Raid on Parker’s Fort

Michael has a BA in History & American Studies and an MSc in American History from the University of Edinburgh. He comes from a proud military family and has spent most of his career as an educator in the Middle East and Asia. His passion is travel, and he seizes any opportunity to share his experiences in the most immersive way possible, whether at sea or on the land.

In several accounts not included here, emphasis was placed on a situation that had developed near Parker's Fort several months before the raid. There were a handful of other family forts or camps scattered around Parker's Fort that represented the vanguard of Anglo settlement on the Middle Brazos. Like the leading edge of the frontier on the Colorado, there was little control of the behavior of the individual settlements. The Brazos pioneers claimed that a camp of thieves swindled a passing Comanche band in a horse trade. Some believed that at least one of the tribe had been killed. Colony records clearly indicate that the mistreatment of the Caddos and the killing of Chief Dorcha had sparked a war and that the Parker's Fort raiders invoked the chief's name during their attack.

Fort Parker Picture

Fort Parker

Caddos and Others Raid Bastrop With Choctaw Tom / Moore Leads Republic's First Ranger Attack Against Indians

Fort Tours Chief Scout, Steve "Cougar" Nichols, summarizes the records of Robertson Colony.

The Robertson colonists employed a friendly Caddo chief named Canoma to go among the savages in 1835 and endeavor to bring them in for the purpose of making a treaty and recovering two children of a Mr. Moss who were then prisoners in their hands. This same chief had pursued some Indians who had murdered H. Reed near Tenoxtitlan in 1832 and recovered Reed's horse and saddle and returned them to his father.

    Canoma left two of his children as hostages, undertook the mission, and visited several tribes. When he came back he reported that those he had seen were willing to make a treaty with the Brazos people but that about half of them were bitterly opposed to forming friendly relations with the settlers along the Colorado. In fact, at that very moment, he said, a party of the irreconcilable Indians was making a descent on Bastrop. The people at the Falls of the Brazos sent a runner, Samuel McFall, to warn the people of Bastrop but by the time he got there the Indians had already entered the settlement, and on June 1, 1835 they had attacked a wagon on the road from San Felipe to Bastrop on the waters of Cummins Creek and killed Amos Alexander and his son and escaped with the goods from the wagon.

    In the meantime, two immigrants named Warnick and Elam had stopped at the Falls of the Brazos and while there they were both taken sick and their horses, turned loose to graze, ran away across the Brazos and Little River and on down to Brushy Creek. Mr. Marlin employed two Caddo chiefs, Canoma and Dorcha (or Douchey) to retrieve the horses if possible. When they started, Mr. Marlin presented each with a new shirt.

    The Indians trailed the horses to Brushy Creek where a short time before this, Indians from other tribes had been committing depredations on the settlers around Bastrop. Some of these settlers, under Colonel Edward Burleson, had decided to follow the Indians that had been troubling them. The trail led to Brushy Creek where they found Canoma and Dorcha with the American horses in their possession.

    The posse immediately thought these were the Indians who had been troubling them and in their rage and excitement decided to kill the two chiefs forthwith. The two Caddos told them that Marlin had sent them after the horses and showed them the new shirts Marlin had given them and begged the settlers to go with them to the Falls, less than thirty miles distant, where their story could be verified but this request was denied.

    Moses Cummins wrote Empresario Robertson relating these events. He recommended that Robertson write Burleson a letter and have someone carry it to him immediately before these citizens, in their rage, could do violence "to those innocent Indians." The Burleson party had gone up to the country taking Canoma and Dorcha with them and Cummins said that their trail could be easily found somewhere between the heads of Cow Bayou and the Leon River. Burleson had agreed not to harm the Indians without bringing them into the settlement for a hearing but his men were enraged and crying for blood. "Such men," Cummins wrote, "in such a state of mind, are not apt to discriminate between guilt and innocence."

    Cummins was right in his prediction. Colonel Burleson was unable to control the mob psychology of his men. They tied Canoma and his son to trees and shot them, leaving his wife to get home as best she could. Stephen Townsend and John Rabb, two members of the party opposed to the killing but unable to prevent it, left the company rather than witness what they deemed to be murder.

    Canoma's wife wasted no time getting back to the settlement where she reported the facts exactly as they had happened. This so incensed the remainder of Canoma's people, who were still at the Falls, that Choctaw Tom, the principal man left amongst them, stated that they could not blame the people at the Falls, but that all the Indians would now make war on the settlers along the Colorado. With all the band, he left for Indian country.

    The young warriors notified the settlers near Mr. Marlin that they were going to make war on the whites but promised that they would never molest the whites in that locality. They kept this promise for about twelve months. Then the name of Chief Dorcha turned up in the attack on Fort Parker on May 19, 1836. Later, the Caddos, Ionis, Anadarkos and Kichais united under Chief Jose Maria and their terrible butchery and pillaging began. One of the first families murdered was one of those whom the Caddos had promised not to molest, the George Morgan family, whose home they attacked on January 1, 1839.

The following is from the book, The Men Who Wear the Star, by Charles M. Robinson, III:

    In July, 1835, a company of men under Capt. Robert M. Coleman attacked a Tawakoni village in what is now Limestone County, east of Waco. Though surprised, the Indians outnumbered the whites, forcing them to retreat to Parker's Fort, seat of the Parker clan, some forty miles east of Waco. Coleman sent for help and was reinforced by three companies under Col. John H. Moore. The Indians retreated. Moore's Rangers combed the countryside as far as the present site of Dallas before returning home. These various skirmishes, insignificant on their own, would have far-reaching repercussions, not only with the local tribes but with the powerful Comanches of the Plains.

    Picture of George Erath
    George Erath
In early August of 1835, Colonel Moore's Ranger's responded to Coleman's bloody July encounter with the Tonkawas. The Colonel led Ranger Captains Williamson, Barnett, Coe, Goheen and Coleman and their companies northwest from Parker's Fort to even the score. Ranger George Erath later wrote:

    After waiting for the swollen Navasota to run down, we marched on to the village. Texas Indians never allowed themselves to be attacked by a hundred men together; they had evacuated the village, and we had nothing to do but occupy it. We found sixty acres in corn, which was just hard enough to be gritted, and by making holes in the bottom of the tin cups we carried we fashioned graters, and supplied ourselves with bread. There were also numbers of pumpkins, watermelons, muskmelons, peas and other vegetables, such as were then raised by Indians in their primitive agriculture.

Two days later the troops were on Post Oak Creek when scouts reported Indians ahead. Erath comments that Moore "took as much precaution as if we were about to fight such formidable foes as Creeks, Cherokees, and Seminoles-foes the two had faced in their younger days under Jackson." Battle lines were formed. Erath further wrote:

    I was riding a young horse which had been caught a colt from the mustangs, that was fiery. When the order came to charge, it darted forward ahead of all the rest, and I found myself alone in the advance. Next came McFall, who was also on a wild horse, too eager for the fray. The officers shouted to us to come back into line, but our efforts to obey were in vain. Our steeds had determined to give us a reputation for bravery which we did not deserve.

The incident also earned Erath the nickname, "The Flying Dutchman". The battalion trudged on northwest until the end of August when the Rangers enlistments began to expire and many chose to return to their families. Erath continues:

    The main body of the Indians were never overtaken; but several small scattering parties were met, with which there was some skirmishing. The Texan forces kept daily diminishing, and in two months the expedition closed.

Moore led the remaining volunteers to the forks of the Trinity, where Dallas now stands, before turning back to the southeast, passing through the future site of Fort Graham. The force returned to Moore's Fort in Mina (present day Bastrop) and disbanded.

Picture of Parker's Fort
Photo from the Book, Texas Forts by Wayne Lease.

The Parker family built a log stockade deep in the Brazos valley near the Navasota River. Several other families joined them, swelling their settlement to over thirty pioneers. Only two other families built cabins, although the rich land was heavily timbered with oak and abundant in good water and game. On May 19, 1836, at least one hundred mostly young and mostly Comanche warriors appeared at the gates of the fort. The only men at the fort were elderly John Parker, his son Silas and Benjamin, Samuel Frost and his son. Benjamin walked outside to talk to the Indians who were brandishing a white flag. Silas, protective of his four young children and wife, stayed at the gate. The Indians demanded beef and directions to the watering hole. Benjamin walked back and told his brother he had refused them the beef but would go back and try to talk them into leaving peacefully.

From the book, Comanches, The Destruction of a People, by T.R. Fehrenbach:

    The people in the fort saw the riders suddenly surround him and drive their lances into him. Then, with loud whoops, mounted warriors dashed for the gate. Silas Parker was cut down before he could bar their entry; horsemen poured inside the walls. The two Frosts, father and son, died in front of the women; Elder John Parker, his wife, "Granny," and the others tried to flee. The warriors scattered and rode them down.

    There were a few, brief, murderous moments of horror and wild confusion inside the fort. Several warriors seized John Parker and his wife; others rode after the other women and children, in a shrieking, bloody melee.

    The early sixteenth- and seventeenth-century European accounts of Amerindian warfare usually recorded events in stark simplicity. This was no longer true by the nineteenth century. Reports became clothed in Victorian delicacy; newspaper accounts and even military records obscured details with awkward euphemisms. Such understatements may have obscured the true nature of events for readers who had never come into personal contact with the frontier, though they deceived no one on the frontier itself. The newspapers of the day printed sanitized versions, often quoted by historians.

    But what happened was that John Parker was pinned to the ground; he was scalped and his genitals ripped off. Then he was killed and further mutilated. Granny Parker was stripped and fixed to the earth with a lance driven through her flesh. Several warriors raped her while she screamed. The other women were seized and attacked; two were seriously injured and left with gaping wounds.

    Silas Parker's wife Lucy fled through the gate, shepherding her four small children. But the riders overtook her near the river; they threw her and the children over their horses to take them back. Now, however, men were running from the fields with rifles. One David Faulkenberry, a brave soul, rushed to Lucy Parker's rescue. He forced the warriors to drop Lucy and two of the children, but one made off with Cynthia Ann and John Parker, aged nine and six. Then, as more Parker men arrived, the entire war party leaped for its horses and galloped away from the confining space of the stockade. The horde could have killed all the whites in the vicinity, but the warriors were satisfied with the great triumph they had scored, by their lights, without casualties. They rode north in a cloud of dust toward the Trinity.

They killed the five men in the fort and left three women raped, speared, mutilated and bleeding to death, including Granny Parker. Two of the women died, but Granny, a tough old bird, removed the lance she had been pinned down with and survived. Elizabeth Kellogg, Rachel Plummer, her infant son James, and two small Parker children had the distinction of being the first American captives of the Comanches. The prisoners were tied to horses and spirited along the warriors' retreat toward the Trinity. They made camp long after midnight and held a victory dance where individual warriors recounted his exploits, occasionally waving about a bloody scalp. The prisoners were kicked and whipped during the dance, then the captive women, in view of the children, were tortured more extensively and raped repeatedly until dawn.

From the book, Comanches, The Destruction of a People, by T.R. Fehrenbach:

    Elizabeth Kellogg and Rachel Plummer, both married women, were the first American females known to be taken captive by Comanches. They were treated no differently from women of the Pawnees or Utes. In the reservation years, when Indians were being tried and hanged for "crimes" against the whites, few Comanches, logically, ever admitted to the taking or abuse of captives, and their descendants tended emotionally to deny rapes and tortures for the same reasons that descendants of the Aztecs tried to deny that the Mexica ceremonially ate human flesh. However, to the Plains tribes all females were chattels, and despite a great deal of studied delicacy on the subject, there was never to be a known case of white women captives who were not subjected to abuse and rape. When they could be led to talk, returned captives told the same story, and until the last half of the nineteenth century, Comanche warriors proudly asserted such exploits.

    After such initiations, few women ever put up any serious resistance. It was in fact utterly impossible for a captive female to defy a Comanche warrior. The men might kill a troublesome female out of exasperation, but they usually used equally direct but more imaginative means to secure obedience. A captive was always exhausted, bound, and stripped naked in the warrior's presence. The Comanches did not need to use crippling tortures on a captive they wanted to keep. One simple tactic was to make captives run behind a horse, hands bound and attached to the rider by a thong. Bare legs and feet were cruelly lacerated by stones and thorns, and if the captive stumbled or fell from exhaustion, dragging caused exquisite pain. Caucasian captives who were made to walk or ride nude under the southwestern sun suffered agonizing sunburns. Captives quickly learned that complete cooperation was infinitely preferable to the punishments the warriors could devise. There is no record, despite white myths, of women destroying themselves under such circumstances. They clung to life and avoided punishment. Once far out on the plains the captors no longer bothered to keep captives bound, for escape into the wilds meant certain death from thirst or starvation.

    Elizabeth Kellogg and Rachel Plummer survived their initial ordeal, the first of many.

That morning, the war party split up. The Nocona Comanche and a few Kiowa, who had been riding with them, rode west on the plains, the Comanche split off north, taking Rachel and the children with them to eastern Colorado. The children, being so young, were adopted and adapted easily to Comanche life. Rachel was completely degraded, forced to be a warrior's slave, tortured and beaten by her master, his other wives and female relatives. Soon she bore a child and as she lost or at least temporarily managed to forget her memories of civilization, she began to savagely assert herself, earning the respected position as a wife and mother of the Comanche.

A handful of Wichita and Caddoes, who participated in the raid, claimed Elizabeth Kellogg and took her with them to the Red River, where she was traded to some Delawares for one hundred fifty dollars worth of goods. They took her to Nacogdoches and sold her to officials of the Republic of Texas for what they had paid.

Within a year, Rachel was seen by Comancheros, who spoke of it when they returned to Santa Fe. An American trader named Donohue heard the news and commissioned the Comancheros to buy the captives from the Comanches. They could only purchase Rachel, and after eighteen months of captivity, she was taken to Santa Fe. Donohue and his wife took Rachel across the trail east to Independence, Missouri, where she rendezvoused with a relative who took her home to Texas.

From the book, Comanches, The Destruction of a People, by T.R. Fehrenbach:

The position of a returned female captive, however, was always anomalous on the nineteenth-century American frontier. The frontiers's puritanical views and rigid racial and sexual shibboleths made it impossible for such unfortunate women to be accepted gracefully back into their communities. They were objects of sincere pity, but they were also considered dirty and disgraced, for they had been the playthings of creatures the Americans regarded as animals. They were embarrassments to their families. Some husbands would not receive them or live again with them. Ironically, most returned women suffered more real shame and humiliation among their own people than among the Comanches. If they came back with half-breed children, their position, and that of the unhappy children, was even more unfortunate. When they could, such women left the frontier and all old associations forever. Rachel Plummer died within less than a year after her ransom and return to civilization.

Six years of constant pressure on behalf of the Parker family finally resulted in the ransoming of John Parker and James Plummer. James, the youngest, managed to readapt to civilization but John was older and had become a Comanche warrior. He longed to return to his tribe and his sister, Cynthia Ann, who had become the wife of Peta Nacona, an important warrior with whom she had three children. John soon ran away from Parker's fort but he never found his sister and ended up living south of the Rio Grande.

From the book, Comanches, The Destruction of a People, by T.R. Fehrenbach:

There was no evidence that she (Cynthia Ann) was unhappy on the plains. However, the knowledge that she was a Comanche female tribesperson continually fed dark racial and sexual angers across the Texas frontier. A spark of violence and hatred had been lit at Parker's Fort that dogged the Parker blood, and its continuing reverberations would last till the twilight of the Texan-Comanche wars.

    Parker's Fort was the beginning of the longest and bloodiest of all the wars between the Anglo-Americans and any single Amerindian people. As if it were a tocsin, in 1836, the western regions of Texas began to flame from Comanche raids. The bands quickly expanded their warfare to include the Texans; they had found the range. The Parker raid was only the first of hundreds like it, which spread killings, tortures, rapes, and tragic captivities all across the borderlands. This was not a frontier of military forts or towns, or of traders and trappers, like so much of the contemporary United States' plains frontier. The Texans were moving thousands of unprotected farming families west. Following their individual stars, the Anglo-Texans pressed on. In the 1830s, what was then west Texas became a bloody ground, filled with pioneer families who had lost fathers and sons, wives and daughters, who had buried their mutilated dead and ransomed young women who returned with demented stares. In a few months blows were struck and insults given that the Texan people could neither forget nor forgive… The Comanches who now found splendid raiding opportunities down the Brazos and the Colorado were also incapable of understanding the Texan-Americans. They did not perceive that this was a people unlike the other Europeans they had met. Texans appears to be peasants blundering onto the plains-miserable, grubbing people whose seat in the saddle brought smiles to Comanche warriors' lips; who seemed to fear war and lacked war skills, and who recklessly exposed their women and children.

    The People failed to sense the deep-seated belligerence of the Texan-Americans toward anyone who opposed or injured them, or who aroused their passion or contempt. The Texans were not cruel; they lacked the cruelty as well as the subtlety of the Spanish and the French. But they were vastly more brutal and ruthless in sustained determination. That determination was immediately apparent. The shattered Parker clan did not desert the far frontier. It went back to Parker's Fort, tended the fields, and harvested the ripening corn. The men now went armed and vigilant, distrusting and despising all Amerindians. The settlement prospered, and as other hundreds slowly joined them in this country, the family grew prominent in the region.

    But Parker's Fort had begun an ethnic-racial war in which there would be no more moral boundaries than territorial ones between the races on the Texas prairies. People who had been raided, who buried their rotting dead and prayed for captured loved ones, only affirmed the old American proverb that the only good Indian was a dead one.

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