The Remains of Quanah Parker & Eagle Park
Follow Wayne Gipson down through the gate behind the trading post, past the concrete pad of the old amphitheater where Reba McIntire once appeared, and just behind the rusted ruins of the roller coaster and you’ll see one of the most legendary houses in America – Quanah Parker’s Star House. Schoolchildren of the southern Great Plains grow up learning the legend of Parker, son of an Anglo settler captured in a Comanche raid and the chief who took her for a wife. Quanah became a Comanche leader himself, fighting Texas Rangers and US Cavalrymen in the Red River War and, with the disappearance of the buffalo, finally leading the tribe into reservation life near Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
We parked our vehicles in the long grass by a log home built in the 1870s. A two-wheeled carriage sat on the low-slung porch. Wayne’s sister was running a riding mower around a large circle of such prairie buildings — a newspaper office, an Indian Baptist Church, a school — all brought here as architectural attractions, along with the Star House, for Eagle Park, an amusement park that closed down in 1985. The mower seemed to be fighting a losing battle with nature for control of the grounds.
We had come to see Parker’s house, which he built around 1890 as he established himself as a public figure and wealthy cattleman in the Oklahoma grasslands. Here the feared warrior became a quirky gadabout, entertaining the likes of the rancher Charles Goodnight, Geronimo, and even Teddy Roosevelt. Quanah kept tepees on the front lawn and adapted the 14-room house for his large family, which included five wives.
Wayne pointed out the original dining room table, the iron cook stove in the kitchen, the watermark line from the floods of 2015 that ran three feet up the first floor walls. The August sun slanted across the wooden floors and the quilted bed in Quanah’s room. A horse munched on grass showing through holes at the edge of the wrap-around porch.
Wayne was a good guide to Parker’s history, but as we moved back to the iron rails of the abandoned coaster he seemed to perk up as his topic turned to Eagle Park. He pointed to overgrown sites where memories lurked. The stables where people came for horseback riding before insurance concerns brought it to an end. The stage where a young Vince Gill drew crowds from Lawton and beyond. The campgrounds. And the coaster itself where his father was injured in the mid-80s signaling the end of the park.
Why had we come to Cache, Oklahoma? To touch a little bit of history. To see how legends become domesticated and enchanted places sink back into the ground. And yet to feel that something remains. In warping wood. In fraying fabric. In the ruts of a dusty road. In the long look back of the mind’s eye.
We went, we writers, we three, to know the texture of the passing world. Driving back out the gate towards the Wichita Mountains, we parted ways with Wayne. But the world beyond Eagle Park was somehow more real than it had been before
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