This is one of my favorite stories on Quanah Parker. You have to understand Native American women to understand his dilemma. (We’re strong women, you know!) He said, “YOU TELL UM…” …Wise man! Ha.
(Page 246)…. In 1892, when the Comanches and Kiowas agreed to accept allotments, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs approached Quanah in regard to the number of wives he would be allowed to keep. Their conversation was substantially as follows: “Quanah, you have agreed to take allotments and sell your surplus lands and let them be settled by white people. When the white people come to be your neighbors it will be the white man’s law and the white man’s law says one wife. You have too many wives. You will have to decide which one you want to keep and tell the rest of them to go somewhere else to live.” Quanah listened attentively and looked at the commissioner with a very fixed gaze for some moments, and then startled that worthy by saying, “You tell um!” Then he waited several moments until the significance of this had dawned on the commissioner’s mind, when he added: “You tell me which wife I love most—you tell me which wife love me most—you tell me which wife cry most when I send her ’way—then I pick um.” The commissioner replied, “Oh, let’s talk about something else.” (….smart move…)
The significance of this was that the chief loved his wives all alike, but if the Government would tell him which one he would be happiest with he would abide by the decision. This responsibility the Government, through the Indian Department, never assumed, but after statehood, when Quanah wanted to take another woman (to whom he had taken a fancy) for a wife, the Indian agent at Anadarko warned him not to take any more. In time Parker quarreled with one wife and then another and (Page 247) “threw them away,” to use the Indian phrase for divorce, until at the time of his death he had but two left.
Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume 1, No. 3, June, 1923 Comanche Civilization With History of Quanah Parker. http://digital.library.okstate.edu/Chronicles/v001/v001p243.html
Can’t blame the women. Quanah was a fierce warrior, never losing a battle to a white man, was easy on the eyes, a smart, forward-thinking man, powerful, wealthy… and a great Chief of the Comanches.Photo above: Quanah Parker in his later life, in his business attire. Photo thought to be in public domain. Quanah Parker, a Kwahadi Comanche chief; full-length, standing in front of tent.
Quanah Parker became chief of the Comanche Indians in 1867
More Links on the Great Chief Quanah Parker:
Concerning his wives:
In 1901, the Comanche were allotted 160 acres each and the rest of the land of the Comanche-Kiowa reservation was put up for lottery for the white settlement of the area. Quanah chose a place near Cache where a wealthy Texas cattleman named S.E. Burnett built a large house for Quanah. The lumber was hauled in from Vernon, Texas and a twenty-two-room house was built. With all the children and Quanah’s seven wives a large house was required. Each of the wife’s bedrooms was furnished identically so there would be no quibbling as to which wife got the better room.
When the Commissioner of Indian Affairs approached Quanah about having five wives he said that Quanah now lived in the United States and would have to live by it’s laws. The Commissioner told Quanah that the white men who were his neighbors had only one wife. He then said that he would have to send away all his wives except for one.
Quanah replied, “You tell um” and just stared at the Commissioner. After a few minutes the Commissioner realized what Quanah was referring to and did not answer. Quanah then said “You tell me which wife I love the most – you tell me which wife will cry the most when I send her away – you tell me and then I pick um.” The Commissioner quickly changed the subject and Quanah kept his wives. When he died, Quanah had only two wives left but had as many as seven in his life.
Cynthia Ann never re-adapted to the white culture. Broken in spirit and a misfit among whites, Cynthia refused to eat and starved herself to death in 1870. Cynthia was buried in Henderson County, Texas in the Fosterville cemetery. (continued: see above link for complete story.)
Quanah’s first wife was Weakeah, daughter of Comanche chief Yellow Bear. Originally, she was espoused to another warrior. Quanah and Weakeah eloped, and took several other warriors with them. It was from this small group that the large Quahadi band would form. Yellow Bear pursued the band and eventually Quanah made peace with him, and the two bands united, forming the largest force of Comanche Indians.
Over the years, Quanah accumulated four more wives. He had twenty-five children. Many north Texans and south Oklahomans claim descent from Quanah. It had been said that more Comanches are related to Quanah than any other chief. One grandson became Comanche chairman, the modern “Chief” of the tribe.
Quanah Parker, a Kwahadi Comanche chief; full-length, standing in front of tent.
Photographed by Lanney. Public Domain photo.
National Archives, “Pictures of Indians in the United States”
Photographs of Native Americans reside among the publicly and internet available materials of the National Archives. Images can be ordered in sets of slides, or as individual prints, though many are available in quality high enough for PowerPoint works and use on classroom materials. Many of the photos are 19th century.
Quanah Parker stands as one of the larger Native Americans in Texas history. This photo puts a face to a reputation in Texas history textbooks. Texas teachers may want to be certain to get a copy of the photo. His life story includes so many episodes that seem to come out of a Native American version of Idylls of the King that a fiction writer could not include them all, were they not real.
- Quanah’s mother was part of the famous Parker family that helped settle West Texas in the 1830s. Cynthia Ann Parker was captured in 1836 when Comanches attacked Fort Parker, near present-day Groesbeck, Texas, in Limestone County. (See Fort Parker State Park.) Given a new name, Nadua (found one), she assimilated completely with the Nocona band of Comanches, and eventually married the Comanche warrior Noconie (also known as Peta Nocona). Quanah was their first child, born in 1852.
- Nadua was captured by a Texas party led by Lawrence Sullivan “Sul” Ross in 1860, in the Battle of Pease River. Noconie, Quanah, and most of the Nocona men were off hunting at the time, and the fact of Nadua’s capture was not realized for some time. Nadua asked to return to the Comanches and her husband, but she was not allowed to do so. When her youngest daughter, who had been captured with her, died of an infection, Nadua stopped eating, and died a few weeks later.
- Sul Ross was a character in his own right. At the time he participated in the raid that recaptured Cynthia Parker, he was a student at Baylor University (”What do I do on summer breaks? I fight Indians.”) At the outbreak of the Civil War, Ross enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private. Over 135 battles and skirmishes he rose to the rank of Brigadier General, the ninth youngest in the Confederate Army. A successful rancher and businessman back in Texas after the war, he won election as governor in 1887, served two very successful terms (he resolved the Jaybird-Woodpecker War in Fort Bend County, and had to call a special session of the legislature to deal with a budget surplus), refused to run for a third term, and was named president of Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College (Texas A&M) within a few days of stepping down as governor. Ross’s leadership of the college is legendary — students put pennies near a statue of Ross in a traditional plea to pass final exams, among many other traditions. After his death, Texas created Sul Ross State University, in Alpine, Texas, in his honor.
- Quanah Parker’s father, Noconie, died a short time after his mother’s capture. He left the Nocona band, joined the Destanyuka band under Chief Wild Horse, but eventually founded his own band with warriors from other groups, the Quahadi (”antelope eaters”) (also known as Kwahadi). The Quahadi band grew to be one of the largest and most notorious, always with Quanah leading them. The Quahadis refused to sign the 1867 Medicine Lodge Treaties, and so avoided immediate internment to a reservation. However, dwindling food supplies and increasing opposition forced Quanah to retire to a reservation in 1875, in what is now southwestern Oklahoma. This was the last Comanche band to come to the reservation.
- Quanah was appointed Chief of all the Comanches.
- Through investments, Quanah became rich — probably the richest Native American of his time.
- Quanah hunted with President Theodore Roosevelt.
- Rejecting monogamy and Christianity, Quanah founded the Native American Church movement, which regards the use of peyote as a sacrament. Quanah had been given peyote by a Ute medicine man while recovering from wounds he’d suffered in battle with U.S. troops. Among his famous teachings: The White Man goes into his church and talks about Jesus. The Indian goes into his Tipi and talks with Jesus.
- Photo at right: Quanah Parker in his later life, in his business attire. Photo thought to be in public domain.
- Bill Neeley wrote of Quanah Parker: “Not only did Quanah pass within the span of a single lifetime from a Stone Age warrior to a statesman in the age of the Industrial Revolution, but he never lost a battle to the white man and he also accepted the challenge and responsibility of leading the whole Comanche tribe on the difficult road toward their new existence.”
- Quanah Parker died on February 23, 1911. He is buried at Fort Sill Cemetery, Oklahoma, next to his mother and sister.
Quanah Parker’s epitaph reads:
Resting Here Until Day Breaks
And Shadows Fall and Darkness Disappears is
Quanah Parker Last Chief of the Comanches
Died Feb. 23, 1911
- Photos of Quanah Parker at the Portal to Texas History
- Annual Quanah Parker Reunion in Oklahoma
- Lone Star Net entry on Quanah Parker
- Texan Cultures at the University of Texas-San Antonio
- Famous Texans.com entry
- History of the Red River War, 1874, at Texas Beyond History (University of Texas at Austin)