Friday, December 15, 2006

By Herman Lehmann

Herman Lehmann was an ordinary German boy living on the Texas frontier in 1870. Then Apache raiders carried him and his brother Willie off. Willie escaped, but Herman did not get away from his captors. When he returned, Herman was no longer a captive of the Indians, he was a captive of the whites.

Lehmann (and probably his editor J. Marvin Hunter) had a gift for narrative. Lehman recalls his capture in vivid detail. Fear of the strange Apaches, the pain of being tied to a horse and driven across miles of open prairie, and the disgust at what Apaches ate on the trail are all rendered in intense detail. He describes how the Apaches killed a calf and ate the contents of its stomach with relish. They forced some on Lehman, who vomited.

But in this unorthodox coming of age story, the Apaches become Herman’s family and tribe. They are the people that raised him and that he came to love. The boy grows to be a warrior, inured to hardship, intense exertion, and warfare. Lehman even echoes the scene of eating the contents of a calf’s stomach, but this time he recalls it as a special feast!

This book is not for the faint of heart. There is no romanticizing of Indian life in Nine Years. Lehman recounts Indians raids in horrific detail, less as cattle lifting trips than as murder excursions. But he never backs down from his commitment to the Indian point of view. Lehman’s apology is simple and to the point: the Apaches and Comanches were fighting for their land and survival. He tells readers enough of the horrors that occurred when the U.S. Army raided an Apache camp to show what defeat meant for them.

Lehman was eventually forced to flee the Apache due to a feud. He was adopted by the Comanche and became a close friend of Quanah Parker (himself of white captive descent). After the defeat of the Comanche Lehman returned “home” and embittered warrior, a patriot of a lost nation forced to live among his enemies. His transition to white life was not easy, but he achieved a celebrity status of sorts when he embraced his white Indian status and in turn Texans came to embrace him. Nine Years Among the Indians is a unique testament from a critical time of the Texas frontier and deserves to be embraced by new generations of Texans.
-Dave Hardy

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