Quanah Parker is one of the most colorful figures in Oklahoma history, the literal offspring of both the Native and European cultures competing for the Plains during the last half of the Nineteenth Century. A gifted leader, he served his people as Principal Chief, sat as a judge on the intertribal court, established a Comanche police force, and was a member of the Indian Council delegation to the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention.
Quanah Parker was born around 1850 along Elk Creek near the Wichita Mountains in what would become southwestern Oklahoma. His mother was Cynthia Ann Parker, a white settler taken captive from Parker’s Fort in Texas by the Comanches in 1836. Cynthia was nine years old at the time. The Comanches accepted her as a member of their tribe and she eventually became the wife of Peta Nocona, a chief.
Quanah was effectively orphaned at the age of 10 or 12 when the Comanche camp on the Pease River was attacked by United States soldiers and Texas Rangers. Quanah and his younger brother escaped and their mother, Cynthia, was “rescued” along with her infant daughter. It remains a mystery whether Chief Nocona was killed in the battle or died sometime later.
By 1871, Quanah had risen to be principal war chief of the Qua-ha-da band of Comanches and was described by Captain Robert G. Carter as “large and powerfully built” wearing a “full-length head-dress of eagle’s feathers…almost swept to the ground” with a “necklace of bear’s claws hung about his neck” during the Battle of Blanco Canyon. A fierce warrior, Quanah never lost in battle to the United States military forces and his evasive maneuvers often confounded them.
Even so, with their main food source of buffalo gone and the tribe ravaged by disease, the Comanche population had dwindled drastically. Faced with very few options, Quanah made the difficult decision of surrendering his band of Qua-ha-das to the United States government at Fort Sill in the spring of 1875.
His lineage was quickly discovered and he became known as Quanah Parker. After earning the respect and trust of Ft. Sill’s commander, Colonel Mackenzie, he was appointed by the Department of the Interior to be Principal Chief over all Comanches, the first and last person to hold that title.
A thoughtful leader, he worked diligently to help the tribe adjust to life on the reservation. He negotiated profitable cattle-grazing leases on tribal lands, lobbied for a new Indian school and headed its board. He established the tribal police force and sat as a judge on the intertribal court.
Quanah rode in Theodore Roosevelt’s second inaugural parade and hunted with the President. He influenced Roosevelt to create the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.
Much more is known of the subject of this portrait than its creator. The painting was donated to the Oklahoma Historical Society by Tulsa businessman S.R. Lewis. Lewis was an attorney and taught law classes at the University of Tulsa. Lewis street in Tulsa is named in his honor. The painting is dated 1930, but additional information on A. Shaw remains a mystery. The piece is on permanent loan from the Oklahoma Historical Society.
Source: “Warrior in Two Worlds,” Oklahoma Today, May – June 2011; “Quanah Parker’s Star House,” The Chronicles of Oklahoma, September 2012; Oklahoma Historical Society inventory records; “Remembering S.R. Lewis,” Wayne Greene’s blog, Tulsaworld.com accessed March 22, 2011.