When I was a young man I used to occasionally play pool in quick trip grocery stores. These are not fancy places with fancy tables. There was a table that required a quarter to operate. If someone was playing, you put your quarter in line on the edge of the table. You waited your turn. Then, when the game was over, you plugged in your quarter and played with the winner.
I’ve just finished Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne. I’ve mentioned in a couple of previous columns that this is a history of the Commanche, the Texas Rangers, the U.S. Cavalry, and a man named Quanah Parker.
Quanah Parker was the son of Cynthia Ann Parker, a white girl who had been taken by the Commanche when she was nine, and Peta Nakonah a chief among the Commanche. He was born at a time when the fortune of the plains Indians had taken a dramatic turn for the worse. They were being pushed off their traditional hunting land; the buffalo were being hunted to near-extinction; their numbers were dwindling.
In response to this, Quanah pushed back. It was somewhat like Jean Luc PIcard’s speech in Star Trek: First Contact when speaking about the Borg: “Not again. The line must be drawn here! This far, no further! And I will make them pay for what they've done!”
And he ran the U.S. Cavalry on a merry little chase.
But regardless of the spirits of him and his people, he came to a point where he found his group to be hard-pressed. He went to the top of a hill to seek guidance from the Great Spirit, and saw a vision. In this vision, he saw a wolf heading off in the direction of the reservation; this was followed by an eagle soaring off in the same way.
He then accepted peace from the United States and went off to live on the reservation.
This is not where Quanah Parker’s story ends.
He plugged his quarter into the table, and he played the game with the winners.
And he played it well.
He learned the rules of the White Man’s game, and in his dealings with the White Man, he was as color-blind as it was wise for a man of his history to be. He became a cattleman and built up his herd, grazing them on the reservation grass. None of his people were ever turned away from his house hungry, and because of this and loss of grazing rights, he died penniless.
In case you couldn’t tell, I am incredibly impressed by him. In going through the book, I kept thinking about another piece of literature that I love: the Book of Genesis. Quanah Parker could have stood alongside Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Especially Jacob.
Like Jacob, Quanah wrestled with reality, and he never gave up.
There came a time when he was told his people’s land was going to be taken once again. When they were to be given 160 acre allotments that they would hold as whites did and be given money from the sale of the rest, he didn’t make a sentiment speech. Instead, he pressed a terse question: How much per acre? And he kept pressing. When he lost the argument, he continued pressing during the time the law was being passed.
He also founded the Native American church. They take communion with peyote. He is alleged to have said, “White men go to church and talk about Jesus; we go to church and talk to Jesus.”
In spite of going to the reservation, he never gave up. In his heart, he was undefeated.
— Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. He invites you to “like” the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook.