The Color of Lightning

Written by Paulette Jiles
Review by Nan Curnutt

Freedman Britt Johnson, his wife, and their three children left their home in Kentucky to homestead on the North Texas plains at the end of the Civil War. Soon after they arrived in Texas, Britt lost his family in a Kiowa and Comanche raid. His oldest son was killed and his wife and two other children were taken captive. Britt set out across an unknown wilderness alone to bring back what was left of his family. He was aided in this quest by Tissoyo, a young, mischievous Comanche whom he befriended along the way.

Samuel Hammond, a young Quaker, was sent to Oklahoma to be the Indian agent to the tribes of the Plains. He became increasingly frustrated while trying to teach both the U.S. Army and the fierce Plains Indians the value of peace. The United States did not understand the needs of the Plains Indians. The Kiowa and Comanche people did not understand the value of farming the land. Neither side was satisfied with the peaceful coexistence which Samuel Hammond felt was their only answer.

Paulette Jiles’ extensive research is evident in this novelization of the life of Britt Johnson. She populates her tale with historical figures such as Quanah Parker, Esa Havey, and Hears the Dawn, to name a few. She provides vivid descriptions of the lifestyle of the Plains Indians, including how they tortured some of their captives and adopted others and the real reluctance of many adopted captives to return to their original families. Jiles colors these historical facts in prose that captures the imagination, allowing her audience to understand the diverse cultures struggling to coexist in this seemingly harsh land.