- Battle of Pease River
Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Pease River
December 18, 1860
Pease River, Texas
result=Decisive Texas Ranger Victory
Peta Noconareported killed by Sul Ross, but this is strongly denied by his son Quanah Parker
strength2=Unknown, but the best guesses are 20 in the band, including 16 women and 2 children
casualties2=Unknown; but most were killed and Cynthia Parker was captured with her infant daughter
The Battle of Pease River occurred on
December 18, 1860, near the town of Margaret, Texas in Foard County, Texas, United States. A monumenton that spot marks the site of the famous " battle" between the Comanche Indians under Peta Noconaand a detachment of Texas Rangers and militia under Ranger Captain "Sul" Ross. The "battle" was really a wholesale massacre and slaughter of the Indians, men, women, and children as the Rangers managed to catch the camp totally by surprise.The Comanches: Lords of the Southern Plains. University of Oklahoma Press. 1952.]
Cynthia Ann Parker
Cynthia Ann Parker was a woman of European descent who had been kidnapped as a child by the Comanche in the
Fort Parker massacrein 1836. The nine year old Parker had grown up among the Comanche, who called her “Nadua”. She had married war chief Peta Noconaand borne him 3 children. Nonetheless, the Rangers and her family had never given up hope of regaining her, though it is doubtful they realized until her recapture how thoroughly she had become Comanche. [ cite web|url=http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/LL/btl1.html |title=LINNVILLE RAID OF 1840 |accessdate=2007-07-15 |last=Roell |first=Craig H |work=Handbook of Texas Online ] Her uncle, James Parker, had spent most of his adult life, and his fortune, in a fruitless search for her. Her presence and recapture at Pease River was a matter of national importance, probably because, as Ross was quoted as saying in the book "Indian Depredations", by J.W. Wilbarger, "Most families on the frontier had lost someone to the Indians. Cynthia Ann's recovery would be looked at as almost a miracle by those folks." The famous picture of her with her daughter Topsanah at her breast was carried in almost every paper in the country.The Comanche Barrier to South Plains Settlement: A Century and a Half of Savage Resistance to the Advancing White Frontier. Arthur H. Clarke Co. 1933.]
The greatly feared Comanche war chief
Peta Noconawas a son of a chief of the Quahadiband of the Comanche known as the Wanderer, or possibly wanderer as in "outcast", or "he who wanders far and returns". [ cite web|url=http://www.texasescapes.com/CFEckhardt/Who-Killed-Chief-Peta-Nocona.htm |title=Who Killed The Chief? |accessdate=2007-07-15 |last=Eckhardt |first=C. F. |date=2007-05-07 |work=Texas Escapes Online Magazine ] Peta Nocona was one of the war chiefs present at the attack on Fort Parker, and had formed his own band of the Comanche called the Nokoni. They occupied territory along the Red River. Nocona had taken Cynthia Ann Parker as his wife a few years after she was captured by the Indians in 1836. A great tribute to his affection to her was that he never took another wife, though it was common among the Comanche for such a successful war chief to do so. [ cite web|url=http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/PP/fpa28.html |title=PARKER, QUANAH |accessdate=2007-07-15 |last=Hosmer |first=Brian C. |work=Handbook of Texas Online ] The couple eventually had two sons, Quanah Parker and Pecos, and a daughter, Topsannah.
The Battle of Pease River
In early 1860 Peta Nacona led the Comanches in a raid through
Parker County, Texas, which ironically was named in honor of his wife's family. After the raid he returned with his band to what he believed was a safe retreat under the sandstone bluffs of Pease Rivernear where Mule Creek flowed into the stream. The site was long a favorite of the Comanche, providing both cover from the fierce blue northers that hit the plains, and ample forage for their ponies, with easy buffalo hunting from the nearby herds. But the raids of the Comanche had brought pressure in Austin to protect the settlers, and Texas Governor Sam Houstonhad commissioned Ranger Captain Sul Ross to organize a company of 40 Rangers and 20 militia to put a stop to the Indian raids. The company of 60 was based at Fort Belknap, in Parker County.
Sul Ross quickly ascertained that he simply did not have sufficient men to guard the frontier, and instead determined that the best way to protect the settlers was to take the offensive to the Indians at the earliest opportunity. In preparation, he began to scout the area for sign of Indian camps. After Peta Nocona's raid into Parker County, Sul Ross and his fighters started tracking the Nokonis, who were considered the hardiest fighters among the Comanche, who were in turn considered the fiercest of the Plains Indians.
Modern research has revealed that Peta Nocona did not intend to stay at Pease River, and was preparing to move on when the attack came on his camp that December day.It was daybreak on
December 18, 1860, when Ranger Captain Sul Ross himself scouted out the camp on the Pease River as his scouts reported the presence of a fairly large hunting party and camp on the banks of the Pease. With an oncoming blue northern blotting out sign, Ross was able to move up to spy out the location of the Noconas on the Mule Creek head bank as it came into the Pease River.
Ross sent a detachment of 20 men out of his force of 60 to position themselves behind a chain of sand hills to cut off retreat to the northwest, while with 40 men, Ross himself led the charge down into the Indian camp. The result was that the band was taken completely by surprise, and were massacred, either shot down where they stood, or were killed by the 20 men to the north as they attempted to flee. Though excuses were made for doing so, men, women, and children were shot indiscriminately. Indeed, Sul Ross himself wrote, quoted in "Indian Depredations", by J.W. Wilbarger, that they fired at everyone present, saying "The attack was so sudden that a considerable number were killed before they could prepare for defense. They fled precipitately right into the presence of the sergeant and his men. Here they met with a warm reception, and finding themselves completely encompassed, every one fled his own way, and was hotly pursued and hard pressed."
There are two distinct and very different stories about Peta Nocona’s death. The first is that he died trying to escape with his wife and infant daughter, which is the generally believed story, and the one reported by Sul Ross officially. According to this story, seeing that the camp was hopelessly overrun, Chief Peta Nocona and Cynthia Ann Parker fled to the east up a creek bed. Reportedly, mounted behind Nocona was a 15-year-old Mexican girl, while Cynthia Ann Parker carried her two year old child, Topasannah (“Prairie Flower”). Captain Ross and his lieutenant, Tom Killiheir, pursued the man they believed to be the legendary Peta Nocona. But Quanah Parker, the chief's oldest son, once reportedly said in Dallas to Sul Ross, "No kill my father; he not there. I want to get it straight here in Texas history. After that, two year, three year maybe, my father sick. I see him die." [ [http://www.co.wilbarger.tx.us/BattleofPeaseRiver.htm Battle of Pease River ] ] Certainly Quanah Parker said on numerous occasions to both friend and foe that his father had survived the massacre of his Band, and died three to four years later of complications from old war wounds suffered against the Apaches. In this story, strongly supported by the Comanche people, Peta Nocona was out hunting with his oldest son and a few others when the attack occurred. This story is supported also by an Army Colonel who reported interviewing reliable men who saw Nocona after his supposed "death" at Pease River.
In the official story as reported by Sul Ross, after a chase of a
mile(1.6 km) or so, he and Ranger Tom Killiheir hotly pursued a man they thought was a chief from his headdress, who had a second Indian on the back of his pony, and a second pony with a woman carrying a small infant. The Rangers pulled up and either (Ross claimed he shot the man, Killiheir said he did, one of the two shot the second Indian on the back of the chief's pony. It turned out to be a Mexicangirl on the back of Nocona’s pony, and both white men would later claim that they did not know she was a girl, with only her head showing out of the buffalo robe. This is a dubious claim, given Ross's admission to Wilbarger that women and men were shot indiscriminately, but In any event, she was killed instantly by the shot, and as she died, pulled the chief, supposedly Peta Nocona, off the horse. The Comanche chief recovered and began to fire arrows at the approaching Ross, one striking the horse on which the Ranger captain was mounted. One shot from Ross’s pistols reportedly broke Nocona's arm, while two other shots reportedly hit his body. Apparently mortally wounded, Nocona managed to drag himself to a small tree and bracing himself against it began to chant the Comanche death song. [http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/PP/fpa18.html] Captain Ross's Mexican-born servant, Antonio Martinez, who spoke Comanche, and reportedly had been taken captive as a child by Nocona, [http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/PP/fpefn.html] approached the dying warrior and spoke to him in the Comanche language. As an interpreterfor Captain Ross, Antonio Martinez told Nocona to surrender. The fierce Comanche’s response was a dying attempt to hurl a lance at the Ranger leader. His family captured—except for his son Quanah, who had escaped the slaughter—and his warriors dead or dying, their families dead or prisoners, Nocona was executed on the spot by a shotgunwielded by Martinez, while the woman supposedly screamed his name and wept. It is notable that Sul Ross made himself a huge hero by killing the legendary Comanche terror Peta Nocona, and certainly had Nocona escaped the victory would have not been half as important in the state capital.
However, once he had come in to the reservation, and the topic arose with him, Quanah Parker adamantly denied that the man killed with his mother was his father. Further, Quanah Parker had told his fellow warriors for years that his father had made good his escape from Pease River, and had died years later. Quanah said that he and his father, along with a few others, had left the camp late the night before to go hunting, and thus were not present the morning of the massacre of their band, and when they returned, virtually no adults were left alive to tell him or his father exactly what had taken place, or what had become of his wife and two youngest children. Not knowing whether his wife and youngest children were even alive, Peta Nocona made the hard decision to flee the place of the slaughter of his people, in order to assure the safety of his remaining (and oldest) son. According to Quanah, Ross did not know who the man he killed was, and his father was away with him, and virtually all the warriors when the attack occurred, and lived four more years, before heartbreak and his wounds from many battles finally killed him. [http://www.rootsweb.com/~txnavarr/biographies/p/parker_cynthia_ann.htm] The only things known for sure about Pease River is that the vast majority of the band who were present were slaughtered, and that Cynthia Ann, and her daughter were captured. Her sons unquestionably got away, though Pecos died later from illness, reportedly smallpox. Whether Peta Nocona died at Pease River, or got away, will never be known. [http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/BB/fbu12.html] , Texas Indians.] .
Although Quanah Parker had no reason to bear any love for Sul Ross and the men who captured his mother, and every reason to want to deny them the satisfaction of having killed his legendary father, culturally, the Comanche were not given to lying Comanches, The Destruction of a People, page 29 . Oxford Press. 1949.] and Quanah Parker personally was known as a statesman and man of great integrity. Further, Ross and Quanah Parker had met and Ross had lent his support to Quanah's attempt to get Congress to authorize movement of his mother's body to be buried in Oklahoma, next to where he himself would lay. [http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/BB/fbu12.html] , Texas Indians.] . (and in point of fact, Congress not only authorized the move, but gave Quanah
US$1,000 to do it, and paid for a stone memorial for his mother, which can be viewed online along with a picture of the 22-room home Quanah had built for him in Lawton, Oklahoma [http://digital.library.okstate.edu/chronicles/v012/v012p163.html] ) Many historians believe Quanah Parker's version, and do not record Peta Nocona as having died at the Massacre at Pease River. Texas historian John Henry Brownhad already disputed the identity of the chief killed at Mule Creek, before Quanah came onto the reservation, stating he was told the man's name was Mo-he-ew. Quanah then wrote an affidavit disputing his father's death: "…while I was too young to remember the chief it is likely that Brown was correct…." [http://www.texasescapes.com/CFEckhardt/Who-Killed-Chief-Peta-Nocona.htm]
It must be also noted that a rare book from that period supports Quanah's claim that his father did not die at Pease River. In a book decades out of print, written in 1890, "Carbine & Lance, The Story of Old Fort Sill", by Colonel W.S. Nye, the Colonel buttresses Quanah's version of the story. Ney says: "Accounts vary as to what happened. Captain Ross, who was acclaimed a hero for the deed, claimed and probably honestly believed that he had caught and killed Peta Nacona. But in the melee he pursued and shot Nawkohnee's Mexican slave, who was trying to save the fleeing Comanche women." Nye claimed that he encountered men who saw Nocona alive several years after Pease River, when he was ill with an infected war wound. This version strongly supports Quanah's claim that his father survived Pease River, and died three to four years later, technically of an infected wound, but more, Quanah said, from a broken heart at losing his family. Nye said what Quanah maintained, that Nocona and Parker had been an exceptionally happy couple, and the forced separation killed them both, Parker starved herself to death, and Nocona withered away.
After the massacre at Pease River
At first Ross believed the woman he had captured was just another “old and unkempt squaw.” [http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/PP/fpa18.html] Some accounts say Martinez noticed her
blue eyes, a rare trait for a native Comanche, and as the woman was questioned, she pointed at herself and said “me Cynthia.” Thus ended Cynthia Ann Parker’s quarter century among the Comanche, and began a tragic capture among people she didn’t want to be with. Although her family attempted to care for her, they simply did not and could not understand that while she might have been of European descent by birth, her character was utterly and totally Comanche. Ross reported that from the moment he captured her, Cynthia Ann begged to be returned to her people, the Comanche. Despite this, every man connected with the capture tried to take credit for "rescuing" Cynthia Ann. Martinez claimed he identified her by her hair and eyes, as did Killhair. Another version, that of Sul Ross, in his official report on the battle wrote of identifying Cynthia Ann Parker, again quoted in "Indian Depredations", by J.W. Wilbarger: 'Why, Tom, this is a white woman, Indians do not have blue eyes.' In any event, it was Ross who forced Parker to return to white society instead of allowing her to go back to the Indians as she asked upon capture. When he returned to Fort Belknap, Ross sent at once for Isaac Parker, a brother of Silas Parker and uncle to Cynthia Ann, who lived near Weatherford, Texas, but he was unable to positively identify this frail captive as his niece. Alas, though her remembered few words of English finally convinced Parker she was his niece, her travails had only begun. Cynthia Ann was essentially kept captive by her white family to prevent her from returning to the only family she knew, the Comanche. Topasannah died of influenzain 1864, followed shortly by her mother, who starved herself to death. Cynthia Ann already was in mourning for her sons when her daughter died, leaving her without a reason to live. According to her neighbors "She thought her sons were lost on the prairie after she was captured. She would take a knife and slash her breasts until they bled and then put the blood on some tobacco and burn it and cry for hours." [http://www.texasescapes.com/CFEckhardt/Who-Killed-Chief-Peta-Nocona.htm] Ironically, of Cynthia Ann’s two sons, both escaped the massacre on Pease River, but one died later before he could be returned to his mother. Charles Goodnight, the famous scout and later rancher, found the sign of two horses who had trotted at a normal trot out of the camp for about a mile, then taken off at a dead run to the nearest large Comanche camp. Goodnight trailed the horses 50 miles to that camp, but as it had more than 1,000 Comanche present, and he had less than a dozen men with him, he abandoned the chase. Later in life, Quanah told Goodnight he was one of those horsemen, and his brother was the other. [http://www.texasescapes.com/CFEckhardt/Who-Killed-Chief-Peta-Nocona.htm] Though his brother died, Quanah became a famous chieftain among the Comanche's, indeed, he was the last of their war chiefs. Quanah Parker, the last Comanche war chief, at the end of his life would see his mother and sister’s remains disinterred, and reburied beside him at Fort Sill. In death Cynthia Ann was finally reunited with the son she loved so dearly. Quanah Parker refused to ever visit the site at Pease River where his family was destroyed. John Wesley of Foard County, Texas, in 1880, acquired the land upon which the fight had taken place, along Mule Creek. In 1918 he wrote "I became acquainted with Quanah Parker in 1882 or 1883 and met him quite often in Vernon where he and members of his tribe came to trade. He was very friendly and wanted to know all about his kinfolks in Parker County. He asked me to visit him at Fort Silland I in return asked him to visit me, but he said he never went to Mule Creek because his father was killed there and his mother and brother (actually it was his sister) were captured and carried off. He said he never wanted to see the place." [http://www.texasescapes.com/CFEckhardt/Who-Killed-Chief-Peta-Nocona.htm]
Fort Parker massacre
Cynthia Ann Parker
* Bial, Raymond. "Lifeways: The Comanche". New York: Benchmark Books, 2000.
* Brice, Donaly E. "The Great Comanche Raid: Boldest Indian Attack on the Texas Republic" McGowan Book Co. 1987
* "Comanche" [http://www.gbso.net/Skyhawk/comanche.htm Skyhawks Native American Dedication] (
August 15, 2005)
* [http://www.historychannel.com/thcsearch/thc_resourcedetail.do?encyc_id=206146 "Comanche" on the History Channel] (
August 26, 2005)
* Dunnegan, Ted. [http://www2.itexas.net/~teddun/tedspage.htm Ted's Arrowheads and Artifacts from the Comancheria] (
August 19, 2005)
* Fehrenbach, Theodore Reed "The Comanches: The Destruction of a People". New York: Knopf, 1974, ISBN 0394488563. Later (2003) republished under the title "The Comanches: The History of a People"
* Foster, Morris. "Being Comanche".
* Frazier, Ian. "Great Plains". New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1989.
*Hacker, Margaret S.,"Cynthia Ann Parker: The Life and the Legend"
* John, Elizabeth and A.H. Storms "Brewed in Other Men's Worlds: The Confrontation of the Indian, Spanish, and French in the Southwest", 1540-1795. College Station, TX: Texas A&M Press, 1975.
* Jones, David E. Sanapia: "Comanche Medicine Woman". New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1974.
* Lodge, Sally." Native American People: The Comanche". Vero Beach, Florida 32964: Rourke Publications, Inc., 1992.
* Lund, Bill. "Native Peoples: The Comanche Indians". Mankato, Minnesota: Bridgestone Books, 1997.
* Mooney, Martin. "The Junior Library of American Indians: The Comanche Indians". New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1993.
* [http://www.nativeamericans.com/Comanche.htm Native Americans: Comanche] (
August 13, 2005).
*Powell, Jo Ann, "Frontier Blood: the Saga of the Parker Family"
* Richardson, Rupert N. "The Comanche Barrier to South Plains Settlement: A Century and a Half of Savage Resistance to the Advancing White Frontier". Glendale, CA: Arthur H. Clark Company, 1933.
* Rollings, Willard. "Indians of North America: The Comanche". New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989.
* Secoy, Frank. "Changing MilEthnologicalitary Patterns on the Great Plains". Monograph of the American Ethnological Society, No. 21. Locust Valley, NY: J. J. Augustin, 1953.
* Streissguth, Thomas. "Indigenous Peoples of North America: The Comanche". San Diego: Lucent Books Incorporation, 2000.
* [http://www.texasindians.com/comanche.htm "The Texas Comanches" on Texas Indians] (
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* Wallace, Ernest, and E. Adamson Hoebel. "The Comanches: Lords of the Southern Plains". Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1952.
* [http://www.rootsweb.com/~txnavarr/biographies/p/parker_cynthia_ann.htm Biography of Cynthia Ann Parker] - Roots.web * [http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/view/PP/fpa18.html Cynthia Ann Parker] - from Handbook of Texas online
* [http://texashistory.unt.edu/widgets/pager.php?object_id=meta-pth-6725&recno=47&path=/data/UNT/Books/meta-pth-6725.tkl Account of the 1836 attack Parker's Fort] from [http://texashistory.unt.edu/permalink/meta-pth-6725 Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas] by John Henry Brown published 1880, hosted by [http://texashistory.unt.edu/ The Portal to Texas History]
* [http://www.meyna.com/caparker.html Cynthia Ann Parker - Comanche (By Adoption)]
* [http://www.luciastclairrobson.com/RidetheWind.htm Ride the Wind, a novel of Cynthia Ann Parker by Lucia St. Clair Robson]
* [http://www.texasescapes.com/CFEckhardt/Who-Killed-Chief-Peta-Nocona.htm Who killed the Chief? by Charles Eckhart]
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