LOST SISTER, MY FAVE SHORT STORY–by Cheryl Pierson

I know we’ve talked before about Dorothy M. Johnson, the iconic western short story writer who penned such classics as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Hanging Tree, and A Man Called Horse; but today, I wanted to tell you about another short story of hers that I read a few days ago. Quite possibly, the best short story –in any genre—that I’ve ever read.

You may never have heard of it. It wasn’t made into a movie, because it too closely mirrored the true life of a real person, Cynthia Ann Parker, mother of Quanah Parker.  The story is called Lost Sister.

I’d heard this story mentioned before by a couple of friends, and thought, “I need to read that—I’ve never read much of Mrs. Johnson’s work but the movies have all been good.” I know. I hate it when people say that, too.  Anyhow, I bought a collection from Amazon that contained the three stories I mentioned in the first paragraph and Lost Sister as the fourth. Of course, I had to read The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, since that’s tied for my all-time favorite western movie, along with Shane. I was so disappointed. The characters in the short story were not the same as my beloved Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne! Hmmm. Well, even though I was disappointed, I decided to give Lost Sister a shot.

It more than made up for my lukewarm feelings for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Lost Sister is the story of a woman who has been kidnapped as a young child by “the hostiles”. She has an older sister, who remembers her well from childhood, and loves her with the devotion that most older sisters have for a younger sister. Through the forty years she has been gone, the oldest sister, Mary, has cherished memories of her younger sibling.

There are three younger sisters, as well, who have no recollection of the Lost Sister, Bessie. The older sister doesn’t live with them, but in a different town thousand miles away. The three sisters are notified that their sister, Bessie, has been “rescued” and is being brought back to them. The story is told from the eyes of a nine-year-old boy, whose mother lives with the sisters. She is the widow of their brother, who was killed by the Indians. The boy has dreams of growing up and avenging his father’s death, but something changes once his Aunt Bessie comes back to live with them.

Up until Bessie is returned to them, they have gotten much attention from the neighbors, and have been pitied as being the family who had a sister stolen by the savages so many years ago. Once Bessie is returned, their standing in the community takes a subtle twist. The other sisters don’t know how to handle Bessie’s homecoming. They make plans to go into her room and “visit” with her every day. One of them decides to read to Bessie from the Bible for thirty minutes each day. The others come up with similar plans, none of which include trying to understand Bessie’s feelings at being ripped away from her Indian family.

The oldest sister, Mary, comes to visit. What’s different? Mary loves Bessie, and accepts her; and Bessie loves her—they both remember their childhood time together. The language of love overcomes the barriers of the spoken language that neither of them can understand, for Bessie has forgotten English, and Mary doesn’t know Bessie’s Indian dialect.  But Bessie has a picture of her son, and Mary admires it, and by the time Mary is to go home, she has made arrangements for Bessie to come live with her—a huge relief to the other pious sisters who had made such sympathetic noises about her being reunited with them in the beginning.

In a fateful twist, Bessie makes her own decision about what she will do, taking her own life back, and helping her son avoid capture. This is one story you will not forget. Once you read it, it will stay with you and you’ll find yourself thinking about it again and again. It doesn’t fit the mold of a romance story, except for the fact that I think of Bessie being in love with her husband, having children with him, and then being “rescued” and forced to live in a society she had no ties with any longer…except one—the love and understanding of her older sister, Mary.

No specific Indian tribe is mentioned in the story, probably for a purpose. I think, one of the main reasons is to show us the cultural differences and how, in this case, the “civilized” world that Bessie had come from and been returned to was not as civilized as the “savages” who had kidnapped her.

Cynthia Ann Parker, Quanah Parker’s mother

Also, as I say, Cynthia Ann Parker’s story, at the time this story was published, was not that old. There were still raw feelings and rough relations between whites and Indians. But by leaving the particular tribe out of the story, it provides a broader base for humanity to examine the motives for “rescue” and the outcome for all concerned, of a situation such as this in which it would have been better to have let Bessie (Cynthia Ann) remain “lost.”

I’ve posted the link below for the story as it was printed in Collier’s Weekly on March 30, 1956. It’s also available on Amazon in several collections.

http://www.unz.org/Pub/Colliers-1956mar30-00066

Cheryl Pierson
A native Oklahoman, I've been influenced by the west all my life. I love to write short stories and novels in the historical western and western romance genres, as well as contemporary romantic suspense! Check my Amazon author page to see my work: https://www.amazon.com/author/cherylpierson
I live in Oklahoma City with my husband of 37 years. I love to hear from readers and other authors--you can contact me here: fabkat_edit@yahoo.com
Follow me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cheryl.pierson.92
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20 Comments

  1. Hi Cheryl, you’re right, Lost Sister is a haunting story.

    I read in a Hollywood trade magazine that The Searchers (one of my favorite westerns) was inspired by Cynthia Ann Parker’s story. Ethan’s determination to find his niece does mirror the sisters’ story (in Hollywood style, of course).

    Oddly enough, the story is timely. Think of immigrants coming to this country as children deported back as adults to a place where they have no ties.

  2. Good morning, Cheryl. I’ve never read this story, but I’m really, really intrigued. It’s a reminder that our country’s history is not always filled with pleasant tales, regardless of Hollywood’s attempt to convince us so. Thanks for the recommendation. I know what I’ll be reading later this week. 😉

  3. Darn you, Cheryl! I’ve been resisting buying this book, and this post just thoroughly destroyed my willpower. Cynthia Ann Parker’s story is heart-wrenching for all the reasons you mentioned. I’ve got to read “The Lost Sister.” (I read “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” years ago, and I agree with you: Although the story isn’t bad, anyone who’s seen the movie will be disappointed. It’s a rare case of the movie being better than the book.)

  4. Hi Cheryl — sounds fascinating!! Love the premise of the story and from your description also seems like an excellent read.

  5. Hi Cheryl, Just finished reading the story. What a haunting, beautiful ending. Thank you for passing this along!

  6. Cheryl, what an interesting story. Growing up in Texas we were taught about Cynthia Ann Parker in school. And I’ve visited Quanah, Texas many times. They have some neat museums there that are full of all kinds of stuff on Cynthia Parker. Such a sad ending to her life. I’m going to have to get that collection of short stories and read “Lost Sister.” Thanks for such an interesting blog.

    Hope you’re feeling better. I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to meet last weekend.

  7. That’s so true, Margaret! That happened to one of my son’s friend’s parents. They’d been here since they were young children and suddenly were deported–this has been several years ago–and had to leave their son here. You know, I have never really liked The Searchers–I’ve tried! LOL Maybe I’ll give it another shot–it’s been a long time since I watched it–maybe I’ll see it with new eyes this time around–so many people love it there must be a reason.
    Hugs,
    Cheryl

  8. Hi Renee,

    Yes, “back in the day” Hollywood did a lot of brainwashing about our history. As time has gone by, it’s gotten better, and probably won’t get much more accurate than it is now–otherwise, people would view movies as documentaries. LOL Well, we take what we can get. This is a wonderful story. It just haunts me when I think of it. Cynthia Ann, Quanah, and Cynthia Ann’s daughter are all buried at Ft. Sill here in Oklahoma. We go down that way 3 or 4 times a year, and I always go by their graves, as well as Geronimo’s.
    Cheryl

  9. Hi Kathleen, yes I totally agree about The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Movie was much much better than the short story! I’m glad someone had the vision to make it into the movie it became. I haven’t read the other two stories in that collection yet.
    Cheryl

  10. Hi Char,
    Yes the story is just excellent. I can’t say enough good about it.

    I hope you enjoy it.
    Cheryl

  11. Vicki,
    I loved that ending. There was just no better way that story could have ended, is there?
    Cheryl

  12. Hi Linda,

    I am so, so disappointed in myself about hurting my back and missing out on being with you all! It’s much better now, but it’s been a week, and still not completely back to normal…I’m being very careful about every move I make. LOL NEXT TIME!!!!

    Oh, yes, I’ve always felt so sorry for Cynthia Ann. I hope you read this story. I think you’ll enjoy it.

    Hugs,
    Cheryl

  13. The story says a lot about human nature. I haven’t read it yet but it sounds wonderful. Cynthia Ann looks so sad in that photo. I’ve read how unhappy she was after being “rescued.”
    Thanks for a very thoughtful post, Cheryl.

  14. This sounds like an amazing story, Cheryl! I’ll have to snag a copy!

    Kirsten

  15. I’ve read the stories about Cynthia parker. Was sad. As for the Mexicans here, lots of them do go to Mexico to visit relatives. I would like to get this I would like to get this Who Shot Liberty valence/4 story book some time. Maxie

  16. Elizabeth, hi, sorry I couldn’t get back on the computer yesterday to answer these last comments–we were having storms all afternoon/evening.

    Yes, I think she looks sad, there, too. I’m glad you liked the post. She must have had a hard life, all the way around.
    The other thing that stood out to me in this story was a mother’s love is something that can’t ever be changed, no matter the culture.
    Cheryl

  17. Kirsten, you can click on that link and read it, but it’s hard to read because of the print font.
    Cheryl

  18. Hi Maxie,
    You can order that 4-story book at Amazon. I haven’t read the other two stories in it yet.

    Yes, Cynthia Ann’s story is very sad. I guess her only joy must have been her kids.
    Cheryl

  19. Hi Cheryl, sorry to get here late. We’re on the road. I just finished The Blue Tattoo, about Olive Oatman, who spent many year as with the Mohave and loved them as family. I’ll blog about her soon. The saddest thing about Cynthia Ann was her grief at being forced from her Indian family. Thanks for another great post. co

  20. Sounds like a worthwhile read. Captives were taken for many reasons and not all were mistreated. Many truly became accepted family members and members of the tribe. That certainly wasn’t true of the treatment mixed race and “rescued” individuals were treated by the “civilized” white society. How many women were “rescued” only to be treated as damaged goods and fallen/immoral individuals? I don’t think that many were better off being returned to white society. I’ll definitely be reading this story. Thanks for letting us know about it.

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