Cynthia Ann Parker’s tragic story is better known, but there were other individuals including Rachel Parker Plummer who were taken by the Comanches in the attack on Fort Parker. The battle occurred on May 19, 1836 at a fort near Groesbeck, Limestone County, Texas. At the time, there were thirty or more members of the extended Parker family living in or around the stockade fort. Killed were Silas Mercer Parker, John Parker, Samuel Frost, Robert Frost and Benjamin Parker. Those who were captured included Cynthia Ann Parker, her brother John Richard Parker, Elizabeth Kellogg, Rachel Parker Plummer and her three year old son James Pratt Plummer.
Elder John Parker was the grandfather of Rachel and Cynthia. Rachel’s father James William Parker survived the attack while Cynthia’s father Silas Mercer (brother of James William Parker) was among the dead.
Of the five captured children, Elizabeth Kellogg was the first to be ransomed later in the year 1836. Rachel was ransomed after being found by her father in 1838. Cynthia Parker’s brother John Richard Parker was ransomed along with James Pratt Plummer in 1842. After living 25 years with the Comanche, Cynthia Ann Parker was recaptured by a combined force of Texas Rangers and U. S. Army soldiers in 1860.
Much of what we know about Rachel’s experience comes from a book that she wrote called Narrative of Twenty One Months Servitude as a Prisoner Among the Comanchee Indians. The first printing of the book contained only Rachel’s experiences, and a later edition called the Rachel Plummer Narrative contained James William Parker’s account of the attack, his subsequent search for her and concluded with Rachel’s story in an appendix. The two narratives were published and distributed shortly after their completion. Some view them as being intentionally sensational accounts that were released to reinforce negative sentiments towards the Native American tribes. Others view them as valuable historical accounts describing life during the period inside and outside the tribes, though they are unsympathetic to the Comanche people.
Rachel was born in Illinois in 1818, and married Luther Plummer at age 14. The couple first moved to Arkansas and later to Texas, settling with the rest of the Parker family in a fertile area a few miles from the present location of Groesbeck, situated within Comanche-inhabited area. Thereafter, the community farmed and lived in dwellings either within or near the wooden stockade that they built.
On May 19, 1836 the fort was overrun by a large band of Comanche, who quickly overpowered the defenders. Some settlers fought as others tried to escape. Because Rachel was pregnant, she remained inside the fort and personally witnessed the death or capture of several of the residents. Rachel’s narrative described her subsequent treatment and life with the tribe for the twenty-one months in which she was a captive.
Her father James W. Parker survived the attack and described in his book his efforts to find Rachel and his grandson James Pratt Plummer. For many months, he walked and rode through a multi-state area searching for them, following each trail he became aware of. Reading the two narratives straight through in the James Parker edition will likely give the reader a helpful timeline of the attack and James Parker’s experiences as he tried to find his family members.
Locating the correct tribe proved to be difficult as James followed up on the rumors that he heard. Eventually, his travels led him to the band of Comanche holding Rachel. They were camped near Santa Fe, New Mexico. James negotiated her ransom though Comancheros who traded and interacted with the tribe. Rachel was finally released to a family named Donoho, who fled east with her and eventually reunited her with her family.
It is believed that during the months after the attack, considerable enmity developed between James Parker and Rachel’s husband Luther Plummer. This was likely motivated from James’ belief that Luther had not personally done enough to find or to redeem his own wife and son. Nevertheless, upon her release, Rachel was reunited with her husband, became pregnant and delivered a son, whom they named Luther Plummer, Jr.
There are several versions of the next episode, but Rachel and her newly born son died in Houston County in March 1839 after fleeing on foot with Luther and others in the family during a winter storm. Rachel was just shy of her 21st birthday at the time of her death. Afterwards, her father James Parker continued his search for captives and eventually recovered both his grandson James Pratt Plummer and nephew John Richard Parker around 1842. However, Rachel had died years earlier, never knowing her son James Pratt Plummer’s fate.
Opinions of James Parker vary from depicting him as having been heroic and determined to find his family members to portraying him as being both obsessed with finding his daughter and grandson and vindictive for his disagreement with Luther Plummer, Rachel’s husband. Whatever the reason for their disagreement, James was largely responsible for raising his grandson apart from his father Luther.
Luther Plummer remarried, had a number of other children and lived until 1875. James W. Parker died in 1864 at the age of about 67. Rachel’s son James Pratt Parker married twice and had a number of children. He died in 1862 while serving with the Confederate Army in Arkansas.
Though there are many differences in the timelines and facts, the captivity of Rachel Plummer is thought by many to be the inspiration for Alan Le May’s fictional story told in his 1954 book The Searchers, as opposed to being based upon the experiences of Cynthia Parker. Le May’s book was also the basis for the screenplay of the 1956 John Ford American western film of the same name. The film is considered to be one of the best of the Western genre. Set in the years after the Civil War, it starred John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Ward Bond, Natalie Wood and many others. The film received no Academy Award nominations, but has been highly regarded since its release.
(Image credit: Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum)
Fort Parker has been reconstructed in its original location. Directions are as follows: The Fort Parker Historic Site is about a 10 minute drive north northwest of Groesbeck. To get there on Hwy. 14, go north until the intersection with LCR 401/402, go west on LCR 401 to Park Road 35 and the historic site will be on your left.
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