No offense to the other 49 states, but how do students sit through, I don’t know, two years on the history of Nebraska?

Occasionally our myths get shredded a bit. The Alamo, though still mythic, heroic and spellbinding, doesn’t resonate quite as much as it did when I was younger. When you can walk almost directly out of a state historical treasure and order a smoothie at Orange Julius in a mall, it can’t help but lose some luster.

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But one Texas story for me has only become more heroic and mythic over time. That’s the story of Quanah Parker. His story puts most of the Greek gods to shame, yet when I was younger I still had relatives who recalled meeting him.

If you don’t know the story, here’s the Cliff Notes:

Quanah was the last Comanche chief and a prominent Native American leader in the late 19th century. His mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, was abducted at age 9 by Comanches and assimilated into the tribe. At age 34, Cynthia Ann was stolen back from the Comanches and returned unwillingly, to her former life. During her captivity she married a Comanche chief and had three children with him, the eldest being Quanah. Quanah became the head of the Comanche nation, continuing to fight the incursion of the settlers. Following the Second Battle of Adobe Walls and the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon, Quanah agreed to bring his tribe to the reservation. This man born of two worlds soon became a successful rancher and political leader and was feted by many leaders, including President Teddy Roosevelt.

Their story not only encompasses history, it also covers issues that still resonate today, such as racism, childhood socialization, economics, military tactics and government policy.

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The Fort Worth Library and the Texas Lakes Trail Heritage Program have partnered to exhibit 60 images and over 100 historical items and rare objects that tell the story of Quanah and Cynthia Ann Parker at Fort Worth’s Central Library. The exhibit runs through Dec. 15 and should be de rigueur for anyone with a passing interest in Texas history. If you don’t take your children, you’re missing a chance to let them get a glimpse of a real legend and get a taste of the vast scope of Texas and Native American history. The collection is one of the largest ever assembled depicting the lives of these historical figures.

I went at noon one day and there’s an abundance of photos, memorabilia, charts and data.

In Quanah Parker’s life there was more drama than in most Hollywood epics, which is one reason no one has successfully filmed his story. The story of Cynthia Ann and her excruciating return to live with her family is heartbreaking enough. Her tragedy in itself was the source material for a great film, The Searchers, directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne.

But there is plenty more. For instance, at the Second Battle of Adobe Walls, in June 1974, a Comanche spiritual leader named Isa-tai told the tribes that they would be immune from the soldier’s bullets. Not only were they not immune from the bullets, but the battle was the site of a legendary shot by William “Billy” Dixon, who shot an attacker on a hill at a distance estimated to be over 1,000 yards.

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What resonates with the Quanah Parker story is that it doesn’t end with Parker and his decision to become part of society at large (notice I didn’t say surrender, he didn’t). Parker was a success as a cattle rancher and horseman, as befits someone from the Comanche tradition. Many of his relatives remain active in Fort Worth and in the area.

As I said, Texas is a land of myth and wonder. Quanah Parker? He was myth made man.

In Market is a column written from the perspective of a plugged-in business journalist about business happenings in and around Tarrant County. Got an idea for In Market? Robert Francis can be reached at