BEN DRAGOO TELLS OF THE CAPTURE OF CYNTHIA ANN PARKER
[From J. Marvin Hunter's Frontier Times Magazine, December, 1923]
The Indians were more troublesome in the fall of '59 than ever before; their raids were more numerous and covered a broader extent along the frontier. Each of these invasions left its trail of blood along the border and the mutilated remains of its victims in its path. In many instances it was reported that white men often led these raids and their cruelties were, if possible, exceeded by those of the savages. It was claimed that these white men had been outlawed by their countrymen for crimes committed and had sought refuge among the Comanches, and having all the instincts of a savage and the shrewdness of the white man, they soon found favor and turned it to account by leading raids against the settlements, always careful not to expose themselves to danger, and driving off herds which commanded a good price in Kansas and New Mexico.
Early in December the Comanches had raided Parker county again and had committed several. murders. The authorities had every reason to believe that the murders had been the work of a band of Comanches whose headquarters were somewhere far up on the Pease river. Ross' company of rangers and Cureton's company were started on the trail with the order to find the enemy's village and break up the nest. The fighting strength of the Indians was estimated all the way from 500 to 1,000 warriors, and it behooved us to assemble a force amply sufficient to defeat them. At Fort Belknap we were joined by a troop of U. S. dragoons, twenty in all and number one good fighters in close quarters.
When we left Belknap we took our time. The trail left by the Indians had grown cold; they had long since reached their headquarters and doubtless felt secure in their remote village. To locate this village was our object; to preserve the strength and good condition of our horses was of the highest importance. We knew we would tree our game, somewhere, and then, above all other times, we would need the strength and mettle of good horses. Hence, we took our time while on the march.
Peter Robertson, of Cureton's company, Gray and myself were the advanced scouts and trailers. Unless on a hot trail ranger scouts seldom rode together. As in this case we rode far apart in the open country and still within signaling distance.
It being late in the season, it was bitter cold at times, and there were few buffalo on the plains. But deer were plentiful and we couldn't complain at the fare.
On the 27th of December—I think that was the date, I am not quite sure, it has been so long ago—we found signs that indicated that we were not many days' travel from the Indian village. The sign was old, but to the eye of the frontiersmen, it was easily read and interpreted. We reported this to Captain Ross and he ordered his men to keep closer together in readiness at any moment for a scrap. He instructed us to keep far in advance, three or four miles, and to save the wind of our horses. Late in the afternoon of the 28th we came in full view of the broad valley of the Pease river, and on a hill on which grew a mot of small trees, we discovered plenty of fresh signs. In the loose sand there were innumerable tracks of Indians, women and children, who but a few hours before, had been gathering hackberries. Nearby was the hide of a polecat, which had been killed and skinned, and the blood was scarcely cold, although it was miserably cold that evening. Two of us remained at this mot as watchmen, or rather listeners, for by this time it was dark, While the other two hastened back to the command to report our find. When they found Ross, he had gone into camp but on hearing our report he ordered the men to saddle up and march in perfect silence, which they could easily do, as the country was of loose sandy soil and the horses' feet produced little sound. At the foot of the hill on which stood the mot where we had found the sign, the men were halted and ordered to dismount and move forward. Not a saddle nor a pack was removed from the backs of those faithful animals that night, and after seeing that their guns were in trim, those who slept lay on the ground with bridle rein in hand. As I said, it was bitter cold and as no packs were unslung, the boys would collect in groups of three, four and five and huddle together on the ground, forming the center of a circle, around which their horses stood. By this means they could preserve a small share of the animal warmth and get a little sleep. In the meantime Gray, Pete Robertson and I were well to the front watching and listening. We proceeded about two miles when we came to a high hill and we felt assured, from the general contour of the country over which we had come, and the trend of the hills that this elevation was near the river and doubtless overlooked the long sought Comanche village. We could see no lights in the village, but this was no surprise. We knew that at no time, winter or summer is a light ever seen in a Comanche village after nightfall. Above the voice of the night winds that came hurtling down from the north, we heard, once or twice, what we took to be the neighing of a horse, but no other sounds indicating the near proximity of a human habitation was heard. It seemed a long night, but the early dawn revealed to us the Comanche village with its tepees and wigwarns in full view and almost at our feet. We moved back over the brow of the hill and signalled. Ross and his men moved up cautiously to the foot of the hill and halted. Ross and Lieut. Callahan ascended the hill with a field glass, then hastily descended and ordered the column forward. All rode in a slow trot until we turned the point of the hill next to the village and in full view and then the order to charge was given.
The Indians had evidently discovered our presence before we turned the point of the hill. They may have seen Ross and Callahan while they were on the hill; at any rate, they were in the utmost confusion when we charged into their wigwam village. Some were trying to rally their braves, others were mounted, some on foot, women and children were screaming and above all this pandemonium rang the defiant war whoop, the yells of the rangers and the crack of the six-shooter.
A portion of the Indian encampment was along the bank of the narrow, shallow river next to us when the charge began. The Indians in this quarter made a break for the opposite side. Just below I saw several mounted Indians make it across where the bed of the stream was dry and hard. I rushed in among these, shooting right and left, and when I had reached some distance, say forty or fifty yards on the other side, I dashed alongside an Indian woman (as I supposed) mounted and carrying a babe in her arms. I was just in the act of shooting her when, with one arm, she held up her baby and said "Americano!" I then told her to dismount, and go back but seeing she did not understand me, I motioned her to the rear and left her. All this time there was all kinds of fighting going on around me. Hand to hand and running fights, there was plenty to put a man on his metal. A large Indian on foot seized my bridle reins near the bits, with one hand and was trying to lance me with the other. At the same instant a mounted warrior was bearing down on me with poised lance. It was all the work of an instant. He was so close I believe I could have touched the point of the lance with the muzzle of my pistol. I shot him, and digging my spurs into the sides of my horse with great force, he sprang forward, jerking the Indian off his balance and as he reeled to one side, I made a good Indian of him. By this time the engagement had narrowed down to a running fight or rather a chase. Every red skin that could procure a mount was flying in the face of that north wind with a ranger or a dragoon behind him trying to catch up, and this chase continued several miles.
There have been many luminous stories told and written about Capt. Ross' capture of Cynthia Ann Parker and his duel with her husband, the big Indian chief. My purpose is to give facts in these matters and render honor to whom honor is due. I shall not dispute any man's statement, but will tell it as I saw it.
Ross had a fight at close quarters with a chief, and it happened right in the village. Ross had a Mexican body servant, a sprightly, good looking young Mexican and he was not afraid. I think he had once been a captive among the Indians and could speak their lingo. During the scrap with the chief, Ross was wounded and told the Mexican to shoot him. The Mexican blazed away with an old Yauger he carried, and shot the Indian through the hips. This brought the chief to a sitting posture and while making the most horrid faces and defying his conquerors by grimace, and every other taunting gesture known to savages, one of our men I have forgotten his name—ran up and knocked him on the head with his gun. With a knife, and while the old savage was yet kicking, he made a quick incision around his head from ear to ear, and when he jerked off his scalp it popped like a rifle. And as to that death song tale, if that chief sang a death song that day it was after we left him—dead.
Some of the survivors of that battle have stated that Quanah Parker was not there at the time of the fight. This is a mistake. Quanah was then eleven years old and showed his pluck in that scrap. He was present and shot away all his arrows and wounded two or three of our men. When the fight was about over and the boy had nothing left in his quiver, Frank Cassidy, who now lives in Llano, rode up to where Quanah was crouching, patted his horse on the hip, and motioned the lad to mount up behind him, which the boy did without any hesitation, and from that day to this Quannah Parker has been the white man's friend.
After the battle when we had all collected around the captive Indian woman, I was watching her face and her movements. I was satisfied that she was a white woman and there was something about her face that led me to believe that I had seen her somewhere in the past. I studied and studied and finally I said to Ross: "Captain, I believe that woman is Cynthia Ann Parker." On hearing that name the woman seemed suddenly aroused. That stoicism, peculiar to the Indian, and which she had acquired through long association, gave way, the scowl on her face was supplanted by a look of pleasing anticipation, and smiting herself on her breast she said in a strong clear voice: "Me Cynthia Ann!"
In this fight we recaptured forty-eight U. S. mules and some forty or fifty horses. And among others, we captured the gray mule the one that ran over me the night the Indians got away with Captain Buck Barry's horses.
Cynthia Ann told us, through an interpreter, that Buffalo hump was six miles up the valley with a large force, but we went to his village and he and his entire outfit had hit the breeze.
Cynthia Ann also told us of the captive boy, whose sister was so cruelly murdered, while another sister was deprived of all her clothing and turned loose. She said the boy was stubborn, that he refused to eat, and would fight every Indian that crossed him, and for this, he was killed the day before we made the attack.
On our return we left Cynthia Ann at Camp Cooper, where the ladies gave her clothing and the tenderest care. Captain Ross took Quanah Parker to Waco.
In conclusion, I want to say that no one particular individual is entitled to more honor in the capture of Cynthia Ann Parker than any other who was engaged in the battle of Pease River and my old comrades yet living, will bear me out in this assertion.
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