In Paulette Jiles’ book News of the World, Captain Kidd is in Wichita Falls, Texas, five years after the end of the Civil War, and Texas is in the midst of political upheaval. The Indians are still actively raiding travelers and communities whenever they feel that they need threats to help with treaty negotiations. Captain Kidd is a retired soldier and a printer/journalist forced out of business by the economy and then by the war. His great love of news has stayed with him through all the chaos of recent years. He is a lover of geography, literacy, and all human events in this world.
He has decided to earn his way in the world, now that his wife is dead and his two daughters are grown, by traveling to towns and small cities throughout the west, where newspapers are just about as scarce as readers, holding meetings to read out the “news of the world”. He avoids politics in these contentious times. He likes to read about exotic locations and interesting tidbits from lands people have heard of but will probably never travel to. He gives people a chance to escape the verbal battles that rage around them and marvel that other people live such odd lives and are, perhaps, unluckier than they are. People pay a dime to attend this somewhat cerebral entertainment.
In Wichita Falls he runs into an old acquaintance who works as a freighter, moving merchandise by wagon from a buyer to a seller, or vice versa. His friend Britt, it turns out, has been paid 50 dollars in gold to return a white girl, kidnapped by the Kiowa tribe when she was 3 to her Aunt and Uncle near San Antonio. His friend begs him to take this girl off his hands. Texas is a very big state and San Antonio is far out of Britt’s way. He will lose a lot of money if he takes her all the way home. He will give the gold to Captain Kidd.
“She seemed to be about ten years old, dressed in the horse Indians’ manner in a deerskin shift with four rows of elk teeth sewn across the front. A thick blanket was pulled over her shoulders. Her hair was the color of maple sugar and in it she wore two down puffs bound onto a lock of her hair by their minute spines and also bound with a thin thread was a wing feather from a golden eagle slanting between them. She sat perfectly composed, wearing the feather and a necklace of glass beads as if they were costly adornments. … She had no more expression than an egg.”
Now Captain Kidd does not in any way want to undertake this task. It is the rainy season and rivers are rising and he would have to cross several to get this child to San Antonio. Texas is relatively lawless and there could be bandits on the road. But he is the father of two daughters. And so we have a journey tale as this good man reluctantly undertakes the responsibility to get this child to all of the family she has left, people she does not even know. What happens on that journey, watching these two bond, is a sweet story and sometimes I do love a sweet story.
The author, Paulette Jiles, became interested in stories of children who were kidnapped by the Indians because they gave up their European heritage so easily and they were never happy to give up their second-hand Indian heritage. What was it about life with the tribes which gave children such a feeling of satisfaction and belonging even though it began as a harrowing and totally foreign experience? Of course we will probably never know the answer to this but there is still a part of us all that thinks that Native Americans or Indigenous People, or whatever the politically correct term is today, had a knack for living lightly on the earth and a natural social order which served most of them very well.
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