A Fate Worse Than Death

fateworsethanThe title of this book is a bit misleading, but the subtitle, “Indian captivities in the West, 1830-1885,” clears up the subject matter. The phrase a “fate worse than death” was a Victorian euphemism for rape. Women on the frontier dreaded capture by Indians because they feared the ultimate humiliation of sexual abuse, including serial rape, in addition to physical torture and a slow, painful death.

But this book discusses all kinds of Indian captivities. Not all captives were beaten, whipped, tortured, mutilated and murdered. Some women and children were enslaved, while others were adopted into a tribe. A few captives had happy endings, either by rescue or ransom (Arizona’s Olive Oatman) or by tribal assimilation (Texas’ Cynthia Ann Parker). Although the coauthors include a chapter on the Overland Trail, their focus is on Texas frontiers. Much of this book will be uncomfortable reading for we have been “protected” in recent years by writers determined not to offend today’s Indians. This text is not an unrelieved litany of butcheries; there is information on rescue attempts by early Dragoons, Texas Rangers, frontiersmen and friendly Indians. All in all, excellent Texana. —Richard H. Dillon

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