Author Paulette Jiles has again plowed the red dirt of North Texas and turned up a tale of brutality and inhumanity and love and devotion. This time with the fictionalization of the historical account of freed slave Britt Johnson, who in the closing days of the Civil War rescued his wife and children after they had been captured in Young County by a Comanche and Kiowa raiding party — “The Color of Lightning.”
Jiles, who lives on a small spread Near Utopia, Texas, goes into vivid detail about the landscape’s trees — post oak, mesquite, Osage orange — and grasses — buffalo grass and buckwheat — about the people and how they survived the capricious environment of drought, wind, storms and vicious Indian raids from across the Red River. She described the dust billowing up from horse hooves as looking like little fires.
The book is populated with historic characters in addition to Johnson and family — the frustrated Quaker Indian agent is given a fictional name but others keep their real names, such as Comanche chief Peta Nocona and his son Quanah Parker with captive wife Cynthia Ann Parker.
Jiles’ detailed depictions of the violence can leave one a bit squeamish, but they ring true to the historical accounts of the day.
I highly recommend the book, especially to any who are familiar with the region and its history.
Other books by Jiles set in Texas history include “News of the World,” in which Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels from town to town reading the latest newspapers to audiences for a dime a head, but agrees to return a freed captive 10-year-old girl to her family near San Antonio. Then there is “Stormy Weather,” about life in the grease orchard of East Texas during the Depression, as well as “Simon the Fiddler,” about, what else?, an itinerant fiddler trying to find love and a living wage traveling from town to town in Texas. Kidd makes a cameo appearance in a couple of other of her books.
I listened to an audio version of “Lightning” and the reader was excellent at conveying the drama and sweeping narrative. I read the other three in print versions. All are worthy.