Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Spring 2008


Great Plains Quarterly Volume 28, Number 2, Spring 2008, pp. 165-66.


Copyright 2008 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


The field of captivity narrative studies has been expanding and evolving since the early 1990s. Thirty academic books have appeared since then, including individual editions, anthologies of narratives, studies of individual captives, and critical and historical monographs. Two aspects of Gregory and Susan Michno's volume contribute to captivity narrative studies in a very limited way: first, it considers the still underexamined captivity narratives from the West and Midwest; and second, like a biographical dictionary, it provides basic information about unfamiliar captives and captivities mostly taken from the narratives themselves. The book also includes maps, illustrations, and various appendices and tables.

The inflammatory title, A Fate Worse Than Death, is not ironic. In their introduction, the authors state that "the majority" of captivity narratives were "personal accounts of the horrors of captivity" for the women and children on which the book focuses. They continue, "The stories are replete with details of killing, mutilation, abuse, and rape. There is no particular joy in relating what the captives experienced, but there is a need for it." Lest readers have not fully understood their agenda, the Michnos restate their reactionary thesis at the end of the book: ''An Indian captive in the American West was almost assured of a horrible ordeal, and for many women it was truly a fate worse than death." Unfortunately, it sounds as if the Michnos have uncritically absorbed the rhetoric of the preselected nineteenth-century texts they have researched.