Section 5: The Struggle for the Land: Cowboys, Indians, and the Cavalry (1865-1901)
Conflicts between Europeans and Native Americans began almost as soon as the two groups came in contact with one another.
While the European newcomers displaced, drove out, and destroyed many Native American populations, in Texas, a somewhat different dynamic occurred. In Texas the native population was subject to ruin from two overwhelming alien forces: the Comanche, who arrived in Texas after the Spanish, and the Anglo settlers coming in droves from the east. Both conquering peoples laid claim to the same fertile prairies and buffalo feeding grounds. The clashes between the two contestants were violent, and in an unusual twist, for most of the two centuries of conflict, the Indians prevailed.
Since the struggle for the land began with the Spanish claims to Texas, this section actually covers all the preceding periods as well. But it is in this period that the conflicts were finally settled.
So here I include many resources connected with Indian-non-Indian relationships throughout the history of Texas.
Fort Parker (1836)
A complete study of the Fort Parker raid and the events subsequent to that could provide all you need for an understanding of this period. It encompasses a study of Indian culture, Texan-Indian relationships, the birth of the Texas Rangers, the creation of the frontier forts in Texas, clashes between cavalry and Indians, and a range of characters so interesting and improbable, that you may not want to study anything else.
Groesbeck, between Dallas and Houston
Fort Parker was a homestead started in 1835 by a clan of people from Illinois named Parker. They built a stockade and they began farming their land that sat on the outer edges of settled land in Texas. They were in fact, in Comanche territory. There was a patriarch Elder John Parker and three sons and their wives and children plus some others, numbering in all about 32. On May 19, 1836, the Comanches attacked and killed five of hte men and took as captives five others, including 9-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker. Within ten years all the captives were returned except for Cynthia Ann who did not want to return. She lived with the Indians for 24 years and became the wife of a chief named Peta Nocona. She bore a son who become the greatest and last war chief of the Comanches, Quanah Parker. His story is just as interesting and will take you to Palo Dura Canyon and into Oklahoma, if you care to go further afield.
The reproduction of the fort in this park near Groesbeck is a kid pleaser. It looks like the forts you see in the movies (and like those found in those sets of plastic figures of cavalry and Indians you got as a kid). Most other forts you visit that are state historical sites are just a bunch of restored barracks and houses. Those were not built as defensive structures but as home bases from which to send out soldiers. But this place looks like a fort. And real people engaged in life and death struggle right where you walk.
Narrative of the Perilous Adventures, Miraculous Escapes and Sufferings of Rev. James W. Parker and Rachael Plummer’s Narrative of Twenty One Months’ Servitude as a Prisoner Among the Commanchee Indians
This is an amazing document and has just recently (2102) been made available on the internet. This is one document containing both first-hand accounts: one from Rachel Plummer who was one of the Fort Parker captives and the other from her father who spent nine years trying to retrieve the captives. I highly recommend your reading it because it is short and riveting reading and just the kind of primary source your kids should be introduced to. I wrote a more detailed description of these narratives and the character, James Parker, in this post.
Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne
This book was a Pulitzer-prize finalist in 2011 and is a thorough and quite compelling account of the last decades of the conflict between the Comanche empire and the American settlers. It covers the Fort Parker raid and the subsequent lives of the participants. Gwynne explains the origins of the Texas Rangers and recounts the amazing exploits of John Coffee Hays, the most adept Ranger Texas produced. He describes Comanche culture and provides an even-handed account of the struggle between the Indians and the white man. I highly recommend it, but be warned there are disturbing descriptions of the some of the atrocities that were committed. The Comanche especially seemed to enjoy torturing their enemies.
I read this when I was a teenager, and I haven’t re-read it lately, but it was where I got my first introduction to the ways of the not so noble Comanche when they encountered non-Comanches. Herman Lehmanns story is shockingly brutal and will help you to understand what frontier life was really like for the settlers, who in this case were German. It also offers many insights in to the life of the Plains Indian. It is an exciting story for your students who are not easily disturbed by graphic descriptions of brutality.