Wednesday, September 26, 2012


                                            A Real Hero who helped my Fictional Hero

Those of us on this blog write fiction. Several of us write both contemporary and historical fiction, but we each write books set in the West. As my fellow authors have done, I have carefully researched my works. But then, I love reading reference material when it’s about my favorite subject. In researching for, HIGH STAKES BRIDE, which is releasing this week, I came across an historic hero who lived and worked in the area of Texas in which I live. Normally, I only use fictitious names in my works, but in this instance, I had my hero Zach Stone interact with this real-life hero, Brit Johnson.

John Wayne in "The Searchers"

“The Searchers” is the John Ford movie starring John Wayne and based on the novel by Allen LeMay,  whose story in turn was inspired by actual events detailed in Gregory Michno's "The Search for the Captives of Elm Creek." In “The Searchers,” a white man searches for his niece captured by Indians. Western Writers of America voted “The Searchers” the No. 1 Western of all time. In Weider History Group special issue of 100 Greatest Westerns, the movie ranks No. 7. Many people believe the movie is based on the search for Cynthia Ann Parker, but it's about another captured girl, and the movie doesn’t begin to tell the exciting real story.

The actual Elm Creek Raid “searcher” on whom the movie was based is Brit Johnson, a black man who hunted for his wife and children. His quest and recovery of his family as well as other victims kidnapped in that raid is the stuff of legends. As a result, there are at least three or four versions of the story. Here is my compilation of what I consider the most likely way the story happened.

Brit was born about 1840 in Tennessee or Kentucky. He was a slave of Moses Johnson, who came to Texas as part of Stephen F. Austin’s 300. Moses Johnson had intended to free Brit, but both agreed that the hassle incurred by freedmen of color in the south and southwest was too great. Instead, Brit worked as Moses’ ranch foreman and could come and go as he wished. On October 13, 1864, Brit had gone into Weatherford for winter supplies along with Allen Johnson and other ranchers and farmers.

Little Buffalo and seven hundred braves were also riding. Usually waiting for a full moon to raid, this time in broad daylight they swept down both banks of Elm Creek, killing and raping, burning houses and barns full of the summer's crops. They stole most of the horses and some of the cattle, killing or stampeding the rest. Among the first houses surrounded by the Comanche was that of Mrs. Elizabeth Fitzpatrick. She was there with her son, Joseph, 12, and her adult daughter, Susan Durgan, along with Susan's children, 3 year old Charlote "Lottie," and 18 month old Millie Jane. Britt's wife, Mary, and their three children were also there. Susan, who had run outside with a gun, was stripped, raped, and mutilated in the yard. Britt's son was killed and the others kidnapped.

Many wanted to ride after their loved ones, but chasing 700 Comanche was not the wisest option. They spent the winter rebuilding homes and sewing crops. Then, Brit Johnson went after his wife and daughters. He trailed Comanche and found a campsite. Here being a black man helped. On this trip he first traded for horses, recognizing two as those taken from near his home, one from Thomas Hamby and the favorite mare of Elizabeth Fitzpatrick. When he saw Mrs. Fitzpatrick, he pretended disinterest until he could ask the ally he'd made, Chief Milky Way, to trade for her on his behalf. He returned Mrs. Fitzpatrick to her home, with her riding her own mare.

Brit would not rest until he had recovered his wife, Mary, and their two children. In return for being rescued, Elizabeth Fitzpatrick committed part of her wealth to helping recover other kidnap victims from the Indians. She hoped to recover Lottie and Millie Jane. Financed by Elizabeth Fitzpatrick and Allen Johnson, Brit made three more trips into Indian Territory that summer as he slowly tracked down and purchased surviving captives from the Elm Creek Raid of October, 1864.

On his fourth trip, Britt again enlisted the aid of Chief Milky Way aka Chief Asa-Havie. The chief sent with Brit two trusted braves to bargain with the Kiowa, who were rumored to have some black captives. At the time Brit did not know if they were the ones he was seeking, but it turned out they were. Britt Johnson eventually recovered every other captive except Millie Durgan, who was supposedly sold and adopted into the tribe. Though her fate was not learned until over sixty years later, she lived a full and happy life as the adopted daughter of a chief. Poor Elizabeth Fitzpatrick never learned whether her granddaughter lived or died, but went to her grave believing Millie Jane was waiting to be rescued..

The photo above is of the woman many believe to be Millie Jane Durgan. The photo was taken when she was 69. She is the one member of the Elm Creek Raid who was not recovered. According to the researchers, Millie was adopted  by Chief Au-Soat-Sai-Mah and given the name Sain-Toh-Oodie (killed with a blunt arrow) by her godfather and concealed from whites by her foster parents. When asked about her, the tribe replied she had died of starvation the first winter. In reality, she grew up pampered and happy as the only child of her foster parents. She married a brave named Goombi and had nine children. Mrs. Goombi is buried near Mountain View, Oklahoma.

Penateka Comanche Chief Milky Way, also
known as Chief Asa-Havie
In June 1865, Comanche Chief Asa-Havie paid a ransom for the black captives, rescued them, and took them to the Indian agent, who turned them over to Britt Johnson. By the time Johnson returned with his family, the Civil War was over and he truly was a free man. He had become famous for getting his family and others back from the Comanches, and he used his status to buy a wagon team and gain freight contracts. He moved his family to Parker County, where he set up his freight business. Johnson became quite successful, heading up wagon teams to haul freight between Weatherford and Fort Griffin. Government contracts went to his company because it was a government policy to favor business contracts with black freedmen. White businessmen gave him their business because his company was reliable and competitive. Not only that, the name Britt had become a local legend in North Texas. There was no shortage of work for their new company, and no shortage of friends in every community.

In 1867, the Federal government adopted a new so-called peace policy that guaranteed Indians on the Territory that the army would not arrest them if they were on the reservation. It could not punish any Indian for any crime without first obtaining permission from an Indian agent. The Indian agents, mostly Quakers, rarely gave that permission. The reservation had become a sanctuary for raiding that made the raids into Texas worse than ever before.

Britt Johnson died as heroically as he lived. On January 24, 1871, while he led a wagon train through Young County delivering supplies from Weatherford to Fort Griffin, a group of either five or twenty-five Kiowas, depending on the account, attacked the wagon train four miles to the east of Salt Creek. Johnson and the two other teamsters with him tried to defend the wagons, but there was little cover. Outnumbered, the teamsters put up a desperate fight. They killed their own horses and mules to make breastworks, bravely resisting to the end. When his two companions fell dead, Johnson desperately held back the attack using his dead horse for cover. After torturing, killing and scalping the men, and looting the wagons, the Kiowa headed toward their sanctuary in Indian Territory. When others, either soldiers from Fort Griffin or another set of teamsters depending on the account, found the site of this attack, they counted 173 rifle and pistol shells around the area where Johnson made his last stand. The men buried the mutilated bodies of Johnson and his men in a common grave next to the wagon road.

In HIGH STAKES BRIDE, I fictionally have Brit Johnson assist my hero, Zach Stone, rescue a boy kidnapped by the Kiowa. Later,the Paneteka Comanche who assisted Brit and Zach, comes to visit Zach at his home in what I hope is a moving farewell. Instead of Chief Milky Way, I made up the name White Eagle. I hope my taking liberty with the history in this instance translates into an enjoyable read. After all, that’s what authors strive for--entertaining our readers. Here’s the cover of that book:

It’s available in print and e-book. The ebook is at and soon will be available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, etc.

In Print at

For those who might be interested in a more realistic book on Brit Johnson’s life, here’s the trailer of KILLED BY INDIANS 1871:

But that is NOT what HIGH STAKES BRIDE is about. To prove it, here's the blurb:

Mary Alice Price is on the run from dangerous men. She had known that when her stepfather died, she would have to hurriedly escape her stepbrothers. Hadn’t she heard them promise her to the meanest man in Texas as payment for high stakes gambling losses? One misfortune after another devils her until she links up with Zach Stone. He looks sturdy as his last name and invites her to his ranch where his two aunts will chaperone them. She figures life finally dealt her a winning hand.

Zach Stone has the sweetest ranch in all of Texas, at least he thinks he does. All he needs is a wife to build his family of boys and girls to carry on his ranch and name. He’s been jilted and vows he will never even speak to a woman again unless she's a relative. Then he comes across Alice Price and comes up with a crazy plan. He’s figured everything out, and is sure nothing can go wrong with his plan.

But life holds many surprises for Alice and Zach...

Thanks for stopping by!

Sources: By Daniel D.New
Michael E. McClellan, "JOHNSON, BRITTON," Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed September 25, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.


  1. CAROLINE--I always thought the John Wayne movie The Searchers was based loosely on the re-capture of Cynthia Ann Parker. But now I know who the real hero is. This is a man I knew nothing about, and the story is chilling and thrilling. Thanks for the thorough research you did and relating the events.
    And congratulations on your new release!

  2. Celia, I had heard the same thing, but apparently the movie was based on Brit Johnson. In the 1950's, using a black man as a hero was not done for a major motion picture. Plus, Brit didn't want to kill Millie Jane, just rescue her. Imagine Denzel Washington as a kinder Ethan Edwards searching for family. I'd see that movie!

  3. Carolyn, that's a very interesting bit of history. I'm glad we live in this century. I would't want to have to worry about Indian attacks.

    I'm fully confident if they kidnapped me...they'd gladly return me. :)

  4. Caroline, Great historical info! Your next book sounds as good as the first one. Congrats!

  5. Fascinating story, Caroline! I, too, believed The Searchers was based on Cynthia Ann Parker and her uncle's search for her. I'd never heard of Brit Johnson until now. Thank you for enlightening us about such a brave man.

  6. What a magnificent post, Caroline. Each and every one of those names and sobriquets touched me, and the history is something I'll come back to time and time again.

    I wouldn't want to worry about Indian attacks either but I still the native tribes got royally screwed.

    Excellent, Caroline, and best wishes for much success with this new book. I'm eager to read it.g

  7. Wonderful post, Caroline! I don't write westerns, but enjoy reading and watching movies set in the west. I've been watching the miniseries 'Into the West' and the series 'Hell On Wheels' on the AMC cable channel.

    Your new book sounds great! Best of luck with sales!

  8. Caroline,
    I love how our research takes us into uncharted territory as yours did. What wonderful information about a little known man! Brit's efforts and zeal to win the release of captives is truly heroic. His death was brutal and tragic. Thanks for bringing the tale to light.
    Arletta Dawdy

  9. Caroline, thank you for enlightening us about this piece of history. I guess I'm the rare one, as I didn't relate The Searchers to Cynthia Ann Parker. The movie has been a favorite and last year I finally read Alan LeMay's book. Now that you've brought the true story of Brit Johnson to us, I will view them in a different light.
    Thank you for your diligent research. It is reflected in your wonderful stories.

  10. Fascinating history about Brit Johnson; a very courageous man. And as you know, I loved White Eagle in High Stakes Bride, so it is interesting to read who inspired that character as well. A wonderful post, Caroline.


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