Sunday, December 17, 2006

By Scott Zesch

As a youngster, Scott Zesch heard tales of Adolf Korn, his great-uncle. Adolf Korn would have been little different from other German youngsters in Texas, except that one day in 1870, Indian raiders carried him off. Eventually he returned to his white family, but he was a very different young man.

In searching for this ancestor who had been lost to his family, Zesch began following the trails of other white captives from Central Texas. He recounts, sometimes in horrifying detail, what Indian raids were like. But this is no “the only good injun is a dead injun” book. Because Zesch found that almost all captives came to prefer Indian life. Zesch offers some cautious hypotheses as to why these children (always children, adults fared badly at the hands of the Comanche and Apache raiders) identified so strongly with an alien culture that had forcibly abducted them. After considering the impressionability of childhood and the “Stockholm Syndrome” (where hostages come to identify with captors), Zesch returns to a simple thesis: Indian life offered a simplicity, ease, and freedom that the lives of hardscrabble settlers on the Texas frontier could not match.

The Captured compares the lives of Herman Lehmann, Clinton and Jeff Smith, Rudolf Fischer and many other white children who were abducted by Indians. Zesch offers us many insights into their lives as well as the lives of those they left behind and the life they adopted. They experienced Indian life in its last years of freedom before buffalo hunters destroyed the Indians’ livelihood and the US Army destroyed their people. Zesch’s accounts of Comanche and Apache raids find grim echoes in his description of Army attacks on Indian villages.

Eventually all the captives returned to their white families, at least for a time. But they all felt the pull of Indian life strongly. They had trouble adjusting to white life, they had learned to conform with Indian ways, easy-going and free. Some returned immediately to the reservation. Rudolf Fischer reluctantly visited his biological family, and shortly returned to his Comanche wife. Others stayed in Texas and even achieved a level of fame (both Herman Lehmann and Clinton Smith wrote autobiographies). Some, like Adolf Korn, withdrew from society altogether.

The Captured is a fascinating study, not just of a critical period in the history of Texas (and America), but also a window on the creation of character and personality when cultures clash inside a single person.
-Dave Hardy

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