- The War in Words: Reading the Dakota Conflict through the Captivity Literature, and: Captive Arizona, 1851–1900
Nah-thle-tla, a Chiricahua woman, was captured by Mexicans in territorial Arizona in 1855. She was sold as a slave and taken to Santa Fe, but she eventually escaped and returned to her family by walking over 250 miles. Nah-thle-tla's captivity experience "lived only in Apache oral tradition" until her son published an account of the incident decades later (Smith 36). In 1862, Good Star Woman, then an eight-year-old Dakota girl, was held captive with her family at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, during the Dakota Conflict. Passed down to her daughters through oral tradition, Good Star Woman's story was chronicled by an ethnologist in the 1930s. And now, with Victoria Smith's Captive Arizona, 1851–1900 and Kathryn Zabelle Derounian-Stodola's The War in Words: Reading the Dakota Conflict through the Captivity Literature, the captivity experiences of Nah-thle-tla and [End Page 214] Good Star Woman are both retold in order to reveal the complex "web of intercultural power relations" operating in territorial Arizona and during the 1862 Dakota Conflict in Minnesota (Smith xxxi). Smith recovers the captivity experiences of over twenty American, Mexican, Mexican American, and American Indian men and women as a means to re-chart territorial Arizona history through the "pervasive culture of captivity that dominated the era" (Smith 37). Derounian-Stodola maintains that the captivity stories she has researched from both sides of the war "expose the complicated nexus of politics, cultures, identities, and ethnicities at the heart" of the Dakota Conflict (2).
As a literary scholar, Derounian-Stodola broadens the conventional understanding of the captivity narrative as a white woman's genre by defining "captivity literature" as any account that "illustrate[s] variations of the basic captivity, or confinement, narrative" (3). Her work addresses the most recognizable form of the genre with the captivity narratives of white women such as Sarah Wakefield and Martha Riggs Morris. However, unlike many of the other Dakota Conflict narratives by white women, which functioned as anti-Indian propaganda, Wakefield's and Morris's narratives both attempted to defend and advocate for the Dakotas. To be sure, the twelve European American accounts of the Dakota Conflict highlighted by Derounian-Stodola demonstrate the diverse motivations for narrating captivity. Indian Jim: A Tale of the Minnesota Massacre (1864), a dime novel by Edward S. Ellis, was based on people and events from the actual Conflict but combined the conventions of the dime novel and the captivity narrative in order to maintain an anti-Indian perspective on the conflict. The young captive Benedict Juni, who as an adult wrote Held in Captivity (1926), positively portrays "his stay with the Dakotas as more of a boy's wilderness story" than a brutal captivity experience (149). And the accounts of German Americans held captive during the Dakota Conflict were not even recorded until the 1890s by the Minnesota Historical Society, when this immigrant group was no longer seen as a threat to the dominant English-speaking Anglo culture.
Derounian-Stodola separates the European American captivity literature and the American Indian captivity literature from each other in her book because "Dakota voices … needed to be heard separately from non-Dakota ones" (5). Native perspectives on the Conflict have been "suppressed, attacked, disregarded, or dismissed" by white accounts (19). But, like the white accounts of the war, the Dakota accounts also reveal conflicting motivations as well as divergent points of view. The Dakota captivity literature tends to tell "stories of Indians held hostage in various ways or to retell from an Indigenous viewpoint the stories of non-Native hostages," [End Page 215] thereby speaking back to white depictions of Dakota motivations and actions during the conflict (13). Good Star Woman and her family were noncombatant Dakotas held captive by the US Army during...