It all started when frontiersman James Parker came to Texas and wrote Stephen F. Austin that he had some folks of the Baptist persuasion in Illinois that would be good settlers and offered to arrange for them to come down.
“They said you are the kind of people we want, but you cannot establish a church in Mexico; the Catholic Church is the law of the land,” said Jack Selden, an in-law of the Parker family, who has researched the history.
He named it Pilgrim Predestinarian Baptist Church because it was going to travel, Selden said. The new church consisted primarily of the family and some other members and they came across country to Texas, picking up a few members as they came.
Daniel Parker led the group to East Texas where they moved around until settling in the Elkhart area and built Pilgrim Church on what is now County Road 861. Selden is sure of how it happened because of copies of church minutes the family has.
The rest of the family stayed on a stockade, called Fort Parker, that the built on the Navasota River between Mexia and Groesbeck. One morning in 1836 while most of the men were out working in the fields, Indians appeared at the fort.
Another brother, named Benjamin, walked out to talk with them and was killed. Then the Indians began killing other people and kidnapped some.
The Commanche warriors took five captives, one of them 9-year-old blond haired, blue-eyed Cynthia Ann Parker, and her brother, John.
“James ended up shepherding the surviving women and children out of there to safety, and he immediately set about trying to get the captives back,” Selden said.
He went to Sam Houston in San Augustine after the Texas Revolution trying to raise troops but Houston advised him to meet with the Indians and sign treaties. James Parker set out on his own in search of the kidnapped family members.
“He literally spent years doing the searching; he left a journal which we have a copy of,” Selden said.
Film critics say James Parker’s efforts inspired the movie “The Searchers” starring John Wayne in which a civil war veteran spends years searching for a young niece captured by Indians.
Cynthia Ann Parker’s story was one of 64 real-life cases of child abductions in Texas in the 1800s that the author of the book the film is based on studied, according to historical accounts.
By 1860, Texas was a state. One of the brothers, Isaac, was a legislator who attempted to get bills passed and initiated efforts to bring back the captives. By then, Cynthia Ann Parker had been missing 25 years, and Sam Houston was a senator and then governor.
He told Lawrence Sullivan Ross, called Sul Ross, to subdue the Indians. He had organized a company and heard there was an Indian camp along the Red River and the Peace River, a tributary.
Sul Ross, who would one day be governor, came over a sand hill with his men and about 18 federal troopers, looked down and saw an Indian camp laid out before him.
They charged in killing Indians. Sgt. Spangler, who was in charge of the federal groups, was in pursuit of an Indian when the Indian turned, held up a baby and said “Americano,” Selden said. Spangler grabbed the horse, realized the rider was a woman and took her back to where the troops were camped for the night.
The story goes that when Ross came back in from the patrol he was leading, he took one look and said ‘My God, that’s a white woman!’” Selden said.
“They didn’t know what to do with her. They wrote the commandant of U.S. troops in Texas, who was in San Antonio and asked what to do,” Selden said.
The commandant said send her to San Antonio and maybe somebody there would know who she was or something about her, Selden said.
A report appeared in the Dallas Herald stating Ross had captured one white woman who did not know who she was nor where she came from.
Isaac Parker went to Camp Cooper to see the captured woman. He told the interpreter that if she was Cynthia Ann, she was the daughter of Silas Parker.
“When she heard that, she slapped her hand to her breast and said Cynthia Ann, Cynthia Ann. Then the question was settled,” Selden said. Eventually she was brought back to northern Anderson County where her brother and sister lived.
“You would think that was the end of this incredible tale,” Selden said.
However, in May 1875, Commander Renald McKenzie at Fort Still, Okla., put out the word that Comanches should come into the Indian reservation and would be well treated, or he would have troops out after them, Selden said.
“One of them turned to (McKenzie) and said, ‘I want you to help me find my mother. She is a white woman. She was taken by the Indians some 25 years ago. I don’t know where they took her. I was just a boy, but I think they took her and my sister to Texas.’”
He was Quanah Parker, Cynthia Ann Parker’s son, Selden said. She had married a Comanche chieftain. Quanah Parker became prominent in national affairs. He was a diplomat and traveled and negotiated important economic deals for his people, Selden said.
He rode in Teddy Roosevelt’s inaugural parade and invited Roosevelt to come to Indian Territory in Oklahoma for a wolf hunt.
“The story of the Parkers and Cynthia Ann is told in schools today; they were important in the state history,” Selden said.