Texas Book Festival — San Antonio Edition
Interview with Glenn Frankel
Published: April 10, 2013
Perhaps we can never know the full truth of what happened, but how did Cynthia Ann Parker’s story begin, and how was it modified and embellished over the decades?
Well, the basic story is pretty simple. A nine-year-old girl is with her extended family, they’ve settled in central Eastern Texas on a fortified farm, and one day in May of 1836, a group of Kiowa and Comanches come along and attack. Five people are killed, including her father and her grandfather, and five young people are captured, including Cynthia Ann. She spends 24 years with the Comanche, she marries a Comanche, she has three Comanche children, and then one day in December 1860, another group of raiders come to the village she’s living in, only this time it’s the U.S. Cavalry and Texas Rangers. And the people around her, the dear ones, are killed again. She and her little daughter Prairie Flower, a baby, are captured. It seems like [the soldiers are] about to kill her—she looks like a Comanche woman—but then they notice she has blue eyes, and so they take her back to Camp Cooper [in present-day Throckmorton County]. They figure out along the way this must be Cynthia Ann Parker. She’s already sort of a known mythic figure in Texas history. They get in touch with her family, and she’s returned to them. The only problem is of course that she’s become a Comanche. She doesn’t want to be back with the Texans. She doesn’t want to be embraced in Christendom. She wants to be back with the Comanche family, with her sons, with her husband, with her village. And so it becomes a very tragic tale for the second time. She’s a traumatized victim of the Comanche-Texan wars.
And in the meantime, people have been looking for her.
Her uncle, James, who had been on the settlement, who escaped the attack, comes searching for her and the other four young people who’d been captured. And he manages over time to get the other four back, but he never gets Cynthia Ann back. He writes a narrative of his own account. And James is telling the story both to justify what he’s done and who he is. So immediately, right from the start with Cynthia Ann, you have people coming along, taking the basic story, embellishing it a bit, changing parts of it to fit their needs and their sensibility. In the same way, after this raid [where] the Texas Rangers and the Cavalry free her, people like “Sul” Ross, who was the Texas Ranger captain helping to lead that raid, described what happened, and his version of it changed over time. So everybody uses this basic simple tale and tells it the way they need to tell it, and gradually, it’s very hard to sort the fact from fiction. There are very few facts that really are reliable that we can count on. So my book becomes as much about the making of the myth, and how that happens over time, and how each generation comes along and re-tells this thing to fit their own needs and their own sensibility. And what started as a simple story becomes the basic Texas foundational myth.