I may have mentioned it before, but I’m originally from parts much more Southern than my current NW Iowa. I spent a large part of my formative years in Oklahoma. My mother’s family is from Texas. I’ve spent some time examining that branch of the family tree, and it’s facinating. It reads like a history of Texas. Part Comanche, part settler, with more recent additions of cattle men and oil men. So, when I heard that there was a new history of the Comanche empire out, I couldn’t resist. S.C. Gwynne’s “Empire of the Summer Moon” has been just as enlightening as I had hoped. One of the first encounters he details is that of the Parker clan at their self-titled fort, in 1836.
Now, this is a common part of Texas history and widely taught in schools down in that area. Hopefully though, parts of this will be new for my Eastern readers. It’s one of my favorite examples of how to NOT survive in a hostile territory.
First, the scene, the Louisianna purchase brought the American frontier all the way West to what we now think of as East Texas. Mexico had VERY recently lost control of the region North of the Rio, and the area styled itself as the Republic of Texas. While original intentions of most Texan fighters had been to join up with the United States as soon as possible, political realities had made that an impossibility. (Mexico didn’t recognize the Republic, and the US didn’t want to risk war with Mexico by recognizing it and then annexing it into the Union.) So, the broke Republic was limping along on, mostly on gumption. Enter the Parker clan, stage left. There were 6 Parker families who had pooled their land grants into a respectable 16,000 acres. They were smart enough to stay together, and they built a large fort. Once you get past Louisianna there isn’t much timber in Texas, so again they were smart, and they stayed on the Eastern edge, where they could still find enough timber to build this fort. The fort was quite good. 15 foot tall walls of sharpened solid Cedar, enclosing a full acre, 6 cabins, and 4 blockhouses. Numerous gunports, and a large bullet proof front gate completed the pioneer dream home. No near neighbors, no governtment forces to protect them and large swatches of Comancheria directly North and West. A Comancheria full of hostile Commanches.
These Indians were not the same as the Eastern Indians, they didn’t farm, they didn’t build houses or villages, and they didn’t take prisoners. Plus, they rode horses; they fought on horseback and they lived on horseback. These Indians had pushed out all rival bands. They had stopped the northward march of the Spanish cold in its tracks. They were equally deterent to the French and English. All of this should help to illustrate the pure foolishness that the Parkers displayed on May 19.
Ten of the sixteen able-bodied men were out working the cornfields. The eight women and nine children were inside the fort, but the armored gate had been left wide open. The men who remained there were unarmed. James, the patriarch, and his brother Silas were both Ranger captians, very familiar with Comanche battle. How or why they thought their settlement was even remotely safe, we’ll never know. They almost certainly had heard about the recent Comanche raids in the area, 2 in the previous month. Had they been armed, and inside the fort, they could have held off a large band of raiders for quite a long time. As it was, they were easy prey.
At 10 o’clock in the morning, about a hundred Indians rode up to the front gate of the fort. Benjamin Parker, (another brother) attempted a parlay with the band, for his trouble he was clubbed, shot with arrows and then scalped. The Indians immediately attacked the fort, and killed all the men remaining in it. The few family members that escaped out a back hatch were hunted down, and again either brutally killed or in the case of the younger women, taken as slaves. A few children were taken to be adopted into the tribe. One small family was rescued by the men returning from the cornfields with their rifles. In barely half an hour, five men were dead, two women wounded, and 5 people were taken captive. Part of the fort was burned and most of the animals killed or taken.
Brutal. I’ll spare you the details of how the men were killed and what happened to the captive women. Neither is pretty. Folks, the bottom line here, if you are settled in a hostile area, and you have a great fort, DON’T do any of the things the Parkers were doing that day. Your enemies may not give you the chance to learn any better.
– Calamity Jane