7. Mary Jemison
Mary Jemison went through one of the most brutal kidnappings of any child. The story of how her Iroquois kidnappers massacred her family is absolutely horrifying—and yet, for some reason, she willingly stayed with her captors until the day she died.
Mary was 13 years old when a raiding party from the Iroquois Confederacy attacked her home. The Jemisons were forced to march through the woods, urged on by a warrior with a whip who lashed them whenever they slowed their step. They were not fed. If someone asked for water, the Iroquois warriors would force them to drink urine.
In the morning, Mary was pulled apart from her family and forced to march another day. She spent the day wondering what had become of her parents. Then, when nightfall came and they stopped to rest, she found out. While she watched, a warrior pulled her mother and father’s severed scalps out of a bag, scraped them clean, and dried them over a fire.
She remembered seeing her parents’ scalps dry for the rest of her life. In her old age, she would relate the story as if it was a swashbuckling adventure from an exciting childhood, but she never left her home. She moved in with a Seneca family, married a Delaware man, and, for reasons only Mary Jemison truly understood, became so attached to her family that she refused to ever leave their side, regardless of what had happened to her parents.
6. Herman Lehmann
Herman Lehmann didn’t see himself as a white boy living among the Apaches. To him, he was an Apache warrior through and through. He was kidnapped at age ten, and it changed him so much that when he was found eight years later, he couldn’t even remember his own name.
By then, Lehman was a respected warrior in his tribe who called himself “En Da.” He’d been made a petty chief for his ability to fight, and he’d joined the Apaches in raids and battles, even leading a charge right into a fort full of Texas Rangers.
All that changed, though, when a medicine man killed his adoptive father, an Apache warrior named Carnoviste. Lehman took his revenge and killed the medicine man. He then had to flee into the wilderness. For a year, he lived alone, hiding from the Apaches and the white men alike, until he finally settled down in a Native American reservation.
When his mother heard there was a white-skinned, blue-eyed boy on the reservation, she came out, praying it was her son. At first, she didn’t recognize him, and Herman was less than friendly. “I was an Indian,” he explained, “and I did not like them because they were palefaces.” But Herman’s sister spotted an old scar only he could have and, overcome with joy, cried out, “It’s Herman!”
The sound of the name puzzled him. Somehow, Herman thought he’d heard it before. It took a long moment, Herman would later recall, before he realized that he was hearing his own name.
5. Olive Oatman
When Olive Oatman wrote about her life as a Mohave captive, she called them “savages.” She wrote about them as if they were wild men and her time with them had been hell, but there were hints she wasn’t telling the truth. The biggest clue was as a plain as her face: the large, blue tattoo that covered her jaw.
Oatman had grown up in a Mormon family, but she was captured by Apaches while her family was traveling to California. The Apaches had sold her to a Mohave family that took her as her own, and for five years, she lived as a Mohave.
When Olive’s brother—the sole surviving member of her family—found her, her tribe was suffering through a famine, and many were starving. The people around her were dying, and, worried for her life, her adoptive family let her go home.
Oatman wrote a book about her experiences that criticized the Mohave, but there were signs she wasn’t being totally honest. She dressed like them, lived like them, and had willingly agreed to the blue tattoo on her face. And she’d claimed that the “savages” had not made her “unchaste”—but her name among the Mohave was “Spantsa,” a name meaning “sore vagina.”
Nobody knew the truth about Olive Oatman’s experience except for her. But some believe that living among the Mohave may have changed her more than she was willing to admit.