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

  • Hillyard

    It’s no surprise that a child kidnapped at 9 yrs old would over 20 yrs forget a language that she never used anymore. Basically after being kidnapped as a child by the Comanches, she was kidnapped by the whites as an adult who was happy where she was. She should have been allowed to stay with her (Comanche) family if that was her wish.

  • lbatfish

    A Marshallese kid who went with me to the states managed to “forget” how to speak his native language in much less time than Cynthia Ann. When we returned to his island just ONE year later, he really wanted to tell his cousins all about his experiences, but got really frustrated and finally indignantly complained to me: “None of these kids know any English!”

    He later explained to me that he could still understand them okay, but whenever he tried to reply, all that came out of his mouth was English, because that was what he’d grown accustomed to always using. Fortunately, his “lost” ability returned in just a few days. But if he’d been away for 24 years, it’s easy for me to imagine that the adjustment back would be a LOT more difficult.

    • Clara T Ohare

      Memory is a matter of retrieval not loss.

      • lbatfish

        Which is why I’d put quote marks around the word “lost”. 🙂

  • Vivek

    you are showing indians in poor light

    • lbatfish

      True, but that’s just part of the (white) immigrant culture. And as noted Fox Culture Desk correspondent Megyn Kelly recently noted: “Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change.”

    • Exiled Phoenix

      Whites around the New York area stole children and forced them into bording schools to learn european ways… aboriginals were stolen in Australia as well. Assimilation is usually presumed best by the dominant culture.

      • EggOnNeon

        That has always fascinated me, your last sentence. Even today radio hosts REALLY ASSUME that people are “stuck” in their neighborhoods, i.e. away from white ones. Did you see Rabbit Proof Fence, where the little girl walked thousands of miles to get back home?