When I asked Kathy Fischer-Brown to share some of her research with us I didn’t expect such a fascinating and detailed look at the lives of these poor captives. Thank you, Kathy.
Winter Fire – The Story of a Story
Of the literature available in seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth century America, “captive narratives” were an extremely popular and sensational genre. Depicting the trials and tribulations of white settlers—predominantly women—taken in raids by Native Americans, they remain gripping to this day. Stories of Mary Rowlandson, Hannah Dustan, Hannah Swarton, and Mary French, to name just a few, provide entertaining and informative reads. But none held my imagination more than that of Mary Jemison, a young teenager who was captured by a French and Shawnee raiding party and adopted into the Seneca tribe in the area around what is now Syracuse, New York. Even as she mourned the loss of her family, Mary lived the rest of her life among the Haudenosaunee. By the time she had reached a ripe old age, Deh-he-wä-mis (as she was then called) had all but forgotten her native language and was venerated by her adopted people.
An equally engrossing tale is told in a more recent book. John Demos’s The Unredeemed Captive (Vintage, 1995) chronicles the efforts of the Williams family of Massachusetts in the early 1700’s to regain their daughter following a raid on Deerfield. After years of searching and countless disappointments, Reverend Williams was horrified to learn that Eunice had married a Mohawk warrior and chose to remain with her captors.
It was only natural that when the idea for Winter Fire caught my imagination, I returned to these accounts. As the story took shape, further research led to a campaign of 1779 during the American Revolution, which had as its target Iroquois warriors under Mohawk war chief Joseph Brandt and his Loyalist allies. (An exceptional account of this bloody chapter in American history is told in Allan Eckert’s Wilderness War.) Following a number of murderous attacks on frontier settlements and equally brutal reprisals, George Washington dispatched Generals John Sullivan and James Clinton deep into Six Nations lands to minimize the effectiveness of Brandt’s forces by burning their villages and crops. The resulting devastation led only to more retaliation.
An unexpected by-product of this offensive was the recovery of a number of white captives and their return to “civilization.” Some went happily with the army, while others had to be forced from the smoldering remains of their adoptive homes.
This inspired me to ask myself, "What if...?" What if a white woman in like circumstances had been taken away against her will and returned to what was left of her family?
The narratives are filled with tales in which this had been the case. Unfortunately, these reunions, more often than not, were unpleasant for both the former captives and their relations. Back among their own people, many of the redeemed were scorned, shunned, and regarded with suspicion for their strange ways. After years of living among the “savages,” attempts to reintegrate into a society that was now foreign and strange ended in failure for these people trapped between two worlds. At first opportunity they ran off and attempted to rejoin their Iroquois families. Very few of these tales had a happy ending.
With these accounts as its foundation, Zara Grey’s story took root in my imagination. Caught up in a war pitting neighbor against neighbor, son against father, white man against “red man,” a young heiress of Dutch descent becomes both a pawn and a pariah, with murder in the bargain.
Ethan Caine, the hero of this historical romance, has as his backstory a polarizing incident based loosely on true events. In eastern Pennsylvania following The French and Indian War, during the 1763 conflict known as Pontiac’s Rebellion, wilderness settlements throughout the colonies remained vulnerable to attacks. Fueled by the lack of support they were receiving from colonial forces, a group of self-appointed vigilantes, the “Paxton Boys,” attacked and killed residents of a nearby village of peaceful Susquehannock. While the actual episode was unprovoked, the fictionalized account in Winter Fire incorporates a patchwork of similar clashes. Young Ethan is deeply traumatized by these events and the ensuing senseless slaughter. Fifteen years later, he is forced to confront his prejudices and regrets when he rescues a half-drowned white woman dressed in clothes of Seneca design from an ice covered creek. She’d been running from someone or something, and toward Iroquois lands.
The resulting novel, a 1998 Golden Heart finalist, has as its core the inter-cultural conflicts of its time magnified by the perceptions, misconceptions, and fears of people in the midst of war. It’s also the story of a man and a woman whose lives have been entwined from the beginning.
Winter Fire by Kathy Fischer-Brown
When Ethan Caine pulled the unconscious woman from the half-frozen creek, he had no idea that his world was about to explode. Dressed in quilled doeskin of Iroquois design, she stirred up dark secrets from his past. At the same time, she was everything he desired. But she was more Indian than white, and on the run for murder. He needed to know the truth. He needed to find it within himself to trust her.
Banished by the Seneca Indians who had adopted and raised her, ostracized by the whites in the settlement, Zara Grey wanted only to be accepted. “Ethancaine” treated her with kindness and concern. It was easy to trust him. But her Indian ways disturbed him, and in her heart she would always be Seneca.
October, 1779. Six Nations Territory
She ran. Breathless, heart straining. Despite the stabbing pain in her side and the fire in her lungs, she forced herself on through the crackling underbrush. The cold wind whipped hair in her eyes. Briars tore her face and hands.
Yet with each labored stride, the soldiers= shouting voices drew closer. She dared not look back for fear of losing ground, dared not avert her eyes from the forest path.
But where was she to run? As if the question were an obstacle in her path she stumbled to a halt.
There was no one to help her. The People had gone, taking with them all help, all hope. She was alone. The outcast. Nameless.
Gasping, she slumped to her knees into the dew-drenched leaves.
The witch Jiiwi is no more!
The truth of it choked her. She set her teeth against the cry of anguish rising in her throat. She could have chosen death! Death at the hands of The People would have been swift. Nichus, her-husband-no-longer-her-husband, had assured her.
But her fear of death had been stronger than her fear of the unknown. She had chosen life. And with it, banishment.
She tore wind-blown hair laced with leaves and twigs from her face and glanced back over her shoulder. The soldiers were nearly upon her.
Five of them. They slowed their pace. Perhaps they knew she could run no more. They approached as if puzzled, talking among themselves. ?Savages musta left her behind when they sneaked off,@ one of the men said. ?Why d=you suppose...?@
“Hotakwih!@ she said to herself, unable to hold back the tears. It is finished. Raising her eyes to the sky above the autumn colored hills, she whispered, ?Hohsah@ It has begun. She bowed her head. “Haywokahweh!@ I have gone in a circle.
When the blue-coated soldiers caught up with her, she no longer had the strength or the will to resist.
Two of them edged closer to her in the shadows. ?Here, we=re not going to harm you,@ one said, his voice a raspy whisper. ?Do you understand?@
She could not bring herself to look at them. Soon they would do more than talk. She knew. Soon they would see what she was. They would take her away. Take her back. Back to where the circle had begun.
“Not so close,” the other man ordered. “Give her room. You=re scarin= her.”
A twinge of unease rippled through her stomach. These were the same blue coats that had left a trail of ashes where thriving villages once had stood, who girdled the fruit trees so they would wither and die, who laid waste the fields of corn and squash and beans. She had seen them before, in her dreams. Her dreams had shown them the way.
“Good God!” Another of them cried out. “She=s white! The woman=s white!”
The first man knelt before her. “Do you speak English? Can you tell us your name?”
She would not trouble herself to reply.
“Here!” A man fumbled in his pack, producing a slice of jerky. He extended it just beyond her reach, an attempt to lure her closer, like a starving dog. But she would not oblige him. “I=ll wager you=re hungry.”
She lifted her head slightly and eyed the meat with longing. Three days of subsisting on nothing but roots and groundnuts had left her light-headed and weak. But she would accept none of their food. She looked down at the leaves.
“Suit yourself,” the man grumbled, and tore off a piece with his teeth.
In the distance, the shouts of men rose above the morning stillness. An acrid odor wafted on the wind through the trees. Across the meadow, lush with green grasses, beyond the expanse of ripening fields and orchards, the soldiers had set fire to the village.
From a place deep inside her, as if awakened by the sounds and smells, an old terror forced itself past the dust of forgotten memory.
Voices from the past rang out across time. Silenced for so long, they gained new strength and force on the billows of smoke darkening the sky.
Mama! Her own voice. The voice of the child she had been.
For as long as she could remember, her dreams had been filled with fire and smoke. And a savage host tore her from one world and thrust her into another. So it had been in the past. So it would be again.
“Haywokahweh!” she said, and she closed her eyes.
The circle was complete.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
As a child Kathy wanted to be a writer when she grew up. She also wanted to act on the stage. After receiving an MFA in Acting from the Mason Gross School of the Arts and playing the part of starving young artist in New York, she taught theater classes at a small college in the Mid-West before returning home to the East Coast, where over the years, she and her husband raised two kids and an assortment of dogs. During stints in advertising, children’s media publishing, and education reform in the former Soviet Unions, she wrote whenever she could.
Her love of early American history has its roots in family vacations up and down the East Coast visiting old forts and battlefields and places such as Williamsburg, Mystic Sea Port, and Sturbridge Village. During this time, she daydreamed in high school history classes, imagining the everyday people behind all the dates and conflicts and how they lived.
Claiming her best ideas are born of dreams, Kathy has written a number of stories over the years. Her first published novel, Winter Fire, a 1998 Golden Heart finalist in historical romance, was reissued in 2010 by Books We Love, Ltd., which also released Lord Esterleigh’s Daughter, Courting the Devil, and The Partisan’s Wife.
When not writing, she enjoys reading, cooking, photography, playing “ball” with the dogs, and rooting on her favorite sports teams.
Amazon Author Central: http://www.amazon.com/Kathy-Fischer-Brown/e/B004BMAG7U/
BooksWeLove (Publisher): http://www.bookswelove.net/kathyfischerbrown.php
Amazon US kindle: http://amzn.com/B004BA5GMM
Amazon US paperback: http://amzn.com/1926965434
Amazon UK kindle: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004BA5GMM
Amazon UK paperback: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1926965434
Amazon Australia kindle: http://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B004BA5GMM
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I'm currently writing a novella which will be included in a multi-author boxed set, due to be published in February 2019