THE REAL STORY OF THE INDIAN WOMAN IN ‘DANCES WITH WOLVES’

She was christened Cynthia Ann Parker, but she would have told you her name was Naduah “Keeps Warm With Us”.

Cynthia Parker, Wild West, ComancheHers is one of the great love stories of the Wild West – and ultimately the saddest.

She was born in 1824, to Silas and Lucy Parker in Illinois. When she was 9 years old the family moved to north west Texas to follow the American Dream – land and a better life. They went to Fort Parker, established by Cynthia’s grandfather, in what is now Limestone County.

But on May 9, 1836, around a hundred Comanche and Kiowa warriors attacked the fort, killing many of the men, including her grandfather. Cynthia and five other captives were led away. One teenage girl escaped; four others, including her brother John, were later released for ransom.

Cynthia was beaten and treated as a slave at first, but her life improved when she was adopted by a Comanche couple, who raised her like their own.

While still barely a teenager she married Peta Nakone, (Camps Alone), a chieftain.

It turned out to be an extraordinary love match.

Cynthia Parker, Wild West, ComancheIt was traditional for Comanche chiefs to take more than one wife but Nakone never did. They later had three children; the future and famed Comanche chief Quanah Parker; another son Pecos (Pecan), and a daughter Topsannah (Prairie Flower).

A newspaper account from 1846 describes how a trading party led by Colonel Leonard G. Williams came across a tribe of Comanches camped on the Canadian River. Williams offered a ransom of 12 mules and two mule loads of goods to the tribal elders in exchange for Parker but he was refused, and in subsequent sightings, she would run away and hide. The Indians said she loved her husband and children and did not want to leave them. These reports were not believed.

In the winter of 1860, a small band of Texas Rangers surprised a Comanche meat camp at Mule Creek on the Pease River.

Most of the men were away and the raid turned into a massacre of women and children.Cynthia Parker, Wild West, Comanche

They executed a man they thought was Nakone but later turned out to be a Mexican slave. A Comanche woman attempted to flee on horseback with her daughter but was captured.

It was only then that the Rangers realized that the squaw in deerskin and moccasins had blue eyes – and that she might be the missing Cynthia Parker.

When she overheard her name banded around by the Rangers she patted herself on the chest and said, “Me Cincee Ann.”

Her fate was sealed.

Comanche_portraitsCynthia Ann and Prairie Flower were taken back to an army post. While traveling through Fort Worth she was photographed with her daughter at her breast and her hair cut short – a Comanche sign of mourning. She thought that her husband was dead and her sons too.

The story of her ‘rescue’ transfixed the nation. She was treated like a returning hero. Texas granted her four and a half thousand acres of land and a pension of $100 per year. Her brother, Silas Junior, was appointed her guardian and took her to his home in Van Zandt County.

But she never warmed to her new life. She was shuttled from one family to another, and often had to be  locked in her room to prevent her escaping.

In 1863, she heard that her son Pecos had died of smallpox, and a few months later, Topsannah died of influenza.

Cynthia Parker, Wild West, Comanche

Chief Quanah Parker

She learned to weave and sew and made medicinal remedies from local plants and herbs. But she rarely spoke, broken in spirit, an exile among her own race.

She died in 1870 from complications arising from a long and self imposed fast, never knowing that her oldest son, Quanah, had become the last Comanche Chieftain. He later became the principal chief of the entire Comanche nation after their defeat.

The character Stands With A Fist in Kevin Costner’s 1990 movie Dances with Wolves is based on her.

She is now buried, with her son, in the Fort Sill Post Cemetery in Oklahoma.

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22 Responses to THE REAL STORY OF THE INDIAN WOMAN IN ‘DANCES WITH WOLVES’

  1. Heather Buen says:

    I love this story! Thanks for sharing!

  2. ritaroberts says:

    Thanks for this moving story Colin.Love it.! You may like a similar story on my blog Called “The Barkhamsted Lighthouse”. Have finished your book and thought it Great! just loved the ending. Will put review on for you soon. .

  3. Emma says:

    This was really interesting. I only saw Dances with Wolves for the first time last Christmas.
    She had a sad and lonely life at the end.

  4. Jess Witkins says:

    I didn’t know this! Thank you for sharing, I love the movie and her character so it’s nice to know where she came from. It does sound tragic. Wouldn’t you love to hear her side of the story?

    • I had heard of Cynthia, Jess, but it wasn’t till I looked into the background that I found out she was the inspiration for Stand with a Fist. It remains one of my favorite movies.

  5. Thank you for sharing her interesting life! I had no idea that Stands with a Fist was based on a real life person. I really enjoyed the film and I have the book in my home library. I’ve read in reviews that it really answers a lot of questions the movie leaves out. I need to read it.

    • Costner, back when he was unknown, asked the writer to turn the screenplay into a book to help him sell the movie! Both were doing the rounds for years and no one wanted to know. It was Costner who made it happen, after he finally found fame in The Untouchables and Bull Durham. He actually released a 4 hour director’s cut of the movie, the film was 3 hours long as it was, so he had to cut a lot of the material. I’m sure the book would be really interesting, I plan to get it myself now!

      • I had no idea about that either! That was pretty great that he got it made and ended up winning such accolades for it. I’ve always thought that critics have given Costner a bum rap after him winning those OSCARS so early in his career (best picture, best director). It seemed that after that, every movie he made or starred in was pretty much panned, or a fair amount of them anyway. I really need to watch the director’s cut. I guess I didn’t realize that he had released that. Thanks for the heads up!

  6. Rebecca says:

    Fascinating story I’ve never heard before. Sad too. Thanks for sharing.

  7. susielindau says:

    Such a heart wrenching story. It sounds strangely familiar since I think well-meaning people continue to destroy people’s lives.

  8. filbio says:

    Fascinating story. I love history and things like this make for a great read. It was very sad what we did to the Indian population, and this story epitomizes it.

    Phil
    http://www.blog.theregularguynyc.com

    • I still think it was one of the best films to ever come out of Hollywood. That scene at the end: Can you see that I am your friend, can you see that you always be my friend? still sends a shiver down my spine. And I admire how Costner insisted on using Native American actors (though all but one of them had to learn Lakota) when Hollywood wanted to use white actors. Glad you liked the post.

  9. Eden says:

    So many misunderstandings… At least she’d had a chance to know love. What do some people say about that road to hell?

    Wonderful post, Colin. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Pingback: The saddest love story in the American West. - Venture Galleries

  11. There is another book on quanah parker titled ride the wind by lucia st clair robson. An excellent retell of cynthia ann parker. One of my favorite books.

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