Another IAGenWeb Project
THE PARTY FROM JASPER COUNTY—THEY ENCOUNTER A PART OF INKPADUTAH'S BAND AT LOON LAKE—THE EXPOSED CONDITION OF THE FRONTIER—NECESSITY FOR PROTECTION—GOVERNOR GRIMES APPEALS TO CONGRESS AND THE PRESIDENT—HIS APPEAL UNHEEDED—THE TERRIBLE WINTER OF 1856 AND 1857—INKPADUTAH'S BAND GO SOUTH—THE TROUBLE AT SMITHLAND—DIFFERENT VERSIONS—THE INDIANS START UP THE RIVER—TROUBLE AT PETERSON AND IN BUENA VISTA COUNTY—GILLETT'S GROVE—GILLETT'S ACCOUNT AS GIVEN .IN THE HISTORY OF CLAY COUNTY—SETTLERS SEND TO FORT DODGE FOR ASSISTANCE—DUNCOMBE'S ACCOUNT—THE INDIANS ARRIVE AT THE LAKES—THEIR NUMBER—ACCOUNTS DIFFER.
IN THE month of November, 1856, a party from Jasper County, in this state, consisting of O. C. Howe, R. U. Wheelock and B. P. Parmenter, under the guidance of a hunter and trapper by the name of Wiltfong, made a visit to the county and were so captivated by the romantic scenery, lovely climate and abundance of game that they decided to return the coming spring for the purpose of permanent settlement. They spent some time in the vicinity of the lakes and returned to their homes just. in time to avoid the terrific storms with which the winter of 1856 and 1857 set in. It is to them and to Mrs. Abbie Gardner Sharp that we are indebted for what little we know of the condition of affairs in the vicinity of the lakes previous to the massacre. At the time they were here, in November, Inkpadutah and a part of his followers were camped at the southern extremity of Black Loon Lake, in Jackson County, Minnesota. As near as could be ascertained at the time, the band consisted of not less than fifteen nor more than twenty warriors, with their squaws and papooses and the usual appurtenances of an Indian camp. This band has been pretty thoroughly described and their relations to the settlers can now be pretty well understood. They were known as a thieving, pilfering band of tramps and outlaws, hovering along the border dividing the whites from the Indians. They acknowledged the authority of neither. In their contact with civilization they had imbibed the evil and rejected the good. They possessed the vices of both races and the virtues of neither. It will require no stretch of the imagination to understand the feelings of bitterness, hatred and revenge on the one side, and that of distrust, apprehension and fear on the other, existing between the Indians and the settlers along the border. Under the circumstances it would be perfectly natural for the settlers to look to the general government for protection and defense. Other Indians besides Inkpadutah's band occasionally made excursions along the frontier, but they were without exception on friendly terms with the settlers.
Repeated appeals were made to the United States authorities, both before and after the massacre, for more adequate protection to the Iowa frontier. Governor Grimes, during his administration (1854-1858), addressed several urgent appeals to our senators and representatives in Congress setting forth the exposed and helpless condition of the border settlements. As early as January 3, 1855, he sent. them a lengthy communication in which, among other things, he says: "I have taken the responsibility to appoint Major Williams, of Fort Dodge, a kind of executive agent to act for me in protecting both the settlers and the Indians, and particularly to preserve the peace. I had no legal authority to make such appointment, but as there was no government agent in that section of the country, and as I was so remote from the scene of trouble and felt that there should be some one in the vicinity who would act prudently and who could act efficiently, I knew no better course than to appoint him as I have indicated." The letter closes as follows: "I trust, gentlemen, you will stimulate the department at Washington to take immediate steps to remedy the evil complained of. We have just cause for complaint. The government has undertaken to protect our frontiers from the Indians with the assurance that this stipulation would be fulfilled. That frontier is filled with peaceful citizens, but the Indians are suffered to come among them, destroying their property and jeopardizing their lives. I hope no time will be lost in allaying the apprehensions that exist in some parts of the state on this account. I am, gentlemen, very truly your obedient servant, JAMES W. GRIMES.
"To Hon. A. C. Dodge, Hon. George W. Jones, Hon. J. P. Cook and Hon. B. Henn, Delegation in Congress from Iowa. Washington, D. C."
No response whatever was made to this appeal.
Nearly a year later he made another attempt, this time addressing the President. The letter closes as follows: "A year ago the General Assembly of this state unanimously asked for the establishment of a military post on the Sioux River near the northwest corner of the state. I concur entirely iii the propriety of that measure. I have no doubt that two companies of dragoons or cavalry stationed there would effectually pre vent the incursions of the Indians and give quiet to the whole of northwestern Iowa. Without such a post they may be removed, but it does not occur to me how they may be permanently kept out. I am, very truly with great respect, your obedient servant, JAMES W.GRIMES.
"Hon. Franklin Pierce, President of the United States."
This letter was sent something more than a year previous to the massacre and shared the same fate as the former one.
Hon. Charles Aldrich, in the Annals of Iowa, commenting on the stupidity and stubbornness of the general government in withholding the necessary protection to the frontier, says: "Governor .Tames W. Grimes wrote letters to our United States senators and to the authorities at Washington some time before the outbreak of hostilities, asking that the general government take, immediate steps for the protection of our exposed frontiers. Little or no attention was paid to his reiterated requests, and so when the Indians resorted to hostilities our Iowa border was wholly without protection. * * * Had the earnest appeals of Governor Grimes been heeded, the Spirit Lake Massacre would not have occurred. What makes this neglect appear more stupidly and wickedly cruel was the fact that in those days the catching of a runaway negro under the infamous `Fugitive Slave Law' was rife in the land, and detachments of the Federal army or vessels of the United States navy could be readily secured to return a slave to his master."
The winter of 1856 and 1857 is one long to be remembered by the early settlers of Iowa as the most severe one in the annals of its history. The first heavy storm occurred early in December, when snow fell to the depth of nearly two feet. This was followed by others in quick succession, until by the first of February the snow had reached a depth of four feet. These storms were accompanied with high winds and were of the most fearful and violent character. Nothing approaching then in intensity has been experienced in the state of Iowa since. The settlers at the lakes were but illy prepared for such a winter as this. We must remember that there was not a foot of lumber to be had within a hundred miles and all of the flour and provisions used had to be hauled twice that distance. The cabins of the settlers were unfurnished. They were without floors and had heavy puncheon doors hung upon wooden hinges. But few of the settlers had been able to get in a sufficient supply of provisions when the first storms came, and only succeeded in reaching home on snow shoes, dragging what little they could on hand sleds or sledges made for the occasion. The sufferings and privations endured at that time may be imagined, but they cannot be described.
Inkpadutah and his band left their camp at Loon Lake some time in December and went south down the Little Sioux as far as Smithland. Two other parties of Indians were known to have been hovering along the frontier at this time. One, a small party of agency Indians, pitched their camp in the neighborhood of Springfield, now Jackson, Minnesota. Another party, under Ishtahaba, or Sleepy Eye, camped at Big Island Grove. There is no record that Inkpadutah's band had any trouble with the settlers on their way down the river. Whether they went by way of the settlements or not, is not known. There is no account of their being seen by the settlers here at all on their way down the river, and it is more than probable that they went from the head of Spirit Lake down the divide to Lost Island Lake Up to this time they were supposed to be friendly, that is, as friendly as usual. They were never cordial; always sullen and suspicious. The settlers at Smithland knew but little, if anything, of the previous troubles of this band of Indians with the settlers of the older localities, and they had no apprehensions of any serious difficulty. Various versions are given of the outbreak at this place. The one most generally accepted at the time was something as follows: Large numbers of elk had been driven in from the prairie by the deep snows and terrific storms. These the Indians surrounded and slaughtered in large numbers. This created excitement and indignation among the settlers, and some of them conceived the idea of driving the Indians away. To accomplish this they got up a drunken frolic and invited the Indians in. They represented themselves as soldiers sent out by General Harney to drive them out of the country. At that rime the operations of General Harney at Ash Hollow and other places had made his name a perfect terror to the Sioux, and they became very much alarmed and excited, so much so that they started at once on their return, leaving a portion of their guns and equipage in the hands of the supposed soldiers. When this transaction became known, the more level-headed citizens denounced it and did what they could to counteract what they feared would be the result. They gathered up the guns and other property which the Indians had left behind and sent them forward to them, and did what else they could to appease their indignation, but as will soon appear, however, all to no purpose.
Mrs. Sharp says: "It seems that one day, while the Indians were in pursuit of elk, they had some difficulty with the settlers. The Indians claimed that the whites intercepted the chase. There is also a report that an Indian was bitten by a dog belonging to one of 'the settlers, that the Indian killed the dog and that the man gave the Indian a severe beating. It is also said that the settlers whipped off a company of squaws who were carrying off hay and corn to feed their ponies. The Indians becoming more and more insolent, the settlers in self-protection went to the camp and disarmed them, intending to return their guns the next day and escort them out of the country. But the next morning not a "red-skin" was to be seen. They had folded their tents like the Arabs, and as silently stolen away."
Judge Fulton says: "One day while a party of them (the Indians) were in pursuit of an elk in the vicinity of Smithland, they had a difficulty with some white settlers. It is difficult to state with certainty the nature of the trouble, as different and conflicting accounts of it have been given. The Indians, however, claimed that their pursuit of the elk was intercepted by the whites, who forced them to give up their arms and availed themselves of the use of their guns in the pursuit of the game. This aroused the indignation of the Indians and they demanded provisions of the settlers. They continued encamped in the vicinity of Smithland for several days, during which time the whites became more and more annoyed by their presence. Finally the settlers resorted to strategy to get rid of them. At that time the name of General Harney was a terror to the Indians of the Northwest, owing to a recent severe chastisement some of them had received at his hands. One of the settlers donning the old uniform of an army officer made his appearance on the opposite side of the Little Sioux from the Indian encampment, while some of the other whites pointed him out to the Indians as General Harney and told them he was in pursuit of them. This ruse had the desired effect and the Indians hastily moved up the river with their savage nature aroused to a desire for revenge." These accounts, while none of them claim to be thoroughly accurate in detail, convey a pretty good general idea of the commencement of the troubles on the Little Sioux between the Indians and settlers. This affair occurred in February, 1857. The Indians after leaving Smithland followed up the Little Sioux River by way of the settlements and commenced their depredations by taking guns and ammunition from the whites, and as they advanced, the settlements becoming sparser, they became more insolent and fearless in their conduct toward the settlers. By the time they reached Clay County their depredations had assumed a most savage and atrocious character.
Their depredations at Peterson are described by Mr. W. C. Gilbraith in his history of Clay County, in the following language: "The Clay County settlers had heard of the depredations they were committing and were thoroughly alarmed for the safety of themselves and their property. When they came to the home of Mr. Bicknell and finding no one there, he with his family having gone to Mr. Kirchner's, across the river, they immediately appropriated everything which met their fancy. The next day they made their appearance at the Kirchner house, where they found the terror stricken settlers huddled together. Without any ceremony they captured all the arms to be found, killed the cattle and took what they wanted. After remaining in the Peterson settlement a day and a night, they pushed on, leaving the whites badly frightened but thankful that they had escaped with their lives. This band of blood-thirsty Sioux then proceeded to the home of Ambrose Mead, who was absent at the time at Cedar Falls. Previous to leaving for this place, he had arranged to have a Mr. Taylor and family remain with Mrs. Mead and children during his stay. When the Indians came, Mr. Taylor protested against their taking the property or disturbing the premises. Becoming angry at Taylor for his interference, they threatened to kill him if he did not keep out of the way. Fearing that they would carry out their threats, Taylor left the women and children and set out to secure assistance. The Indians killed the stock, drove off the ponies and carried the women with them. But, fearing they would be pursued and overtaken, they decided to allow the women to return after taking such liberties as the helpless women could not prevent. They then directed their steps towards Linn Grove and Sioux Rapids, where they subjected the settlers to the same treatment they had given the Mead and Taylor families."
Mrs. Sharp, in her book, relates the same occurrence, as follows : "After remaining a few days in Cherokee, where they busied themselves with wantonly shooting cattle, hogs and fowls and destroying property generally, sometimes severely beating those who resisted, they proceeded up the Little Sioux to the little settlement in Clay County, now called Peterson. Here they tarried two or three days, committing acts of atrocity as usual. At the house of A. S. Mead (Mr. Mead being away) they not only killed his cattle and destroyed his property, but knocked down his wife and carried off to their camp his daughter Hattie (seventeen years old) and started away with a younger sister, Emma, but she resisted so hard and cried so loud that an Indian picked up a stick and whipped her all the way back to the house and left her, At the same house they knocked down Mr. E. Taylor, kicked his boy into the fireplace, burning him so badly that he still carries the scar on his leg, and took his wife off to their camp, but as yet they had committed no murder. After one night in an Indian camp, Mrs. Taylor and Hattie Mead were permitted to return home." From Peterson they passed on up to Sioux Rapids, where similar scenes were enacted and similar outrages perpetrated. They killed the stock and destroyed everything capable of being destroyed. It was at the home of Abner Bell that .heir atrocities assumed the most fiendish aspect. From Sioux Rapids they went up to Gillett's Grove. The Gilletts were two brothers who had moved in late in the summer, bringing with them about a hundred head of cattle, intending to go largely into the stuck business. The Indians made more general destruction here than they had hitherto done. They killed every live animal on the place, took all of their bedding, clothing and provisions, and destroyed everything they could not take away. They even cut a new wagon to pieces to get the bolts.
The following highly sensational account is copied from Mr. Gilbraith's "History of Clay County," and while it contains statements that are new and strange to those who supposed they were familiar with the story of the massacre of 1857, it must be accepted as history. There is nothing in it that is improbable or inconsistent with the circumstances as they then existed.
"Mr. Gillett, one of the earliest settlers of the county, and for whom Gillett's Grove bears its name, recently visited friends in this county and the scene of his former home. During his visit he related an event which he hitherto had never made public. Mr. Gillett is now quite aged, and in a few more short years his race will be run, and, as he said, it would be useless to keep it a secret any longer, as the participants had passed over the silent river of death. The story is substantially as follows : He with his brother came to Clay County in the fall of 1856 and located at what is now known ns Gillett's Grove, which is a beautiful grove filled with growing trees and through which courses the Little Sioux River. After deciding upon their location, they agreed to divide the grove equally, and one take the north and the other the south part. This being settled, they at once set to work and in a short time had constructed neat log houses and prepared themselves comfortably for the winter. Being amply supplied with firewood, and their log houses being built not alone with a view to convenience, but as well for warmth, they had no fears of suffering from the storms or intense cold weather which were notable at that time in this section. The only fears they entertained were from the Indians. But at that time they did not make frequent visits to this particular section for the reason that there was but little game, poor fishing and no settlements. The newly acquired property holders, therefore, felt themselves safe and comfortable from any intrusions from the wild savages, whose treachery they so much feared.
"Everything passed along quietly for several months, until one day a tribe under Chief Inkpadutah came and set up their tepees upon the bank of Lost Island Lake. The settlers upon learning of their arrival and location feared that the Indians would discover the location of their houses and visit them. Their fears were well founded, for in a few days several of the red-skins paid them a visit. The white settlers treated them kindly and gave them provisions, and they left for their camping grounds expressing their friendship and thanks for the food given them. In a few days another lot of them came, headed by a stalwart brave who had been with the others a few days before. After saying their usual "How," they were supplied by the whites and returned to the lakes. During both visits it was noticeable that one of them, the one who led the second group, had his eyes constantly fixed in admiration upon Mrs. Gillett. Wherever she went and whenever she moved, his eye was upon her. In a few days he returned; this time alone. He was given a seat and provided with a meal. He went away, but every two or three days he came, and although saying nothing, his looks indicated his admiration for Mrs. Gillett. His visits grew so constant and frequent that they became annoying, not only to Mrs. Gillett, but to the two families. He was constantly prowling around and appearing before 'them at the most unexpected moments, until he became a great nuisance. He was given to understand) that his visits were not desired, but to these reminders he paid not the least attention. He was always fed and well treated, for the reason that the settlers did not wish to give any offense to the tribe or incur their enmity. But, becoming emboldened by the kind treatment that had been extended to him, one day in the absence of Mr. Gillett, and mastering all of the English' language he possessed, he made certain proposals to Mrs. Gillett, which she indignantly rejected, and warned him to leave. He left the house in a short time, but had not gone a great distance when Mr. Gillett returned home. His wife immediately informed him of the Indian's conduct. The husband took down his rifle, and learning the direction the Indian had taken, set out after him. After a few minutes' walk he caught sight of him and drew up his rifle and fired. He did not wait to ascertain the result of his shot, but returned to his cabin and ate his supper. In the morning, in company with his brother, he visited the spot, and there found a dead Indian. The brothers, after severing the head from the body—which they subsequently sent to an eastern medical college—placed it in a hollow tree. They at once packed up their belongings and started for Fort Dodge, knowing full well that the Indians would discover the absence of the buck, and, knowing his fondness for Mrs. Gillett, would come there in search of him, and finding no trace of him, would suspicion they had killed him, and would revenge themselves upon the white settlers. They, therefore, deemed it prudent to make their escape before the arrival of the searching party, which they did."
According to the above account, the Indians remained in camp at Lost Island several days. Accepting it as true, it throws some light upon the origin, or rather the commencement, of the massacre here at the lakes. It is easy to understand the pitch of frenzy to which the passions of the savages would naturally be raised when they made the discovery that one of their number had been slain by Gillett, as related by him, and the fact that he had made good his escape before the act was discovered would only increase their determination to wreak their vengeance upon the first luckless white settler that came in their way.
We have always been led to observe the close connection between the murder of Sidominadotah and his fancily by Lott in 1854, and the Spirit Lake Massacre of 1857, and that the latter was the legitimate outcome of the former, but accepting Gillett's story as true, it must be regarded as an important factor in precipitating the massacre at that time. Except for that it is possible that the settlers at the lakes would have fared no worse than their neighbors down the river. It may be regarded as singular that Gillett should have kept the affair a secret for thirty-five years before giving it to the world, but that might be accounted for on the theory that he knew he would be blamed for not warning the other settlers of the danger he had precipitated by his somewhat rash act.
From the Little Sioux messengers were sent to Fort Dodge setting forth their situation and imploring relief. At first the citizens of Fort Dodge were inclined to be skeptical and suspicious that the reports of the depredations were largely exaggerated. They could not believe the Indians were rash enough or foolish enough to thus defy the power of the government and the people. They knew the destitute condition of the settlers along the frontier at the commencement of winter and many branded the story as a ruse to induce them to send supplies or take other measures for their relief. But the reports kept coming thicker and more of them.
Mr. Duncombe, in his account of the Spirit Lake Expedition, says:
"In January, 1857, word was brought to Fort Dodge that a large band of Indians, under the lead of Inkpadutah, had followed down the Little Sioux River to a point near Smithland; that this band was composed of Sioux half-breeds and straggling renegades of the Sioux tribe, and that they had become exceedingly insolent and ugly. The next information received at Fort Dodge was in the latter part of February, when Abner Bell, a Mr. Weaver and a Mr. Wilcox came to Fort Dodge and gave Major Williams and myself the startling intelligence of acts and depredations of these scoundrels, said to be about seventy in number, including about thirty warriors. These three men had left the Little Sioux River, and coming through the awful storms and almost impassable snows for sixty miles without a house or landmark on the way, sought aid from our people. They gave a sad and vivid description of the shooting down of their cattle and horses, of the abuse of their children, the violation of their women and other acts of brutishness and cruelty too savage to be repeated. They pictured in simple but eloquent words the exposures of the dear wife, mother and children, their starving condition and their utter helplessness. These reports were repeated from day to day by other settlers from the Little Sioux, who from time to time carne straggling into Fort Dodge. These repeated accounts of the acts of the Indians led every one familiar with the Indian character to become fully satisfied that they were determined on some great purpose of revenge against the exposed frontier settlements, and this caused much alarm among the people. Among the number giving this information were Ambrose S. Mead, L. F. Finch, G. M. and W. S. Gillett and John A. Kirchner, father of John C. and Jacob Kirchner, who are now citizens of Fort Dodge. These depredations commenced at the house of Abner Bell, on the 21st day of February, A. D. 1857. On the 24th of February, 1857, the house occupied by James Gillett was suddenly attacked by ten or more armed warriors and the two families living under the same roof, consisting of the heads of each family and five small children, were terrorized and most villainously abused. After enduring outrages there, they managed to escape at midnight and late the following evening arrived at the residence of Bell, poorly clad, and having been without food for over thirty-six hours. The sufferings of these people and their little children will be appreciated by those who remember the driving storms, piercing winds and intense cold of the unparalleled winter of 1856 and 1857, to my knowledge the longest and most severe of any winter for the last forty-three years. From Gillet's Grove, near the present beautiful and prosperous city of Spencer, the Indians proceeded to Spirit Lake and the lakes near by. No preparation could be made for resistance on account of the sparsity of the population and the scattered homes. In fact, it is improbable that any family knew that depredations were being committed by these red devils until they were themselves attacked when wholly unprepared for any such event."
The settlers along the Little Sioux also applied for help to the settlers on the Coon River at Sac City and below. Quite a company was raised there and made 'their way across to Peterson by way of Storm Lake, but they were too late to accomplish anything. The Indians were gone and they were not prepared to follow them. They accordingly returned to their homes.
The Indians arrived in the neighborhood of the lakes about the seventh of March, and camped in the Okoboji Grove at a distance of about fifteen rods from the Mattock cabin. The date of their arrival at the lakes was about two weeks after the trouble near Sioux Rapids, which interval of time they doubtless spent in the camp at Lost Island. The idea suggests itself at this point that possibly the party of Indians at Lost Island was much larger than at the lakes. Nearly every account referring to the Indians committing their depredations along the Little Sioux gives their numbers at from thirty to forty warriors, and some even more. Mr. Duncombe, who received his information direct from the settlers, in his account puts it between thirty and forty. Mr. Gilbraith, in his "History of Clay County," says from sixty to seventy, while the actual number engaged in the massacre at the lakes was but fifteen. It may be possible that the Indians divided their forces at Lost Island, one party going direct to the Des Moines, while the other came by way of the lakes. Either this, or the settlers along the Little Sioux largely overestimated their number. As before stated, the Indians went into camp near the Mattock cabin about the seventh of March. Their tepees were arranged in a circle on both sides of the road running from Mattock's place to Gardner's. The inhabitants here had received no intimation of the depredations committed by them along the Little Sioux and had no apprehension of danger, and were, therefore, taken entirely by surprise. A letter found in the Granger cabin, written by Doctor Harriott to his father, Judge Harriott, dated March sixth, throws some light on the matter. In this letter he refers to the fact that the Indians were camped there, that they were on friendly terms with them, and that they had done some trading with them. Other matters were referred to in the letter which showed that they had no suspicion of danger.
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