Wilson, Jane Adeline Smith (1837–unknown)

By: Sherilyn Brandenstein

Type: Biography

Published: August 1, 1995

Updated: March 21, 2017

Jane A. Smith Wilson, Comanche Indian captive, was born on June 12, 1837, in Alton, Illinois, to William and Jane (Cox) Smith. Her family moved to Lamar County, Texas, in 1846. In February 1853 the fifteen-year-old Jane Smith married James Wilson, a young farmer who lived nearby. Two months later the couple and James Wilson's relatives joined a caravan traveling to the California goldfields. When their party stopped in El Paso del Norte, the Wilson family decided to stay in the vicinity to await the next wagon headed west. While they were camped near Ysleta in late July most of their property was stolen, including many cattle. Wilson and his father responded by taking cattle from the Ysleta Pueblo Indians nearby. The Indians pursued and killed them, then delivered Jane and her young brothers-in-law to authorities in El Paso. In September 1853 Mrs. Wilson, now pregnant, and her three brothers-in-law left El Paso with a small group headed toward Paris, Texas, but their party split up before reaching Fort Phantom Hill. The solitary wagon carrying Jane and two of the boys was attacked by northern Comanches, who shot and stabbed the wagon driver and took the passengers captive. Jane Wilson remained with her captors for nearly a month, enduring physical and emotional abuse. She escaped, then hid outdoors for several weeks before New Mexican traders found her. She traveled with them a few days until they encountered another Comanche band. To prevent her recapture, the traders advised her to remain behind in hiding; meanwhile, they accompanied the Comanche group for more than a week. Jane managed to stay alive under rough conditions till they returned and transported her to United States Army major James H. Carleton in New Mexico. She stayed in Santa Fe till late spring, recuperating from her wounds and the birth of a son in December 1853. Meanwhile, she told the story of her capture and escape to Carleton and Rev. Louis Smith, a Protestant clergyman. The two men collaborated in writing her account, then Smith sent it to the United States attorney general for New Mexico in December 1853. Soon after, newspapers from Santa Fe to the East Coast published the story, in many cases printed verbatim from the original document. Jane Wilson is not known to have written any published versions of the account herself. Rochester, New York, publisher Dellon M. Dewey produced a popular booklet, A Thrilling Narrative of the Sufferings of Mrs. Jane Adeline Wilson During Her Captivity Among the Comanche Indians, originally published about 1854, which duplicated the Smith and Carleton account. In 1856 John Frost included this same account in his book Indian Battles, Captivities and Adventures. A nineteenth-century Parisian company offered a translation of it, Relation de la récent captivité de Mme Jane Adeline Wilson parmi les Indiens Camanches. In Texas, word of her ordeal prompted the legislature to authorize the state to assist in recovering free Texas citizens captured by Indians. The legislation established an assistance fund of $5,000 and specified that Jane Wilson and her brothers-in-law be beneficiaries of it. Governor Elisha M. Pease facilitated her return passage to Paris, Texas. She traveled by way of El Paso and San Antonio and arrived home in the fall of 1854. American traders and a Choctaw Indian obtained the release of her brothers-in-law from the Comanches and delivered them to United States Army officials in Indian Territory in Spring 1854. They were later returned to Texas. On July 10, 1856, Jane Wilson married William Roberts in Lamar County. The couple had four children. See also INDIAN CAPTIVES.

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Gary Wilson, "Hostage among the Comanches: The Ordeal of Jane Wilson," Red River Valley Historical Review 5 (Spring 1980). Jane Wilson, A Thrilling Narrative of the Sufferings of Mrs. Jane Adeline Wilson during Her Captivity among the Comanche Indians (n.d.; rpt., Fairfield, Washington: Ye Galleon Press, 1971).

  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Captives and Victims of Attack
  • Women
  • Native American Captives

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Sherilyn Brandenstein, “Wilson, Jane Adeline Smith,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 16, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/wilson-jane-adeline-smith.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995
March 21, 2017

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: