Winner of the TCU-Texas Book Award
On New Year's Day in 1870, ten-year-old Adolph Korn's life as the son of a poor German-speaking farmer ended, and his life as a Comanche began. On that day, an Indian raiding party kidnapped the boy from his neighbor's pasture in the Texas Hill Country. With little hope of finding him alive and no resources—material or political—his loved ones had to eventually give him up for dead.
However, Adolph survived his capture, and soon thrived amid the rough, nomadic life of the Plains Indians. Within a year, Korn had become one of the Comanche's fiercest warriors. For nearly three years, he fought with his fellow Comanches against the encroaching white settlers, buffalo hunters, and U.S. soldiers who threatened their survival. But Korn was forcibly returned to his parents when the army "captured" him for a second time—after which, unsurprisingly, Korn held fast to his Native American ways and never found a place in white society. He spent his last years living alone in a cave, an eccentric oddity forgotten by his family.
That is, until Scott Zesch—a distant descendant of Korn's—stumbled over his relative's barely marked grave in a neglected corner of an old cemetery in Mason, Texas. Determined to know more about his ancestor—and to understand how a timid farm boy like Adolph could have become so thoroughly 'Indianized' in such a short time—Zesch tracked down surviving relatives, dug for primary sources in archives across the West, talked with Comanche elders, and expanded his search to include other child captives from the region, who also became some of the most Indianized whites in history.
Set against a rich historical backdrop of intense political wrangling and bloody confrontations between the U.S. government and Native Americans, The Captured is a vital work of Western historical scholarship as well as a true account of what settlers considered a 'fate worse than death'—an important study that details the dramatic lives of Adolph Korn and eight other children abducted by Comanches and Apaches in the Texas Hill Country.
"A fascinating reassessment of the not-uncommon phenomenon of white Indians in nineteenth-century Texas."—Mike Shea, Texas Monthly
"Compelling . . . With The Captured, Zesch is able to piece together the most complete picture yet of what it was like to be taken from the white world of farming, discipline, and hard work into the roaming, brutal-yet-carefree life of the Southern Plains Indians . . . Thanks to Zesch's meticulous research and his novelist's knack for storytelling, we are able to get a better picture of the plight of 'white Indians.'"—Steve Bennett, San Antonio Express-News
"Working from a century's remove, [Zesch] uses archival resources, historical perspective, and stylistic flair to tell stories that are at once engaging and edifying. Reading Zesch's account . . . pinned me to my recliner as surely as a metal-bladed Comanche arrow."—Mike Cox, Austin American-Statesman
"This isn't about good guys and bad guys but rather the clash of two cultures whose value systems were completely at odds . . . Zesch has told their stories well in this very readable book."—Allen C. Williams, Wichita Falls Times Record News
"A record of this country's history and of the many white children whom Indian tribes took home with them in the Texas Hill Country and on other frontiers. For me, the book also is evocative of other larger issues—assimilation and culture, and human interaction and environment."—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"A fine new book . . . a humbling read. Zesch catches up with his great-great-great-uncle Adolph Korn's Indians in the same moment as we 1960s [Peace Corps] Volunteers found Africa: a colonized, rapidly westernizing culture slowly falling to pieces in, as anthropologists coldly define it, a 'cultural interpenetration zone.' But because he is a thorough and scholarly researcher, Zesch also entered—as far as now possible from this remove—Adolph's cultural and psychological mazeway: an individual's own complex mental image of nature, society, culture, personality, and body image."—Tom Herbert, Peace Corps Writers
"Well-researched and wonderfully written . . . Zesch is a rarity: a good historian who is also a good storyteller."—Dan Rather
"A stirring account . . . The captivity narrative is one of the oldest of American literary genres, and Scott Zesch breathes new life into the form in The Captured."—Don Graham, author of Kings of Texas
"Excellent . . . The Captured vividly tells it like it was without yielding to myth or political correctness."—Elmer Kelton, author of The Way of the Coyote
"On New Year's Day, 1870, Adolph Korn, the author's ancestor and son of German immigrants, was captured by three Apaches near his family's cabin in central Texas. Adolph was traded to a band of Quahada Comanches, with whom he lived until November 1872, when the Comanches traded their captives for those held by the U.S. Army. Adolph was irrevocably changed. Considering himself Indian, he lived in a cave, and died alone in 1900. The author's search into Korn's sad life led him to the similar stories of eight other children captured in Texas between 1865 and 1871. Drawing on his tenacious research and interviews with the captives' descendants, Zesch compiles a gripping account of the lives of these children as they lived and traveled with their Indian captors. He delves into the reasons for their 'Indianization,' which for most of them lasted the rest of their lives, and discusses why they couldn't adjust to white society. A fascinating, meticulously documented chronicle of the often-painful confrontations between whites and Indians during the final years of Indian Territory."—Booklist
"Inspired by nearly forgotten family stories of a German-Texan forbear taken by Apache raiders at age ten, traded to the Comanche, and unable to readjust when forcibly returned three years later, historical novelist Zesch changes hats to write a history of forced captivities on the Texas frontier. Zesch's thorough research includes accounts from several different families, both Texan and Comanche, which reveal how particular children adjusted to the severe and abrupt changes in their family, cultural, and personal identities as they were captured by Indians and subsequently seized by the U.S. Army. His writing vilifies neither the pioneer settlers nor the Native Americans. This modern and much-needed addition to Southern Plains Indian captivity literature expands the compass of the entire North American Indian captivity narrative genre to include the odyssey of 'white Indian' readjustment to frontier settlement life. Highly recommended for high school, public, and academic libraries."—Library Journal
"Kidnappings, revenge raids, murders, and burials out on the lone prairie. Cross the dusty plains 100 miles or so north of San Antonio, and you'll arrive at the little town of Mason, Texas. 'I was aware, even as an adolescent, that Mason and its closest neighbors—Llano, Fredericksburg, Junction, Menard, Brady, and San Saba—had once been much more lively and significant places than the complacent "last picture show" towns they'd become by the 1970s,' writes native son Zesch. Indeed they were: in the mid-19th century, Mason and environs were hotly contested battlegrounds between German immigrants, Mexicans, and roving groups of Indians, the last of whom cast a pall across the plains. 'Death at the hands of Comanches or Apaches elevated ordinary dirt farmers to the status of martyrs in the quest for western expansion,' he writes, doubtless small comfort to those settlers. For their part, the Indians seemingly took pleasure in terrorizing the region and occasionally perpetuating minor massacres, such as scalping and disemboweling a young woman: 'The men had to identify her mainly by process of elimination, because some wild hogs had eaten out her intestines and torn most of the flesh from her face and thighs.' These atrocities would then be repaid many times over. For complex reasons of trade and honor, the Indians also regularly kidnapped young whites, who grew up among them and became acculturated 'timid farm boys'—and girls—'well on the way to becoming juvenile Indian warriors.' Zesch recounts the tale of an ancestor who was just such a kidnapped boy, his great-great-great-uncle, Adolph Korn, who was eventually returned to civilization, so to speak. There, he and another former captive attracted so much attention that their rescuer put them to work: 'He handed Adolph an ax, indicating that he should sound the Comanche war whoop and start at the crowd. Adolph did so, and the townspeople scurried.' [This book offers] a carefully written, well-researched contribution to Western history—and to a promising new genre: the anthropology of the stolen."—Kirkus Reviews