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The Jane Adeline (nee Smith) Wilson Story

Madison County ILGenWeb Coordinator - Beverly Bauser

 

THE SUFFERINGS OF MRS. JANE ADELINE (nee SMITH) WILSON, DURING HER CAPTIVITY AMONG THE COMANCHE INDIANS

The following narrative of almost unparalleled suffering was written out by Major Carlton and Mr. L. Smith, and can be relied upon as authentic. It was published in the St. Louis Republican, with the Religious Recorder, Syracuse, New York, as its source. Following are the words of Mrs. Jane Adeline (nee Smith) Wilson, who was born in Alton on June 19, 1837. She was 17 years of age when telling her story in 1854.  At the time of her capture by the Indians, she was at the end of her 8th month of pregnancy.

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“I was born in Alton, Illinois on the 19th day of June 1837, and am, therefore, in the seventeenth year of my age. My father's name was William Smith; my mother's maiden name was Jane Cox. I had five brothers and four sisters. I think it was in the year 1846 that we moved to Missouri and settled at a boat landing or ferry called Jamestown, on the North Grand River. My father kept the ferry.

About eight years ago [1846-1847] we moved from Missouri to Texas, and settled near Paris, in Lamar County. Here my father and mother died within one day of each other, leaving six orphan children behind them. My eldest brother, who was in a ranging company, now came to settle my father's affairs and make provisions for our support. He secured homes for us with different neighbors, but took the youngest sister [Ellen], our ‘pet,’ with him to place her with one of our aunts. One day's journey from the place where he left us, he was attacked by the winter fever, and died in one week.

I have three sisters older than myself. Their names were Elizabeth, Cynthia, and Caroline. My brother, James, and sister, Ellen, are younger than myself. Ellen was four years old when my parents died. Caroline is a dwarf, and the neighbors thought that the medicine that the doctor gave her stopped her growth. She was a dear child, and we all loved her because of her misfortune. (Here Jane was unable to restrain her feelings and burst into tears.) I lived with several neighbors until the first of last February, when I was married to Mr. James Wilson, a young farmer, just beginning life with a little property, consisting in horses and cattle. He was but of nineteen years of age when we married. We knew but little of life, for I was not yet sixteen. I fear we were crazy in getting married while we were so young. (Poor girl! when her thoughts went back to this period of her life, she wept as if her heart would break.)

We had heard that people became rich very fast in California, so we concluded to move and commence life in that distant country. We gathered together the little property we possessed and joined a party of emigrants consisting of fifty-two men, twelve women, and several children. The father and brothers of my husband were among this number. There were in all twenty-two wagons, and the whole company was placed under the command of Mr. Henry Hickman. We started from Hunt County, Texas [northeast of Dallas] on the 6th of April last, and took the route for El Paso. We arrived at the Guadalupe Mountains about the 1rst of June. Here the Mescalero Apaches stole from us nineteen head of cattle. Six men started in pursuit, but were driven back by the Indians. We went thence to El Paso. My husband not being able to travel well with Mr. Hickman's train, he determined to remain at El Paso till the arrival of another party of California emigrants. Five of Mr. Hickman's men stayed with us. While here, the Mexicans stole nearly all the property we had, and left us unable to proceed on our journey. We could do nothing now except make our way back to Texas.

About the last of July, we started on our return with the fragments of our property which the thieves had spared. On the first day of August, my husband and his father left us, and fell into the hands of the Indians. I saw them no more after this. I was told that they had been murdered. You may perhaps be able to imagine my feelings when I found myself thus bereaved and destitute in a land of strangers. My misfortune seemed greater than I could bear, but I knew not that heavier trials were in store for me.

Unable to continue my journey, I returned to El Paso, where I remained till September 8th, when I started once more for Texas with my three brothers-in-law, in company with a small party consisting of five Americans and one Mexican. Mr. Hart, who owned and commanded this train, having some business in Texas which required his immediate attention, traveled very rapidly, and I hoped in a few days more to be in the midst of my friends.

As we had seen only one Indian on the route, we flattered ourselves that we should not be molested by any of the tribes which infest this route. When near to the borders of Texas, some of our party stole three animals from Mr. Hart and ran off. Mr. Hart, anxious to overtake the thieves, started in pursuit, taking with him my eldest brother-in-law (a lad some fourteen years of age), leaving myself, a Mexican, and the two boys to follow as rapidly as we could. We were at this time, within three days journey of a military post at Phantom Hill, and were considered out of danger. A discharged soldier being unable to keep up with us was some distance behind, but I saw nothing of him after this. The day after Mr. Hart left us, as we were traveling about noon, we saw two Comanche Indians charging upon us in front, and at the same time two others were seen driving up behind. We were all very much frightened, and the Mexican jumped out of the wagon and went toward the Indians, in order, if possible, to gain their friendship.

Indians murder a manThe mules of our wagon, four in number, becoming frightened by the war whoop of the savages, turned out of the road and commenced running as fast as they could. One of them fell down before we had gone far, and the others were then obliged to stop. The Indians now came upon us, and ordered the Mexican to take the mules out of the harness. While this was going on, I got out of the wagon and looked on in breathless suspense. After the mules were unharnessed, the Mexican was stripped of his clothing, his hands tied behind his back, and ordered to sit down upon the ground. One of them went behind him and shot him with a gun, while another stabbed him several times with a large butcher knife. His scalp was cut off before he was dead, and put it into his own hat; the hat was then worn by one of his murderers. I was stupefied with horror as I gazed on this spectacle, and supposed that my turn would come next. But the Indians, having secured the plunder of the wagon, mounted us on the mules and ordered us to go with them. As I left, I looked back and saw the poor Mexican weltering in his blood and still breathing.

We took a northeast direction, and traveled slowly till sunset, when we encamped. Here, the plunder, consisting of blankets, bedding, clothing, bridles and some money which I had in my pocket was divided among the Indians. Some articles considered useless were thrown into the fire. My clothing was taken away, except barely enough to cover my person. In the distribution of the captives, the eldest boy, about twelve years of age, was claimed by the chief; I became the property of one of the others. I should have mentioned that one of our captors was a Mexican, who had been stolen from the State of Chihumbia when an infant. He was now as savage as the Indians, and claimed the youngest boy as his prize. The scalp of the Mexican was stretched on a stick and dried by the fire.

After giving us some meat for our supper, the Indians began to secure us for the night. The boys, with their arms tied tightly behind them, were taken under guard by two of the savages. My feet were tied together, and I was obliged to lie between the other two. I did not sleep any during the night for I was afraid of being killed.

The next day we resumed our journey, and traveled in the same direction. The boys were mounted on good animals, and had bows and arrows. Their faces were painted Indian fashion, and they looked like young savages. They appeared to enjoy this new mode of life and were never treated with excessive cruelty. I was mounted on a good horse, but being obliged to sit astride the animal, the journey was exceedingly painful.

I had a fine head of hair, which I valued very much, but the chief ordered it to be cut off; I was not a little mortified in seeing it decorating the heads of the heartless savages. My head was thus left entirely unprotected from the intensely hot rays of the sun.

Nothing of interest occurred except repeated acts of inhumanity towards me, until the twelfth day of capture. At this time, we were joined by two Indian men and a squaw. These were all the Indians I saw till after my escape. Up to this time my suffering had been so severe as to take from me all desire to live, but now they were greatly increased. The squaw, from whom I might have expected some compassion, was evidently the cause of the new cruelties which I now began to experience.

My horse was taken from me, and I was mounted on an unbroken mule without a bridle. I had a saddle, but it was worn out and good for nothing but to torture me. This animal would frequently toss me over its head of its own accord; but not being wild enough to gratify the malice of the Indians, the chief would sometimes shake the Mexican's scalp before its eyes. The beast would then rear and plunge in the utmost fright, and I would be thrown upon the ground with great violence. I have been tossed from the mule's back as many as half a dozen times a day, and once I was so stunned that I lay a considerable time before my sense returned. My repeated falls greatly amused the Indians, whose horrid peals of laughter might have been heard at a great distance.

I never saw them exhibit the first sign of pity towards me. It made no difference how badly I was hurt, if I did not rise immediately and mount the animal which had just thrown me, they would apply the riding whips, or gunstocks, or the end of a lariat, to my unprotected body with the greatest violence. The squaw would also help me to rise by wounding me with the point of a spear which she carried. You may understand one object the Indians had in view in putting me upon this wild animal and causing me to be thrown so often, when I tell you I expected to become a mother in a few weeks. They understood my situation, but instead of softening their hearts it only made them more inhuman, and subjected me to greater sufferings.

I was obliged to work like a slave while in camp; while there was any service to perform I was not allowed a moments rest. I was compelledComanche Indians to carry large loads of wood on my back, which being destitute of sufficient clothing, was mangled till the blood ran down to my feet. I had to chase the animals through briars and bushes, till what little clothing I had was torn into ribbons. I brought the animals to camp in the morning, and had to watch them till they were ready to start, and if one more wild than the rest ran off, I must chase and bring him back, and then be knocked down by the savage chief for my want of skill. When all were ready to start, I had to catch and saddle my own wild mule without assistance. If the party did not start immediately, I was compelled to pull at the end of a lariat which the Indians would fashion to a bush. They seemed to study every method of putting me to death by piecemeal.

Exhausted by incessant toll and suffering and extreme anguish from my wounds, I could not work as fast as the Indians desired, and often when scarcely able to stand, and hardly knowing what I was doing, I have been required to do the work of the strongest man. And because of my inability to accomplish my task satisfactorily, I have been whipped till my flesh was raw. Large stones were thrown at me. I was knocked down and stamped upon by the ferocious chief, who seemed anxious to crush me like a worm beneath his feet. My head sometimes fell under the horses' feet, and then the Indians would try to make the beasts kick me. After all were ready for the day's journey, I was obliged to travel as fast as the others, riding sometimes over rocks and through bushes, aching and sore from head to foot, and exposed alike to cold and heat, sunshine and storm.

I have gone two days at a time without tasting food. The Indians depended on hunting for their subsistence, and sometimes had nothing to eat themselves - unless there was an abundance of food, I received little or nothing - when any game was killed, the Indians would tear out the heart, liver and entrails and eat them raw. I suffered exceedingly from thirst; I was not allowed to drink, except while in camp. We frequently crossed beautiful streams during the day, and I would beg the privilege of dismounting to quench my thirst. But the Indians would always deny my request with contempt. It was in vain I pointed to my parched tongue and head blistering in the rays of the sun. Nothing could soften them into pity, and I ardently desired death that my torments might come to an end.

Every indignity was offered to my person which the imagination can conceive. And I am at a loss to know how I have lived through the barbarous treatment which was inflicted upon me. Frequently my feelings were so outraged that I was tempted to kill my inhuman masters. My indignation burned particularly against the chief, and I thought if only I could cut him to pieces, I could die content.

We traveled every day - we usually started about 10 o'clock in the morning, and halted about four in the evening. The Indians were accustomed to go to the top of the highest hills and stand there gazing in every direction. We always spent the night on a hill and were thus exposed to the cold autumn winds. We slept on the ground, generally without covering. When it rained, the Indians made a tent of blankets and wagon sheets they had stolen from us, but I was not allowed to take shelter in it - I preferred sleeping outside in the storm.

After my mule had become so gentle that I could ride it without being thrown, it was taken from me and I was obliged to travel on foot. The road over which we passed was often very rough and stony and full of thorns. My feet were wounded and bruised till they were covered with blood and greatly swollen. But still I was obliged to keep up with the rest of the party, and if I fell behind I was beaten till I was nearly senseless. The Indians often urged me on by attempting to ride their horses over me; many a mile of that road is marked with my blood, and many a hill there has echoed to my useless cries.

I traveled thus on foot some five or six days. After the party was ready to start in the morning, the direction of the route was pointed out to me, and I was required to go before the others, in order not to hinder them. They usually overtook me before I traveled far. I had always intended to make my escape as soon as I found an opportunity. I never expected to reach any friendly settlement, but I did not wish to give the Indians the pleasure of seeing me die. On the morning of the twenty-fifth day after my capture, I was sent on in advance as usual. I had eaten no breakfast, and was very weak, but the hope of escape now supported me. I hastened on as fast as I could, and finding a suitable hiding place I turned aside and concealed myself in the bushes. After this I saw nothing more of my captors. I found afterwards by the tracks of the animals, that they had searched for me; they probably thought I would die, and therefore took less trouble to find me. I have no doubt the next time they pass that way they will look for my bones.

My situation was now distressing beyond all description; I was alone in an Indian country, some hundreds of miles from the nearest friendly settlements. I was without food, without shelter, and almost without clothing. My body was full of wounds and bruises, and my feet were so swollen that I could hardly stand. Wild beasts were around me, and savages more wild than beasts roamed on every hand. Winter was coming on, and death in its most terrible forms stared me in the face. I sat down and thought of my lonely and exposed situation, but I could not weep; my heart was too full of woe. I remembered the events of the few preceding weeks. The husband of my choice had been murdered, and I was not allowed the melancholy privilege of closing his eyes, and seeing his remains decently interred. My little property had been stolen, and when within a few days' march of sympathizing friends, I was captured by savages, and after three weeks of indescribable sufferings, found myself wandering solitary and destitute in the midst of the wild prairies - my cup was filled to overflowing, but I resolved to live in hope, if I died in despair.

After remaining three days in the place where I first concealed myself from the Indians, I went to a grove about half a mile distant and built a little house of bushes and grass. Here I lived nine days. My only food was the blackberries which grew on the bushes around. I quenched my thirst at a spring nearby. My wounds pained me exceedingly and I wasted to a mere skeleton for want of proper nourishment. It rained upon me several nights in succession, and my little house was unable to protect me from the cold storms. More than once I spent a sleepless night, perfectly drenched in rain; while the wolves, sometimes coming within five steps of me, would make the woods ring with their frightful howling. They would also follow behind me when I went to the spring during the day; I expected some time to be devoured by them, but they are great cowards, and I could easily frighten them away.

When I slept I would dream of seeing tables spread with an abundance of every kind of food, but when I stretched forth my hand to satisfy my hunger, the effort would waken me and I would find myself weeping bitterly. When absent from my house on the twelfth day after my escape, some New Mexican traders passed on their way to the Comanche settlements. While standing on a small hill, looking after them in order to be sure they were not Indians, I was discovered by some three or four of the party who happened to be some distance behind. They immediately came toward me, and soon understood my situation. They kindly offered to take me with them, and I gladly bade farewell to my house in the woods. The Mexicans put me upon a burro, and gave me a blanket and some men's clothing, in which I dressed myself very comfortably. Two or three days after this we came in sight of a band of Comanches, and as it was not safe for me to be seen by them, I was left behind in a ravine, with the promise that the Mexicans would return for me at night. As they did not fulfill their promise, I started toward their camp. About midnight, while wandering among the bushes, a Comanche Indian passed within twenty steps. I thought I was a captive once more, but fortunately the savage did not see me. I threw myself on the ground and waited for day. In the morning, I started again for the camp of the Mexicans, but before I reached it, I was discovered by one of the trading party who was herding the animals. This man is a Puebla Indian, of San Hdefonso, New Mexico, and is named Juan Jose. To him more than any other man in the party, I owe my present freedom. He told me the camp was full of Comanches, and if they saw me it would be impossible for the party to save me. He made me lie down on the ground while he covered me with dried grass. I lay here all day, and at night crept forth to quench my almost intolerable thirst. Juan came and brought me some bread, and told me not by any means to leave my hiding place the next day. That day lagged slowly along, and I could hear the dreaded Comanches passing and repassing and shouting to each other. At night Juan returned, bringing another blanket and several loaves of bread, and told me that I must remain here for seven or eight days longer, as the party were obliged to go farther on, and could not take me unless I was willing to become a captive once more. I saw the party disappear the next day, and it seemed as if my hopes of rescue disappeared with them. But I resolved to wait till the appointed time was up.

In a ravine nearby, I found a large log which had been left burning. This fire I kept alive day and night till the Mexicans returned, and without it I should probably have frozen to death, as the weather had become very cold. I covered a hollow cottonwood stump with bark and leaves to keep out the cold wind. This stump was my house during my stay here. When I could endure the cold no longer, I would leave my house and run to the fire, but was afraid to stay there long lest the Indians should see me. The wolves soon found out my place of retreat, and frequently while I was in the stump they would come and scratch around and on its top. The hackberries were very scarce here, and had it not been for the bread Juan Jose gave me, I do not see how I could have been kept from starving to death.

The eighth day passed slowly by, and I knew not whether to give way to hope or despair. But on the 8th I heard several persons calling to each other. I feared they were Indians, but they belonged to the trading party, and were on their return to New Mexico. They had lost the place where I was concealed, and were shouting to each other to attract my attention. I was so overjoyed that I rushed toward them unmindful of briars and sore feet. Juan gave me a fine horse to ride, and the whole party treated me with the utmost civility and kindness. On the thirty-fourth day of our return toward New Mexico, we reached the town of Pecos. Here I met Major Carleton and Mrs. Adams of the U.S. Army, who took the deepest interest in my comfort. Here I laid aside men's apparel and was furnished with a supply from Mrs. Adams' wardrobe. After remaining at Pecos a few days, I was conducted to Santa Fe by the son of Governor Meriwether. To Gov. Meriwether and also to the American ladies of this place, I cannot be too thankful for their friendly sympathies and uniform kindness.

The past seems like a horrid dream. I have related nothing but facts, and no language that I can use can fully express the sufferings of mind and body which I have endured. My two brothers-in-law are still captives and unless reclaimed will become as savages as Indians. The Mexicans saw them with the Comanche's, but were unable to procure their freedom. One is twelve years old, the other ten, and unless the strong arm of Government is lifted up for their redemption, there is no hope for them.”

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The following was published in the Alton Weekly Courier, March 23, 1854, concerning Jane Wilson’s brothers-in-law, that were with her at the time of her capture:

(From the St. Louis Republican)
Fort Washita, Choctaw Nation
Chickasaw District, February 11, 1854

I read in your paper of the 24th ult., (received here last mail) a thrilling and interesting narrative of the capture and escape of Mrs. Jane Adeline Wilson, by the Comanche Indians, last summer, by whom she and her two brothers-in-law (boys) were taken as prisoners.

The facts and the particulars of Mrs. Wilson’s capture, and the two boys, near the fort, “Phantom Hill,” Texas, are corroborated by the same facts related to me here, by the discharged soldier alluded to by her in her narrative (the soldier having passed this way to Arkansas), also, in relation to the Mexican driver being scalped and shot, as Mrs. Wilson relates.

Fort Phantom Hill, near Abilene, TexasThe soldier stated here, on his arrival, that he was unable to keep up to the wagon with Mrs. Wilson and the two boys, the Mexican driving, and as his horse was worn down, and on coming up to it he found the woman and both boys gone, the wagon robbed of all its contents, mules gone also, and the Mexican driver lying near the wagon, insensible, having been shot and scalped. The soldier carried him to a small stream nearby, washed his wounds, and afterwards carried him for several days on his back. They were destitute of food, the Indians having stolen all from the wagon. They lived for some days on the remains of the carcass of a dead ox, found by the roadside, using an old razor for a knife, being the only instrument the soldier had to cut. After several days’ slow traveling, they arrived at “Phantom Hill” post, where the soldier left the Mexican, recovering.

Nothing has been hard on this frontier of the two boys alluded to in Mrs. Wilson’s narrative until ten days since, when one boy about twelve years old, calling himself George Washington Wilson, was brought in near here by Aaron Brown, an intelligent, educated Chickasaw Indian who lives near this post. He had been out with some Shawnees for the last four months, trading for mules with Comanches.

They found this white boy with the Comanches in a very destitute condition respecting clothing, having but few rags on his person. Aaron Brown, with the characteristic nobleness of heart peculiar to his tribe, seeing the white boy in captivity and badly used, proposed trading some goods for him. A few days passed before the trade was concluded. After giving several hundred dollars’ worth of goods for the boy, the Comanches wanted to draw the bargain, thinking they could extort more, as they perceived Brown manifested a desire to have the lad.

A few days since I heard from Fort Arbuckle, situated sixty-five miles west of this post, that a white boy had been brought in there by some friendly Indians, who had bought him from the Comanches lately. This boy proves to be the other brother-in-law of Mrs. Wilson, showing that all the captives are now safe. Steps will be taken to restore them to their friends.

Very respectfully,
Samuel C. Humes, Sutler, U. S. A.

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NOTES:
Jane Wilson gave birth to a baby boy in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in December 1853. According to the book, “El Gringo, or, New Mexico and Her People,” by William Watts Hart Davis, Jane Wilson remained in Santa Fe until the next Spring, when she was sent to her friends. I could find no further information on Jane Adeline Wilson. She probably remarried, and hopefully lived a long, happy life.

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