Posted by Quinn.
Sarah Wakefield’s captivity was both a tragic and overwhelming experience for her. For six weeks, she and her two young children, James and Nellie, lived with Native Americans of the Sioux tribe. Wakefield endured numerous struggles including starvation, separation, as well as other things including being pursued by a ruthless Indian named Hapa. So one of the most important questions to ask is, how were Wakefield and her two children able to survive? All around her, other white captives were being murdered left and right, but not her. Men and women are getting slaughtered, but for some reason she is spared. How come? Why was she lucky? Why did she survive? Wakefield should have been one of the first to go. She had an infant on her back and held her boy by the arm. Wakefield was an easy target, yet she lived to tell her tale. How is this so?
Wakefield had lived with the Native Americans for a year or so prior to her capture. Upon arriving, she is horrified by the Indians, “as we were ignorant of Indian customs”(Wakefield, 243). However as she interacts with them, she learns a lot about their culture and way of life. She even comes to embrace certain aspects of it. One thing she enjoys in particular is the comforts of the teepee, “ I always had in our teepee a wash cloth, a towel, soap, and wash dish …… I had my own corner of the teepee” (Wakefield, 300) Unlike Mary Rowlandson who called them “savages” and “heathen”, Wakefield respects the Native Americans and shows them decency. This viewpoint was very rare among whites on the frontier. Why did Wakefield have a different viewpoint then the other whites? She wasn’t overly religious, but she did believe in “doing unto others as she would be done by” (Wakefield, 237). Should this belief be applied to the Native Americans? Why, surely the “savages” wouldn’t return this kindness, would they?
However, Sarah Wakefield’s experiences tell her otherwise. If you respect the Indians and embrace their culture, they will give you respect in return. Wakefield does everything she can to become like the Sioux. She does all the little things that differentiate between the two culture to assimilate with the Indians. Essentially she adapts to Indian culture. She puts mud on her face to darken her skin, carries her infant on her back, and dresses like a squaw and so on. But are these minor differences that important? Some might say no. However aren’t these minor disparities the ultimate difference between the white and Native American culture? Also, wouldn’t be easier if your going to live with them, to adapt, be like them and embrace their culture? She was one of the few white captives to totally embrace the Sioux culture. Most captives are still hostile to the Indians, “I wish every one dead; I would like to cut their throats” (Wakefield, 283). They despise them, and have no intention of adapting to their customs, unlike Wakefield they would end up murdered. So, was adapting to the Indians customs important? Did that have a role in who was murdered and who was spared?
Wakefield and her children, however, had one major difference then all the other whites that were captives. Wakefield essentially had a “guardian angel” in Chaska. He was a Christian Indian farmer who had known the Wakefield family before her captivity. He serves as her protector and keeps her from harm. He tells her when to run and hide, sends her and the children off to his relatives, and does too many things to count. Wakefield even says, “I thought my doom was sealed, and if it had not been for Chaska, my bones would now be bleaching on that prairie” (Wakefield, 254). Chaska is very important to Wakefield’s survival through her captivity, but how important is he? How long would have she survived without him? A day? A week? The unfortunate thing is that despite all his chivalrous deeds towards Wakefield, she can’t repay him. He is arrested and later hung, for being present at Mr. Gleason’s murder. Wakefield does whatever she can to have him freed, but to no avail. Why was she unable to help Chaska? Was it because she was a woman trapped within the confines of a patriarchal society, powerless against her limits? Or were there other factors in play? After his execution, the Agency admits they made a mistake, “Chaska was hung instead of another” (Wakefield, 308). Why did the Agency not listen to her? Maybe they just wanted to execute as many Indians as possible, even the good ones.
Wakefield’s children are also a critical part of her journey. At first, one could argue that they are a hindrance and only cause problems for her. However as the story progresses, that isn’t necessarily the case. Wakefield insists throughout her narrative are that her children are what kept her going. Numerous times she falls down and wishes to die, but only to remember that she has her children, “I begged him to spare me for my children’s sake……. anything rather then die and leave my children.” (Wakefield, 254) They are her sole motivation to fight for survival. She doesn’t know what will happen to them if she perishes. How would of things been different if her children had not been captured, or if they had been killed right away? Her captivity would have been significantly different, but how so? After all, didn’t she need them as much as she needed them?
So back to the question, that started this post: how did Wakefield and her two small children survive six weeks with the Sioux? Was it because of adaptability and embracement of the Indian culture? Was it her children and the motivation they provided for her, or was it the “guardian angel”, that was constantly watching over? I feel as though all three of these were important factors in their survival and she couldn’t have done so without any of one them. They all played a critical role in her survival. However, were there other factors in play? Was her faith important and have any role in her survival?