A Fate Worse Than Death: Indian Captivities in the West, 1830-1885

by Gregory and Susan Michno, Caxton Press, Caldwell, Idaho, 2007, $24.95.

If you were out in the Western plains alone and unarmed in the 19th century, what could be worse than being run down and shot dead by American Indians? And the answer is: being run down and captured alive by American Indians. There are always exceptions, captives who adapted to native lifestyles for various lengths of time and survived their ordeals (such as Clara and Willie Blinn). But the rule, as clearly demonstrated in this 527-page tome on an indelicate and fascinating subject, was you paid a heavy price for living and often wished you were dead.

This is the first book-length collaboration by Gregory Michno, the author of Lakota Noon and the Encyclopedia of Indian Wars, and his wife Susan, although she has long helped him with his research. The “worse than death” ordeal for most captive women included rape. “In this study,” the authors write in their conclusion, “we can see that of the eighty-three captured women who were 13 or older, forty-eight (58 percent) were certainly raped, twenty-nine (35 percent) were probably raped and only six (7 percent) stated that they were not ‘compromised.’”

One of the more interesting points the Michnos make is that in the East, according to other books, many of the captured white girls wanted to stay with their new Indian families, but in the West, it was totally different. Their study shows that only one girl out of 40 in the 7 to 15 age group stayed or returned to the Indians (in the West) when given the choice. The subject matter might be distasteful to some, and indeed there is plenty of human brutality here, but some of the captive cases are indeed testaments to the human spirit.


Originally published in the August 2007 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here