man called Peta Nocona (most likely pronounced something on the order
of POO-tak no-KOH-ni) enters Texas history on two accounts. He was
the husband of the captive white woman called Nadua by the Comanches-her
original name was Cynthia
Ann Parker-and the father of perhaps the greatest of all Comanche
chiefs, Quanah, later known as Quanah
Parker. He was chief of a band of Quohada Comanches and possibly
of a splinter band known as Noconis, a word which can mean 'wanderer'
and may have the connotation 'outcast.' Over his death, over the years,
there has arisen considerable controversy.
The recorded facts are these: In December, 1860, Texas ranger Captain
Lawrence Sullivan 'Sul' Ross, only 22 at the time, led a contingent
of rangers, a detachment of US troops, and some volunteers high into
what was essentially unknown country in pursuit of a band of Comanches
who had been raiding in the Palo
Pinto and Jack County
area. On the banks of a then un-named creek tributary to the Pease
River Ross and his men achieved the virtually-impossible. They utterly
surprised a hunting camp of Comanches. In the short but bitter battle
that followed, every Comanche warrior in the camp and several women
Ross saw two horsemen flee the camp and gave pursuit. As he overtook
the trailing rider and was about to shoot, she-it was a woman-abruptly
stopped her horse and held a baby over her head. Leaving the woman
to be captured by his men, Ross pursued the second horse, which was
being ridden double. A shot from his pistol took the rear rider down,
and in falling she-later proved to be a girl of about 15-dragged the
other rider off the horse. The pistol ball penetrated her body completely,
but was stopped by the warshield strapped to the other rider's back.
There was little question this man was a warrior. Almost as soon as
he hit the ground he loosed an arrow at Ross. It missed the man, but
hit Ross's horse. The horse began to buck, which made it difficult
for Ross to shoot accurately, but also made him a difficult target
for the bowman. He loosed 'seven or eight' more arrows at Ross, missing
each time, while Ross returned inaccurate fire with his revolver.
A lucky shot struck the warrior in an elbow, ruining his ability to
use his bow.
Ross got his horse under control and dismounted, at which point the
warrior rushed at him with a knife. Ross shot the man twice in the
chest. He dropped the knife, walked to a tree, wrapped his good arm
around it, and began to sing what was described as "a wild, weird
At about this time the interpreter accompanying Ross and his men rode
up. The man's name has come down as 'Antonio Mortimus.' He spoke fluent
Comanche, having been a captive of the Comanches for several years.
The interpreter identified the warrior as 'Chief Nocona,' stating
that the man had murdered his entire family save himself, and that
he had been the Chief's slave while in Comanche captivity. He asked
Ross's permission to finish the man.
Death could only have been moments away. Ross gave his permission.
The interpreter stood in front of the warrior and spoke to him in
Comanche. The warrior replied in the same language and then pulled
his warshirt open. Antonio fired both barrels of a shotgun into the
man's chest from a range of about two feet.
The captive woman began to demand to be taken to the body. According
to Benjamin Gholson, who wrote an account of the action, the woman
began to wail "Nocona, Nocona" in what was obviously intense grief.
Again according to Gholson, it was necessary to force her away from
The woman had blonde hair and blue eyes. The rangers began saying
the names of known, unrecovered female captives to see if she recognized
and responded to them. When someone said "Cynthia Ann Parker," the
woman pointed to herself and said "Me Cynthy Ann."
While this was the first time she had been identified by name, it
was not the first time she had been recognized as a white captive.
In 1851, when she would have been 18, a blanket trader in a Quohada
Comanche camp recognized her as white. He asked her in secret if she
wished to go back to her white family. According to his statement
"…she shook her head in a sorrowful negative, and pointed to her little
naked barbarians sporting at her feet, and to the great, greasy, lazy
buck sleeping in the shade near at hand, the locks of a score of scalps
dangling from his belt…."
The 'little naked barbarians' had to be her sons Quanah
and his younger brother, whose name has come down as 'Pecos' and-for
some unfathomable reason-'Peanuts.' Since we know that Quanah
was about four years older than his brother, and in 1851 Pecos was
old enough to be 'sporting at (his mother's) feet,' Quanah had to
be born about 1845.
As soon as the fight was over Ross detailed two men, one of whom was
the later- famous Charlie
Goodnight, to cut for sign and see if there were any escapees.
West of the camp Goodnight
came upon the tracks of two horses. They had been ridden away at a
leisurely pace until they reached the top of a hill just west of the
camp. At that point the riders apparently jettisoned all baggage and
left at a dead run. Goodnight
followed the tracks for about 50 miles, until he saw in the distance
an encampment which he estimated had at least a thousand Indians in
it. He returned to Ross with this information and Ross wisely decided
not to pursue the matter any farther.
Lawrence Sullivan Ross went on to become Adjutant General of Texas,
Governor of Texas, and president of what was then known as Texas A&M
College. A&M's honors drill team, the Ross Volunteers, is named for
him and is the honor guard for all Texas governors. Sul Ross State
University in Alpine, established as Sul Ross State Teachers' College,
likewise bears his name.
Ross believed, until he died, that he had killed the Quohada chief
Peta Nocona, for whom the town of Nocona is named. During his lifetime
no one contradicted this, not even Quanah.
Parker admired Ross a great deal. Ross provided Quanah
with a copy of the only known photograph of his mother and young sister.
Ross also arranged to have the bodies of Cynthia Ann Parker/Nadua
and her daughter Prairie Flower, whose name was rendered phonetically
as 'Texanne,' exhumed and removed to the Comanche cemetery at Fort
Ross, indeed, had a better reason to claim the kill than did the interpreter.
The shotgun blast only hastened what could have been no more than
a few minutes away.
There the story rested until 9 July 1896. On that day, in a speech
in Quanah, Texas, the town
named for him, Quanah
"Texas history books tell General Ross kill my father; he no kill
him. I want to get that straight up. No kill my father! He not there.
I see my father die, two-three year after. He sick. I there. I see
This surprised not only Charlie
Goodnight, but John Wesley of Foard
County. Wesley, in 1880, acquired the land upon which the fight
had taken place, along Mule Creek. In 1918 he wrote "I became acquainted
with Quanah Parker in 1882 or 1883 and met him quite often in Vernon
where he and members of his tribe came to trade. He was very friendly
and wanted to know all about his kinfolks in Parker
County. He asked me to visit him at Fort Sill and I in return
asked him to visit me, but he said he never went to Mule Creek because
his father was killed there and his mother and brother (actually it
was his sister) were captured and carried off. He said he never wanted
to see the place."
Both Cynthia Ann Parker and her daughter died in 1870. This was three
years before Quanahbecame
well known to the whites as a Comanche chief and five years before
the final defeat of Quanah's
Noconis, the name he gave his own band of Quohadas. His mother never
knew her sons had survived the Mule Creek fight. According to her
neighbors "She thought her sons were lost on the prairie after she
was captured. She would take a knife and slash her breasts until they
bled and then put the blood on some tobacco and burn it and cry for
her lost boys." Obviously, then the woman Nadua and her sons were
in the camp at Mule Creek when the fight started. Where was her husband,
In a 1910 letter to Charlie
Goodnight, written shortly before the chief died, Quanah
said "…when the Peas river fight took place my father with the main
body of Indians was about seventy or eighty miles away with his Indian
wife my brother and myself. He knew nothing of the fight until the
two survivors, of the last named fight returned to the camp and informed
him of the great disastor which had befallen his people." (Spelling
& punctuation from the original.)
further wrote "From the best information I have, I was born about
1850, on Elk Creek in the Wichita Mountains…I remained with my father
from this time until his death which occurred two or three years later,
I was with him and saw him die and he was buried near the Antelope
Hills in what I now believe is in Lipscond (Lipscomb) County near
the south bank of the Canadian…Before the death of my father, he told
me my mother was a white woman, that he took her into captivity from
central or east Texas, when she was a child…what I state in regard
to the death of my father is from my own personal knowledge…." (Spelling
& punctuation from the original.)
Historian John Henry Brown had already disputed the identity of the
chief killed at Mule Creek, stating he was told the man's name was
wrote "….while I was too young to remember the chief it is likely
that Brown was correct…."
though, was not 'too young to remember.' That 1850 date is too late
for his birth. He was about 15 or 16 at the time of the Mule Creek
fight. His mother slashed her breasts and burned bloodstained tobacco-a
Comanche mourning ritual-in memory of her two sons, who had been in
the camp at Mule Creek and whom she feared had died there.
himself wrote "There was born to her three children myself being the
oldest, a brother who died at an early age, named Peanuts and my sister
who was an infant in her arms when she was captured by Gov. Ross men…."
(Spelling & punctuation from the original.) What sons was the woman
Nadua mourning, if not Quanah
Baldwin Parker, Quanah's
son, stated to George Hunt, an early anthropologist who gathered recollections
among the Comanche, that the chief killed at Mule Creek was not Peta
Nocona but a man named No-Bah. Charlie
Goodnight later wrote in a letter to historian J. Evetts Haley
"He (Ross) did kill a chief whose name was No-Bah, but Nocona died
a long time afterwards while hunting plums on the Canadian."
enters into the controversy Mrs. Zoe A. Tilghman, widow of renowned
Oklahoma lawman William 'Uncle Billy' Tilghman. In a novel entitled
QUANAH, EAGLE OF THE COMANCHES, in which Quanah
is the central character, Mrs. Tilghman identifies the man killed
by Ross as a Mexican slave, a servant of Nadua's. Jack Jackson, in
his graphic novel COMANCHE MOON, accepted this version, as did Lucia
St. Clair Robson in her award-winning novel RIDE THE WIND. Many 'revisionist
historians' accept this identification in spite of the fact that Mrs.
Tilghman's book is a novel, not a biography, and she cites no source
for this identification.
Sul Ross knew the difference between a Mexican slave and a Comanche
chief. His father, Shapley P. Ross, was the Indian agent on the Tonkawa
reservation in Texas. Sul grew up among
the Tonks, who were bitter enemies of the Comanches. Sul had been
fighting Comanches since he was old enough to shoulder a rifle. Few
men in Texas knew the Comanches as well as Sul Ross. Let's look at
The man who fled the Mule Creek camp was in company with Nadua/Cynthia
Ann Parker and her daughter. He was armed and dressed as a warrior.
He was, by Ross's statement, "a big man," as was Nocona (and Quanah
as well). Nadua mourned the dead man and repeated the name "Nocona"
over and around his body. Slaves were not armed and equipped as warriors,
and slaves certainly did not have death songs-only warriors had death
The Mexican interpreter, Antonio, identified the man as Chief Nocona,
the man who murdered his family and held him as a slave. He spoke
to the man in Comanche, and the man, instead of spitting on him in
defiance, opened his shirt and stood while the interpreter shot him
Cynthia Ann Parker later mourned her two sons in what, to her white
family and neighbors, seemed a bizarre ritual, believing they had
been killed at Mule Creek.
None of this agrees with Quanah's
statements, made nearly a half-century after the battle and repeated
over several more years, that he was "too young to remember" much
about the fight and that he was "seventy or eighty miles away" with
his father at another camp. Nor does it agree with later statements
by old Comanches that the chief killed at Mule Creek was not Nocona.
Why might Quanah
have fabricated a story about his father's death 'two or three years
later'? The chief at Mule Creek fought a good fight and died as a
Partly, probably, the answer is tied to Comanche religion and mysticism.
Comanche religion demanded that the body of a warrior be recovered
and properly buried. The body of the man Ross killed was never recovered
and never got a proper burial.
Then there's the question of the two ponies that were ridden away
to the west at high speed just as the battle was joined. Who was riding
them? Who brought the news of the fight to the rest of the Quohadas?
Nadua mourned her two sons, whom she believed were in the camp on
Mule Creek when the fight began, and who she believed until her death
had been killed there. If they had been "seventy or eighty miles away"
with their father, she certainly would have known that. Quanah
may have been 15 or 16 and a budding warrior, but Pecos was no more
than 10 or 11 at the time.
Could the young men on those ponies have been none other than Quanah
and his brother Pecos? Was Quanah
ashamed-and rightly so, to a Comanche warrior's thinking-that he had
not returned to fight and die alongside his father, and therefore
fabricated the story of his father's death "two or three years later"
to excuse his lapse? That seems the most likely explanation.
"Charley Eckhardt's Texas"
, May 1, 2007 column