In May of 1836 a nine year old Cynthia Ann Parker and some of her family were captured by the Comanches. Many of her family members were killed that day. She would later become the wife of Comanche Chief Peta Nacona and the mother of Quanah Parker the Chief of the last band of Comanches to surrender on May 6, 1875.
S.C. Gwynne is a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize with his detailed historical analysis of Comanches in his book Empire of the Summer Moon.
He tells that the Parker Clan had come to Texas in 1833 and the family had received a total of 25 square miles from a land grant from Mexico. The land was magnificent with black land prairie, as well as rolling meadowlands and abundant water. The Parker Clan would have been wise to heed the old saying that “if something looks to good to be true… it probably is”, but the lure of becoming incredibly rich with land holdings blinded their judgment.
Ft. Parker, with only 16 farmers to defend it, was so far beyond the ordinary line of settlements that there were hardly any people behind it. The fort was situated on the absolute outermost edge of the Indian frontier. Historians look back at this group as abysmally unwise and even delusional in their judgment. While the Parkers had carefully built a strong and safe fort easily defendable against a small band of Indians, they left the gates wide open on that morning allowing the Comanches easy access.
Less than a month after the Battle of San Jacinto the fragile Texas republic had better things to do than protect lunatic Anglo farmers who insisted on living beyond civilization’s last outposts.
Coryell County settlers were much wiser in their timing and location choices. Ft. Gates had been established with troops and the pioneers were well aware of their need to be alert and ready for an Indian attack. Still some were killed thru Indian depredations.
There is a map in the Indian exhibit on the second floor of Coryell Museum that shows the Texas Frontier Forts 1849-1852. The line of defense against the Indians included 6 forts stretching from present day Fort Worth south to Fort Duncan on the border of Texas and Mexico (near present day Eagle Pass). The troops slowly drove the Indians farther and farther west. The soldiers were transferred to Phantom Hill in 1852 where the Indians were more active.
The census rolls of 1850 for Milam County state that 27 persons are believed to have lived at Fort Gates. By 1853 there were approximately two hundred and fifty. Coryell County was one of many counties formed from a huge land area then called Milam County.
The Coryell County Scrapbook by Mildred Mears records that J.H. Chrisman actually fought the Indians. At an Old Settlers Reunion in 1903 Chrisman read extracts from a paper he had written concerning fighting the Indians. His first Indian raid was only two days after his arrival at Ft. Gates in April of 1854. Chrisman recalls that “a report came in that a woman and two children had been either captured or murdered by Indians while her husband was gone. Six of our best young men, mounted on our best horses went to take up the trail of the Indians and rescue the lady and her children. The men were poorly armed with old fashioned long muzzle-loading flint and percussion lock rifles. There were no pistols in use at that time.” According to Empire of the Summer Moon, a Comanche could shoot 20 arrows in the time it took a man to reload a gun of this type”.
Chrisman further tells that “all the other women and children of the area were brought to one or two houses that were more easily defended. A tense night was spent with the men guarding outside. You can better imagine than I can depict the awful feelings of the poor women that night, but nothing transpired to break the terrible silence.”
Chrisman explains that the next day some of the neighbors went to the missing woman’s house hoping to find a clue to help locate her. The missing woman and children were discovered by accident some distance from her house. She and her children were found hidden in a thicket of cedar brush. It seems that the lady had discovered the Indians before they got to the house. She took her little children and slipped out of the house to hide in the cedar brake before the Indians discovered her.
Coryell County Scrapbook by Mildred Mears as well as Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne can be purchased at Coryell Museum in the gift shop.