Hello, HPPR Radio Readers!
Midway through “Empire of the Summer Moon,” we return to Cynthia Ann Parker’s story. Parker was nine years old when captured during a Comanche raid. For decades, her family had searched for her. Sound familiar? perhaps you’ve read Alan LeMay’s novel or seen John Ford’s film The Searchers. In both, once found by her kin, happiness follows.
Of course, real life isn’t like the movies. In fact, Parker wasn’t found until 24 years later, during the winter of 1860. Texas Rangers were about to kill a survivor of their raid on a Comanche camp, when someone noticed her blonde hair and blue eyes , and putting aside his weapons, concluded he had just rescued the long-lost Cynthia Ann Parker. After questioning and dressed in Texan clothing, she was returned to her Parker kin, none of whom spoke Comanche or Spanish, two languages with which Cynthia Ann was fluent. She did learn or recall some English, but she continued to speak and sing in Comanche. She seemed not to think of herself as Cynthia Ann but as Nautdah. Worse, she seemed not to see herself as “rescued” or “saved” but as “captured” and “lost,” so much so that she had to be closely watched or locked up to prevent her from running away. This, especially, in Gwynne’s account, the Parkers did not understand. Pulled back to a culture not valuing pluralism, pulled back to a world Gwynne characterizes as “taffeta chairs in drawing rooms on the outer edges of the Industrial Revolution,” Nautdah was left to herself. Once she’d been moved to eastern Texas, according to Gwynne, she quit her escape attempts, dying not long after, most believed, of a broken heart.