In today’s excerpt – many children were captured by the Native Americans in the mid-1800s, and though heartbroken, most were treated well. Most were returned as adults, where they faced the second heartbreak of again losing friends and a way of life they loved:
“Eventually, most of the captured children were sent back to their families, often against their will. Usually, a federal Indian agent, working together with a friendly Indian chief, arranged their release. But the redeemed captives found it much harder to readjust to their own people’s ways than it had been to adapt to Indian society. Jeff Smith put it best: ‘Everything seemed mighty tame after I got back home.’
“As adults, many of the former child captives lived in limbo between their original and adoptive cultures. A number of common characteristics set them apart. They were often reserved and did not talk much. … A journalist who interviewed Jeff Smith noted, ‘It took a three year acquaintance with him to induce him to say anything.’ Adolph Korn’s stepsister recalled: ‘Always restless, he would sometimes take up his gun, leave home and be gone for days in the woods. When he came back he said little about where he had been.’
“When [Herman] Lehmann’s mother made him attend school after he returned home, he threatened to tear down all the lattice in the schoolhouse so he could see out. His teacher wrote, ‘As one in prison, he pined for the companionship of his lndian friends, and their manner of life.’ Most of the former boy captives eventually became cowboys and worked the great cattle drives of the 1870s and 1880s. ‘We couldn’t content ourselves to stay indoors, and naturally went to working cattle,’ explained Jeff Smith. Like the plains Indians, they could not settle in one place. Bianca Babb’s grandson recalled: ‘Grandmother had the Indian travel fever in her, because she was always buying a new house and moving. She said a person gets tired of looking at the same old thing all the time.’ …
“The former captives held fast to many of their Indian customs and teachings. One man reminisced that whenever Jeff Smith came to visit, he always slept outside under a big tree: ‘Sometimes, if it was raining or real cold, he would come indoors, but even then, he would steep on the hard floor with only his blanket. He didn’t like to sit at the table to eat, choosing instead to sit ‘Indian style,’ eating in the corner or outdoors.’
“They were tougher than the average person and had no use for luxuries. Lehmann’s hands were so hardened that he could grab a coal out of a fire and use it to light a cigarette, When Jeff Smith talked about his trail-driving days, he pointed out: ‘As far as I was concerned, the usual occurrences that sometimes upset the other boys in the outfit had no weight with me. I had gone through so many worse things that they were scarcely noticeable.’ …
“A number of former captives could not hold a regular job and were never very successful financially. They resented any type of work that tied them down, such as farming or routine manual labor. The former boy captives thought those sorts of jobs were undignified. Some were too generous for their own good, giving away everything they had to anyone they liked, The Indians had taught them that wealth should be shared and enjoyed in the present, not hoarded or put away for the future.”
Scott Zesch, “Strangers in Two Worlds,” American History, June 2007, pp. 63-64.