The Death of Quanah Parker

Quanah Parker is likely the best known member of the Comanche tribe. He was born in the mid 1800s to Chief Peta Nocona and Cynthia Parker, a captive taken from her family in Central Texas in 1836. His actual date of birth is not precisely known but the year is generally thought to have been around 1846-1848, when Cynthia was in her early twenties. He escaped an attack in 1860 led by Capt. Sul Ross on a “meat camp” of the Quahada band while the warriors were away. In this event, his mother Cynthia and his sister Topsana (Prairie Flower) were captured. Others in the camp were killed. Quanah would never see his mother or sister again alive. Both would die in the years following the event. (Image is in the public domain.)

Within a few years, Quanah would rise to be a respected leader of the Comanche, leading many raids against the Anglo settlers. The United States Army gradually began to get the upper hand against the Comanche, Kiowa, Apache and other tribes and around 1875, Quanah and other leaders were compelled to surrender, end the hostilities and move to reservations. For the rest of his life, Quanah led his people to adapt and prosper in reservation life.

The famous Chief died on February 23, 1911 near Cache, Oklahoma. He was believed to be approximately sixty-five to sixty-seven years old at the time of his death. The Chief passed away at his residence four miles northwest of Cache, Oklahoma, and fifteen miles west of Lawton, at 12:05 from a severe attack of rheumatism and asthma. He had been taken ill while on a visit to the Cheyenne. The family boarded a train with the Chief severely ill, but determined to reach his home. His wife, Too-Nicy (also spelled “To-Nicy”) was with him on the train and held his head on her lap as the cars approached Cache. In the Comanche tradition of allowing multiple wives, the Chief had seven wives and at least twenty children over the years.

The Chief had been on a trip to visit the Cheyenne tribe near Hammon, Oklahoma since the previous Sunday. His condition was not new as he had been ill for several weeks prior and his health further declined while he was there visiting. The weather also had turned colder, aggravating his symptoms and the Chief decided to return home with his family.

The train stop was three miles from his residence. The party was met at the stop by Dr. J. A. Perisho who examined him and administered a heart stimulant. After this, he was transported by car from there to his home. Once they arrived, a medicine man, Quas-E-Aye, administered “kote-se-wine” (also spelled “cotes-e-wyne”) but the Chief did not respond. Quas-E-Aye is said to have lifted his hands toward heaven and cried, “Father, receive this, our brother, chief of Comanches, who is coming.” After this, the Chief quietly passed away. [Daily Oklahoman, Oklahoma City, OK, Friday, February 24, 1911.]

The Chief was not known to have been a Christian but as he became older, he had often repeated his desire to meet his mother Cynthia with the “White Man’s God.” He was not baptized as a Christian, but had expressed his desire to rejoin his late mother when he died. Cynthia Parker had passed away about forty years earlier. Her remains had only recently been relocated to the tribal cemetery at Post Oak Mission from their former location.

About two months earlier, the Chief had presided over a ceremony held for his mother in early December, 1910 after her ashes were removed from Texas. This quote is attributed to the Chief during that ceremony, “My mother captured 1836, when nine years old. She born Illinois, 1827. With people she move to Texas, build Parker Fort. Farm, build school, build church, Baptist. Her uncle preacher. In 1836, gate to fort left open; several Comanches run in on Parkers, kill father, kill many folks, carry off Cynthia Ann. Later my mother marry Peta Nocona, Comanche chief. Three children born, myself, Prairie Flower, Little Brother; brother die. In 1860 Colonel Sul Ross, ranger, later governor Texas, take my mother back to folks. No like white people any longer. Want to go back Indians. Folks won’t let her. She die 1870.” [Daily Oklahoman, Oklahoma City, OK, Friday, February 24, 1911.]

As for his father, Chief Peta Nocona, Texas tradition had held that he had died during the attack on the Comanche settlement on the Pease River at the time Cynthia Parker was captured and from which Quanah and another youth escaped. This was the story circulated by Sul Ross and supported by other participants in the event. However, Quanah and others always maintained that it was another adult Comanche male who was killed at Pease River and that his father had died years later at another location. The burial place of Peta Nocona is unknown.

The day of his death, Quanah’s wives and children of his family had silently mourned for him, as two ceremonies were proposed. An article March 29, 1911 in the Leavenworth Times, Leavenworth, Kansas, described the first, a tribal ceremony. At sunrise on the day after he died, this observance was led by Marcus Poco, chief medicine man and preacher for the tribe. Marcus Poco is believed to have been of Mexican and Comanche descent. The Chief was dressed in a buckskin suit along with a buckskin bag containing his favorite feathers, trinkets and jewelry including a diamond brooch that had been given to him by his cattlemen friends. Marcus Poco conducted the observance by praising the Chief and calling upon the Great Spirit to receive him. Following this ceremony, the funeral party moved to the location for the second ceremony held at the Post Oak Mission cemetery.

The second ceremony took place at 3:00 in the afternoon, led by Rev. A. J. Becker, a local Mennonite missionary. Rev. Becker and his wife Magdalena had served as missionaries to the Comanche since the Post Oak Mission was established about ten years earlier. Following the sermon, the attendees sang the “swan dirge” after which the Chief was laid to rest near the remains of his mother, Cynthia. Rev. and Mrs. Becker continued to serve at the mission until the minister’s retirement in 1941. They had become close to the Comanche people, who gave them each nicknames.

In his book, “The Last Comanche Chief” author Bill Neeley says of Quanah and Cynthia, “Separated in life, they were united in death.” Cynthia and Quanah were reburied at the Fort Sill Post Cemetery in Lawton in 1957 when a section of Fort Sill was expanded. 

“The White People as Well as the Comanches Will Miss the Big Chief, Who Was a Friend to All.” [The Cache Register, Cache, OK. Friday, February 24, 1911.]

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