A novel of the Old West, based on the true story of Britt Johnson, a freed slave whose wife and family were stolen by Indians but eventually recovered.
Most of Johnson’s narrative has been passed down through oral history, but Jiles (Stormy Weather, 2007, etc.) fills in the gaps more than adequately. One day while Johnson is away getting supplies (and, sadly, after a nasty spat with his wife), his wife and two children are abducted by Kiowa-Comanche along with an older neighbor and her grandchildren. The Indians brutalize the women, but the children—especially the Johnson’s ten-year-old son Jube—begin to adapt to life on the plains. The narrative divides itself between Johnson’s search for his family and his family’s exposure to Indian life, and then divides again with the introduction of Samuel Hammond, a Quaker who, as a representative of the post–Civil War (and radically revamped) Office of Indian Affairs, is assigned the task of attempting to “civilize” the Comanche-Kiowa and turn a nomadic and warrior culture toward farming. Hammond is appalled at the number of abductions, and even more repelled to discover that some of the younger abductees have no desire to return to their previous lives. Part of the tension involves Hammond’s growing discontent with Indian culture—he finds himself conflicted because, as a Quaker friend has written him, it is “our professed desire [as Quakers] to treat the Red Man as our brother and as a being deeply wronged over the centuries that we have inhabited this continent.” Meanwhile, Johnson, in conjunction with his Comanche friend Tissoyo, succeeds in ransoming his wife and children, though he discovers that his wife has been psychologically scarred as well as physically injured. During her fragile recovery Johnson starts a freighting company, carrying goods from various settlements to frontier forts through dangerous territory.
A rousing, character-driven tale.