Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Britt Johnson and his wife Mary are newly freed slaves, moving from Kentucky to Texas as the Civil War winds down. Before long, Mary finds herself a captive again—this time at the hands of the Comanche and Kiowa, who ambush their settlement while Britt is away. When he comes home to find his oldest son dead and the rest of his family missing, Britt puts aside the marital uncertainties that had recently arisen in his household and sets out to find Mary and his other two children. He is aided in his quest by Tissoyo, a young Comanche who has been temporarily ostracized from his people for flirting with another man's wife. A parallel story is that of Samuel Hammond, a Quaker bachelor and agent of the Office of Indian Affairs. His mission is to get the Comanche and Kiowa settled and farming on a reservation. The Indians, however, thwart his every move by declining the farm machinery that Hammond delivers to them and continuing to capture and scalp the settlers. Hammond faces a moral dilemma as he begins to withhold rations from the Indians as a means of modifying their behavior. The Indians represent a side to humanity that he's never imagined, much less encountered. The irony of his situation is almost comic, as he refuses to arm himself but finally has to request guards for his office. The author does an excellent job of trying to remain neutral in this conflict. Especially trying for Hammond and possibly for the author herself is the question of whether at some point captives should be allowed to remain with their captors. White children, after adapting to the more exciting and independent Indian way of life, are not always thrilled to be rescued and returned to a life that now feels claustrophobic. There's a lot to consider in this story of a situation with no easy answers, but I'm not particularly fond of the writing style—too many incomplete sentences. Perhaps this stilted communication on the author's part is somewhat indicative of the major cultural gap and failure to communicate that existed between the Indians and the settlers at the time.

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