November 24 2006 (07:17:00)
Ride the Wind, The Story of Cynthia Ann Parker and the Last Days of the Comanche.
By Lucia St. Clair Robson
Ballantine Books 1982, 595 pages.
This book is historical fiction, the life of a young girl kidnapped by Comanche warriors in the early 19th century. The girl's name was Cynthia Ann Parker, later named Naduah or Keeps Warm With Us by her Comanche family.
The story begins in 1836 in Fort Parker, where a family of pioneer settlers from Illinois lives in the wild Texas frontier. A band of Comanche warriors raids the fort and amidst terrible violence kidnaps Cynthia, her brother, and some others. The book begins with action and gets our attention right away, but if one is at all queasy or sensitive it may also create a great deal of discomfort as there is much graphic description of rape and murder in the first few pages.
Naduah's story, told here and elsewhere, is one about the violent confrontation between the Europeans and Native Americans in Texas in the 19th century, and the adaptation of a child to a new culture and way of life. Pahayuca and his band, having captured her by force, commence to win her loyalty and love by treating her with love and respect. She is adopted by a childless couple, Sunrise and Takes Down the Lodge, who give her her new name and raise her as their own. She becomes one of them in every way except for the details of her birth.
Robson depicts the Comanche, the People, as a grand and ancient civilization that has lived on the plains of North America for many centuries. She spares us much sentimentality, depicting the People in what seems a very believable way. We can respect them but we can also see the violent and harsh manner in which they lived, and appreciate this as an adaptation to the unforgiving environment in which their culture developed and flourished.
Naduah became the wife of Wanderer, or Nocona, who became one of the last great chiefs of the Comanche before their effective destruction by the European invaders. The story of their life together, their children, and their love is certainly the product of great imagination on the part of Robson but at the same time seems to give us an accurate feeling for at least what it might have been like to be alive at that time and involved in this monumental upheaval and downfall of a civilization.
While the story is greatly sympathetic to the Comanche, it is also unafraid to depict the harshness of their ways. The Comanches in this book are kidnappers, keepers of slaves, fierce, warlike people willing to torture their enemies to death. At the same time they are strongly spiritual and at one with their country, the Great Plains. They waste little and ask for little except the freedom to roam the plains and hunt as they had done for centuries before the arrival of the "white eyes."
The Comanche, like so many other Native American people, were defeated by technology, disease, and the sheer population force of the European emigrants. Cynthia Ann Parker and her family provide a good factual historical basis on which to hang this story of that defeat, and with which to celebrate the humanity and greatness of many of the people involved on both sides.
We are indebted to our friend Trudy for loaning us this book, which we likely would have missed otherwise.
Internet reading about Cynthia Ann Parker:
Wikipedia entry for Cynthia Ann Parker.
Outlaw Women article on Cynthia Ann Parker.
Woman Spirit, by Julia White
Handbook of Texas Online article about Cynthia Ann parker.
Do your own search: put "Cynthia Ann Parker" in Google's text box, you'll see these sites and many more.
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