Monday, September 29, 2008

Reflections on Frontier Blood

Frontier Blood: the Saga of the Parker Family. Jo Ella Powell Exley. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2001. $29.95, hard cover with dust jacket, 331 pages. ISBN 1-58544-136-8.

I recently completed this book on the Parker family by Jo Ella Powell Exley. She is also the author of Texas Tears and Texas Sunshine: Voices of Frontier Women.

From the cover
"The descendants of Elder John Parker were a strange and often brilliant family who may have changed the course of Texas and Western history. Their obsession with religion and their desire for land took them from Virginia to Georgia, Tennessee, Illinois, and finally Texas...Although the broad outlines of the stories of Cynthia Ann and Quanah are familiar, Jo Ella Powell Exley adds a new dimension by placing them in the context of the stubborn, strong, contentious Parker clan, who lived near and dealt with restive Indians across successive frontiers until history finally brought them to Texas, where their fate changed...Among the documents from which Exley draws are a short autobiography of Daniel Parker, Rachel Parker Plummer's two narratives of her Indian captivity, James Parker's account of his search for Rachel and the other captives, and several autobiographical accounts Quanah dictated to his friends."

I was impressed by the book. As the cover states, it sets the well-known stories of Cynthia Ann and Quanah Parker "in the context of the stubborn, strong, contentious Parker clan..." Early in the book I would have liked to have seen more information on Elder John Parker, father of Daniel, James, Silas, Benjamin, et al. But probably such a record is sparse anyway. In the end I would have liked to have seen some information on the descendants of Daniel, James, Rachel, Cynthia Ann, and Quanah -- the five principle characters of the story. But we should understand that this mainly is a story of Cynthia Ann and Quanah, whose stories cover roughly half the book. So Exley reaches her objective -- to tell their stories in context of the broader Parker family.

Exley is better with western history than Baptist history, as far as I can tell. Early in the book she seems to confuse Separate Baptists with Free Will Baptists. She also gives the impression that Daniel Parker grew up in a preacher's home. But from what I've read so far, it seems to me that Daniel was probably a preacher as early as his father was, and possibly ordained before his father. I liked and was amused by the expressions Exley coined and/or used of Daniel -- the "practical mystic" and the "anti-missionary missionary" (both quite true if understood properly).

This book was winner of the 2002 Western Books Exhibition Award of Merit and the 2001 Summerfield G. Roberts Award. According to Publishers Weekly, "Vivid, unsparing accounts, much insight into the pioneer experience and the details of early interracial relations will make this book popular among devotees of the history of the American West."

I recommend the book -- great for the students of Texas and southwestern history; good for those interested in the Parker family and Baptists in East Texas. Better for that second purpose is Frontier Religion. These two will make a good companion set.

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