NATIONAL BESTSELLER • The story of Cynthia Ann Parker and the last days of the Comanche
In 1836, when she was nine years old, Cynthia Ann Parker was kidnapped by Comanche Indians from her family's settlement.
She grew up with them, mastered their ways, and married one of their leaders. Except for her brilliant blue eyes and golden mane, Cynthia Ann Parker was in every way a Comanche woman. They called her Naduah—Keeps Warm With Us. She rode a horse named Wind.
This is her story, the story of a proud and innocent people whose lives pulsed with the very heartbeat of the land. It is the story of a way of life that is gone forever.
It will thrill you, absorb you, touch your soul, and make you cry as you celebrate the beauty and mourn the end of the great Comanche nation.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.20(w) x 6.90(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, and raised in West Palm Beach, Florida, Lucia St. Clair Robson has been a Peace Corps volunteer in Venezuela and a teacher in Brooklyn. She lived in Japan for a year and later earned her master’s degree before starting work as a public librarian in Annapolis, Maryland. She lives there now in a rustic 1920s summer community. Lucia Robson’s library experience of presenting programs to a variety of audiences trained her in the craft of storytelling. She brings to the task of research a reference librarian’s dogged persistence and an insider’s awareness of how to find obscure sources of information.
Read an Excerpt
A rolling sea of deep grass flecked with a foam of primroses washed up on islands of towering oaks and pecans and walnuts. The pale blue sky was fading at the edges as the sun heated up the day. Soon it would be hot enough for the children to sneak down to the nearby Navasota River to splash in the cool, shaded waters. The warm East Texas wind blew through the stockade door, bringing company with it. It was a morning in May; a time of sunshine and peace, an open gate and Indians.
Inside the high wooden box of Parker’s Fort, twenty-six people stood frozen as though in a child’s game of statues. Outside the gate scores of painted warriors sat sullenly on their ponies. One of them dropped the dirty white flag he had been holding. It fluttered slowly to the ground where his nervous little pinto danced it into the dust.
Give them a cow, Uncle Ben. Please. If that’s what they want, give it to them. The cracked corn felt cool around nine-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker’s fingers as she held the small gourd of chicken feed. Cold chills prickled her skin under her father’s scratchy, tow linen shirt. Patched and frayed and altered down to only three or four sizes too large, the shirt looked as though it had been dyed with the same pale, gray-brown dust that covered her bare toes. She watched the men at the gate like a baby rabbit staring into a snake’s eyes.
They were begging, Uncle Ben had said. A cow? What would a hundred Indians do with one cow? Roast it outside the fort? Would all of them leave driving one cow ahead of them? It didn’t matter. Uncle Ben wouldn’t give it to them. The Parkers didn’t hold with begging. He’d tell them to move on, and everyone would go back to their chores. Maybe her grandfather, Elder John, would preach a sermon on sloth at the service Sunday. Foreboding swelled in her stomach and spread to her chest. She heard her heart pounding in her ears.
Her cousin, fifteen-year-old Rachel Plummer, hovered nearby. Her hands were dusted with flour and tangled and rigid in her coarse linen apron. The other women stood in the doors of their cabins, built in two rows against the stockade’s north and south walls. The houses were tiny and crowded, but all seven of them fit inside the fort for safety. From the corral opposite the gate Ben Parker’s big roan neighed in answer to a sly-eyed war pony’s whinny.
In the center of the bare yard Rebecca Frost was poised over the huge, noisome vat of lye and fat boiling into slimy soap. She clenched the long wooden paddle like a club in her right hand. The smell of morning coffee mingled with the smoke of her fire and the warm, heavy odor of the corral. Outside Elder John’s cabin, Granny Parker sat on a worn log bench, her knitting lying in her lap. Her Bible story had trailed off into silence as she and the young children stared at the bronzed mass of bodies outside.
Feathers swayed and bobbed on the Indians’ slender, upraised lances. The brass cones on their leggings jingled merrily. Sunlight streamed around them and through the gate that faced east to collect it each morning. The tranquil, muted coo of mourning doves mocked the carelessness that had left the heavy wooden door open. The few men who had stayed in from the fields that morning were far from their guns.
If you’re not a good boy, John, we’ll trade you to the Indians.” The memory of her mother’s soft, slow voice, speaking to her little brother, echoed in Cynthia’s head. “We’ll trade you to the Indians.”
From the corner of one wide blue eye Cynthia could see Samuel Frost sliding along the front wall of his cabin, the rough wood plucking at his heavy cotton shirt. The big log chimney hid him from the Indians’ sight, but in the stillness of the yard his movement seemed to set the very air in motion. Surely the eddies would reach the warriors and warn them. She held her breath until he was safely inside with his new breechloader. It could fire over three times a minute. One hundred Indians, and a gun that could kill three of them a minute.
Please close the gate, Pa. Close it now. Paralyzed by fear, she stood mired in the dust and watched the scene play out. Cynthia’s uncle, Ben Parker, shrugged off his brother Silas’s hand and moved toward the Indians. Big, beloved Uncle Ben with laughing blue eyes, silky black hair, and hands that dwarfed the toys he was always whittling for the children. Now he looked small and alone framed in the door’s wooden jaws. Her father, Silas Parker, stood by to close the heavy gate.
“Oh, Lord,” whispered Rachel.
There was a surge of ponies that engulfed Ben. When the wave receded he lay, Comanche, Kiowa, and Caddo lances quivering in his body. Howling like all of hell’s condemned souls, the raiders split around him and pounded through the opening. Women and children scattered with the squawking chickens before the battering hoofs. Their screams ricocheted against the wooden walls and fell back into the din.
Huddled in the angle of a chimney and wall, Cynthia stared out at the nightmare. Across the yard, young Henry White leaped from a bench and threw his arms over the lip of the low cabin roof. He kicked and heaved, his bare toes seeking purchase on the logs of the wall, his hands scrabbling for a grip on the warped roof boards. He hung there for a century, suspended in time, before he managed to pull his long legs over the rim and start to crawl up the slope. A hundred miles ahead of him lay the abutting stockade wall and safety. Under his baggy, torn corduroy trousers his knees were bloody, the skin scoured by the eaves’ ragged edges.
A Comanche galloped the length of the cabins toward him. His horse plowed through the pile of rock-hard hominy corn, toppled Mr. Frost’s work bench, and strewed the crude wooden tools behind him. Standing up in full career, the raider grabbed Henry’s thin ankles and tugged. The boy clawed at the saplings holding down the shingles. Long splinters drove up under his nails before he was pulled loose like a piece of green fruit. He screamed as he was whirled and thrown into the madness below.
Robert Frost thrashed at the riders with his father’s long-handled adz, trying desperately to cover the retreat of his mother and sister. At the top of a swing the weapon was wrenched from his hands, throwing him off balance. He fell under the horses’ hooves and curled into a ball in the dust, vainly shielding his head and stomach. The raiders wheeled and spurred their rearing, protesting ponies back and forth over him until there was little left to recognize as human.
Naomi White ran for the gate, her long skirt flapping about her legs. As her stride widened, the hem snapped taut. She pitched forward, her arms flailing for balance. Gathering the faded cloth in her hands, she pulled it up over her knees and fled like a startled deer through the clamor. A squat iron bake oven, dribbling a trail of beans, rolled through a doorway and into her path. She leaped it and one bare foot landed hard in the soft, bloody pulp of her favorite hen. Screaming and sobbing in horror, she stopped to scrape and twist her foot in the dust, mindless of everything but the warm, wet flesh and feathers between her toes.
There was a sharp, stabbing pain in her side and another in her chest. Sighting up the lance shaft, she stared into a painted face flanked by half a dozen others. They herded her, still sobbing, to the center of the yard, where Mrs. Duty and Rebecca Frost stood at bay near the soap vat.
Big, raw-boned Sarah Nixon defended her doorway like a mother bear her lair. Hot grease from the morning’s salt pork splattered as her huge iron spider rang against a Kiowa’s hard thigh. Men crowded around for the fun. Laughing and clucking, they poked at her, jousting with her frying pan from horseback. Two of them finally dropped nooses over her head, catching the long graying hair that tumbled from the bun at the nape of her neck. She choked and stumbled, running to keep from falling and being dragged, to where the other women were.
Over the screaming and the war whoops there was a steady thunk, ka-chunk. Some of the Indians were pounding on the bulbous iron kettle with the butts of their lances. Others wedged their shafts under its rim and heaved. Slowly it tilted, the viscous gray mass inside flowing toward the far edge. The kettle wavered, then toppled, spewing the boiling lye and fat like lava onto the women’s feet. The sight of them slipping in the steaming slime, their legs already turning red and raw, was a grand joke. One by one they were lassoed and dragged off through the mud to serve those who circled them, jostling for a turn. Little Susan Parker’s screams sliced through the din as she was roped and towed through the fire, sending sparks and live coals flying.