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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. Please consider reading our editorial policy to understand how and why we publish the resources we do.

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Part of our in-depth series exploring the forts of Comancheria

Picture of Parker's Fort
Historic old Fort Parker is on Park Road 35 just off Hwy 14 between Groesbeck & Mexia in Limestone county.

A bit of history in your own back yard. Old Fort Parker is a great place to allow your children to view the old west for themselves. Just imagine how great a time they will have as they step through the gates of an actual fort. View the fort's history for yourself. You can read about it and then come and see the actual fort!

History

On the morning of May 19, 1836, while most of the men of the fort were working in the fields, a band of Indians came over the hill to the east of the fort. A lighter skinned man with the Indians displayed a white flag, and though warned not to do so, one of the few remaining men within the fort went out to try and prevent the impending disaster. After talking with several of the warriors, Benjamin Parker returned to the fort, saying the Indians wanted beef, a place to camp, and directions to water. Benjamin returned to the Indians with beef but was quickly surrounded and lanced. The Indians then charged the fort before the gate could be closed.

Map of 1836 Texas
Map from the book, Taming Texas, by Stephen L. Moore

Five settlers were killed and five were captured, the most famous being Cynthia Ann Parker, who was "rescued" twenty-four years later by Sul Ross and Charles Goodnight at the Battle of Pease River. The remaining twenty-one survivors were split into two groups. Both groups made their way toward Fort Houston, near the present city of Palestine. The smaller group consisted of the men out working in the fields at the time of the attack. They returned to the fort after dark, took the remaining horses, and after finding "Granny" Parker, left for Fort Houston. The larger group took six nights to travel the sixty miles, with only two skunks and two sand turtles to eat.

Map of the Republic of Texas, 1839
Map from the book, Taming Texas, by Stephen L. Moore
Directions From Fort Worth

Take I-35 South to Hillsboro. Exit Highway 36 to Corsicana at Hillsboro and continue east until a mile or so out of Hillsboro. Take the right fork to Hwy 171 to Mexia. Go through Mexia. Seven more miles down Highway 14 you'll see the entrance to the Old Fort Parker on the right. Take Park Road 35 for 1 mile.

Wendi Lundquist on Parker's Fort:

John Parker, an elder in the Predestinarian Baptist Church, left Illinois to settle in Texas in 1834 intending to spread the word of the Baptist Church to those who had not yet heard. He brought his wife "Granny" Parker, two sons Silas and Benjamin, and 4 grandchildren. Samuel Frost and his son also accompanied the Parkers on their quest. In March of that year, for protection from the natives that controlled this area, they built a fort in Limestone County along the headwaters of the Navasota River. It had log walls that were twelve feet high and two blockhouses on opposite corners to offer a view of far off distances and warn the occupants of approaching danger. For lodging, there were six small cabins inside the fort's walls.

Picture of Fort Parker Blockhouse

When John and his wife Sarah first built Fort Parker, it housed a company of Rangers from time to time as they were dispatched in the area to confront the Indians, either to retrieve stolen livestock or merely avenge the death of a fellow frontiersman. One company, under the command of Captain Robert Coleman, sought a fortress there in July of 1835 when the Tawakoni village they attacked proved to be surprisingly resilient. Colonel John Moore answered Coleman's cry for help with three companies of Rangers under his command. In August, the combined forces left Fort Parker and headed northwest, following a similar path to the one that we used for our approach to the fort. They found the village abandoned, and one ranger, Major Erath, who would soon establish the city of Waco, noted that the Indians were forced to leave behind a great store of crops, including sixty acres of corn.

Even though the Parkers and their extended family were far more prepared than most of the early settlers in Texas, their name and the misfortunes that befell them eventually became a significant part of the legend of the old Frontier. I've noticed that anyone who knows the slightest bit of this area's history can rattle off the names of Cynthia Ann and Quanah Parker without their eyes first glazing over as they wander backward into the days of Mrs. So-and-So's Seventh Grade history class. Here's why.

On May 19, 1836, long after Coleman and Moore's Ranger battalion had disbanded, more than one hundNative Americans from Comanche, Kiowa and Wichita tribes appeared at the gates of the fort to ask for beef and directions to a water source. They were waving a white flag. Most of the men who could defend the fort were not inside those twelve foot walls; they were working in the surrounding fields. Old John Parker and his sons were inside, so Benjamin slowly opened the heavy gates to hear their requests. He went back inside the fort to relay this conversation to the others. When he returned to the gates to talk to the warriors, planning to send them toward water and deny them a cow, they quickly drove their lances through him and charged the open gates before they could be closed.

What followed was a bloody violent storm like nothing these Baptist immigrants had ever seen. The Indians pinned their victims to the ground with their lances, mutilated and murdered the men, and raped the women, including Granny Parker. They took five captives, young Cinthia Ann and John Parker, James Plummer, and two young ladies, Elizabeth Kellogg and Rachel Plummer. Though none would welcome such a title, these were the first white captives taken by Indians in Texas. Elizabeth Kellogg was taken by the Caddoans when the raiding band split their ranks, and she was soon traded to agents in Nacogdoches for $150. Rachel Plummer and the children traveled with the Indians all the way to eastern Colorado, where she too was eventually ransomed. Little John Parker and James Plummer remained for 6 years in captivity before they were ransomed in 1842. Cynthia Ann alone assimilated to her new way of life and rose to become a female tribesperson named Naduah. Her story becomes legend because she was adopted into a Comanche family, and as she matured, she assumed the role of wife to the mighty chief Peta Nocona. The Comanche men practiced polygamy, and it seems a great testament to their relationship that Nocona never took another wife.

Picture of Quanah Parker
Photo from the Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma Library

Cynthia Ann embraced the Native American culture, and she prevented several of the whites' attempts to rescue her. She and Chief Nocona had three children; her firstborn son Quanah arose to become the most revered of Comanche chiefs. It is curious that one small captive child from a prominent local family could so win the hearts and respect of the Comanches that she would become the only wife of one great chief and the mother of his successor. When she was returned to the Parker family, after 24 years with the tribe, she resisted vehemently, trying a few times to escape. Cynthia Ann's tale twists the classic Cowboys and Indians story so that there can never be the clearly defined lines of hero and villain, no white horse and black horse. In this great legend that describes the beginning of the Texas frontier, the heroes are those whose indelible courage and tenacity have etched their names into the books of history, not merely those who ended up with the land in the end.


Photo of the Fort Parker compound taken by Charles M. Robinson, III from the book, Frontier Forts of Texas.

Parker's Fort sits on the northern end and was an important part of the early Republic of Texas settlements. Please take time to read our article on the infamous Raid on Parker’s Fort.

Communities and Related Links
Groesbeck Community
Fort Parker Web Site

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