Two months after the Battle of the Alamo, another massacre took place on the Texas frontier. On May 19, 1836, hundreds of Native Americans ambushed Fort Parker near present day Mexia, Texas. In 1833, a group of Predestinarian Baptists left Illinois in twenty-five ox-drawn wagons. Many members of this group, including Elder John Parker and his family, settled near the Navasota River in East Texas. Upon arrival, the Parker men began constructing "Parker's Fort" out of fifteen-foot tall split cedars.
Three years later, on that fateful morning, hundreds of Comanche and Kiowa approached the fort waving a white flag. The Comanche stabbed Elder Parker’s son Benjamin when he approached the group. The Comanche and Kiowa charged the fort and killed four more men, wounded three women, and took five women and children captive. Elder Parker’s son, Daniel wrote of the massacre in the family Bible, which is currently on display in the Elkhart State Bank in Elkhart, Texas. Among those taken captive was a nine-year-old girl, Cynthia Ann Parker. James Parker, Cynthia’s uncle, unsuccessfully petitioned Sam Houston to send troops to recover the captives several times.
Cynthia remained with the Comanche for twenty-four years. In 1860, Captain Lawrence Sullivan "Sul" Ross led the Texas Rangers in a surprise attack against the Comanche in the Battle of Pease River where he discovered and recaptured Cynthia. Sul Ross would later become Governor of Texas and President of Texas A&M University.
Later, the area became Springfield, Texas, a dusty frontier town. Springfield was Limestone County's first county seat in 1847. The only visible reminder of Springfield that remains is a small cemetery found inside of Fort Parker State Park. Inside the cemetery is the grave of a veteran of the American Revolution.
In 1935, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built a camp in the area. Fort Parker CCC Camp housed Company 3807. The company was a segregated unit. Most of these men were sons of black Texas sharecroppers. As part of the Texas Centennial of 1936, Company 3807 reconstructed Fort Parker as closely to the original as possible. This reconstructed fort lies just over two miles outside of Fort Parker State Park, which Company 3807 also built. Former Texas Governor Pat Neff, who started the state parks effort in the 1920s, dedicated Fort Parker State Park in May 1941, and declared it open to the public. Sadly, after completing the work there, the men of Company 3807 could not visit the park. There was a statewide policy of banning all blacks from state parks in Texas until the 1960s.
Fort Parker State Park is a rare location that combines recreation and conservation with history and heritage. Fort Parker and Fort Parker State Park represent American frontier life, Native American history, African American history, and the history of the Great Depression and the New Deal.