The Captured: A True Story of Abduction by Indians on the Texas Frontierby Scott Zesch
On New Year's Day in 1870, ten-year-old Adolph Korn was kidnapped by an Apache raiding party. Traded to Comaches, he thrived in the rough, nomadic existence, quickly becoming one of the tribe's fiercest warriors. Forcibly returned to his parents after three years, Korn never adjusted to life in white society. He spent his last years in a cave, all but forgotten by
On New Year's Day in 1870, ten-year-old Adolph Korn was kidnapped by an Apache raiding party. Traded to Comaches, he thrived in the rough, nomadic existence, quickly becoming one of the tribe's fiercest warriors. Forcibly returned to his parents after three years, Korn never adjusted to life in white society. He spent his last years in a cave, all but forgotten by his family.
That is, until Scott Zesch stumbled over his own great-great-great uncle's grave. Determined to understand how such a "good boy" could have become Indianized so completely, Zesch travels across the west, digging through archives, speaking with Comanche elders, and tracking eight other child captives from the region with hauntingly similar experiences. With a historians rigor and a novelists eye, Zesch paints a vivid portrait of life on the Texas frontier, offering a rare account of captivity.
- St. Martin's Press
- Publication date:
- Sold by:
- NOOK Book
- Sales rank:
- File size:
- 984 KB
Read an Excerpt
A True Story of Abduction by Indians on the Texas Frontier
By Scott Zesch
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2004 Scott Zesch
All rights reserved.
New Year's Day
They had no reason to feel afraid when they first saw the three figures on horseback, riding steadily across a distant ridge. Even when the horsemen started heading their way, there was no cause to panic. It was noon, broad daylight. The riders were probably just some neighbors returning home from church. Maybe they were travelers on their way to Fredericksburg. They might be U.S. soldiers or Texas Rangers on patrol. There were many good reasons to believe they weren't Indians. Still, as the riders drew closer, the two miles of riverbank that separated the shepherds from the village seemed like a great expanse.
It hadn't seemed nearly as far that morning, when they'd let the sheep drift upstream. Along the south edge of the Llano River, the herd was greedily ripping up the dry grass. The sheepdog trotted back and forth, keeping the flock from straying. The herders were ten-year-old twin brothers, Adolph and Charlie Korn, with identical broad faces, light flaxen hair, and high foreheads. Adolph had a scar in the middle of his chin. The boys spoke only German.
The hillsides in that region were thick with live oaks, agaritas, and persimmons. The twins kept losing sight of the three horsemen, weaving in and out of the brush. As always, the boys were defenseless. Still, they didn't try to hide; it wasn't their habit to be cautious. Everyone knew that Indians raided on summer evenings when the air was warm and the moon was full, not on a crisp New Year's Day just before a new moon.
The sheep scattered and bleated as the horses galloped into their midst. Adolph was sitting on a log, calmly eating his lunch, when he got his first good look at the three Apache men rushing toward him. Charlie, a short distance away, dove into the bushes and kept quiet. He watched, petrified, as his twin tried to dash for safety. One of the Apaches grabbed Adolph, hit him over the head with a pistol, and hoisted him onto his horse.
Then the Apaches disappeared into the brush like phantoms, as silently as they had come. It was over and done with so quickly that it didn't seem real. The sheep went back to grazing, as if nothing had happened. As if Charlie Korn still had a twin brother.
Those three Apaches dealt my ancestors the hardest blow of their lives on that first day of 1870. My uncle Adolph's capture was the worst and last in a series of disasters his family withstood during their ten-year bout with the Texas frontier. They'd come to this hard, wild country by choice, and their decision turned out to be a poor one.
Grandpa Korn should have stayed in San Antonio, where his family was safe and modestly prosperous. My great-great-great-grandfather was a gentle soul, an immigrant candy maker who loved to host dances and German songfests and play Santa Claus at Christmas. A small, wiry man with large eyes and heavy eyebrows, he walked around the plazas of San Antonio with sweets in his pocket, ready to offer them to his pupils from the Methodist Sunday school. Never very strong, Grandpa Korn had weighed just over three pounds at birth and grew to a height of only five feet three inches. He wasn't cut out for life on the frontier.
Still, he felt the lure of the unspoiled wilderness a hundred miles northwest of San Antonio. His friends told him about the bountiful rivers and springs, the ample grazing land for cattle, the gently sloping hills covered with sturdy oaks and flowering yuccas. Hardly anyone lived there: just a handful of fellow German immigrants and a few soldiers and some drifters from the southeastern states. Grandpa decided to give the ranching business a try.
For all its delicate beauty, the Texas Hill Country is an unexpectedly harsh land. Rainfall is erratic, and the area is prone to drought. Cattle that are round-bellied and healthy during the spring, when the countryside is flowering with bluebonnets, wine-cups, and red Indian blankets, may be wasting away by the end of summer. Mesquites, junipers, and prickly pear spread uncontrollably, draining the shallow aquifer and choking out the native grasses. Bold outcroppings of limestone and granite give the landscape its rugged appeal; but that same rock also underlies the fragile topsoil, waiting to crack the blade of a plow. Grandpa Korn didn't know about that. He was thinking of the money he would make from raising and selling beef cattle. The U.S. Army needed to supply its frontier forts, and the urban markets in Texas and beyond were expanding.
Most of his experience had been in trade, not agriculture. Grandpa Korn — his full name was Louis Jacob Korn — had lived in America twenty-four years before he came to the Hill Country. He'd left his home in Meissenheim, Germany, at the age of nineteen and arrived in New York in 1836. Like many immigrants, he moved around a lot, looking for better opportunities. In 1839 he relocated to New Orleans, then left Louisiana for Texas in 1845. For a few years, he tried farming near New Braunfels, a German-American enclave northeast of San Antonio. He also went into business as a confectioner, and that seemed to suit him. By 1848, at age thirty-one, he was doing well enough to marry Friedrika Grote, a neighbor. Over the next nine years, they had five children.
In the mid-1850s, Grandpa moved his family to San Antonio, where the market for his candies and pastries was larger. It was a good time to be living there. During that decade, San Antonio temporarily eclipsed Galveston to become the largest, most vibrant city in Texas. Businesses flourished, soldiers and traders came and went, and smart new buildings sprang up every month. Grandpa Korn opened his confectionery shop on Market Street, just east of Plaza de las Islas (Main Plaza). His specialty was elaborately decorated wedding cakes, which he displayed in the front window. Louis and Friedrika Korn's children played hide-and-seek in the ruins of the Alamo.
In 1858 Friedrika died unexpectedly of a fever, leaving Grandpa with five children under the age of ten. He needed help, and he found a new partner who was just as needy. Less than a year after my great-great-great-grandmother's death, Grandpa Korn married Johanna Bartruff, a recently widowed immigrant from Germany. She was twenty-one, exactly half his age. Grandpa also adopted her three-month-old twins, Charlie and Adolph.
Louis and Johanna Korn's amalgamated family numbered nine by the time they set out for the Hill Country in the latter part of 1860, and their spirits were high. They awoke each morning to see a light frost on the tall, brown grass and a misty blue haze over the hills ahead. They had every reason to believe that after a few years of hard work and sacrifice, they'd be cattle barons. The nation had just elected a controversial new president, Abraham Lincoln, and South Carolina was threatening to break away from the United States, but that wasn't likely to have much impact on people out in the hinterland.
The Korns established their new home on the eastern edge of Mason County, near the German-American settlement of Castell. They weren't one of the first families there; Castell and its founders had already survived thirteen winters by 1860. The Korns arrived to find a close-knit, orderly community of 137 people whose homes were nestled among the sprawling oaks and native pecan trees. The Llano River was wide and shallow, its clear water pouring over low ledges and swirling around gray and pink rock islands. Ten-acre farm plots with log cabins — what passed for civilization in that remote out-post — already lined the grassy lowland along the north bank of the river. The Korns became members of Castell's Methodist church, the only other token of civilized life in the area.
Although the children of Castell grew up in an idyllic natural setting, everyday life was far from utopian. The older Korn children, accustomed to the relative comfort and urbanity of San Antonio, must have been appalled by their new living conditions. "People living now as we had to live then would be looked on as mighty sorry white trash," declared my granny Hey. She was ten years old when the Korn family arrived in Castell.
Popular culture, especially western movies, has tended to elevate the living standards of settlers on the Texas frontier during the 1860s. In John Ford's The Searchers, for instance, the pioneer family lives in a rustic but comfortable house of several rooms. Its wood-plank floors are covered by woven rugs. The glass windows are curtained. The family eats substantial meals off elegant Blue Willow china neatly laid out on a long, polished table, with plenty of spare dishes on the shelves. Their clothes are tidy and look barely worn. A rocker and a padded armchair wait invitingly beside the fire. On the mantel of the broad fireplace sits a kerosene lamp and a handsome clock.
A typical house in Castell during the 1860s would have looked nothing like that. The immigrants' dwellings were crude log cabins of one or two rooms. The walls never quite fended off the strong gales of a winter norther; however, they did manage to trap the one-hundred-plus-degree heat of August. The floors were hard-packed dirt. No matter how many times a housewife swept them, they still wouldn't seem clean. The thatched roofs leaked. The windows had no screens or glass, only shutters. During the daytime, a person could either leave them open and risk an invasion of grasshoppers, wasps, and mosquitoes, or close them and sweat in a dark room. Cooking was done over an open fire, either in the fireplace, if the family was fortunate enough to have one and the weather wasn't sweltering, or else outside the cabin. At night the only source of light was a twisted rag dipped in tallow and set on a tin plate. It was barely enough to read by; but that didn't matter, because there was hardly anything to read, except the family Bible and maybe an almanac. Most of the children were illiterate, anyway.
The settlers around Castell supplemented their simple diets with whatever they could take off the land: deer, turkey, rabbits, wild plums and grapes, persimmons, even prickly pear apples and weeds. Occasionally, the native plants they ate turned out to be poisonous, making them seriously ill. They didn't do much canning or preserving to store food for the winter, because they didn't have jars. They rarely got wheat flour for bread, and they were desperate for corn. Any time U.S. soldiers camped nearby, the locals scoured the ground afterward for corn their horses might have left uneaten. They also tried to keep a little whiskey on hand to trade the soldiers for grain. "It was a 'lucky' that could afford corn bread, black molasses, bacon and beans six days in the week and biscuits for dinner on Sunday," said Granny Hey. The children dreaded the arrival of visitors during the Sunday meal, because they had to wait and eat at the second table.
Money was scarce. Sometimes the men of Castell left home to take odd jobs such as splitting rails, leaving their wives and children to fend for themselves. As Granny Hey recalled, "Many of the Germans who later became wealthy would work twelve hours a day for fifty cents, and save thirty-five cents of it." Even when the settlers had money, there wasn't much food for sale.
The Korn children didn't attend school — there wasn't any. Sometimes a teacher would attempt to hold classes for a few days or weeks at one of the settlers' houses. Usually, however, the children were needed at home. Like the adults, the youngsters spent almost every day carrying out tedious and repetitive chores. Johanna Korn often told her stepdaughters, "I hope you poor children won't have to work and live as hard as we women have to work and live." She seemed to overlook the fact that they already did. Granny Hey and her sisters hauled water, gathered firewood, milked cows, ground corn (or acorns when there was no corn), herded livestock, made soap, sewed, and washed clothes. The laundry list wasn't extensive; each family member had only about two suits of clothing, made of coarse cotton fabric or deerskin. The kids had no shoes. Their feet and arms itched from frequent brushes with stinging nettle, cat's-claw, and thistles. As they went about their work, they had to watch out for diamondback rattlesnakes along the sandstone ledges and cottonmouth moccasins in the river bottom.
It soon became obvious to Grandpa Korn that Castell wasn't quite the paradise he had envisioned. Yet perhaps, at the end of the day, in the tranquil moments just before dark, Grandpa paused from his hard labor to watch a fiery sunset over the Llano River, observe a skittish whitetail deer at its evening watering, or listen to a bobwhite quail signaling its mate, and thought to himself: Maybe this wasn't a mistake. Stop thinking about San Antonio, New Orleans, New York. This is home now. Somehow, he was going to make it tolerable.
Then everything fell apart. Grandpa Korn had invested $1,200 in cattle — his life savings, plus all of the proceeds from the sale of his confectionery in San Antonio. According to Granny Hey, he "never got one dollar back." It's hard to account for the Korns' complete failure in the cattle business, though the outbreak of the Civil War only a few months after they arrived in Castell must have been a factor. Cattlemen in Confederate Texas had lost their single biggest consumer, the federal army. None of the ranchers in the Hill Country could get reliable information about where and when to sell their livestock; mail arrived once a week at most. Another factor may have accelerated the family's downward slide: the Korns were city folk with little experience raising livestock. The grazing land was unfenced; some of their wild cows strayed and never returned, or were stolen by rustlers or Indians.
Living conditions plummeted during the Civil War, even though Mason County was far from the battlefronts. Even basic foodstuffs were hard to come by. "We had to eat careless weeds and lambsquarter," Granny Hey remembered. "Supper for us children was usually a bowl of mush without milk or cream." The Korns were desperate. They had to try another line of work, and quickly, even at the cost of their self-respect. In a land where a man's status was measured by the head of cattle he owned, Grandpa Korn was soon reduced to raising sheep. What's worse, the smelly, thickheaded animals didn't even belong to him. Louis Korn merely tended the sheep for their owner in exchange for part of the profits.
In search of new grazing land for the sheep, the Korn family left their home in Castell late in 1862 for the hardscrabble country of theSaline Valley, west of Mason. They brought with them the few milk cows they'd managed to keep for household use. Sometimes the family camped out with the sheep. Whenever they stopped in one place for a few months, they put up a makeshift shanty.
As Granny would say: like mighty sorry white trash.
The countryside in the Saline Valley was much rougher and less hospitable than Castell. The hills dropped off suddenly in craggy precipices rather than gentle slopes. Tough, scraggly junipers and daggerlike sotol plants dotted the ridges. The soil was stony, the cliffs a pale yellow caliche. Whereas the families of Castell lived close together, the settlers of Saline were widely dispersed. Some of their cabins were six or seven miles apart — ideal targets for Indian raiders. Indian attacks had increased in the region, for Fort Mason and the other federal army posts on the frontier were left in disarray once the nation split apart.
Unlike Castell, Saline had only a handful of German-American residents. The Korns settled three miles east of the farm of Grandpa's friend, Adolph A. Reichenau, a German immigrant who had moved to Saline from Castell a short time earlier to run cattle. Reichenau, with his heavy dark beard and blue eyes, was a rough-hewn, hardy adventurer who'd served as a soldier and Texas Ranger. As soon as the Korns saw the Reichenaus' compound, they knew what they could expect in the Saline Valley. The two-room log cabin was enclosed by a heavy picket fence made of sharpened cedar poles, with small holes cut so they could shoot at attackers. It wasn't a home; it was a fortress.
The Reichenaus weren't overreacting, for the threat of Indian raids was very real. On April 2, 1862, only a few months before the Reichenaus and the Korns arrived, the Saline community had been shocked by a triple murder. When a settler named Felix Hale went to his elderly neighbors' place to return a wash kettle, he found their cabin on fire and feathers from a mattress strewn about the yard. Near the house, he discovered the charred body of Henry Parks, age seventy-seven. His wife, Nancy, seventy-two, had been killed near the cow pen. Along the creek lay the body of their twelve-year-old grandson, Billy. All three had been scalped.
Excerpted from The Captured by Scott Zesch. Copyright © 2004 Scott Zesch. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Scott Zesch grew up in Mason County, Texas and graduated from Texas A&M University and Harvard Law School. He is the author of the novel Alamo Heights, and he is the winner of the Western History Association's Ray Allen Billington Award. He divides his time between New York City and a ranch in Art, Texas (population 3).
Scott Zesch grew up in Mason County, Texas and graduated from Texas A&M University and Harvard Law School. He is the author of a novel Alamo Heights and nonfiction book Captured: A True Story of Abduction by Indians on the Texas Frontier, and he is the winner of the Western History Association's Ray Allen Billington Award. He divides his time between New York City and a ranch in Art, Texas (population 3).
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >