Rare Texas Indian Captivity – Teenage Texas Girl with “True Grit”

96 [Women] Cooke, Lt. Col. Philip St. George. Autograph Letter Signed, Fort Union, N.M., Dec. 4th, 1853, to Governor Meriweather. 4to, 3 pp., in ink, docketed on verso. WITH: Webster, David. Original Manuscript Deposition, undated, 2 pp., ink on blue paper, witnessed and signed by Philip St. George Cook. Fine condition, housed in protective mylars and a binder.

This is the original manuscript account of the rescue of Jane Wilson from Indian Captivity, whose book, Thrilling Narrative, published in Rochester, NY, in 1859 (Howes W529 and Wagner-Camp 233), is one of the rarest Indian captivities – no copies have been recorded at auction, including in either the Siebert, Snider or McKinney Americana sales – or for that matter, Streeter’s or the Holliday Sale or in any Eberstadt catalogue, and only three copies are found in institional collections, with none in Texas (Huntington, Yale and Princeton).

In 1853 fifteen year old Jane Smith married James Wilson in Lamar County, Texas; shortly thereafter they joined a caravan for the California gold fields; she and her husband
stopped in El Paso to await the next wagon train, and camped near the Ysleta Pueblo. After
a disturbance with the local Indians (who killed her husband), Jane, now pregnant and newly widowed, decided to return to Paris, Texas with her brothers-in-law. Jane and her two younger brothers-in-law were traveling by themselves in one wagon when they were attacked by Northern Comanches sometime before reaching Fort Phantom Hill (near Abilene, Texas), who shot and stabbed the wagon driver and took Jane and the two others captive. Jane was a captive for nearly a month with the Comanches, enduring severe physical and emotional abuse, when she escaped and hid for several weeks outdoors before encountering a band of New Mexican traders. She was with them for only a few days when they encountered another party of Comanches. The traders told her to stay behind and hide while they traveled another week with the Comanches; ultimately they returned and took her to New Mexico (she gave birth to a boy in Santa Fe in December, 1853); (See New Handbook of Texas 6: 1006-1007).

Philip St. George Cooke writes to Gov. Meriweather, who apparently had asked for details about Wilson’s experiences. “Respecting the woman rescued from the Camanches… it will appear from this poor woman’s unhappy story that her husband having been killed by
Indians, the driver of the wagon in which she was returning to Texas, was brutally murdered by five Camanches, she made captive, with two boys, and atrociously abused, then she escaped and fell in with these Mexicans, when free but famished, then they saw one of the boys a prisoner at a Camanche village, where they traded, but did not rescue or redeem him. This affair revives the recollection that New Mexicans were long used to traffic with the Apaches, for the spoil of their fellow citizens, of Sonora and other Mexican states, and suggests a suspicion of such friendly intercourse, with these aggressive savages… P.S. I have concluded to send, and herewith enclose, the teamster’s statement.” The teamster’s statement adds: “Near the house of a Mr. Kahn, being on my
way with Richard Northrup, with a wagon and team, on or about the 26th of November, 1853, we met a party of New Mexicans with a white woman stopping for the night at Kahn’s. He and said Northrup appeared to believe that this woman, who had stopped with a mule at the house, would not be taken to Santa Fe, but would be taken to their home by said New Mexicans, and probably not be well treated. They agreed that she should be taken from them, & accordingly said Kahn and Northrup went with mules and brought her to the house that night. Next morning said Northrup offered to bring the woman to Fort Union, where care would be taken of her until she could be taken to the States. And said Kahn promised to keep her there without charge, and clothe her… the said woman agreed to remain with Kahn, and appeared to be about six months with child.” Philip St. George Cooke is one of the most significant Western military leaders and explorers – he was commander of the Mormon battalion during the Mexican War and wrote two important Western books about his experiences (Scenes and Adventures in the Army, 1857, and The Conquest of New Mexico and California, 1878). Remarkable and highly important documentary evidence, with additional information about Jane Wilson’s experiences in New Mexico. An excellent opportunity for a bibliographic article for publication in research journals.

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