Some myths I ran across as I researched:
Native Americans (“Indians”) were all brutal, ignorant heathens. Research has revealed that while their code of honor was different from ours, and seemingly random brutality often took place alongside seemingly random kindness, a sense of honor and high standard of behavior did indeed exist among native peoples.
Native Americans were all honorable, noble people whom whites of the time greatly misunderstood. Plenty of misunderstanding happened from both sides, but make no mistake, the code of honor and morality among native tribes clashed with Christian sensibilities in many ways. Greed, pride, pettiness, abuse, and all other human vices flourished among native peoples as surely as they did among European settlers.
White (or other) captives were always treated badly. Eyewitness accounts prove otherwise. When natives took captives intended for adoption, they treated said captives with remarkable kindness. Captives intended for slavery or sacrifice were a different matter entirely. The contradiction inherent in the kindness extended one or more captives in a group while brutality was dealt others still boggles the modern mind, but it happened often. One account I read told of a woman taken captive, heavy with child and a toddler in tow, after her older children had been killed and scalped before her eyes. While on the journey back to her captors’ home, the toddler was considered a liability at some point and also killed, but when the woman went into labor, accommodations were made for her delivery and recovery. Jonathan Alder witnessed the death of his older brother, but he himself was spared and eventually adopted by a Shawnee and Mingo couple. Jemima Boone (daughter of Daniel Boone) and her friend spoke after their recovery of the kindness of their captors, as well, which leads me to the next myth ...
Indians always rape female captives. Patently untrue. I’m sure there were exceptions, but in nearly all accounts I’ve read, there were strict rules about how and when native men took white captive women as their wives, in a culture where courtship and marriage seemed to be handled much more casually than in ours.
A couple of facts I learned:
While native peoples seemed to consider the killing of an enemy a light matter indeed, when they chose to adopt a captive, they usually accepted that one into their tribe and family with a whole heart. Once the adoption ceremony was complete—which often involved a protracted scrubbing-down and change of clothing—the captive was considered family, with no difference between him and a blood-born child.
Some captives returned to their old lives, but some did not, and were happy in that choice. (Whether such behavior constitutes Stockholm Syndrome, as some would suggest, is up for debate, and I won't get into that here. I'm only recording observations.) Alder lived some 20 years with the native peoples, after his capture at age 9. He did eventually return to white society, in a process that can only be described as a slow drift, for reasons that he never fully explains. His Indian wife grew unhappy with the changes and eventually left him, and a few years later he courted and married a white woman, and raised a family with her.
I’ve only scratched the surface here, but I’d love to hear more myths and facts as you think of them!
A pair of sources I've found helpful and/or interesting:
http://sites.rootsweb.com/~varussel/indian/index.html (Emory L. Hamilton’s unpublished manuscript Indian Atrocities Along The Clinch, Powell and Holston Rivers of Southwest Virginia, 1773-1794)
A History of JonathanAlder: His Captivity and Life with the Indians, edited by Larry L. Nelson, which I drew heavily from while researching for my upcoming release, The Cumberland Bride.