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Jun 15

Stolen Children

During the 1800s dozens of children on the Texas frontier were captured by Southern Plains Indians. Raiding parties would take their captives into Indian Territory or the Texas Panhandle where there were few permanent settlements. Kidnapped children were spoils of war and could be traded to another tribe or sold to the government for ransom. But more importantly, in many cases, the children were adopted into the tribes as members of the Indian family to replace children who had died. In the mid-1800s the southern Plains Indians suffered terrible losses from smallpox, cholera and warfare. It is estimated that between 1849 and 1866 the Comanches lost as many of three-quarters of their people.

One can only imagine what it was like for a child to be taken from a white world of farming, discipline and hard work and thrust into the roaming, often brutal, yet carefree life of the Indian. They came from hardscrabble lives in cramped log cabins that were hot in summer and cold in winter. Often, they had no shoes. And always they had tedious and repetitive chores to do. Suddenly, they were living with people who imposed few rules and did not value work for its own sake. They had freedom, mobility and leisure. Some of them even became willing participants in horse raids and the gruesome deaths of Texan settlers and homesteaders.

While each captive’s experience was unique, the prevailing common thread was their inability to adapt to their former lives after their rescue. Long after they returned to their white families they held fast to their Indian ways, earning them the name “white Indians”. Some chose to return to the Indians. Some, when brought back to their white families, simply withered away. They were often reserved and didn’t talk much, least of all about their experiences. As adults they could not settle in one place. They could not hold regular jobs and were never financially successful. Many of them went on to have failed marriages.

Unlike the movie The Searchers with John Wayne, where the Natalie Wood character has been captured by ruthless Comanches, and which ends happily with her rescue and return, the true stories do not have happy endings.

For many of those stolen children it became a lifelong struggle to reconcile their blood ties and the nomadic life that some of them came to love. They simply did not know how to deal with their experiences and it left them forever conflicted. Although they got to experience life through the eyes of another people, they paid a heavy price. Not many of their accounts have survived. Most of the stolen children went on to live their lives in obscurity. But the accounts that do survive paint a picture of conflicting cultures. It is a story as sad for the stolen children as it is for the Indians.

My four-part western series, The Kincaids, begins in 1821 with Dallas Kincaid. It is the story of one such stolen child, how war with Mexico and conflicting cultures shaped him into the man he became, and how love helped ease his long road home.

Dallas Kincaid was five years old when the Kiowa swept down from the Llano Estacado in the Texas Panhandle and carried him off. For 13 years he lived among them before leaving to join Sam Houston’s volunteer army in its fight for Texas independence against Santa Anna, and later riding with the Texas Rangers against the powerful Comanche Nation that threatened settlements in the newly formed Republic of Texas. Now, with the fighting behind him, the battle-scarred loner torn between two cultures has returned to the homestead he last saw as a child, to the mother and older brother he left behind, to the younger brothers he didn’t know he had, and to the love he never expected to find.

Orphaned after her white father and Apache mother were killed in a Comanche raid, Abby McKenna lives a lonely life on the cattle ranch owned by her cantankerous grandfather and suffers his cold hostility for bearing the stigma of being a half-breed.

In Abby, Dallas finds a kindred spirit, but her grandfather’s prejudice will not permit the attentions of a man raised by Indians, no matter how hard he fought for Texas independence, giving Dallas one more battle to fight before he can lay the past to rest.

I’m in the process of writing the story now, but here’s a sneak peek at the cover and an excerpt from the Prologue. I’ll let everyone know when the book is released. And for the record, this is one story about a stolen child that will have a happy ending, because isn’t that what romance is all about?

Prologue

Somewhere along the Navidad River, June, 1821

“Indians!”

A fear unlike anything Kate had ever known welled up inside of her. Her thoughts splintered into blackness, and her lungs froze. Paralyzed, all she could do was stand there, the wind whipping the tattered hem of her homespun dress around her ankles as the dust cloud coalesced into something alive.

“Gie yerself an’ th’ wee jimmies inside!” Fergus yelled.

She felt his hands pushing her toward the soddy, his fingers harsh, demanding that she act.

The boys! Kate’s voice tore from her throat, high-pitched and desperate. “Denver! Get your brother!”

“We’re coming ma!” she heard eight-year-old Denver shout.

Inside, Fergus pulled his rifle from its pegs on the wall, while Kate ran about frantically pulling the wooden shutters closed. They could hear the oxen bellowing in the tilled field and the hens squawking in the roost as the thunder of horses’ hooves exploded on all sides of the soddy.

“Gie doon!” Fergus shouted.

Obeying her husband’s panicked order to get down, Kate crouched against the wall of mud bricks as he aimed his rifle through a slit in the wooden shutter and fired.

The shot exploded in Kate’s ears. She felt herself shaking. At any moment the door would burst open and they would all be killed

But the moment she feared did not come.

The air outside filled with wild whoops and cries as the invaders swept past like a cold, dark wind. Had Fergus’s shot scared them off? Did they keep on going because they saw that there were no horses to steal?

Kate shrank back and looked at Fergus in horror. He met her eyes, and then moved his gaze about the room. His face turned white, and confusion seemed to overtake him.

From where she crouched against the wall, Kate felt trapped in the crushing grip of her husband’s expression. Tearing her stricken gaze away, she looked around. Denver was hiding beneath the clapboard table, and Dallas—

Where was Dallas? She glanced wildly about the room. “Denver, where’s your brother?”

“I was scared, ma. I didn’t—”

She didn’t wait to hear more. She ran to the door and burst outside. An audible groan of relief spilled from her lips when she saw Dallas by the creek, the sunlight reflecting off the tufts of light brown hair that stuck out from beneath his straw hat. A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth, and she caught herself thinking that he was such a handsome little fellow. She opened her mouth to call out to him, when suddenly, from the corners of her eyes she saw something big streak past her in a cloud of dust and dirt. Blinking the haze from her vision, she watched in horror as an Indian astride a black horse bore down on the boy.

“No!”

Crying out, Kate plunged forward, calling upon every ounce of strength in her thin body to catch up to the boy. With panic rising in her throat, she thrust out her hand and managed to snag the wet sleeve of his hickory striped shirt. The straw hat flew from his head as she pulled him toward herself, but it was too late. The mounted Indian leaned to one side and yanked her son out of her grasp, sweeping him up onto the horse without breaking stride.

“Kate! Come back!”

Her husband’s shout was drowned out by the sound her own heart-wrenching scream.

She ran after the retreating horse, stumbled, got up, and kept on running.

“Mama! Mama!” Her son’s frantic cries were cut short by a fit of violent coughing. It was something he did whenever he was afraid. She’d always been able to comfort him and calm his fears, but not this time.

Far out onto the prairie she ran, until the horse and rider disappeared over the horizon and all that remained of her son was the sound of his coughs echoing in her brain and a tattered straw hat skipping along the ground on a gust of wind.

 

6 comments

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  1. Anna Markland

    Love the cover, Nancy. This is an episode I’ve never heard of before. Thanks for sharing it. Talk about coincidences. My mother-in-law was a Kincaid and I named the heroine of my last book Hannah Kincaid! Plus my current WIP has a character named Fergus! We’re on the same wavelength apparently!

  2. Nancy Morse

    Thanks, Anna. I guess historical author minds think alike.

  3. Cynthia Woolf

    Sounds like a great story. Love the cover.

    1. Nancy Morse

      Thanks, Cindy. It might be a good story if I could just get beyond the Prologue and Chapter 1.

  4. Author SJ Baily

    Wow, Nancy! That was a powerful and heart-wrenching scene. As a mom, I felt … well, everything you intended me to feel as if my son were getting snatched away. I know it had to happen for the rest of your story to take place. Excellent writing. Great cover, too.

  5. Nancy Morse

    Thank you, Sydney. I didn’t mean to scare any moms out there, but it must have been awful for the families whose children were abducted. There was nothing pretty about it.

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