Sunday, February 17, 2013


She was christened Cynthia Ann Parker, but she would have told you her name was Naduah -'Keeps Warm With Us.'

Hers is one of the great love stories of the Wild West - and ultimately one of the saddest.

She was born in 1824, to Silas and Lucy Parker in Illinois. When she was 9 years old the family moved to north-west Texas to follow the American Dream - land and a better life. They went to Fort Parker, established by Cynthia’s grandfather, in what is now Limestone County.

But on May 9, 1836, around a hundred Comanche and Kiowa warriors attacked the fort, killing many of the men, including her grandfather. Cynthia and five other captives were led away. One teenage girl escaped; four others, including her brother John, were later released for ransom.

Cynthia was beaten and treated as a slave at first, but her life improved when she was adopted by a Comanche couple, who raised her like their own. 

While still barely a teenager she married Peta Nakoni, (Camps Alone), a Comanche chieftain. It turned out to be an extraordinarily love match. It was traditional for Comanche chiefs to take more than one wife but he never did. They had three children; the future and famed Comanche chief Quanah Parker; another son Pecos (Pecan), and a daughter Topsannah (Prairie Flower).

A newspaper account from 1846 describes how a trading party led by Colonel Leonard G. Williams came across a tribe of Comanches camped on the Canadian River. Williams offered a ransom of 12 mules and two mule loads of goods to the tribal elders for Parker but he was refused, and in subsequent sightings, Parker would run away and hide to avoid being traded back. The Indians said she loved her husband and children too much to leave them. These reports were not believed.

In the winter of 1860, a small band of Texas Rangers surprised a group of Comanche at a meat camp at Mule Creek on the Pease River; most of the men were away and the raid turned into a massacre of women and children.

The Rangers executed a man they thought was Nakoni but he later turned out to be a Mexican slave. Parker attempted to flee on horseback with her daughter but was captured. 

It was then the Rangers realized that the woman in the deerskin and moccasins had blue eyes and that she might be the missing Cynthia Parker.

When she overheard her name banded around by the Rangers she patted herself on the chest and said, “Me Cincee Ann.” Her fate was sealed.

Cynthia Ann and Prairie Flower were taken back to an army post. While traveling through Fort Worth she was photographed with her daughter at her breast and her hair cut short-a Comanche sign of mourning. She thought that her husband was dead and her sons too.

The story of her ‘rescue’ transfixed the nation. She was treated like a hero. Texas granted her four and a half thousand acres of land and a pension of $100 per year. Her brother, Silas Junior., was appointed her guardian in 1862, and took her home to Van Zandt County.

Chif Quanah Parker
But she never adapted to her new life. She was shuttled from one family to another, often locked in her room to prevent her escaping. In 1863, she heard that her son Pecos had died of smallpox, and a few months later, Prairie Flower died of influenza. She was overwhelmed with grief.

Later she learned to weave and sew and created home remedies from local plants and herbs. But she she rarely spoke much. Broken in spirit and an exile among her own race, she died in 1870 from complications arising from a long and self imposed fast. She never knew that her oldest son, Quanah had become the last Comanche Chief, later to become the principal spokesman of the entire Comanche nation after their defeat.

Footnote: The character 'Stands With A Fist' in Kevin Costner’s 1990 movie 'Dances with Wolves' is based on her.  Cynthia is buried in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, 

Colin Falconer is the author of the internationally bestselling AZTEC and over twenty other novels. 

See more history from Colin Falconer at  

From History and Women

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Lavinia Fontana

Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614)
 Self-portrait- Lavinia at the clavichord

Here is yet another fabulous lady in history, Lavinia Fontana.  This worldly renowned artist, was born in the late sixteenth century at a time where women had very little clout when it came to expressing themselves through art.  But, lucky for her, her father, Prospero Fontana, was a famous  art teacher at the School of Bologna and therefore commissioned to great works in  in their native city. This made it easy for Lavinia to practice her craft daily- art was everywhere around her.  So it was that Lavinia-even if not male- carried on the family tradition and business of making art for sale.

Bologna being such an avant-garde place to flourish, Lavinia initially painted for the well known nobles of Bologna.  The aristocracy loved her and commissioned her to paint their family portraits.  Besides portraits, Lavinia dabbled in several different genres and one of her trademarks was altar art for churches.  

Word of such great talent soon reached the ears of Pope Clement III where in no time he summoned Lavinia to Rome.  Lavinia was quickly integrated into upper class circles where she was soon sought after by Pope Gregory XIII as well.  Her art naturally progressed onto the more religious type genre and was much favoured by the Church. 

It was indeed a rarity for a female artist of those times to be so well accepted- especially by the Vatican. One can only imagine what it must have been like to have both Popes (Clement III and Gregory XIII) as subjects in all their regalia, posing for her!

Although Lavinia dedicated much of her life to art, she did not remain single.  She met Gian Paolo Zappi while working in her father’s studio.  Another marvel for those times; Lavinia was the bread winner in that household!  Zappi  readily gave up his career to stay at home and take care of their 11 children and also helped Lavinia out as her art assistant. 

Lavinia is known for having produced the largest number of art pieces ever for a woman of the Renaissance. 
 Portrait of a noblewoman, by Lavinia Fontana

A book on Lavinia Fontana, by Caroline P. Murphy:

Another great historical woman of substance!

From History and Women

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Shirley Temple Black - A Depression-Era Woman of Distinction by Normal Welty

Shirley Temple Black—A Depression-Era Woman of Distinction

A guest post by Norma Welty

Author of 

The Dirty Days
A Young Girl's Journey to and from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl

There are several distinguished American women whose biographies would provide a wealth of information about their significant contributions to our society. But I have chosen to proclaim Shirley Temple as my Depression-era woman of distinction—a noteworthy American child who became a solid role model for American women. Especially in the eyes of the many living women who are of the same generation as Ms. Temple Black.

Many girls, like myself, who grew up extremely poor in the Dust Bowl during the 1930s Great Depression revered Shirley Temple. We knew about her through listening to the girls from the more well-off families whose parents took them to see the young actress's movies. These more fortunate girls often brought pictures of Shirley Temple to school and talked profusely about her and her movies. 

From a poor girl's perspective, the young actress possessed a wholesome beauty and goodness in character that came from within, and she had an admirable talent and obvious athletic strength. As residents of the heat belt, we could appreciate Shirley Temple's endurance of hot, sweaty dance lessons and challenging rehearsals.

More importantly to girls from poor families, her success engendered in us a subconscious hope for better times—adequate clothing, healthy diet, dust-free air and enough water for crops and human consumption. And while laboring in the field we may have grumbled a bit, but we persevered just as we knew young Shirley would have done, had she been in our unfortunate circumstances.

Off screen, Shirley Temple has lived her adult life in ways that have confirmed our assessment of her in our youth. Her physical strength and mental perseverance sustained her during her recovery from breast cancer; and she was bravely one of the first prominent women to talk openly about breast cancer and its survival to the media. And, she steered herself toward several other noteworthy endeavors.

 Ms. Temple Black ran for Congress when the majority of voters weren't yet prepared to vote for a woman rather than a male opponent—and was defeated. But she hadn’t put all her eggs in one basket. Later, she was appointed to represent the United States in the United Nations, was the first woman appointed US Chief of Protocol and she later served as US Ambassador to Ghana and US Ambassador to Czechoslovakia. She did it all without fanfare, and to name but a few, she may have paved the way for Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Rodham Clinton. 

Think about it. As a child, Shirley Temple persevered throughout a grueling movie-making schedule of singing, dancing and acting while winning the hearts of millions. She later served her country with dignified aplomb, received accolades such as the Actors Guild SAG Life Achievement Award and Kennedy Center Honors, and she published a well-received autobiography. Now a widow in her eighties, she is working on a second volume.

I’m also in my eighties and have written my first book, which includes in its story many references to Shirley Temple—one of my childhood heroes. To me she is much more than a former exceptionally talented child movie star or a commercialized icon of by-gone days. And I believe numerous older women, myself included, who grew up during The Great Depression still think of her as their childhood symbol of hope for better times.

From History and Women

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Vannozza dei Cattanei and her scandalous affairs and marriages

Vannozza dei Cattanei

Born into the lowest levels of the Italian aristocracy, the beautiful and spirited Vannozza dei Cattanei was charismatic and clever enough to run not one, but two inns, or ‘osterias’ as they are called in Rome. It is likely there that her charms caught the attention of Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, whom she scandalously entered into an affair with, despite his vows of celibacy. He later became Pope Julius II.

Giuliano della Rovere
Pope Julius II
In his elder years

In her inns, she lavishly entertained rich, ambitious cardinals. Soon, the affair with Giuliano petered out and she turned her attentions to Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, from a very wealthy Spanish family. She soon became his favorite mistress – not bad for a guy at the highest levels of the church who is supposed to abstain from the sin of lust.

Rodrigo Borgia
Pope Alexander VI

When it came to Rodrigo, she was obliging and compliant, never making demands, and always offering helpful suggestions. He showed his appreciation by letting her use several of his properties which she eventually managed to convince him to put solely in her name. Oh, but that’s not all he gave her. In addition to properties, she had full financial support and bought a vineyard, a country-house, and more inns in highly desirable areas of Rome. As the years passed, she bore Rodrigo four children: Juan, Cesare, Lucrezia, and Jofre.

But all good things must soon come to an end and it was no different for this adoring couple. The Vatican soon took note of their wayward son and his flagrant violation of the celibacy vows that he had taken upon entering the Church. If he wanted to be in the running to become the next pope, then poor Vanozza had to go. But how could he get rid of his social climbing, materialistic, wealth-grabbing lover? The answer was simple – marry her off to someone else, of course.

So Rodrigo presided over her wedding to Domenico d'Arignano, a wealthy man who died a few short years later. With Rodrigo’s help Vanozza married a man named Antonio da Brescia. When he died, in order to continue to keep the mother of his children at arms’ length, and a safe distance from Vatican eyes, Rodrigo chose another compliant husband for his ex-mistress - Giorgio di Croce. In exchange for marrying Vanozza, Rodrigo made him apostolic secretary. A good job, steady money, why not? So Vanozza married Giorgio and moved into the same neighborhood as Cardinal Borgia's Palace on the Piazza Sforza-Ceasarini.

Over the years, Vanozza continued to be Rodrigo’s friend and confidante to many of his darkest secrets. When her second husband died a wealthy man, Rodrigo set out yet again to find her another suitable husband. This time, he chose a Mantuan named Carlo Canale, who had many lucrative and useful connections. To seal the deal, Rodrigo provide a dowry of 1000 florins and another high level job.

As Vanozza grew older, she became a little wiser too. Establishing herself as a reformed sinner, she began donating to charities and supporting convents. She remained in touch with her children.

When she died, she was given a lavish funeral almost equally attended by Vatican officials as well as citizens.

From History and Women