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  • Candace Ahlfinger

History and Hiking in One Short Trip

Fort Parker State Park

Growing up in Texas with a history teacher as a father, I had heard the romantic story of Cynthia Ann Parker who, as a young girl in 1933, was kidnapped by the Comanche Indians. After falling in love with and marrying their chief, they had a son, Quanah, who became the last of the great Comanche chiefs. (Remember, this was a young girl’s interpretation of the story!)

Yes, I had heard this story many times, but I never realized that the fort, the setting for this romance, stood near Fort Parker State Park in Mexia.

Fort Parker State Park was our goal for the day, a new place to enjoy nature as social distancing continues. We hiked two trails for a total of 6.1 miles. Baines Creek Trail was the first of the two and required that we drive out of the park to get to the other side of Fort Parker Lake. The trailhead boasts an overview of the CCC-built dam, another reminder of the huge impact that FDR’s program still has. This trail wanders along the lakeshore for beautiful views of water peeking through the trees and graceful herons flying low over the water. We had taken a picnic lunch and enjoyed eating while sitting at the water’s overlook.

The Springfield Trail was our second hike of the day. This trail added interest to our walk as we wandered through the Old Springfield Cemetery. Springfield, once the largest town between Dallas and Houston, was the county seat of Limestone County. We stopped to search for three famous gravestones: Joseph Penn Lynch, a veteran of the Republic of Texas war, Logan Stroud, an original settler of Limestone County, and Ben Curry and Ezekiel Rhodes, sons of African American freedmen who served as crew leaders for the CCC while Fort Parker State Park was being built. Not all the gravestones are old; many families have continued to use this small, picturesque cemetery as their final resting place.

Smithfield Cemetery (Fort Parker State Park)

During our hikes, we started wondering why this facility is named Fort Parker. (You would think that we would have considered this question earlier, but history was not on our mind when we looked for good hikes.) Thank goodness for Google which we used as soon as we got back to the car. Imagine our surprise to find that the actual Fort Parker was, and is, located a scant 6 minutes away. Even though it was too near closing time for us to go in, we were impressed by the site. The fort and surrounding buildings have been rebuilt as faithful replicas to the original. Entrance is only $2.00 for adults and, from all I have read afterwards, presents the story of the massacre and life in that period in a compelling way. We hope to go back and visit the fort in the future.

Old Fort Parker Historic Site

And then…another day of hiking and social distancing was behind us and we headed home. There are so many places to explore within a short Texas-drive of our home that we still have many options left for other days.

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