After gaining independence from Spain in 1824, the government of Mexico invited foreign settlers to sparsely populated Texas. The Empresario responsible for this planned migration was Moses Austin, who soon passed away, leaving the task to his son, Stephen F. Austin. The original 300 settlers established homesteads along the Brazos River. Within a few years, settlers began to resent the heavy hand of Mexico’s government, which led these Anglo settlers to declare their independence from Mexico in 1835. Initially, Texian volunteers were defeated by Mexico’s president, General Antonio-Lopez de Santa Anna, who forced an eastward retreat. A small garrison of Texians at Goliad were coaxed into surrendering, and then summarily executed. Another garrison of men were overrun and killed at the Battle of the Alamo on 6 March 1836. The Alamo became a symbol of heroic resistance to the tyranny of Mexico. On 21 April 1836, leading 800 highly motivated and vengeful Texians, General Sam Houston defeated Santa Anna’s force of 1,500 men at the Battle of San Jacinto.
These were eventful times.
John Parker was an American patriot, veteran of the American Revolution, a frontier scout, and a noted Indian fighter. Parker was born in Baltimore County, Maryland in 1758. As a young man, he was an associate of the explorer Daniel Boone who scouted the territory of present-day Kentucky and Tennessee. In 1777, the British recruited native Indians to participate in campaigns designed to force Americans from the western frontier. Many of Parker’s family were brutally massacred as a result and Parker took up arms against the British. In 1779, John Parker married Sarah White. Their first child was born on 6 April 1781; they named him Daniel, after Parker’s friend Boone.
After the Revolutionary War, frontier Indians once more began attacking settlements. For a time, the Indians succeeded in stemming the flow of new settlers. Fearing for the safety of their growing family, Sarah urged her husband to relocate to a less threatening environment. The Parker’s traveled to Georgia, only to find that Indian depredations existed there, as well—again, set in motion by Spanish and British colonial officials. Parker again became a frontier ranger against Cherokee and other of the so-called civilized tribes. In these battles, the Americans were the victors, and this opened much of Appalachia to further settlement.
In 1803, Parker again moved his family (including his wife, eight children, and his son Daniel’s family) to the small settlement of Nashboro (present-day Nashville). By 1817, the Parker family had grown to eleven children, many of whom had married and had children of their own. As Indians were further defeated in the area of present-day Southern Illinois, new lands opened to white settlement. The family moved again, this time to Illinois. In 1824, Sarah passed away. In the next year he married a widow named Sarah Duty, who had several daughters that had married into the Parker clan.
Stephen Austin recruited the 74-year old Parker to help settle the frontier of Texas. John Parker well understood that settlers were needed as a bulwark against the Comanche Indians. After negotiations and preparation, Parker led most of his family, and allied families, to Texas in 1833.
In 1835, relying on his vast experience as a frontiersman, Parker established a settlement on the headwater of the Navasota River, near present-day Groesbeck in Limestone County. This location abutted the frontier of the Comancheria. He constructed a fort, which he called Fort Parker. He chose this area because it offered enough land to sustain the settlers; his fort was thought to be sturdy enough to provide protection to the settlement in the event of Indian raids. It didn’t. Neither did John Parker have adequate knowledge of his prospective foe, the Comanche —the most ferocious of all plains Indians tribes.
On the morning of 19 May 1836, three weeks after Houston’s defeat of General Santa Anna, the Fort Parker men went to the fields, as they usually did. They were quite suddenly confronted by up to 700 hostile warriors. The attack was swift and brutal. Families in outlying homes were burned alive, men fleeing toward their homes were cut down, and then the Indians headed directly for the fort. John Parker attempted to rally the community in their common defense, but the men, women, and children at Fort Parker were overwhelmed. Parker ordered as many of the women and children as could be found sent off with hand-picked men, and then he led a sortie into the mass of hostiles to divert their attentions away from the escape group. He succeeded in doing this, but these men, including John Parker, were swiftly killed. The Fort was insufficient to hold off these devastating numbers of Indians.
Though Parker’s wife was wounded, she and a son escaped and eventually gave warning of the approaching Comanche raiders. Several of the Parker kin did escape, five remained in the hands of the Indians. One of these was John Parker’s granddaughter, Cynthia Ann, aged 10 years.
The other captives were Elizabeth Kellogg, John R. Parker, Rachel Plummer, and James Pratt Plummer. All of these were later ransomed, except for Cynthia Ann Parker. While in captivity, the women were repeatedly raped by their captors.
John R. Parker, Cynthia Ann’s brother, and their cousin, James Pratt Plummer, were ransomed in 1842. John was unable to adapt again to white society and returned to the Comanche. During a raid into Mexico, John contracted smallpox. The war party left him with a captive Mexican girl; she was instructed to care for him. When John recovered, he restored the girl to her family, eventually married her, and spent the remainder of his days in Mexico. John passed away in 1915.
Rachel Plummer was the 17-year old wife of Luther, the daughter of James Parker, and a cousin to Cynthia. She was held captive for two years before being ransomed. She later authored a book that was published in 1838, the first narrative about captivity among the Comanche. The book horrified Texians and others throughout the United States. Rachel died in childbirth in 1840.
James Pratt Plummer was ransomed by his grandfather in 1842. He never rejoined his immediate family. He died of pneumonia while serving with the Confederate Army in 1862.
Elizabeth Kellogg was transferred from one band of Indians to another. The Delaware Indians purchased Elizabeth and sold her to her brother-in-law James W. Parker in August 1836 for $150.00. She was eventually reunited with her sister, Martha Patsey Duty in September 1836.
James W. Parker, who was working in the field when the attack began, spent much of the rest of his life searching for his daughter Rachel, grandson James, niece Cynthia and nephew John. After several near-death experiences, he finally settled down with his family. John Wayne’s character in the film The Searchers, was modeled (somewhat) on the true life of James W. Parker.
Continued Next Week …
Looking forward to the conclusion of “A Tearful Trail.”
Thank you Andy. Actually, the series will continue to a part 3.
Eagerly awaiting Part 3.
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As I read this, I did think of “The Searchers”. It appears I was not that far off but the reality as you report is horrifying – then and now. I also found it remarkable Parker’s wife recovered from her wounds, a miracke given those times. A hearty breed indeed. What happened to her?
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Sara Duty Pinson Parker died in July 1836, aged 78 years. We don’t know for sure, but I think she died from her wounds.
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