The White Indians
A brilliant and thoroughly researched book by Scott Zesch, called The Captured, reveals the true story of nine white children who were captured by Native American raiding parties in the post-Civil War years. The two girls and seven boys were raised and taught to live as Indians by the Comanches, Apaches and other tribes of the Southern Plains. The author weaves the tales of these captives into a coherent narrative, using hundreds of carefully examined original source materials.
As the forces of the U.S. Cavalry and Texas Rangers began to prevail in the great Indian wars, one by one these children were eventually recovered and brought home. But astonishingly, with few exceptions, they were unwilling to return to white civilization, since they had learned to prefer the free-spirited Native American way of life.
For the boy captives especially, their repetitive days of drudgery and poverty on the family homestead were soon forgotten. Instead, given over to an Indian family that warmly received them, they quickly adapted to a new way of life – hunting, fishing, horse riding, and training to be a warrior. No more boring and laborious farm and ranch work, and certainly no confinement to a school room.
Soon their Indianized identity became so powerful that they learned to hate the pale-face as much or more than did their Native American captors. The white man was perceived as their most dangerous enemy, driving them further and further from their hunting grounds, attacking their villages, and killing off their primary source for food and clothing – the buffalo.
The story of the capture and return of these nine coincides with the last age of the Plains Indian and their forced relocation to reservations. The author narrates in general chronological order the sad fate of the tribes during the years of the captivity of the white Indians. Then he follows the post-captivity lives of the nine – some re-adjusted more or less to the white ways, but others went back to live with their Indian families on reservations, and one even ended up a hermit in a cave.
By 1878 the last of the captured white Indians were returned, and by 1881, the way of life of the free-roaming Plains Indians came to an end, coinciding with the destruction of the last buffalo herds. It was General William T. Sherman, of Civil War infamy, who was primarily responsible for the decision to decimate the buffalo, since he realized that this was the fastest way to “obliterate” the Indians. He had become commanding General of the U.S. Army. When a small number of enlightened Texans petitioned for a law to protect the remaining buffalo and save them from extinction, Sherman personally testified in the Texas legislature against the bill, “arguing that the extermination of the buffalo was necessary to drive the Indians out of Texas and stop their depredations.”
The Captured, by Scott Zesch, St. Martin's Press, N.Y., 2004.
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