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Exhibit tells a harrowing tale

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Posted: Friday, October 8, 2010 12:00 pm | Updated: 9:17 am, Thu Aug 16, 2012.

By Colleen Flaherty

Killeen Daily Herald

It's 1836. A 9-year-old girl is kidnapped by Comanche raiders in present-day Groesbeck, and is eventually integrated and married into the tribe. Decades later, happy, with two children, she is recaptured by Texas Rangers who want to return her to the family she has long forgotten. Depressed and marginalized, she spends the rest of her life between two worlds, belonging to neither. The son she left behind, however, rises to become the last great Comanche leader.

It sounds like the stuff of movies, but Cynthia Ann and Quanah Parker's story is true.

A new exhibit at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center tells their story through dozens of photographs and daguerreotypes, never before together in one place.

History enthusiast Clara Ruddell, of Fort Worth, pored through numerous archives at different museums over several months in 2008 to compile the images

"That is not the kind of research that's done overnight," she said. But, she added, "Once you learn where to look for it, you know where to go."

The collection, called the "Cynthia Ann and Quanah Parker Trail Exhibit: A Woman of Two Worlds and a Man in Two Worlds," has been traveling the state since last year, as an initiative of the Texas Lakes Trail Regional Heritage Tourism Program.

The exhibit will visit five cities this year, according to Jill Campbell, executive director of the program, which promotes heritage tourism in 31 north-central Texas counties.

That area has several historical sites related to the Parkers' story, she said, but a traveling exhibit helps tell it in other parts of the state.

"This is a unique project," she said. "We are focusing on Comanche history and trying to bring awareness to their history across Texas by sending out this traveling exhibition."

She hopes the exhibit also will draw tourism to the region, she said.

While the Campbell is helping to promote the exhibit, and Ruddell put it together, it was the brainchild of Douglas Harman, former Fort Worth city manager and Lakes Trail Board member.

"Quanah has a very special relationship with Fort Worth as a result of the Cattle Industry," said Harman. "His heritage has been celebrated here over the years in many ways."

Indeed, unlike his mother, Quanah often thrived in both the Comanche and white worlds at the turn of the last century, acting as a kind of ambassador and achieving celebrity status, riding in rodeos and appearing in films.

Numerous photos exist of Quanah, who is known as the last great Comanche leader. He appears in Comanche and white dress, a striking figure in braids and a top hat. Only two known photographs of Cynthia Ann exist, however. Both are featured in the exhibit. One was taken in 1861, shortly after her return to white society. A small child, Quanah's sister, Topsannah, who also was captured with Cynthia Ann, is at her breast.

She appears totally Comanche but for her light eyes, said Ruddell, who noted the anachronism with great irony.

"If she'd been a white woman," she said, "they never would have taken that."

Soon after, Topsannah died. By all accounts, said Harman, Cynthia Ann stopped eating and died within a few years, in 1870.

"It's said she died of a broken heart," he said.

Quanah, who was very young at the time of his mother's capture, was reunited with her only in death, said Ruddell. Their images stand side by side in the exhibit, which runs until Oct. 15.

Contact Colleen Flaherty at colleenf@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.

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