Friday, January 04, 2013

Fight or Flight: the Battle of Pease River

A short review of:
Myth, Memory, and Massacre: The Pease River Capture of Cynthia Ann Parker. Paul H. Carlson and Tom Crum, Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press, October 10, 2010. $29.95 [Hardcover] 216 pages. 978-0896727076

Through a gift on Christmas Day 2012, I added to my collection of Parker family related materials Myth, Memory, and Massacre by Paul H. Carlson and Tom Crum. This book is part of the 'Grover E. Murray Studies in the American Southwest'.

From the back of the dust jacket:
"In December 1860, along a creek in northwest Texas, a group of U.S. Cavalry under Sgt. John Spangler and Texas Rangers led by Sul Ross raided a Comanche hunting camp, killed several Indians, and took three prisoners. One was the woman they would identify as Cynthia Ann Parker, taken captive from her white family as a child a quarter century before. The reports of these events had implications far and near. For Ross, they helped make a political career. For Parker, they separated her permanently and fatally from her Comanche husband and two of her children. For Texas, they became the stuff of history and legend."

Carlson and Crum re-examine the story of the recapture/recovery of Cynthia Ann Parker by Texas Rangers and federal troops at Mule Creek/Pease River in 1860 in Foard County, Texas. The authors find a story full of discrepancies -- some of which were related by the same person but at different times, and varying stories told by different people. Their conclusion posits that the truth is found in the confluence of events found in the earliest reports made by participants who were at Pease Creek. Variations and exaggerations of the story come with time, forgetfulness, yarnspinners, and subtle motivations to spin the truth of the events for personal profit.

The book is well written, with the inclusion of maps and illustrations to enhance its worth. As one interested in the subject, I was moved along in such a way that I didn't want to put it down until I had finished (though I was a little wearied by the litany of "bad books" in the concluding chapter). After establishing the context in chapter one, the authors present and examine the various reports and stories of the Battle of Pease River over four additional chapters. In chapter six they "explain the myths" -- what is false and revealing what they believe constitutes the core of truth surrounding the Battle of Pease River and accidental rescue of Cynthia Ann Parker.

This is a needed work. Several books on this event do not even examine all the documents related to it. Most "official" versions of the story get the date wrong. It is important to call attention to possible errors and falsifications and seek to find the truth of the stuff of which legends are made. Carlson and Crum rightfully call for the historian to "hold himself absolutely free to be led wherever the facts carry him (p. 105)." Nevertheless, I felt a little uneasy that these authors began with some advocacy of a particular outcome, early-on stating that "(t)he book is part of a historiographical trend that is changing perceptions of how people view the history of Texas. Through that new historiography a different past is emerging, one usable by a more inclusive society (p. xiii)." So, is their objective to be led by the facts, or to sort the facts so they are more "usable by a more inclusive society"?

Despite this minor reservation about the authors' motivation, I highly recommend the book to any and all who want to learn about the Battle of Pease River and recapture/rescue of Cynthia Ann Parker. Read it with both eyes open and make up your own mind.

No comments: