Tag Archives: Manifest Destiny

The Vengeance of Mothers

One Thousand White Women, the first book in a three part series, was published in 1998 and received mixed reviews. Some thought it was too raw to accept and others found it possible that the history was the un-sanitized version of the US patriarchal culture. The book series is  written in journal format. I loved White Women; although it was violent and tough to read in parts.

The historical fiction series is set in the wild West of 1875. The United States government enacted plans to clear the path for “Manifest Destiny”, the belief that God wills democracy and capitalism to expand westward to the Pacific. As we all know -the native peoples and the open range stood in their way.

The Cheyenne hope to find a way to co-exist with the white men by merging cultures and offer to marry white women. The US government set up a clandestine project, Brides for Indians (BFI) with the intent that the women would “civilize” and teach English to the heathens. Volunteers brides from insane asylums and prisons, women whose crimes generally defined by men, were sent westward. White Women is written as the journal of May Dodd.

The women came to love native life; even with its hardships and dangers. The book ends with a dead-of-night murderous raid by US Infantry on the Cheyenne Indian village setting the stage for the second book, Vengeance of Mothers.

9 March 1876
My name is Meggie Kelly and I take up this pencil with my twin sister, Susie. We have nothing left, less than nothing. The village of our People has been destroyed, all our possessions burned, our friends butchered by the soldiers, our baby daughters gone, frozen to death on an ungodly trek across these rocky mountains .  .  .

 Vengeance of Mothers finds the survivors of the murderous raid racing into the mountains in the dead of night in the cold brutal winter weather; most barefoot wearing nothing more than their bedclothes. In the first book, we followed the lives of these white brides as they assimilated into native life by reading May Dodd’s journal. In this sequel, we learn that May and her journal did not survive the raid.

The few surviving brides include the fiery red-headed Irish twins, Meggie and Susie Kelly. These intrepid women begin journaling, like May Dodd, with the hopes that their words will survive and the world would not forget them and the other “brides” and mothers. These unwanted castoffs from the white man’s world, now find themselves entangled in the murderous struggle to clear the land of indigenous peoples for the westward advancement of white culture.

The graphic raids on the native villages will break the reader’s heart. The strength of the native peoples to keep trying to maintain their culture is admirable. The depth of depravity at the heart of the United States government’s plan to eradicate a culture, viewed as inferior and uncivilized, is despicable. And the brutal and horrifying actions of the mothers of all tribes to the loss of their beloved children and other family at the hands of the US military is understandable.

As the vanquished mothers are often quoted, “… do not underestimate the wrath of a mother’s vengeance. It is only that which keeps us alive, don’t ya see? We will stay here and fight to the end, because what else is there to do?” 

The book is not for the squeamish. I found myself turning away for relief at the times. Always I returned as I felt I owed it to the memory of all women who have been pressed under the power of a patriarchal society.

Strongheart, the final installment to the One Thousand White Women trilogy, will be published April of 2021.

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COLOR of LIGHTNING: a novel

VIOLENCE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT

 

North Texas was a good place to be a black man; slave or free, they were all expected to carry arms… a person could pretty well do what he liked and he could be whatever he took a mind to as long as he had a strong back and a good aim.

 

Color of Lightning, published seven years before the bestseller, News of the World,  illuminates the untamed frontier with its Indian raids, legions of wagon trains determined to settle the land, and the heavy presence of military forts to enforce taibo or “white man’s” laws on the indigenous peoples. 

This is not a made-for-TV setting with the good guys in white hats and the bad guys in face-paint and feathers. It is a graphically violent story of two cultures; one struggling to maintain centuries old traditions and the other determined to expand and subjugate the earth and native populations. The book is heavy with emotion and should be read with an eye to each side’s perspective.

In the real-world of 1860’s west Texas lived a newly freed slave, Britton “Britt” Johnson and his wife, Mary. The Johnsons built a home in a settlement along Elm Creek, not far from the Brazos River, and about 10 miles from Fort Belknap. It was a peaceful place with nice neighbors and a promise of new life. The smart and enterprising, Britt, soon established a successful freight wagon business serving the civilian and military communities.

October 13, 1864, Britt Johnson was away buying supplies when over six-hundred Kiowa and Comanche Indians made a murderous raid along Elm Creek. Britt’s wife, Mary and two of their children, Rube and Cherry were among those captured. Britt’s oldest son, Jim, was murdered. The specific details of Mary, Rube and Cherry’s rescue by Britt do vary but his valiant efforts and success are without question.

Through the author’s imagination, Britt is brought to life; a man’s man- proud, brave, courageous, fearless- strong in will, dangerous to his enemies and tender in heart to those in need of compassion and understanding- and capable of mistakes.

We ride alongside Britt as he sets out to rescue his family, making an unlikely friend along the way with a temporary outcast Comanche named Tissoyo. We feel the freedom of riding alone in the unfettered  land and smell the danger that lies in every shadow and thicket.

Our hearts break as we follow behind Mary Johnson and Elizabeth Fitzgerald as they are force marched to faraway Indian villages, suffering unprovoked violence, starvation, and inhumane living conditions. We yearn to offer support as they fight to survive; working long painful hours in the daily rigors of subsistence life with rudimentary tools and ingenuity. We feel each mother’s pain as their children are adopted by tribal families; enchanted by the simple lifestyle, the loving attention and for Britt’s son, Jube, the sense of belonging and power as a warrior. 

Meanwhile, Samuel Hammond, the newly appointed Indian agent, arrives in Texas, armed with good intentions and deep spiritual convictions. The newly redesigned Indian Bureau has turned over management of the frontier to various religious denominations. The Quakers have been given control of  Comanche and Kiowa-Apache territory. Sure of his God and sure of his mission, Samuel forbids armed guards to be present when distributing monthly rations of food and supplies fulfilling the agreement of a recent peace treaty. The efforts to force the tribes into submission with garden tools, calico and Bibles fail; the natives determined to maintain their territory, independence, and freedoms to their last breath. Samuel becomes entangled in the orders from his religious leaders to avoid violence and the reality that religious conversion will not happen, that war is inevitable, and that force is the only way to destroy the will of the tribes.

Samuel looked all about himself on the bare plains and thought what a miracle of endurance it was to live like this solely on God’s bounty, on whatever came to hand, in this sere country… People of great courage and fortitude, born with an unsatisfied wanderlust… And he must bring this to an end. That was his job. That was why he was here.

The Comanche and Kiowa leaders and warriors -unduly cruel, seemingly heartless, devoid of civilized morality, and terrifying to behold – are justifiably distrustful of the “Americans” and their threadbare peace treaties and broken promises.The tribes are caught between worlds; one world, that of the past, with no borders or boundaries, free to follow the seasons and the new world with its imaginary borders, fenced in properties, and self-centered landholders. The new people have brought deadly illnesses like smallpox that have decimated their ranks. The majestic buffalo, a vital resource, are being hunted to near extinction. What choice do they have but to rail against an enemy intruder?

Tissoyo said they were near the estado of Colorado… What is an estado?
The name of a place.
There is supposed to be a line nobody can see.
That’s right.
How do you make a line if it can’t be seen?
It’s only on paper.
You never know what the taibo will think of.

THOUGHTS

The book struggles a bit in the beginning but once the characters reach the panorama of Texas it takes off.

Samuel’s story is the weakest link. His character is naive and it is no surprise the tribes have no respect for him.

The unvarnished descriptions of the gang rapes, unwarranted brutality, and dehumanizing murders, necessary to authenticity, led me to the Rolaids bottle more than once.

I was most affected by the inability of some captives to return to their old life, forced by circumstance to be forever stuck between worlds.

And ending on the beauty of the author’s writing and the peace that solitude on the plains can bring, I leave you with an early morning view from horseback.

There are no mornings anywhere like mornings in Texas, before the heat of the day, the world suspended as if it were early morning in paradise and fading stars like night watchman walking the periphery of darkness and call out that all is well.

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