The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend

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Overview

In 1836 in East Texas, nine-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker was kidnapped by Comanches. She was raised by the tribe and eventually became the wife of a warrior. Twenty-four years after her capture, she was reclaimed by the U.S. cavalry and Texas Rangers and restored to her white family, to die in misery and obscurity. Cynthia Ann's story has been told and re-told over generations to become a foundational American tale. The myth gave rise to operas and one-act plays, and in the 1950s to a novel by Alan LeMay, which ...

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Overview

In 1836 in East Texas, nine-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker was kidnapped by Comanches. She was raised by the tribe and eventually became the wife of a warrior. Twenty-four years after her capture, she was reclaimed by the U.S. cavalry and Texas Rangers and restored to her white family, to die in misery and obscurity. Cynthia Ann's story has been told and re-told over generations to become a foundational American tale. The myth gave rise to operas and one-act plays, and in the 1950s to a novel by Alan LeMay, which would be adapted into one of Hollywood's most legendary films, The Searchers, "The Biggest, Roughest, Toughest... and Most Beautiful Picture Ever Made!" directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne.

Glenn Frankel, beginning in Hollywood and then returning to the origins of the story, creates a rich and nuanced anatomy of a timeless film and a quintessentially American myth. The dominant story that has emerged departs dramatically from documented history: it is of the inevitable triumph of white civilization, underpinned by anxiety about the sullying of white women by "savages." What makes John Ford's film so powerful, and so important, Frankel argues, is that it both upholds that myth and undermines it, baring the ambiguities surrounding race, sexuality, and violence in the settling of the West and the making of America.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Jeanine Basinger
…impeccably researched…Frankel uses John Ford's 1956 film, The Searchers, as a basis for comparison between the real-life abduction of a young pioneer girl and the mythic story moviemakers turned it into decades later. His book is a fascinating journey from fiction to fact, from glorified legend to brutal event.
Publishers Weekly
John Ford’s classic 1956 western film The Searchers, starring John Wayne, drew inspiration from the 19th-century kidnappings of Cynthia Ann Parker: first as a child by Comanche warriors, and over two decades later—as a wife and mother—by misguided whites seeking to rescue her from her captors and adoptive family. In this powerful dual history, Frankel (Beyond the Promised Land), winner of a Pulitzer in 1989 for his reporting on Israel and the Middle East for the Washington Post, dexterously interweaves the testosterone-fueled Hollywood backstory of the film with the bloody turmoil that too often characterized relations between Native Americans and settlers pushing west. While the behind-the-scenes look at the classic flick is entertaining, the drama of the movie set pales in comparison to Frankel’s riveting depiction of the real-life tragedy, out of which arose an unlikely hero: Quanah, Parker’s elder son and half-Comanche warrior–turned–ambassador of peace, whose existence paved the way for a touching reunion between generations of his Texan and Comanche descendants. Cynthia’s story is one of a heartbroken yet tough survivor, and Frankel’s retelling is a gripping portrayal of a mesmerizing period of American history. B&w photos. Agent: Gail Ross, Yoon Ross Literary Agency. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
“A gracefully presented narrative… A thoroughly researched, clearly written account of an obsessive search through the tangled borderland of fact and fiction, legend and myth.” –Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Riveting depiction…Frankel’s retelling is a gripping portrayal of a mesmerizing period of American history.” –Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

“A must-read for film students, making-of fans, and students of American history.” –Booklist

“An enjoyable book that will appeal to film historians/buffs as well as to those with an interest in Western history.”—Library Journal

“Well researched… casts a haunting, harrowing spell.” –Entertainment Weekly

“It was around this time that Leslie Fiedler published a slim volume making the case that Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Birth of a Nation, Gone With The Wind and Roots could be read as a single, multi-media ‘inadvertent epic’ – a story about slavery, race and family that America gave to itself. As framed and enriched by Frankel, The Searchers is another such epic; recounting the making of what he calls ‘an American legend,’ he has retold it well…a vivid, revelatory account of John Ford’s 1956 masterpiece.” –J. Hoberman, The New York Times Book Review

“A must-read for movie fans and anyone interested in mythmaking and the American West… Frankel's excellent research and analysis and his fine writing raise the bar for the ‘making of’ film book. His narrative details the life of a modern legend—in this case, a historical event that sparked a novel that led to a film, each step revealing a different aspect of how we tell our stories and why.” –Douglass K. Daniel, Associated Press

“Impeccably researched…a fascinating journey from fiction to fact, from glorified legend to brutal event.”—Washington Post

“Absorbing… a riveting account of the war for the American West… Frankel’s superb book gives a fascinating historical and anecdotal account of how The Searchers became a John Ford movie.”—Saint Louis Post-Dispatch

“After meticulous research, Frankel restores a sense of history and balance to Parker's story… It's a nuanced, ambiguous portrayal of heroes and hypocrites, compassionate and sadistic warriors.” –USA Today

“Frankel's graceful ability to separate, and harmonize, legend and fact does honor to both.” –Portland Oregonian

“In vivid prose, the director of the University of Texas at Austin School of Journalism explains why his favorite film is important and a masterpiece. And he does so in the clear, economical style of a writer who’s lived a life of deadlines in news capitals around the world.…his passion is contagious.” —Austin American Statesman

“Compelling” – The Star-Ledger

“Compelling… a story as deeply American as it is tragic.” –The Daily Beast

“In peeling back the layers of story, myth, and legend that accrued to Parker’s story and led to ‘The Searchers,’ Frankel makes a compelling case for why such a twisted masterpiece still matters.” –The Boston Globe

“A superbly written, highly entertaining mixture of American history and popular culture that reveals anew one of our greatest films.”—Shelf Awareness

“For movie and history buffs, a must.” –MSN, “Pageturner”

“In brilliant pursuit of truth in the territory of American myth, Glenn Frankel has created his own masterpiece of nonfiction storytelling.”—David Maraniss, author of When Pride Still Mattered and They Marched Into Sunlight

“Glenn Frankel’s magisterial work of American history and cultural history is so adventurously researched and approached with such passionate engagement that it penetrates deeply into our national psyche. With empathy for both sides in a terrible conflict that tore our land apart and still haunts our conscience. Frankel’s splendid book, written in prose so vivid that it thrusts us body and soul into the past of frontier Texas and 1950s Monument Valley, finds in this heartbreaking saga nothing less than the story of America.” –Joseph McBride, author of Searching for John Ford

“Readers who were enthralled by S.C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon will be equally fascinated by Glenn Frankel’s masterful book, which widens the story of Cynthia Ann Parker into the twentieth century and into the colliding currents of history and myth. Frankel is so good – as a historian, film critic, biographer, and riveting storyteller – that he creates in The Searchers a blazing synthesis of dramatic narrative and scholarly insight.”—Stephen Harrigan, author of The Gates of the Alamo and Remember Ben Clayton

Kirkus Reviews
A gracefully presented narrative of the 1956 John Ford film The Searchers, which was based on a 1954 novel that was based on an actual Comanche kidnapping of a white girl in 1836. Pulitzer Prize–winning former Washington Post reporter Frankel (Journalism/Univ. of Texas; Rivonia's Children: Three Families and the Cost of Conscience in White South Africa, 1999, etc.) focuses on the American Southwest and the relationships between American Indians and whites. The author begins in 1954 with a shocking moment--director Ford, well into his cups, punching Henry Fonda in the nose. And away we go on a remarkable journey from Hollywood to Monument Valley and into the past as Frankel digs into American cultural history, unearthing some gold. He spends many pages telling the story of Cynthia Ann Parker, the kidnapped girl. The Parkers searched hard for her afterward, but it was not until 1860 that she was re-captured in the bloody Battle of Pease River. By then, she was in every way but genetically a Comanche. Her transition back to white society was painful, and after some moments of celebrity, she fell into obscurity. One of her Comanche children, though, who came to call himself Quanah Parker, emerged as one of the principal spokesmen for American Indian causes. Frankel pursues Cynthia Ann's and Quanah's stories with gusto then, nearly 200 pages later, shifts his attention to Alan LeMay, author of The Searchers and nearly a score of other novels. Then it's on to John Ford and the making of the film with John Wayne. An epilogue deals with the amicable reunions of the Parker descendants and relatives, white and Comanche. A thoroughly researched, clearly written account of an obsessive search through the tangled borderland of fact and fiction, legend and myth.
Library Journal
Myth- and filmmaking go hand in hand, as myth is both the source for and perpetuated by cinema. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Frankel (formerly of the Washington Post; dir., Sch. of Journalism, Univ. of Texas, Austin; Riviona's Children) tackles this dichotomy by investigating the mythology around the story of Cynthia Ann Parker and how it later came to be immortalized in the 1955 film The Searchers. The book is divided into biographies of the four central figures, beginning with Parker and then her son, Quanah. In these first two sections, Frankel lays out the story of Parker's capture by Comanches and her eventual reclamation by the U.S. Cavalry and discusses how the Parker story has changed through the years as family members and historians have rewritten the narrative. Then, Frankel turns his attention to Alan LeMay, whose novel The Searchers inspired the film, and John Ford, the director who brought the film to life. VERDICT Despite a few unfortunate errors (e.g., Texas president Mirabeau B. Lamar is referred to as "Governor"), this is an enjoyable book that will appeal to film historians/buffs as well as to those with an interest in Western history.—Michael C. Miller, Austin P.L. & Austin History Ctr., TX
The Barnes & Noble Review

The Searchers may well be foolproof as a movie recommendation, even if the person you're recommending it to comes away — as some are bound to — thinking they've just had some vital element of their core constitution ransacked. Some art — the gentler, less gritty variety — effects its changes with the tacit, willing cooperation of each member of its audience. We see something we welcome, we lean closer to the page or further forward in our chair, and the journey becomes, if not sweetness and light, calm and restorative.

Those would not be words — and Pulitzer Prize winner Glenn Frankel does not use anything like them here — to describe John Ford's 1956 masterpiece, the twelfth film he had made with his leading acolyte (and favorite whipping boy), John Wayne. The Searchers has a grip that few works of art do and, as is made plain throughout these pages, a will befitting its hard-traveled back-story. For you may sit in front of the television watching the latest airing on TCM, believing you will kill a couple of hours. But even if you are otherwise as unbudgeable as the buttes of Ford's beloved Monument Valley, it is all but impossible not to go to ground, in an emotional sense. For The Searchers is that rare cinematic experience: a film that doubles as a toppling wind.

But even most of its boosters do not know that the story of The Searchers has roots in the real-life narrative of Cynthia Ann Parker, who in 1836, at the age of nine, was abducted from her East Texas home by raiding Comanches, an act that provided the first tragedy of Parker's life, one that would — ironically — be eclipsed by her eventual return to the white world in 1860. Alan Le May's 1954 novel (also called The Searchers), from which Ford's film was adapted, left behind the specifics of Cynthia Ann's ordeal. But the spirit — if not the shape — of both novel and film can be easily traced back to a genre best exemplified by the real- life characters of the Parker clan.

Captivity narratives used to be the stuff of popular fiction — and various overstretched, jingoism-heavy journalistic pieces — in the second half of the eighteenth century, as familiar then as celebrity "dish" memoirs are now. Time, of course, has dimmed their sensationalistic luster, but this is Frankel's beat, so to speak, and we're quickly brought up to speed on the tropes of the medium: the good-for-nothing Indians — who were typically characterized as a cut above the buffalo they hunted — targeted a homestead, raided en masse, shot the men or bludgeoned open their heads, raped and killed the women, and made off with a child or two, usually females. If she made it to marrying age, the captive would likely become one of her captor's wives. The whites, meanwhile — and this is where the notion of the searcher comes in — would have been tracking the Indians, following leads from trappers, what have you. The plan was to either put a bullet in the brain of the abductee, thus restoring natural order by ending a life that had been tainted by carnal knowledge of the Indian blood, or else bring the victim — willingly or no — back to the white society.

The latter scenario was Cynthia Ann's lot, and we see tragedy compounded by tragedy, and a woman being stripped of her identity, not once but twice. Myriad contemporary prose attempts were made to portray Cynthia Ann as possessing a humble, dignified genius for self-preservation, but as Frankel writes, "Cynthia Ann was not the hardy survivor but rather the ultimate victim of the Texas-Comanche wars, abducted and traumatized by both sides." Unwittingly, perhaps, in the second instance. Her uncle, James Parker, was the de facto searcher, and probably not the best guy you'd want for the task, given his status as a hard- drinking flimflam man and Indian hater.

Unlike John Wayne's Ethan Edwards in The Searchers, Parker never got his quarry. Texas Rangers "rescued" Cynthia Ann, and she rejoined the white world, separated from her sons: miserable, displaced, a husk. The gutting drama of Cynthia Ann's story is mitigated, in part, by what Frankel reveals her story to have opened out into: Alan Le May's arduously researched novel. which made use of the "best" bits of number of captivity tales, Cynthia Ann's included, and in turn piqued the interest of Ford, led to Frank Nugent's script (which Ford pared back, as we learn, at every opportunity, forsaking words for what could be said, instead, by the camera), induced John Wayne's greatest performance, and set up an inverted narrative, of sorts, where the subject isn't so much the captive but those who pursue her — or, more accurately, something inside themselves.

Anyone who watches The Searchers has doubtless felt the sensation of suddenly being dropped onto a trail and being caught up in something one did not see coming, emotionally. Frankel points to some of the bad reviews the film received, and it's fascinating to see the critics, without knowing they were doing so, reveal just how uncomfortable the film made them. They cite its "ambiguity," but its way of hijacking the viewer's complicity might have been a better way of putting it. Even the positive reviews — which generally outnumbered the bad — were unconvincing, not for a lack of enthusiasm, so much, as because of the prevailing confusion that often meets something truly new in art. What, in other words, is to be made of this entirely new conceit? How good is it, even? In such cases, the tendency is to leave the nuts-and- bolts job of sorting out what is what to others.

"What none of the critics, positive or negative, grasped was that The Searchers was a different kind of Western, something much darker and more disturbing than the usual fare," Frankel writes. The Searchers, simply, unnerves you, because of what it gets you to consider about yourself. Wayne's character is in the put-a-bullet-in-the-brain school of thought regarding his filmic niece, played by Natalie Wood. And yet one roots for Wayne. Hard. Not to kill, but rather because of his capacity to endure and outlast, no matter how little is coming back in return. Traits, in some ways, his Ethan Edwards character shares with Cynthia Ann, a discomfiting notion in that it suggests to the viewer that none of us are as locked down to fixed moral and emotional points as we hope, or believe, we are. Perhaps that is why we have a tendency to keep close to our standby coordinates, a searcher therefore being a threat by contrast, both in terms of westerns and more existential matters. So it was for Wayne's Ethan Edwards. So it goes for just about anyone who watches The Searchers, as Frankel's book attests. For those two hours, anyway. Colin Fleming writes for The Atlantic, Slate, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times Book Review and publishes fiction with The Iowa Review, The Massachusetts Review, Boulevard, and Black Clock. His first book, Dark March: Stories for When the Rest of the World is Asleep, is forthcoming from Outpost19, with his second, Between Cloud and Horizon: A Relationship Casebook in Stories, to follow from Texas Review Press. He is at work on two novels: one about a piano prodigy who would rather be anything but, called The Freeze Tag Sessions, and another, told entirely in conversations, called Musings with Franklin, which is set in a bar in what may or may not be hell, where the regulars - - Writer, Bartender, and the guy from the suburbs who dresses up as Ben Franklin — gather.

Reviewer: Colin Fleming

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781608191055
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 2/19/2013
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 86,450
  • Product dimensions: 6.62 (w) x 9.38 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Glenn Frankel worked for nearly thirty years for the Washington Post, as a reporter, a foreign correspondent, and editor of the Washington Post Magazine. As Jerusalem bureau chief, he won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for "sensitive and balanced reporting from Israel and the Middle East." His first book, Beyond the Promised Land: Jews and Arabs on the Hard Road to a New Israel won the National Jewish Book Award. His second, Rivonia's Children: Three Families and the Cost of Conscience in White South Africa was a finalist for South Africa's prestigious Alan Paton Award. Frankel has been an Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellow and a Hearst Visiting Professional in the Department of Communication at Stanford. He is currently the Director of the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.

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Read an Excerpt

THE SEARCHERS

The Making of an American Legend
By GLENN FRANKEL

BLOOMSBURY PRESS

Copyright © 2013 Glenn Frankel
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60819-105-5


Chapter One

The Girl (Parker's Fort, 1836)

For three months they had trekked south from Illinois—some two hundred men, women, and children and twenty-five ox-drawn wagons, crossing the vast, alarming Mississippi near what is now the town of Chester, Missouri, tethered to long rafts like papooses strapped tightly to their mothers' backs, then navigating the tenuous Southwest Trail through Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana, a virgin landscape of rolling hills, deep valleys, and thick marshes. Because the wagons had no suspension to quell the jarring of deep furrows in the rough-cut dirt pathway, few of the pilgrims rode inside; instead they plodded on foot alongside the wagons with a steady, determined pace. The teamsters walked alongside as well, cajoling the oxen teams with a rhythmic monologue punctuated by the periodic crack of the whip, the entire wagon train a noisy, hesitant organism pulling itself toward an unseen destination, a colony with a name both blunt and mysterious: Texas.

The trek had a dual purpose: a fresh start on fertile soil for yeomen who relied upon the earth for sustenance and survival; but also a way and means to reconsecrate their covenant with God. Each Saturday evening as the autumn sun retreated, the pilgrims stopped to pitch tents and prepare for a Sabbath of worship and rest under the vigilant instruction of the Reverend Daniel Parker, farmer, politician, Indian fighter, and raw-boned Baptist preacher. "Thus was the wilderness—the home of the Savage and the wild beasts of the forest—made vocal with hymns of praise to the most high God, by this pilgrim brand of christians," wrote James W. Parker, Daniel's devoted younger brother.

In mid-November they reached the brown, placid Sabine River, bordered by pine trees as tall and erect as sentinels, and crossed over into Texas. They camped that first eve ning, November 12, 1833, near San Augustine, twenty miles deep inside their new promised land, just in time for one of the most awesome celestial events in human history.

On the Night the Stars Fell, the heavens blazed with shooting stars as large as moons trailing clouds of bluish light like divine afterthoughts. Although well past midnight, the bright burning sky illuminated the wide, awestruck faces of the pilgrims as if it were high noon. For some of them, already predisposed to millennial visions, it was impossible not to detect the hand of God. "The old women seemed to think the Day of Judgment had come like a thief in the night," recalled Garrison Greenwood, Daniel Parker's first cousin.

Daniel was equally stunned. Was God blessing their journey, or was He warning of dangers ahead? Daniel, within whom zealotry and common sense waged a ceaseless struggle, could not say for sure. But after the celestial light show he and his followers could not sleep. "The remainder of the night was spent in prayer," Greenwood recalled.

It was a fitting moment in the long spiritual and geographical journey of the preacher, his family, and his flock. The Parkers, after all, believed in omens, sought miracles, and created narratives out of the sky, the wind, and the weather.

As they traveled deeper and deeper into the American wilderness, they fashioned their own myth to fit their religious beliefs and their patriotic fervor, a myth in which the Lord and the Land were seamlessly interwoven. Although they seldom wrote it down, they were storytellers whose most compelling characters were themselves. According to the broad brushstrokes of their self-portrait, they were God's righteous pilgrims, preaching His gospel and living their lives according to His commandments. They were children of the Second Great Awakening, a burst of passionate, postmillennial fervor that inflamed the hearts, minds, and imaginations of Americans who believed they had a special mission and that their own good deeds and the rise of a great new nation would somehow hasten the day when Christ would return to rule the earth. And they were pioneers-rough-hewn, self-sufficient, beholden to no one but God—spreading their brand of civilization to a richly abundant but untamed territory. They were the living reality of George Caleb Bingham's painting of Daniel Boone, like a frontier Moses, escorting settlers through the Cumberland Gap to the promised land.

The Parkers had come to the American colonies a century earlier, refugees from the hierarchical but unstable world of seventeenth-century England. They were a restless, unschooled, and unruly clan, one of many that drove inland from the Atlantic seaboard in the years after the Revolutionary War shattered British colonial rule and kicked open the gates to western settlement.

The patriarch, Elder John Parker, was born in Baltimore County, Mary land, in 1758, moved to Culpeper County in the Virginia piedmont in the 1770s, and served two militia hitches with his younger brother in the War of Independence. Elder John moved to Georgia in 1785 in search of richer farmland and more pious brethren. There he unsuccessfully sought to start a cotton farm, then headed west, first to Tennessee in 1803 and then to Illinois in 1824—"the Bible in one hand and the reins of the future in the other," as a family history proclaims. Along the way he acquired a wife, eight sons, four daughters, and a primitive brand of Calvinism. He also acquired the nickname "Squealing Johnny" for his emphatic sermonizing. But his reputation for piety was mixed. The minutes of Turnbull Church in Dickson County, Tennessee, record that on April 7, 1809, John Parker came before the elders to acknowledge the sin of drunkenness. "The Church agreed to wait with him awhile," they noted. Another entry suggests that he was excommunicated after accusations of betting on a horse race.

By the time he got to Coles County in southeastern Illinois, John Parker called himself a "Two-Seed Baptist Traveling Preacher." He held the first church ser vice in the history of the county in his own log cabin with eleven people in attendance—the entire adult white population. He once closed a sermon with the announcement that he would be back again "to preach at that place, that day in four weeks if it was not a good day for bee hunting."

The Parkers were the thin edge of a rough-hewn frontier movement—not so much the paragons of civilization but, as Texas historian T. R. Fehrenbach put it, "civilization's heroic and necessary vanguard." A less forgiving observer might say they failed their way west. In each place they settled, they eventually wore out their soil and their welcome, then moved on to what looked like a better opportunity. They had little formal schooling. Daniel, the eldest child, born in Virginia in 1781 but raised in Georgia, said he grew up "without an education, except to read in the New Testament, but very imperfect." He added, "To this day I have never examined the English Grammar five minutes, neither do I understand even one rule in the Arithmetic." In his youth, he later wrote, he "ranged the woods as a hunter, nearly as much in company with Indians as with the whites." James Parker, the ninth child and sixth son, born in Georgia in 1797, said he was "raised a back woodsman ... the advantages for obtaining an education being very limited, I was not enabled to do more than learn to read." His own great pleasures, he reported, lay elsewhere: "hunting, fishing, and trapping."

Daniel and James emerged as the natural leaders of the new generation of Parkers. They left no photographs and few physical descriptions, but the impression they made on others was often enduring. Ordained in Tennessee in 1806, Daniel preached the gospel even though it was largely unpaid work. He farmed at night so that he would be free to sermonize during the day, and he rode a suffering, unshod horse for two years because he could not afford horse shoes. "Farming was my only way to make a support," he wrote. "I avoided everything like trade or traffic, lest I should bring reproach on the tender cause of God."

Some found him enchanting. James Ross, a church elder, was unmoved by Daniel's physical appearance—"a small, dry-looking man, of the gipsy [sic] type, with black eyes and hair and dark complexion"—nor by the ritual he performed before sermonizing: pulling off his coat and vest and laying them carefully on the pulpit, and unbuttoning his short collar as if preparing for fisticuffs. "After this preparation it is almost incredible with what ease and fluency he spoke," Ross wrote. "He seemed full of his subject, and went through it in a way that was truly wonderful."

Others were appalled. John Mason Peck, a rival Baptist minister in Illinois, depicted Daniel as "without education, uncouth in manners, slovenly in dress, diminutive in person, unprepossessing in appearance, with shriveled features and a small piercing eye ... with a zeal and enthusiasm bordering on insanity."

Daniel was devout, passionate, and demanding—an evangelical preacher in constant search of a new pulpit; James entrepreneurial, opportunistic, and impetuous—a land speculator, horse trader, and perhaps much worse. And as James idolized Daniel, so did Silas Parker, born in Tennessee in 1804, seem to worship his older brother James, following him faithfully down dangerous paths.

They were tribesmen and warriors, just one tenuous step removed from barbarism. Not so different, in truth, from the native peoples they fought along the way. In the story the Parkers and their fellow frontiersmen were creating about the conquest of the West, Indians were the Other—inhuman, barbaric, and easily manipulated. Even in the Declaration of Independence, among some of history's most ringing celebrations of the human spirit, Thomas Jefferson evoked the evil specter of Indians, accusing George III of having "endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions."

John Parker, one of the brothers, was killed by Delaware Indians near Cape Girardeau, Missouri, in 1811. James wrote that his brother's death "awakened in me feelings of the most bitter hostility towards the Indians, and I firmly resolved upon and impatiently awaited for an opportunity to avenge his death."

Daniel and his younger brother Isaac served in the Tennessee volunteer militia of General Andrew Jackson under a young commander named Sam Houston, vanquishing Creek Indians allied with the British during the War of 1812. Indians and settlers traded massacres and retribution in an escalating spiral of bloody deeds. The Creeks carried out a brutal massacre at Fort Mims in Alabama in August 1813, slaughtering more than 250 volunteers and their families, mutilating women, and smashing small children's heads against the stockade walls. At Tallushatchee and Talladega, Jackson and his men took their revenge. "We now shot them down like dogs," boasted one of the volunteers, the soon-to-be legendary David Crockett. The myth of Indian fighters Jackson, Houston, and Crockett was born.

Daniel, the most impassioned preacher among the Parkers, was the most successful politician as well. He served as a state assemblyman for two terms in Illinois. Church and state were separate in practice as well as principle in the early days of the American republic, and Daniel's published appeal for votes made no mention of his religious beliefs. His neighbors described him "as a man of truth and as a man of talents and of liberal and Republican principles." In 1823 he and fourteen other Illinois lawmakers banded together to block an attempt to legalize slavery in the state.

Still, his Calvinism was anything but liberal, embracing a fierce, unyielding vision of mankind as pathetic and weak, devoid of free will, and incapable of virtue. It was a hard faith that mistrusted human nature as sinful and easily corrupted. "We believe that God created man good and upright," his church constitution proclaimed, "but that man by his sins and transgressions has become dead in trespasses and sins and is utterly unable to change his own heart, or to deliver himself from the fallen depraved state which he has fallen into under the influence of the Power of Darkness."

* * *

TEXAS SEEMED VAST ENOUGH to hold the Parker clan and their visions. American settlers had been trickling in since the early 1800s, but in 1824 the Mexican government officially opened the province to foreign immigration. Every able-bodied white man could claim 4,428 acres for just thirty dollars in one of the privately owned colonies that the Mexican authorities had sanctioned in hopes of creating a buffer between their small communities and hostile Indian tribes to the north. Stephen F. Austin, a young Virginia-born lawyer living in New Orleans who became an authorized empresario for the first colony, sang the praises of the gently rolling land between the burgeoning new town of Nacogdoches and the Sabine River: "The grass is more abundant and of a ranker and more luxuriant growth than I have ever seen before in any country and is indicative of a strong rich soil."

Like the Parkers, many of the newcomers were farmers who hauled their families and livestock to the new frontier seeking a fresh start on free land. The new American peasantry was hardworking, self-sufficient, and resolutely egalitarian: they shook hands rather than bowed. Many were refugees from the Panic of 1819, when the fledgling American banking system had collapsed and thousands of smallholders lost their farms. "Gone to Texas" became a familiar sign hung on the doors of log cabins across the South. Alongside the pioneers were men of greater ambitions and lesser repute, gamblers and adventurers like James Bowie, a Kentucky-born slave trader, Indian fighter, smuggler, and land speculator; William Barret Travis, an Alabama lawyer fleeing serious debts and an unfaithful wife; and Crocket himself, seeking new fortune and redemption after losing his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. And some were far worse. "A great number of the foreigners who have entered the frontier are vicious and wild men with evil ways," reported Mexican general Manuel de Mier y Terán, who led a fact-finding mission to the colony in 1827. "Some of them are fugitive criminals from the neighboring republic; within our borders they create disturbances and even criminal acts."

James W. Parker was restless in Illinois—"that country being very sickly," he reported after three of his nine children died of fever—and always looking for new pastures. He was the first Parker to visit Texas; in 1831 he explored the forested eastern half, riding through areas teeming with wild game and fertile soil, and lived for a season along the Colorado River, which began in the High Plains of what is now the Texas Panhandle and flowed southeast to Matagorda Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Hostile Indians, as always, were a problem: James noted that several of his neighbors were killed during his stay; one of them, a Mr. Wilbarger, "was literally shot to pieces, scalped and left as dead." Still, James traveled back to Illinois with a positive report for his brothers. He returned to Texas two years later with his wife and six children and three of his brothers: Daniel, Benjamin, and Joseph. Younger brother Silas came separately.

Doctrinal battles with Methodists and his fellow Baptists in Illinois had taken their toll on Daniel, and he was ready for a new spiritual home. The laws of Catholic-dominated Mexico forbade the organization of a new Protestant church within its borders, but they did not prohibit Protestants from bringing in a preexisting church from outside. He founded the Pilgrim Predestinarian Regular Baptist Church on August 11, 1833, in his house in Crawford County, with himself as moderator and six other members, then set out the next day for Texas with all six and their families, along with his father and brothers. Before he left for Texas, Elder John applied for and received a government pension of $80 per month for his Revolutionary War service.

Thirteen of Daniel's constituents in Illinois signed a character certificate that he carried with him to the new colony; Daniel Parker, they averred, was "an honest man and a good citizen" who had "discharged his duty faithfully to the satisfaction of a majority of his constituents." Others were less sorry to see him go. "Mr. Parker, you are an Enemy to truth and your doctrine came from hell and will go back there again," wrote one anonymous letter writer.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from THE SEARCHERS by GLENN FRANKEL Copyright © 2013 by Glenn Frankel. Excerpted by permission of BLOOMSBURY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Introduction: Pappy (Hollywood, 1954)....................1
1. The Girl (Parker's Fort, 1836)....................11
2. The Captives (Comancheria, 1836)....................25
3. The Uncle (Texas, 1837–52)....................46
4. The Rescue (Pease River, 1860)....................61
5. The Prisoner (Texas, 1861–71)....................73
6. The Warrior (Comancheria, 1865–71)....................91
7. The Surrender (Comancheria, 1874–75)....................112
8. The Go-between (Fort Sill, 1875–86)....................123
9. The Chief (Fort Sill, Oklahoma, 1887–92)....................136
10. Mother and Son (Cache, Oklahoma, 1892–1911)....................155
11. The Legend (Oklahoma and Texas, 1911–52)....................173
12. The Author (Hollywood, 1952)....................185
13. The Novel (Pacific Palisades, California, 1953)....................198
14. The Director (Hollywood, 1954)....................211
15. The Actor (Hollywood, 1954)....................225
16. The Production (Hollywood, 1955)....................245
17. The Valley, Part One (Monument Valley, June 1955)....................267
18. The Valley, Part Two (Monument Valley, June–July 1955)....................284
19. The Studio (Hollywood, July–August 1955)....................295
20. The Movie (Hollywood, 1956)....................306
21. The Legacy (Hollywood, 1956–2010)....................316
Epilogue: Quanah (Texas, June 2011)....................327
Note on Sources....................341
Notes....................345
Bibliography....................371
Photograph Credits....................385
Acknowledgments....................387
Index....................000
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 14 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2013

    Like building a 3 legged stool of Utah sandstone! Part on

    Like building a 3 legged stool of Utah sandstone!
    Part one is a history lesson that is as detailed as you would ever hope to get; the Cynitha Ann Parker story.
    Part two is the real razzle dazzle behind Hollywood and making pictures; the John Ford story.
    Part 3 is subtle but undeniable; the land itself, Monument Valley.
    You might need that sturdy stool to rest on because this is one book you are going to have trouble putting down! Wonderful read!!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 2, 2013

    How the Fact became the legend that became the film

    This is a well-written book that looks at the story that inspired the book, then the classic movie, "The Searchers."
    The author does a fine job telling the story of Cynthia Ann Parker and how, over the years, the facts were changed, adapted or altered until the story became legend, inspiring an author to create "The Searchers," which inspired the John Ford Western.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2013

    A really great book about two of my favorite subjects: movies and the history of the early settlers with regard to Indian abductions.

    Glen Frankel presents a concise history of Indian abductions and the attitudes of the relatives of these abductees, especially the girls and women. He then provides an analysis of The Searchers, a movie by John Ford, about this subject, which the author considers a great movie. It is all very interesting, especially the personal details about John Wayne and John Ford.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2013

    Western history at its best

    Well researched, very readable -- links real background history with the creation of one of the best western movies ever made. A quality read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 8, 2014

    Highly Recommended

    For a person who loves history and movies this is a must read.
    Being a person who lives in West Texas in the heart of Comancheria
    I really enjoyed the attention to detail about Texas History that
    the author takes in this effort to tell the story of Cynthia Ann.
    His take on John Ford and his movie making process was captivating
    as well. I can't wait to see the film.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 7, 2014

    This is well worth your time...

    ...if you like movies, if you like history, if you like digging in to what makes people tick. You will enjoy this book. Not a biography nor an actual case study, but a look at what goes/went into making a modern classic movie.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2014

    Well done

    A great look at old Hollywood

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2013

    If interested in Westerns and the West, do not miss this

    The author blends the story of John Ford and his classic Western with the story of the American settlers as they meet and clash with the Comanche nation. Brilliant study of American culture.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    If you like the wild west, give this one a try.

    If you like the wild west, give this one a try.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted August 13, 2013

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    Posted September 15, 2013

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    Posted October 24, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2013

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