Book review: ‘News of the World’ by Paulette Jiles

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

Seventy-one-year-old Captain Jeffrey Kyle Kidd read the news. Not as you might do or even as Walter Cronkite did. The time was just after the Civil War. Many people couldn’t read or couldn’t read well. Telegraphs and rail service were in sad shape in the south if they had even existed outside the main cities. So, when the captain came to town, many paid their dime and listened to the captain as he read about current events and happenings in far-off places. At present, he was in North Texas.

Kidd was summoned from his most recent reading by a cartage acquaintance to attempt to solve a problem. Britt Johnson had accepted the job of returning a captive girl to her relatives in Castroville, Texas, south of San Antonio. Her parents had been killed by the raiding Kiowa, and her uncle had sent a $50 gold piece to the Indian Agent to assist with her return. Johnson had agreed to help, but he had freight to haul, and Castroville was too far off his usual routes. Besides, she was trouble. Captives raised by Indians were never the same if they returned to their previous lives. She had been captive for six years and didn’t even remember English.

For whatever reason, Captain Kidd accepted the job and was given the $50 gold piece. He used it to buy an old traveling wagon and set out. The captain had raised two daughters and had some understanding of girls, but not necessarily a Kiowa’s girl being held against her will as far as she could understand it.

The girl thought and spoke in the language of the Kiowa. She had a mother and father in the tribe and was not interested in returning to a white society that she didn’t remember. Nothing about her present captivity felt right; she missed her Indian mother and father. She did, however, gain a modicum of trust in the captain when he spoke up for her to a group of Union soldiers who were patrolling the road south. With the help of friends to tend the girl, the captain managed an occasional reading to earn needed funds for their trip. He also managed to teach her to say and recognize her original name, and his: “Johanna” and “Kep-den.”

Johanna was a blond girl, and she drew the particular interest of a man named Almay, who intended to sell her as a prostitute. He first offered to buy her, and when that failed, he attempted to take her by force. That would have worked had not Johanna been resourceful enough to think of loading the shotgun shells they had with dimes, making them unexpectedly deadly. The Kiowa had to live by their wits.

Captain Kidd had accepted money to deliver Johanna to her uncle and aunt, and that was what he did. The process of turning her over to the relatives was hard, as he and Johanna had developed a bond. It was made even harder after he met the relatives and learned the uncle and aunt had a reputation as slave drivers. Since he was a man of his word, Johanna was left with her relatives, and Kidd proceeded to tend to some unfinished family business. He eventually returned to check how things were going for Johanna, intending to work out something with the relatives to allow him to reunite with her.

The story takes an interesting turn from here; you may want to read the book and learn what happens.

Addendum: I was given a book that I will pass on to the Wilton Public Library. The Winding Rivers Library System already has several copies. “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” by John “Chick” Donohue and J. T. Molloy is an account of Donohue’s experiences during the Vietnam War. Since many locations in Vietnam are mentioned, it should be of special interest to veterans who served there.

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