Color of Lightning by Paulette Giles

lightningReviewed by Woodstock

A tragic clash of cultures when three forces encounter each other in Texas and Oklahoma in the decades just after the Civil War.

Britt Johnson, a freed black, has come to Texas with his wife and children. He plans to start a freight hauling business to serve the new communities and expanding economies of the region. Johnson’s character is based on an actual life of a man of the same name, whose story is still part of the oral legends of the area, over 100 years after his death.

Samuel Hammond has been sent to the Federal Indian Agency at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in an experient to turn the management of the local agencies over to various religious groups. As a Quaker, Hammond hopes to quell the continuing unrest between the Plains Indians and the growing number of settlers moving west and seeking a new beginning.

The third force in the story is the large community of Plains Indians – Comanche and Kiowa for the most part. The two nations have lived in the area for generations, with well established semi-nomadic ways of life; occasional tension between them; and skillful adaptation to the climate and the terrain.

While Johnson is away from his home setting up his new freight routes, his family and the family of a neighbor are captured by Indians. Several children die and the women and the surviving children are taken to live with the capturing forces. When Johnson returns, he determines to get his family back, and receives information and military backup from Hammond.

This is the best sort of adventure story, filled with action and suspense. In addition Giles has fashioned the best sort of human interest story – in which the reader can understand how all three forces see themselves to be in the right, and indeed, can sympathize with all three. No one will win as events unfold. The most poignant victims are the children taken in early raids on white settlements, who have no memory of their lives with their birth families and yet are forcibly taken from the Indian communities who have nurtured them.

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