May 19

This Day in History

Old West

May 19, 1836:

Cynthia Ann Parker is kidnapped

During a raid, Commanche, Kiowa, and Caddo Indians in Texas kidnap nine-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker and kill her family. Adopted into the Commanche tribe, she lived a happy life until Texas Rangers recaptured her and forced her to return to live again among Anglo-Americans.

Silas and Lucy Parker moved their young family from Illinois to Texas in 1832. To protect themselves against the hostile Indians in the region, they erected a solidly constructed civilian stockade about 40 miles east of present-day Waco that came to be called Parker's Fort. The tall wooden stockade was reportedly capable of holding off "a large enemy force" if properly defended. However, when no Indian attacks materialized for many months, the Parker family and the relatives who joined them in the fort became careless. Frequently they left the bulletproof gates to the fort wide open for long periods.

On this day in 1836, several hundred Commanche, Kiowa, and Caddo Indians staged a surprise attack. During the ensuing battle, the Indians killed five of the Parkers. In the chaos, the Indians abducted nine-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker and four other white women and children. The Commanche and Caddo bands later divided women and children between them. The Commanche took Parker, and she lived with them for the next 25 years.

Like many Plains Indian tribes, the Commanche had long engaged in the practice of kidnapping their enemy's women and children. Sometimes these captives were treated like slaves who provided useful work and could be traded for valuable goods. Often, though, captives eventually became full-fledged members of the tribe, particularly if they were kidnapped as young children. Such was the case with Parker.

Anglo-Texans first learned that the young girl might still be alive four years later. A trader named Williams reported seeing Parker with a band of Commanche near the Canadian River in northern Texas. He tried to purchase her release but failed. The Commanche Chief Pahauka allowed Williams to speak to the girl, but she stared at the ground and refused to answer his questions. After four years, Parker apparently had become accustomed to Commanche ways and did not want to leave. In 1845, two other white men saw Parker, who was by then 17 years old. A Commanche warrior told them he was now her husband, and the men reported "she is unwilling to leave" and "she would run off and hide herself to avoid those who went to ransom her."

Clearly, Parker had come to think of herself as Commanche. By all accounts, her husband, a rising young warrior named Peta Nocona, treated her well, and the couple was happily married. She gave birth to three children, two boys and a girl, and Nocona was reportedly so pleased with her that he rejected the common practice of taking several wives and remained monogamous.

Unfortunately, Nocona was also a warrior engaged in brutal war with the Anglo-American invaders, and he soon attracted the wrath of the Texas Rangers for leading several successful attacks on whites. In December 1860, a Ranger force attacked Nocona's village. The Rangers mortally wounded Nocona and captured Parker and her daughter, Prairie Flower.

Returned to Anglo society against her will, Parker was taken to her uncle's farm in Birdville, Texas, where she tried to run away several times. However, with her husband dead and her adopted people fighting a losing battle to survive, Parker apparently resigned herself to an unhappy life among a people she no longer understood. Prairie Flower, her one connection to her old life, died of influenza and pneumonia in 1863. Depressed and lonely, Parker struggled on for seven more years. Weakened by self-imposed starvation, she died of influenza in 1870.

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