The Boy Captives

newsletter_headerjpg - 2

The Boy CaptivesI love discovering historical tidbits, and I ran across a gem when researching what happened on this date in Texas history.

On February 26, 1871 – Clinton Lafayette Smith and his brother Jefferson Davis Smith (ages 11 and 9) were captured by Lipans and Comanche Indians while they were out herding sheep for their father on their ranch located between San Antonio and Boerne. Clint and Jeff’s father, Henry Smith, was a captain in the Texas Rangers along with his cousin, John Sansom. The two men quickly rounded up a posse of fellow Rangers and local militia to serve as a rescue party. They pursued the Indians all the way to Fort Concho in West Texas, but to no avail. They failed to recover the boys. Henry Smith returned home empty handed, but offered a $1,000 reward every year to anyone who could bring his boys home.

In the meantime, the brothers were separated. Clint was adopted by a Comanche chief, while Jeff  was sold to Geronimo [Yes, that Geronimo] and branded as his property. Jeff traveled with Geronimo’s band of Apaches. They remained captives for five years, both boys acclimating by necessity and with the innate flexibility of children to their new way of life. They adopted Indian traits and mannerisms. They learned to hunt and went on raids with the warriors of their clans.

I was unable to find any details about how they were eventually returned to their families, but after five years of captivity, Clint and Jeff returned home. It took a while for them to reaccustom themselves to lives as young white men, but they eventually did so. Having developed serious riding skills from their time with the Comanche and Apache, they went on to have strong careers as trail drivers, cowboys, and ranchers. Not to mention frontier celebrities. Everyone wanted to hear their story.

Both men married and had families. Clinton married a good southern woman. You can tell she was a good southern woman simply by reading her name: Dixie Alamo Dyche. Don’t you LOVE that name? Jefferson Davis (an excellent southern name on its own) married Julia Harriet Reed.

Clinton and Jeff Smith Clinton Smith with Bow and Arrow












When the brothers Smith were in their sixties, they related their stories to an author by the name of J. Marvin Hunter. He did his best to record their tales exactly as the men told them in The Boy Captives. Not everything matches precisely with what the history books teach, but personal accounts like this are a rare and valuable glimpse into a part of western culture we know little about.

So have you read stories or seen movies with this theme of white captured by Indians and raised in that way of life only to return to the white world? Talk about culture shock – both ways.

I always think of the movie Dances with Wolves. Great film. What others would you recommend?

By the way, if you are interested in learning a new tidbit of Texas history every day, you can sign up for the Texas State Historical Association’s Day-By-Day emails here.

Website | + posts

For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at:

27 thoughts on “The Boy Captives”

  1. Hi Karen, thank you for a fascinating post! My all time favorite movie about a white girl captured by Indians and later returned to her family is “The Searchers.” Hard to beat that one.

  2. Wow, I can’t imagine how those parents felt when their boys returned! What a story. I’m glad their experiences were able to be put down on paper.

  3. Hi, Faith – Thanks for stopping by today. I haven’t heard about that movie, but it sounds intriguing.

    Margaret – The Searchers is definitely a classic. Great addition!

    Susan – It’s so amazing to me that even though the boys were separated and taken by different tribes, they both made it home after 5 years. I wish I knew more about how that happened.

  4. Karen, what an interesting blog. I love this story. In real life, I think the most famous one is Cynthia Ann Parker. She was taken as a young girl, married the Comanche chief, Peta Nocona and had 3 children with him. Quanah Parker was her son. She was rescued when she was in her thirties but kept trying to escape and return to her Comanche family. She died a heartbroken woman. So sad. Anyway, an interesting story. And in the movies the one that comes to mind is The Searchers with John Wayne.

  5. I remember back in the late 90’s there was a movie on television where women were abducted from a wagon train and one of them fell in love with her captor… I believe it was called Stolen Women, Captured Hearts..?
    It has Janine Turner in it….I LOVE her! She’s sooooooo beautiful.

  6. Linda – Thanks for mentioning Cynthia Ann Parker. I wish her story had a happier ending. Poor lady lost her family not once, but twice.

    Stephanie – Thanks for mentioning that film. I wonder if I wanted that back in the day? It seems like one I would have wanted to see. Maybe it will turn up on Netflix one of these days. 🙂

  7. Karen, my book Wildflower Bride is about a girl whose family dies and she’s taken in by Indians and raised until a massacre by evil white men kills her small village and she is left alive, because she’s white.
    I had so much fun researching this. The main thing I found was how utterly white children acclimated to the Indian way of life and how hard it was for them to return to the white world.
    Olive Oatman was one of the people I read most about. I have her biography at my house somewhere.
    She gave speeches about her time in captivity and it’s widely believed that the story kept growing and getting even more dramatic with each retelling until no one’s that sure what the truth is.
    Though she made her life sound like torture and her rescue sound like heaven, some say she actually fared well with the Indians and missed them for the rest of her life.

  8. A Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter, have you read that one? I read it as a fairly young child and it honestly changed me. The way the boy, captured by Indians, was taken in by the tribe and how he came to love that wild, hard life, it gave me a different appreciation for living with nature instead of fighting it.
    Very cool book. It’s been so long I can’t remember much about it. I just read the blurb on Amazon and little of it rings a bell. LOL
    You should all read it. So should I apparently.

  9. Mary – What a great premise for a story. And Olive Oatman sounds a lot like the Smith brothers – not shying away from the celebrity gain from her experiences.

    I’ll definitely be looking up A Light in the Forest. There is so much we can learn from the Native American traditions with their great respect for nature and their lack of waste. Our disposable society could use a few lessons in that area.

  10. It’s good that the Smith brothers were able to develop their riding skills while they were in captivity, which later benefited them in their careers as trail drivers.

    I have read Alone, Yet Not Alone and I loved it. It is an older children’s book written by Tracie Leininger. Her grandmother researched their family history and found this true, captivating story in the history of their family.

    It’s tells the plight of the young, Leininger sisters, Barbara and Regina, who were captured during the fall of 1755 during the Penn Creek massacre by the Iroquoian Indians. Their journey was a difficult one, but their faith sustained them. I didn’t want to put the book down. The movie based upon the book is being re-released in June of 2014.

    Karen, I hope it’s okay that I share the trailer and the song sung by Joni Eraeckson Tada for the movie, Alone, Yet Not Alone. (Trailer) (Alone, Yet Not Alone) sung by Joni

    Seeing the trailer for the movie inspired me to read the book.

  11. What an interesting article!!! I love our TX history!
    I’m loving your books, and so proud of the fine woman you’ve become! You were a precious little girl when we knew your family in CA. Would love to see you in person again some day!

  12. Karen, WOW, how fascinating. I would love to have met the Smith brothers. What tales they had to tell. I bet Dixie had her own stories (and, yes, I LOVE her name, too). I’ll have to satisfy myself with reading The Boy Captives for more information. Thanks for the fun, fun, fun post today!!!

  13. Cheryl – You always make me smile. So many wonderful memories of our families together.

    Renee – Don’t you love those photos of the brothers as old men still using the bow and arrow? Talk about your life-changing experiences!

  14. What a great post, Karen! Thank you for sharing. It is no telling what Clint and Jeff went through as captives of the Indians. The adaptive nature of children is a blessing. You have spurred my interest so The Boy Captives will be a must read for me.

  15. Super stuff, Karen. I think the saddest of the stories is Cynthia Ann Parker. (The Searchers is based on her). Her Comanche (I think) husband had such love for her he never took a second wife, which was highly unusual for his culture.

    I have and love Olive Oatman’s story, The Blue Tattoo, which I always mean to feature here at P and P Maybe soon. In her case, the tattoo was a mark of great love from the tribe, not anything pejorative. Although of course a white clergyman made is all icky,. Sheesh.

    I seriously need to read this book, Karen. I always love learning new pieces of history and meeting “new” people. Great post today!

  16. Hey, Tanya! Thanks for sharing a few more details about Cynthia Ann Parker. I had heard of her, but I don’t know that I really remember all of her story. How sad that she was taken from the life she had grown to love.

  17. To go further in the Cynthia Ann Parker story–her two brothers were also taken with her. The boys had had a hard life in the white community even though they were kids. It was expected of them to do a man’s work. So as captives they were in kid heaven. They learned to ride horses, shoot and hunt and didn’t have to do the farming thing that they hated. I can’t remember the book title, but it was all about Cynthia and her brothers with the Comanche. So when the ‘white’ kids were discovered, the boys didn’t want to go back to civilization. They wanted to stay. As did Cynthia.

  18. FOLLOW THE RIVER by James Alexander Thorn was a good book and was made into a movie for TV in 1995. The story takes place in the Blue Ridge mountains starting near present day Radford, VA. The movie was good, but the book so much better.
    Indian Captive: The Story Of Mary Jemison by Lois Lenski is a good telling of a true incident. It is a children’s book, but there is narrative of her life based on interviews with her. It was written in 1823 by James E. Seaver. I have not read it, but Lenski’s book is a good, quick read With interesting details of her early life in the village.
    I have read several others, but off hand can’t think of what they were.

  19. Just found the book title about Cynthia Parker. It is called RIDE THE WIND. By Lucia St.Clair Robson. It’s a thick one, but worth the read.

  20. Patricia B – Thanks for those book titles. It fires my imagination to try to put myself in the shoes of those who went through a captivity like that. Some were treated well, while others were tortured or treated like slaves.

    Mary J – Thanks for looking that up. 🙂

    Janie – Sorry the site went down. I’ve never seen it have issues like that. Hopefully it will be back up soon.

Comments are closed.