- Historic Sites
The Ballad Of Cynthia Ann
Both grimness and beauty touch this haunting fragment of America’s past
April 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 3
The state legislature was so good as to vote a pension to Cynthia Ann. But it bought nothing that Preloch wanted in this world. Nor could money save Topsannah when she sickened. For as soon as she was weaned and began taking white man’s food, she wasted, and presently was laid beneath a stone.
Her mother did not long survive her. Some say she died of sorrow, some that she starved herself to death. By 1864 she was buried in the old Fosterville cemetery. No doubt they put a cedar by her head, to point the way to heaven. No doubt they planted periwinkle; they usually do, on a woman’s grave, down south. Its kitten-eyed blue flowers bring to mind the little girl who vanished a quarter-century before, by the salt river of tongues, in the war-paint valley of tears.
So ends the ballad, my ballad of Cynthia Ann. So, you might think, ends the story. I point no moral to it; I lift no finger to show any one way to salvation. Indeed, if you look well at our history—look between the eyes at our conquest of the land, once all the red man’s, you find yourself, like me, falling silent. All we can say is that out of that murder and rapine, out of that courage and struggle, came this, our nation. And in its history there’s one more paragraph I must relate, which adds an envoy to my ballad.
You remember the two little sons she had, out in the whirlwind wilderness? The eldest, Quanah, was in battle where she was captured, and he escaped with the remnant of his people. At 22 he became the chief of the Kwahadi band, still the most bitter and intractable of all Comanches. Most of them agreed, by the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867, to come onto the reservation. Not Quanah; he kept out on the Llano, leading the United States Army in circles after him. He is described as the most ferocious Indian ever encountered, by an officer who saw him lead a charge—a smoking six-shooter in his hand, bear-claw necklace at his throat, war bonnet streaming behind him, his face satanic with daubs of red and ochre.
And then—what gentling, south-wind spirit reached to him? What strangely prompted him, in 1875, suddenly to surrender? He brought his people down out of the plains, turned over all his arms, and settled with his band at the foot of the Wichita Mountains, in Indian Territory. He saw to it that every little Comanche went to school, to learn the white man’s language and study in his books. Jovial, hospitable in the big house he built for his three wives and fifteen children, Quanah was fond of a good cigar and relished a fund of racy stories.
It’s the last of the story, it’s the end of the song—all the plaintive sorrow drowned in the sound of a big brass band. It’s 1905, on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, and that’s Teddy Roosevelt’s Inaugural Parade swinging down through the cheering throng, the flags, the gaudy music of Stars and Stripes Forever and Hail to the Chief , the white man’s chief, the Rough Rider President. And in the parade are great chiefs of his red brothers, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perces, Geronimo the Apache, and Quanah of the Comanches—Quanah, son of Cynthia Ann, her victory out of defeat.