The practice of captive-taking among North American Indians goes back to prehistoric times. Centuries before white men came to these shores, captives were taken from neighboring tribes to replenish losses suffered in warfare or to obtain victims to torture in the spirit of revenge. When warfare developed between Europeans and Indians, white captives were taken for the same reasons and, in addition, to hold for ransom or to use to gain bargaining power with an allied European government or colony.
The earliest European captives in Texas were Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and three companions, survivors of the expedition of Pánfilo de Narváez in 1528. Though these conquistadors used their skills as medicine men to escape from captivity, during the next three centuries numerous Spanish and Mexican captives remained many years in the camps of Apache, Comanche, Kiowa, and Wichita raiders. During the succeeding half century after Indian warfare broke out with whites in the 1830s, many settlers underwent Indian captivity.
The life of a captive was fraught with perils and hardships. Survival frequently depended upon the whim of the captor and the fortitude displayed by the captive. Mature males who fell into Indian hands were considered to have forfeited their lives. Captive white women in Texas, as in much of the territory west of the Mississippi River, were usually compelled to serve their captors as concubines and menials (the roles of most Indian women). Their ordeals frequently led to early deaths, before or after redemption. The experiences of Rachel Plummer and Sarah Ann Horn dramatically illustrate the horrors of female captivity among the Plains Indians. Abuse of captive women, however, was by no means universal. Some women, though subservient to their captors, were treated with unexpected respect.
Indian raiders killed captive children who lagged behind when the Indians were pursued. Children who arrived safely at the Indian village, however, usually were adopted as replacements for deceased relatives and thereafter treated as true sons or daughters. Many of these youngsters enjoyed the wild, free life of the Indians and became so completely assimilated that they resisted attempts to redeem them. Some youths became fierce warriors who raided the settlements. Among the most formidable "white Indians" were Clinton and Jeff Smith, Herman Lehmann, Adolph Korn, Rudolph Fischer, and Kiowa Dutch.
White girls captured before the age of puberty usually became assimilated and married chiefs or warriors. The most famous of these, Cynthia Ann Parker, married the Comanche chief Peta Nocona and became the mother of Quanah Parker, last war chief of the tribe. When recaptured by Lawrence Sullivan Ross in 1860 and reunited with her relatives, she tried to run away to her Indian family. Millie Durgan lived happily to old age as the wife of a Kiowa warrior. On the other hand, girls taken at childbearing age hated their captors and sometimes risked their lives to escape. Martina Díaz, one of many captives redeemed by the Indian agent Lawrie Tatum, hid in his house from threatening warriors. Matilda Lockhart, thirteen years old when captured and treated brutally by the Comanches, precipitated the Council House Fight in San Antonio in 1840 when she accused the Indians of hiding other captives.
Many Texas captives were rescued or ransomed by relatives, Texas Rangers, soldiers, Indian agents, or traders. Britton Johnson, a black rancher, traded goods for his own wife and children, the sister of Millie Durgan, and several other captives. Sam Houston purchased Mrs. Elizabeth Kellogg, seized in the Comanche raid on Fort Parker in 1836, from friendly Delaware Indians. Two young boys taken in the same raid, John Parker and James Plummer, were ransomed by Gen. Zachary Taylor in 1842. Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston rescued Rebecca Jane Fisher and her brother, William Gilleland, captured by Comanches who killed their parents near Refugio in 1842. Sul Ross redeemed a young white girl in 1858 during an attack on a Comanche village. She had forgotten her name, and her identity was never established. She was raised as a member of his family and given the name Lizzie Ross.
When the Comanches and Kiowas were driven onto reservations north of the Red River and compelled to release their prisoners, many captives had become so completely assimilated that they chose to remain with their captors. Most of these had married Indians, and it is estimated that 30 percent of Apaches, Comanches, and Kiowas had captive blood in their veins.