10 Famous Captives of American Indians Who Became One With Their Kidnappers

10 Famous Captives of American Indians Who Became One With Their Kidnappers

Larry Holzwarth - December 23, 2017

The taking of hostages by Native Indian tribes began in the earliest days of white settlement of the Americas. The eastern Indian tribes were motivated by the rewards bestowed upon them by French and English agents, and by the need to replace tribal members lost to disease. Hostages from the settlements were marched to tribal encampments and later taken by the raiding party to be placed, in the case of the French, in the hands of missionaries to negotiate their release. Captives of tribes allied to the British were taken into the custody of English agents for the same purpose. On occasion, captives were retained by their captors for various reasons. Sometimes it was because the captors were impressed with the courage and endurance of their prisoners. Sometimes it was to replace lost family members. Sometimes it was the personal decision of the warrior who made the capture who wished a slave. These captives were indoctrinated and adopted into the tribe.

Daniel Boone survived such a captivity and later escaped; Simon Kenton did the same. Others were eventually rescued during raids on the Indian camps. Often the raiding settlers and militia found captive whites who had been in their new life for so long that they knew no other. These often had to be returned to the white settlements by force, many tried to escape to return to the life with which they were more familiar. Some found the return to the white settlements led them to a life of condemnation and shame.

10 Famous Captives of American Indians Who Became One With Their Kidnappers
The Mohawk Chieftain Thayadanegea, known to the English as Joseph Brant. Wikimedia

Here are some examples of times when it became difficult to separate Native Americans from European Americans.

10 Famous Captives of American Indians Who Became One With Their Kidnappers
A painting by Benjamin West of William Penn and the Lenape agreeing to a treaty in 1682. Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

Mary Campbell

During the height of the French and Indian War, Mary Campbell was a child of ten or twelve years of age (her date of birth is questioned) when the western Pennsylvania settlement where she lived with her family was raided by a party of Lenape (Delaware) warriors in 1758. The details of her abduction are sketchy; it is known that her father survived the raid from a notice which he posted in the Pennsylvania Gazette, asking fellow residents of Pennsylvania to help his daughter find her way home. The same notice claims that Mary’s mother was still alive.

Following the end of the French and Indian War, a confederation of the northwestern tribes – organized by Pontiac – led to engagements with colonial militia. The resulting pressure on Delaware and their allies by Colonel Henry Bouquet led to a meeting at Fort Pitt, during which Bouquet demanded the release of known captives, Mary Campbell among them.

The Lenape society in which Mary spent her early teen years was a matrilineal society, and women commanded respect and, in many cases, reverence. By the time of her release, Mary was of marrying age in Delaware society (and among the English settlements as well) and may well have been married. She was one of a group of 60 captives turned over to Bouquet’s troops, about half of whom resisted being returned to the white settlements.

Bouquet himself documented the desire to remain with the Lenape exhibited by many of the captives returned. He expressed puzzlement at the exhibited reluctance of the rescued to be rescued. The Campbell family oral tradition, to this day, supports the idea that Mary had no desire to return. However, the stories do not explain why, other than that she had been well cared for during her sojourn.

Mary eventually married and had a family, settling in the area of today’s Greene County in western Pennsylvania. She is well known in the areas of eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania where she lived, although many stories which feature her adventures and life among Delaware are undocumented. One such story is that when reunited with her birth family neither recognized the other until Mary heard her mother singing a lullaby to another child, which restored her memory.

10 Famous Captives of American Indians Who Became One With Their Kidnappers
A contemporaneous drawing of a Shawnee attack. Wikipedia

Jonathan Alder

Jonathan Alder was so enamored of life among the natives who captured him as a child, that he joined them as a warrior to fight in battle against Anthony Wayne’s Legion during the Northwest Indian War. He was captured as a child during a raid in which his brother was killed and scalped – a neighbor woman and her child were also taken. Later, annoyed by the neighbor’s child’s cries, the Shawnee raiders killed and scalped the infant as well.

Alder was spared because of the jet-black color of his hair. An elderly Mingo chief and his wife had recently lost their young son, and had told the raiders to keep an eye out for a suitable replacement. The neighbor woman, whose name was Martin, was likewise spared to provide a replacement wife for a man in a nearby village.

Alder may or may not have been forced to run the gauntlet – again, differing sources debate this to modern day. As a youth of about eight years old, it is unlikely he ran a gauntlet manned by Mingo and Shawnee warriors. More likely, he was made to prove his worthiness against other youths of the village. By the late 1780s, he was for, all intents and purposes, a Shawnee, accompanying raiding parties attacking the Ohio Valley settlements. Once, he was offered to be exchanged for a Shawnee prisoner during negotiations with a white trader; he flatly refused.

He took part in the Northwest Indian War, fighting under Blue Jacket. When the Treaty of Greenville ended the war he decided to return to the white settlements, taking with him his recent Shawnee bride. He no longer could speak English beyond a few words, and he and his wife encountered hostility among the white communities where they attempted to reside, leading them to separate.

Through placing advertisements Alder learned of the survival of much of his family in Virginia, and was reunited with them. He remarried a woman he met while visiting his family in Virginia, eventually, they had twelve children together. Alder later served with the American militia during the War of 1812 and became a close friend of Simon Kenton after the war. They entertained each other by telling stories of the many battles in which they had fought on opposing sides.

10 Famous Captives of American Indians Who Became One With Their Kidnappers
Many survivors of the Deerfield Massacre died, either from starvation or murder, on the march to Canada. Wikipedia

Eunice Williams

During the Deerfield Massacre of 1704, the Massachusetts settlement of that name was raided on the night of February 29, by Mohawk and Abenaki warriors. More than fifty settlers were killed in the raid and were it not for the presence of French soldiers and missionaries there would have undoubtedly been more. The French wanted hostages, and forced the seizure of prisoners to be taken to posts near Quebec. Eunice was one hostage, along with her parents and those siblings which survived the attack. The Abenaki killed her mother during the march when she proved unable to keep up in the ice and deep snow.

Eunice was separated from her birth family after the survivors arrived near Quebec, and sent to a Catholic Mohawk village, where she was to be a replacement daughter to a woman who had lost her child to smallpox. In addition to being taught the ways of the Mohawk, the Puritan Eunice was indoctrinated into the catechism of the Catholic Church by French missionaries. Eventually baptized, she took the name Marguerite to supplement her Mohawk name of Waongote.

As the French hoped, though some of the captives were to remain with the Indians, willingly or reluctantly, the English soon entered negotiations to ransom as many as they could. Eunice was a descendant of Reverend Richard Mathers and her father was noted Puritan Minister John Williams, himself a hostage of the French. He attempted several times to negotiate with the Catholic French priests for her release, to no avail.

Once Williams himself was released, through a ransom paid to the French, he tried again to ransom his daughter, even visiting her on at least two occasions. He found to his undoubted dismay that his daughter, then in her mid-teens, was more Mohawk than English, and more Catholic than Protestant. He did not record his views on which was, in his opinion, worse.

When John Williams died in 1741, Eunice visited her birth relatives in Massachusetts, bringing with her an interpreter as by that time she could remember little English, speaking only French and Mohawk. Despite efforts by her surviving family to convince her to come home she never returned to live in the white settlements.

10 Famous Captives of American Indians Who Became One With Their Kidnappers
A model of Fort Duquesne in Pennsylvania, one of the principal outposts from which raids on the frontier were launched. Wikipedia

Mary Jemison

Mary Jemison was born while her Irish parents were aboard a ship en route to the New World in 1743. Upon arrival, the young family, as did many Scots-Irish, went directly west of the largely English settlements on the East Coast, settling in the region of central Pennsylvania on land which was then under the control of the Iroquois.

Their small farm was reasonably prosperous by the time it was raided by Shawnee in 1755, and the Jemison’s and their seven children were captured, along with a neighbor boy. The Shawnee marched their captives west to Fort Duquesne (now Pittsburgh), torturing, killing, and scalping all of Mary’s siblings and both of her parents on the way. Upon arrival at Duquesne Mary was presented to the Seneca, who took her to their own settlement, where she was adopted into the tribe.

Mary remained with the Seneca, marrying a visiting Delaware and bearing a son. Her husband, Sheninjee, then undertook to take his family to his own village near the Genesee River. During the trip, he vanished, likely killed in a hunting accident or by hostile whites, and Mary remained with his family at their village of Little Beard’s Town. She remarried, eventually bearing another six children.

The Seneca fought on the side of the British during the American Revolutionary War, after which they were forced to evacuate their lands. Mary assisted the fledgling United States years later as an interpreter during negotiations which led to the Big Tree Treaty, an agreement between the Seneca and the United States which ceded all the remaining Seneca lands in New York State to the Americans.

In the early 1820s, Mary lived on a tract purchased out of these lands, where she remained until 1831. She retired to the Buffalo Creek Reservation, where she lived the remainder of her days. She died at the age of ninety in 1833, having never returned to the life into which she was born. In Western New York she is remembered as the “White Indian of the Genesee.” There is a memorial statue of her near the home where she was taken by the Shawnee in Adams County, Pennsylvania.

10 Famous Captives of American Indians Who Became One With Their Kidnappers
A Comanche warrior in camp. A post with drying scalps is behind him. Smithsonian

John Parker

Fort Parker was established by the headwaters of the Navasota River in 1834 by the extensive Parker clan and other families intent on leaving Illinois and settling in Texas, at the time a province of Mexico. John Parker was born there that year. Two years later the fort and settlement were attacked by Comanche, who took several captives, among them young John, who was adopted into the Comanche. The Comanche often took women as captives for the purpose of bearing children. Children were taken into the tribe either to become fighters or to be raised into women bearing slaves.

Parker was raised by a Comanche, learning to hunt, fish, and ride. When one of the women with whom Parker was captured gave birth, the Comanche killed the infant, claiming that the need to care for it distracted the woman from her other duties. The woman, Rachel Plummer, later wrote a book about her experiences as a prisoner of the Comanche, Rachel Plummer’s Narrative of 21 Months‘ Servitude as a Prisoner Among the Comanche Indians.

John Parker was ransomed in 1842 and returned to the settlements. In short order he demonstrated he was unable to adapt to the restrictions in “civilized” society, even one as coarse as the settlements of mid-19th century Texas. Parker soon escaped the shackles of the white settlements and made his way back to the Comanche, where he continued to live with them as one of the tribe.

Comanche raids, on other tribes and on the settlements of Americans and Mexicans, were frequent and often of a rogue nature, usually to obtain horses or other livestock. Parker participated in these, as did all young male Comanche, as a way of establishing their courage and their manhood. During one raiding trip Parker was stricken with smallpox; his companions, recognizing the symptoms and fearing the disease, abandoned him on the trail, leaving behind a recently captured Mexican girl to care for him.

After recovering he returned the girl to her family in Mexico. After discovering that the family was moderately wealthy he married her. He later served with the Confederate Army during the Civil War, eventually retiring to his large Mexican estate and ranch, where he died in 1915.

10 Famous Captives of American Indians Who Became One With Their Kidnappers
Photograph of Cynthia Ann Parker with her daughter, taken between 1860-61. Wikipedia

Cynthia Ann Parker

Cynthia was an older sister of John Parker, captured in the same raid as her brother, at the age of about ten (though possibly as young as eight or as old as twelve). She remained with the Comanche for nearly two and a half decades. She married and bore three children, one of whom would become the Comanche Chief Quanah Parker – the last Comanche chieftain of their days of freedom from the reservation.

After being captured she was given to a married Comanche couple who raised her as their daughter, and when of age she married Pete Noconah. In Comanche culture men, especially chieftains like Noconah often, if not usually, took several wives. It is a testament to their marriage that Pete Noconah did not, and Cynthia was soon a Comanche in every way possible besides birth.

In 1860 she was found and retaken by Texas raiders, who killed Noconah, and Cynthia was discovered to have blue eyes. During questioning, she revealed what she remembered of the Fort Parker massacre, where she had been captured by the Comanche, and it was determined that she was Cynthia Ann Parker. She was returned to her birth family to nationwide acclaim.

Texas granted her a ranch and a pension and she was accepted, at least superficially, as a full-fledged member of the white community, although she did not fully give up her Comanche ways. She became the subject of much speculation and attention from eastern writers, who published her story with embellishments for much of the rest of her life.

She died in 1871, having never fully adjusted to her life away from the Comanche, and her son Quanah later had her body moved from its original site in Anderson County, Texas to one near Cache, Oklahoma. He was buried alongside her upon his death, and both bodies were later moved to Fort Sill. Cynthia was the inspiration for the novel and later film, The Searchers, which were loosely based on the more than two-decade search by her relatives and the Texas Rangers to find her.

10 Famous Captives of American Indians Who Became One With Their Kidnappers
A Kiowa-Apache named Essa-Queta. The Apache were feared warriors and horsemen. Wikimedia

Herman Lehmann

Herman Lehmann lived with two American Indian tribes in his years of captivity, first the Apache who captured him, and later the Comanche after killing an Apache in an act of vengeance. Born in Texas, Herman was about eleven years old when he and his younger brother were captured by an Apache raiding party. While they were taking their prisoners back to their village, the Apache convinced young Herman that the remainder of his family had been killed in the raid.

With his family dead Herman had little reason to escape, and remained with the Apache for the next six years, known to the Apache as White Boy. During this time he participates in several battles against American troops and Texas Rangers, as well as raids on settlements to capture livestock, horses, and hostages. In 1876 his mentor and chieftain was killed by an Apache medicine man and Herman, after killing the medicine man, fled to avoid the vengeance of other Apache warriors.

For somewhere between a year and a year and a half, Herman lived alone in the wilderness before aligning himself with a roving band of Comanche. The suspicious Comanche at first marked Herman for torture and killing before he managed to explain his history, which was confirmed by other members of the group.

Herman was with the Comanche when their chieftain, Quanah Parker, agreed with the US Government that the tribe would be relocated to the Fort Sill Kiowa-Comanche Reservation. At first refusing to go, Herman eventually settled there with Quanah Parker’s family, and was there when he was identified by the US Army and returned to his surviving family in 1878. He was initially unhappy living with his family and white civilization, refusing to sleep except on a floor or outdoors, and hesitant to tell of his experiences with both tribes.

He considered himself to be an Indian, saying, “I was an Indian, and I did not like them because they were palefaces,” in reference to his mother and family. Eventually he wrote and later issued a second edition of an autobiography which was entitled Nine Years Among the Indians. He died in 1932.

10 Famous Captives of American Indians Who Became One With Their Kidnappers
Three Kiowa warriors around the turn of the 20th century. The Kiowa made war against other tribes and the whites indiscriminately. Boston Public Library


Tehan was captured as a young child, probably around the age of five, by the Kiowa Indians and raised into their tribe. Who he was and the circumstances of his capture are both areas of speculation among historians. He was likely born in the mid-1850s either by the Kiowa or another tribe and later traded or sold to the Kiowa.

By the time he was a young man, he was a fully-fledged Kiowa warrior, known as Tehan, which is the Kiowa pronunciation for the area known as Texas. It is likely he was captured by settlers traveling to that destination, with none of the remaining party surviving the raid. He was raised under the tutelage of the medicine man Maman-ti, and committed multiple attacks on white settlers leading up to the Red River War, in which he fought.

He was captured (some say he surrendered in order to return to white society, which seems doubtful) and held prisoner. Kiowa scouts looking for him and other members of his party besieged a supply train supporting the American troops, allowing him to escape. The Kiowa had fortified a position in which Tehan and others now awaited the next move of the troops.

A leader named Big Bow was believed by military leaders to have been the leader of some of the most vicious Kiowa raids. Both Big Bow was aware that Tehan knew of his activities, and was since he was white and thus potentially disloyal, Big Bow killed Tehan in 1875, in order to help keep the magnitude of his crimes secret. At least that was Big Bow’s story. He later told another in which Tehan died of thirst trying to cross the desert alone.

Another story is that Tehan was actually an ordained minister named Griffis, a claim made by the minister himself, with little evidence to support it. The good minister embellished his claim by claiming to have been freed from Kiowa custody by Custer’s attack on Washita Creek. One explanation made by some historians is given the nature of his name, there may have been more than one white captive who fought with the natives under the name Tehan.

10 Famous Captives of American Indians Who Became One With Their Kidnappers
The Legion of the United States prepares to attack at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. History.com

Blue Jacket

Historian Allan Eckert published several historical novels of the Ohio River Valley and the personages made famous there, including Simon Kenton, Tecumseh, Cornplanter, Blue Jacket, Little Turtle, Pontiac, and many more. Heavily footnoted and with copious informational notes for each chapter provided, many have long regarded these books (and later films and stageplays) as definitive sources for the history of the region over a period of decades.

In these works and in a long-running summer outdoor drama, the Shawnee war chief Blue Jacket occupies a pivotal role. Blue Jacket was a leader of a confederation of the Northwestern Tribes which preceded that of Tecumseh, and a leading figure of the Northwest Indian War. Eckert presented Blue Jacket as an Englishman named Van Swearingen, captured, adopted, and raised by the Shawnee before the Revolutionary War, growing up to be a formidable war leader and fighter.

Blue Jacket was a formidable war chief, but the theory that he was a captured white settler of any nation is a stretch. There is historical documentation for Van Swearingen, but he was many years younger than the historical Blue Jacket when he appeared on the scene. There is also a distinct absence of contemporaneous historical data which makes reference to Blue Jacket being of English descent. No English documents refer to him as a renegade or a half-breed, which they certainly would have given the charged racial attitudes of the day were it known.

The support for the theory remained until the early 2000s, when DNA testing seemingly disproved it forever, despite many continuing references to the Shawnee warrior and chieftain on websites and library shelves as a white man.

There were many captives who were raised by and fought for their captors, from the earliest days of the colonial settlements until the end of the Indian Wars in North America. But there is little likelihood that Blue Jacket was one of them.

10 Famous Captives of American Indians Who Became One With Their Kidnappers
William Weatherford, as Red Eagle, surrenders to General Andrew Jackson. They remained lifelong friends. Library of Congress

William Weatherford

William Weatherford was not adopted into the Creek tribe which largely raised him. He was born into it, the son of a local Scot’s trader named Charles Weatherford and a Creek daughter of a powerful chieftain. The Creeks were a matrilineal society, with women responsible for the upbringing of children and thus held in high esteem as they were responsible for the preservation of Creek society. William interacted with both the local residents of European descent, to whom he was known as Billy, and with the Creeks who called him Red Eagle.

As Red Eagle, he became leading war chief of the Creeks in his own right, and one of the protagonists of the Creek war with the United States, a theater of the War of 1812. The Creeks had by then largely been split into two factions, one assimilated into the American culture (called the lower Creeks), the other opposing the lower Creeks and their American allies, called Red Sticks. Red Eagle associated with and was a leader of the Red Sticks.

At Ft. Mims the Red Sticks massacred the lower Creeks and American settlers and militia. Later they were attacked in their fortified encampment by American troops at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, where Andrew Jackson and Sam Houston both led American troops (Houston was a young lieutenant and suffered grisly wounds) and the Creeks were routed. Red Eagle fled to Florida with the Seminole for a time, before surrendering to Jackson at Fort Jackson, under the name William Weatherford.

Jackson recognized the obvious usefulness of Weatherford/Red Eagle to both sides, and compelled him to help negotiate the treaty which ended the Creek War, and which retained a portion of the Creek lands. Weatherford was allowed to retire to his own lands, which he did, with his third wife and children. All of his marriages had been interracial.

For the rest of his life, Red Eagle lived as William Weatherford, working a plantation which grew tobacco, cotton, and other crops, in what became Mississippi. He maintained a correspondence with Andrew Jackson, whom he visited at the Hermitage, where they discussed their mutual interests in race horses and slaves. There is ample evidence that they expressed their views regarding the proper nutrition for both. Weatherford died in 1824, five years before Jackson became president.


Keep Reading:

New England Historical Society – Eunice Williams, The Unredeemed Captive

Medium – Nine Years a Captive — the Story of Herman Lehmann

History Collection – The Little Known History of American Indians during the Civil War