The story of Cynthia Parker

She lived with the Comanches, married the young war chief Peta Nocona

March 13, 2022 12:01 am | Updated 12:01 am IST

As Russell Means, the legendary leader of the American Indian Movement, says in his autobiography Where White Men Fear to Tread, Columbus was a murdering heathen who ‘discovered’ the heaven on earth that was home for the Native Americans and immediately set about turning it into a living hell for them.

The Americas were heaven for the Native Americans, with a way of life strongly based on unbridled individual freedom and social equality, till Columbus landed in the Caribbean at the end of the 15th century and European settlers started swarming the continents for the succeeding three centuries.

In their book The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, authors David Graeber and David Wengrow quote from the Memoirs of the French man Lahontan to show that the Native Americans were better off than the Europeans: “They think it unaccountable that one man should have more than another, and that the rich should have more respect than the poor. In short, they say, the name of savages, which we bestow upon them, would fit ourselves better, since there is nothing in our actions that bears an appearance of wisdom.”

The Eurocentric historiography always tells us that the Native Americans were savages. The book unequivocally proves that the Europeans borrowed the basic principles of freedom, equality and fraternity, the bedrocks of democracy, from the Native American societies.

There is the book Empire of the Summer Moon which narrates the story of Cynthia Ann Parker who was abducted by the greatest horse tribe of the Great Plains of North America — Comanches.

Cynthia was kidnapped by the Comanches in 1836 when she was nine. “She was the best known of all Indian captives of the era, discussed in drawing rooms in New York and London as ‘the white squaw’ because she had refused on repeated occasions to return to her people, thus challenging one of the most fundamental of the Eurocentric assumptions about Indian ways: that given the choice between the sophisticated, industrialised, Christian culture of Europe and the savage, bloody, and morally backward ways of the Indians, no sane person would ever choose the latter.”

Cynthia lived with the Comanches, married the young war chief Peta Nocona. Her son Quanah Parker was the last and the most famous Comanche war chief who fought the U.S. invasion into the prairie lands of the Comanches and Apaches in order to save the buffalo herds from the whites.

The buffalo herds were being exterminated en masse by the whites.

About this mass extermination, Peter Matthiessen says in his book In the Spirit ofCrazy Horse: “The government had meanwhile set about the extermination of the sacred buffalo, which the Indian saw as the comrade of the sun and which was thought to have numbered between thirty and sixty million when the first horse Indians hunted the plains.”

When Quanah was 10, in December 1860, the U.S. troops invaded Peta Nocona’s remote village in the Comancheria, empire of the summer moon, killed him and his people, torched his village and captured Cynthia with her daughter Prairie Flower who was a toddler. As Comanche boys were brilliant bareback riders by age six, Quanah escaped on horseback and the soldiers could not outride him. He grew into a great war chief, but has never seen his beloved mother since.

The history of the elimination of millions and millions of the Native Americans and their bond with Nature is the most heart wrenching chapters in the annals of world history. And Cynthia Ann’s story is one of the most poignant ones in the tragic history of the Native Americans.

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