In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with newsmakers, Fort Worth businessman Bob Saul discusses an upcoming event that shines a light on Quanah Parker, the last Comanche chief.
Saul is executive director of My Comancheria Institute, an educational nonprofit that is putting on the Quanah Medicine Mounds Gathering conference on Friday, June 10, and Saturday, June 11.
Mark Woommavovah, chairman of the Comanche Nation, will keynote the conference Friday afternoon. Other speakers will include Shane Lance, author and historian; Bill Neeley, historian and author; Dustin Tahmahkera, PhD, great-great grandson of Quanah Parker and professor of Native American cultural studies at the University of Oklahoma; and Kathryn Briner, PhD, director of the Comanche Nation Language Department.
Business editor Bob Francis spoke with Saul about the event and the history of the late Comanche chief Quanah Parker and the many north Texas connections.
Bob Saul: I am a seventh-generation Texan. I live here in Fort Worth. I own and operate a computer software company and a history promotional company. And then I am also involved in, I’m actually president of My Comancheria Institute in Cache, Oklahoma, which documents and preserves the various native and immigrant cultures and histories intertwined in historic Comancheria. It covers historic Comancheria, which is primarily Kansas, Oklahoma, parts of Colorado, Texas, and New Mexico. And, through that, I produce some historical events, conferences, gatherings, and mostly things that have to do with history.
Bob Francis: And you’ve got something coming up this weekend on June 11 and 12.
Saul: We have the second annual Quanah Parker Medicine Mounds Gathering. We had the first gathering last year, and we had about 800 people out there. Quanah was named for Quanah Parker, the town of Quanah. The original name for Quanah, Texas, on the railroad map was to have been Lubbock, and that was before Lubbock was ever founded. But when the railroad came through and the town was organized, the people in the town said, “We’re not going to name it Lubbock. We’re going to name it Quanah in respect for Quanah Parker.”
So they named it Quanah, and that was in the 1880s. Quanah Parker actually came almost, well, usually several times a year there. They had several celebrations with him. Since then, the Parker family has come, along with other Comanches, and celebrated. One of the reasons why is that southeast of Quanah, Texas, and southwest of Vernon, south of Highway 287, which goes from Fort Worth to Amarillo, are four mounds. They’re called the Medicine Mounds. They’re not volcanic. They’re dolomite mounds, and they’ve been there for thousands of years. Those mounds are sacred to many of the ancient tribes, as well as to the current-day Comanche Kiowa Wichita tribes.
We’re not sure, and this kind of history you are never really sure because it wasn’t written, but many historians believe that Quanah Parker himself, as a 17-year-old young man, all young men had to go out and spend one moon, one month, by themselves. And they took nothing with them. They had to live on the land. If they had anything to eat, they had to catch it and kill it or eat it from the plants and find water. And many think that Quanah Parker spent most of his visioning as it’s called, which means they have to think about what they’re going to do with their lives. He spent his visioning on the tallest of those mounds. That’s one of the reasons it’s sacred to us.
We do know that many other Comanches over the years have done that, and the ranch is now owned by an East Texas oil man, Frank Bufkin, and he bought it about seven years ago. For 30-something years before that, the Summerlee Foundation in Dallas owned it and they would let the archaeologists in but would not let any Comanches or any of the public on to those mounds because they were cataloging, digging up the artifacts. They left all the artifacts intact, and so today, you have to have a guided tour and we’re the only ones who’ve been able to do it, and last year we were limited to exactly 100 people, 20 at a time. This year, they’re doing 80 people, 20 at a time, and all the 80 spots are already filled.
Francis: Tell us more about the festival.
But we’re having a celebration out there of Comanche culture and the history of the town of Quanah. We’ll start out Friday morning with the historical tour, narrated bus tour by one of the local historians who also is the owner of the local newspaper. He’s written two books, and that’s Shane Lance. He’s doing the tour, and then we’re having a history conference that afternoon, starting at 1 p.m. in the high school auditorium. We’ll have five speakers or presenters. Shane Lance is doing one presentation on the history of Quanah, Texas, and then after that, Bill Neeley, Bill is the author of the only book that the Comanche Nation deems as historically accurate, and he lives in Lawton, Oklahoma. He’s the only major author that’s ever interviewed many of the descendants of Quanah and the Comanche elders. The name of his book is “The Last Comanche Chief: The Life and Times of Quanah Parker.”
Bill will be there speaking on why the captives, Comanche captives, loved the Comanche culture. Most of the captives did not want to leave once they were captured by the Comanches, those who grew up with the Comanches. Cynthia Ann Parker is the best example, and even after she was recaptured in 1860 and brought back to Texas to her relatives, brought back to this part of Texas, she was always trying to escape and ended up dying about 1869, 1870 down in East Texas where she was originally captured, or near there, which was between Mejia and Groesbeck, which is east of Waco.
She was captured in 1839, four months after Texas independence, and was recaptured in 1860. So she spent, what is that, I don’t know, 20-plus years, and she was of course the wife of Peta Nocona, the war chief. The Comanches never had a chief over the tribe, except two years in the 1700s and then later on, when Quanah grew up and went to the reservation, the military appointed him chief of the Comanches. He’s called the last chief of the Comanches, but the thing of it was, he was virtually the only chief.
Francis: Explain the Comanche culture a bit.
The Comanches, their culture, their civil government was run by the medicine man in the band, and the only way they ruled Comancheria for 200 years was because they were kind of like the United States of America. They had bands, a lot of them, and each band was separate, like a state; only they gathered together then for their tribe. The medicine man was the civil government in the band and the warriors, then, had a war chief, but he was never appointed or elected. He always won that position in battle. And Quanah became war chief probably when he was about 19, but he of course was named the chief of the Comanches and he’s the one who kept the Comanches from starving to death, along with the Kiowa, and then the Mescalero Apaches, when they came into the reservation.
I’m president of My Comancheria Institute, which we organize a nonprofit in Cache, Oklahoma, and we’re in the process, for instance, of trying to help save Star House, which is Quanah’s iconic mansion built in 1889 by the five ranching families in North Texas, all the way from Wichita Falls, all the way around into the panhandle to Charles Goodnight. Goodnight and Quanah became very close friends before they both died. There’s a lot of history there that you can go on, but back to this gathering we’re having, Bill Neeley will speak Friday afternoon and then Dr. Dustin Tahmahkera, who is a great, great, great-grandson of Quanah, he is the professor of Native American studies a the University of Oklahoma at Norman. Then, Dr. Briner, Catherine Briner, who is the head of the Comanche language department for the Comanche Nation, she’s going to speak about the history of the Comanche language.
The Comanche language is over a thousand years old. It’s not written, it’s spoken. It became the language of trade from the Rocky Mountains all the way to the Utes in Arizona, to the tribes in Mississippi and in Louisiana, and all the way into Southern Mexico. Most of the Native Americans in that entire region spoke Comanche in trade. She’s going to talk about the history of the Comanche language, and then Mark Woommavovah, Mark is the current chairman of the Comanche Nation. He was elected a year and a month ago. He is retired military and he’s going to talk about the current situation with the Comanche Nation and, of course, all of the tribe’s struggles. They had difficulty acclimating. Their culture was taken away from them.
Of course now they’re trying to save the language and as well as their culture. Their cultures are fascinating. Each tribal culture is totally different. That’s the history conference. Then we’re ending Friday night with a concert. (Full a full event schedule, go to atthisplace.com.)
Francis: Obviously, Quanah was a success among his own people as being chief, but he was also a very successful rancher as well, correct?
Saul: Yes, he was. He owned cattle, but he leased the grassland to the ranchers, the Northern Ranch, but he actually owned a part of a railroad.
And that was out of Quanah, Texas. Quanah, Texas, is the only place in North Texas where three major railroads crossed, and of them Quanah Parker owned part of it. Of course, he came to Fort Worth many times, major stories of Quanah bringing many of the Comanches down to celebrate down here at the State Fair of Texas and also at other gatherings in Fort Worth. We have an actual recording of him speaking at the 1910 state fair in Dallas.
He made a short speech talking about his mother, and right after that, the governor of Texas had Cynthia Ann Parker’s body exhumed in East Texas and moved up to Cache, Oklahoma. Then, when Quanah died the next year, Quanah was buried next to her, but grave robbers came in, so the military moved both bodies, which is actually under 24/7 guard up at Fort Sill. Along with the other chiefs, I think there are seven chiefs buried up there along with Quanah Parker’s mother, and then finally, in 1962, they exhumed Little Prairie Flower’s body out of East Texas and the Texas Rangers accompanied her body up there, and she was buried beside her mother and brother on Chief Snow. That was a long time after Quanah himself died.
The two Comanche war trails go all the way into Mexico. Of course Comanche Moon as we know it was when the moon started shining in the fall and the Comanche warriors were out raiding. Of course it was a war, 40 years a war between the Comanches and the Kiowas on one side, and then the Anglo settlers, the people who came in primarily as ranchers. They weren’t thinking of plowing too much at that point or fencing. That all came later, but you come in to take away their land and they’re going to fight you.
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.