Old Fort Parker

On Wednesday, June 24, 2009, my family and I embarked upon a mini-vacation to Old Fort Parker, located between Mexia and Groesbeck. When we arrived around noon, the digital thermometer on the rearview mirror of my Chevrolet Tahoe registered 106° F. It was hot! It reminded me of the last time I had been to Old Fort Parker, as a young lad in the late 1960s with my parents, maternal grandparents, and sister. I was perhaps eight to ten years of age at the time. I wanted to revisit this historical site with my family since neither of my children nor my wife had ever been and I had not returned since my first trip.

I vividly remember that visit forty-odd years ago because of the excitement it generated within me at that time. I ran through the real old-time fort, climbed the stairs on one of the two blockhouses to observe the view from the tiny lookout windows, and unwittingly sat down beside a long copperhead outside of the fort. Yikes! I had run ahead of our group down a winding path to some trees and shade. (I remember it being hot on that day so long ago as well.) I was perhaps 100 yards ahead of the members of our group, who were visiting with one another and were oblivious to my looming difficulty. After sitting down cross-legged, panting, and leaning back, using my arms as braces, I examined my surroundings and suddenly saw this “giant” (it was probably four feet long or so) copperhead that was about three feet to my right and slightly behind me. I knew it was a copperhead because I was a Cub Scout and had learned my Texas snakes well in the scouting program and from the teaching of my parents. I froze, tried to breathe without making a sound, and began to wonder if snakes could hear. I knew not to move suddenly, but I wanted to get out of there faster than Superman. I remember it being a terrible dilemma for my young mind.

The memory of that trip was the background for the plan I had in mind for my children to enjoy the excitement and to hear the story behind Fort Parker and her characters, just as I had been taught them as a youth (minus the snake incident). The story behind Fort Parker is a fascinating piece of Texas history. Several families moved to the area in 1833 and built this now semi-famous fort (it was rebuilt in 1967).

Many Texans are probably familiar with the story of Cynthia Ann Parker, who, with four others, was snatched by several hundred Indians on May 19, 1836, (just 28 days after General Sam Houston defeated Santa Anna at San Jacinto). She lived with the Comanches until 1860, when she was recovered by some Texas Rangers and returned to Anglo civilization with her daughter, Prairie Flower. The Rangers were able to identify her by her blue eyes. (Indians don’t have blue eyes.)

By the time of her rescue, Cynthia Ann had married a chief and had been with the Comanches so long that she had essentially become an Indian, and that made it difficult for her to re-assimilate to the white man’s ways. Her daughter died a few years later, and Cynthia Ann died shortly thereafter (early 1860s), but she left behind a son, Quanah, who fought the Anglos for several years, until 1875, before deciding to declare peace and join them. He later adopted his mother’s surname and became Quanah Parker. He became a judge and a businessman, and he met three presidents of the United States.

Another Fort Parker story that is not so well known is that of Rachel Plummer, who was one of the five persons captured that same day so long ago in 1836. She was described by her father as a “red-haired beauty of rare courage and intelligence.” She was seventeen at the time of her abduction, married, with one eighteen-month-old child and one on the way. She and her son were taken by the nomadic Comanches to the northern parts of the United States and to many other parts of the Midwest. She wrote of this experience in 1839 after she was ransomed back to her father, who searched continually for her for twenty-one months and finally located her north of Sante Fe, New Mexico.

(Her tale is told in a booklet titled, Narrative of the Capture and Subsequent Sufferings of Mrs. Rachel Plummer During a Captivity of Twenty-One Months Among the Comanche Indians; With a Sketch of Their Manners, Customs, Law, Etc. I found a copy of this twenty-eight-page story in the gift shop at Old Fort Parker during our vacation. It probably should not be read by the sensitive soul, since some of the atrocities that were committed upon her and her baby (born while in captivity and murdered by the Indians) were quite revolting. Nevertheless, her story is incredibly valuable in that it describes Indian life in some detail.

After Rachel was retrieved by way of her father’s ransom, she was reunited with her family in Houston and had another child by her husband Luther. Both mother and child died soon after the birth. By the time Rachel died at age 20 her fiery red hair had turned grey. She was never reunited with her oldest son (the 18-month-old cited earlier), but he was recovered in 1843 by his grandfather, who subsequently refused to return him to Rachel’s husband because Luther had not done much to look for his wife or children during the years of their captivity. Luther took his father-in-law to court, and the court ruled in his favor, but his father-in-law defied the court order, and Luther Plummer never saw his son again.

My children, Adrian (11) and Hannah (9), and my wife Phyllis and I had a tremendous time at Fort Parker in 2009, climbing up in the blockhouse and peeping through the rifle holes, examining the six log cabins and the livestock corral. We also enjoyed a short walk down to the springs (which are outside of the fort). We walked in the footsteps of those brave Texans who once planted their homes there with the hope of raising their families in freedom and peace, and we marveled at their ability, courage, and determination. Our children were spellbound by the stories that we shared with them about Old Fort Parker, and we did not see a single copperhead.