Thursday, May 23, 2024

Talkshow Thursday: A Guest Post by Sherry Shindelar!

In Search of a Happier Ending
By Sherry Shindelar

The beginning of my new release, Texas Forsaken, is inspired by the life of a real person. More than twenty years ago, I read the story of Cynthia Anne Parker, the most famous captive in the Old West. I was heartbroken for her, not because of her capture by the Comanche but because of her forced removal years later from the people she’d adopted as her own. Her story haunted my heart for more than two decades. I knew I had to do something about it.

I developed a character inspired by Cynthia, started at the moment of crisis, and wrote a different trajectory. I couldn’t give Cynthia a happy resolution, but I could give my character Eyes-Like-Sky a muted happy-ever-after. Eyes-Like-Sky has a second chance at life and love.

Cynthia was taken captive by Comanche at age nine during an attack on her family’s fort in the Texas frontier in 1836. Her father and several other extended family members were killed, and her brother John, her cousin Rachel, and a couple other family members were captured along with her.

Her Aunt Elizabeth was rescued a few months after the attack. Her cousin Rachel, who had been badly
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abused by the tribe, was returned a couple of years later and died within a year of her return. Cynthia’s brother acclimated to the Comanche way of life and lived with the tribe for years before eventually leaving the tribe to farm in Mexico. But Cynthia became Comanche and became an integral part of the tribe for over twenty-four years.

She married a powerful war chief, Peta Nocona, and they had three children, one of whom was Quanah Parker, one of the greatest Comanche chiefs of all time. On several occasions over the years, Indian agents and traders attempted to ransom her, but she refused to go, and the tribe refused to trade her.

In December 1860, Texas Rangers raided her village and captured her and her baby girl, Prairie Flower (Topsanah), killing everyone else in the village. (There has been much historical controversy about whether her husband was in the village at the time. Some believe he died fighting to protect her. My Comanche sources say he died a couple of years later from a war wound.) Eventually, one of Cynthia’s relatives claimed her and took her to live with his family, but she refused to accept this new life that was being forced upon her. Several times, she tried to escape to the Comancheria, desperate to find her husband and her sons. Her uncle reluctantly agreed to help her look for her people, but they’d have to wait until the Civil War ended. Prairie Flower died, news reached Cynthia that her son Pecos had passed away, as well, and the Civil War dragged on. Cynthia lost hope of ever being reunited with the two remaining members of her beloved family, Nocona and Quanah. Overcome by despair, she sank into a deep depression and died of a broken heart.

Cynthia Ann’s story, the story of a woman torn between cultures, has perplexed, intrigued, and haunted me since I read it. My heart aches for her loss, and questions flood my mind. Some stories are like that. They stay with you, and this one was all the more indelible because it was true and filled with unknowns.

Thus, the inspiration for the story of Eyes-Like-Sky and my story Texas Forsaken. Eyes-Like-Sky’s path is not a happy-ever-after with no thorns along the way. Texas Forsaken is a story of grief and guilt, forgiveness and redemption, and healing.

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