The Kidnapped Texas Settler Who Forgot English

“The pyramids themselves, doting with age, have forgotten the names of their founders.” —Thomas Fuller, “The Holy State and the Profane State”

In A Nutshell

In 1836, the Parkers, a family of pioneers in the American West, were attacked by a force of mounted Comanches in Central Texas. The Parkers fled for their lives—some escaped, some were killed, and some were kidnapped. Among the abducted was nine-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker. She assimilated to Comanche life extremely well; when she was found over 20 years later, she had even forgotten English.

The Whole Bushel

In 1836, the Parker family moved to Central Texas and built their own fort (appropriately dubbed “Fort Parker”). But the Parkers made a poor real estate decision: Fort Parker was built far from the rest of the American frontier, deep in Comanche territory.

With that in mind, it’s not surprising—but no less terrifying—that eventually a large group of hostile Comanches, Kiowas, and Kichais showed up at Fort Parker uninvited and eager to raid. On May 19, 1836, the force attacked, leaving many Parkers wounded, dead, or kidnapped. Among the five captured family members was Cynthia Ann Parker, who was around eight or nine at the time.

If given the opportunity to choose between European-style civilization or horse-fueled nomadism, most Americans assumed that any sane person would choose European civilization. And so the desperate search for Cynthia Ann began. Heartbroken at the thought of her being separated from her family, various searchers were also convinced that she needed to be rescued from the barbarians, savages who led an inferior way of life.

Cynthia Ann was allegedly spotted around half a dozen times growing up, but it wasn’t until 1860, after a skirmish between Texas Rangers and Comanches, that she was finally thrust back into white society. She was barely recognizable—only her blue eyes differentiated her from the American Indians.

Cynthia Ann wanted to stay with the Comanches. She had presumably begun her life among the Comanches as a slave—but she had assimilated so well with them that she had married a chief, had three children (one of whom would become the last free Comanche chief, Quanah Parker), and forgotten English. She had even changed physically, her skin darkening and her muscles adjusting to the work Comanche women were accustomed to. Though racially white, she was, for all intents and purposes, a Comanche.

Cynthia Ann’s rescue became a story of redemption on the frontier. But she refused to re-acclimate to white culture, much to the confusion of her family. Desperate and depressed, she began starving herself in 1870, ultimately dying of the flu at age 43.

Show Me The Proof

Cynthia Ann Parker—A Texas Legend
Texas State Historical Association: Parker, Cynthia Ann