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INKPADUTAH AT HERON LAKE—OTHER BANDS OF INDIANS—AFFAIRS AT SPRINGFIELD—THE ATTACK AND DEFENSE—A VIVID ACCOUNT BY HON. CHARLES ALDRICH—HEROISM OF MRS. CHURCH.
THE LAST mention made of Inkpadutah's band was that they were camped at Heron Lake preparatory to their attack on Springfield. This is so closely connected with the massacre at the lakes that the story of one is incomplete without the other. According to Mrs. Sharp's account there were two other bands of Indians, in addition to Inkpadutah's who were hovering, along the western border of Iowa and Minnesota. She says: "In the fall of 1856 a small party of Indians came and pitched their tents in the neighborhood of Springfield. There was also a larger band, under the chieftainship of Ishtahaba, or Sleepy Eye, encamped at Big Island Grove on the same river."
The "Big Island Grove" here referred to is the same one mentioned by Major Williams in his official report and also by Lieutenant Maxwell and Harris Hoover in their accounts of the expedition. It is none other than the grove on the north side of High Lake in Emmet County.
When Major Williams' force was on the march it was currently reported that Sleepy Eye was encamped with a large body of Indians, at this grove, and as the expedition neared the place the scouts were doubled and extra precautions taken. Upon arriving there evidences were plenty of the recent occupation of the place by the Indians, but nothing to indicate the presence of a large party. The lookout and the abandoned campfire, mentioned by Lieutenant Maxwell, were there also a canoe partly finished which the Indians were making from a black walnut log. Everything went to prove that Indians had been there but not in large numbers, and it is highly probable that the force under Sleepy Eye has been greatly exaggerated.
It is said that these Indians were on friendly terms with the whites during the winter. To how great an extent they were concerned in the troubles that afterward occurred is not fully known, but that they knew of the massacre at the lakes and participated in the attack on Springfield and shared in the plunder is pretty generally believed. Mrs. Sharp, in referring to events preceding the attack, says:
"On the twentieth of March two strange and suspicious looking Indians visited Wood's store and purchased a keg of powder, some shot, lead, baskets, beads and other trinkets. Each of them had a double barreled gun, a tomahawk and a knife, and one, a very tall Indian, was painted black—so said one who saw them. * * * Soon afterward Black Buffalo, one of the Springfield Indians, said to the whites that the Indians who were at the store told his squaw that they had killed all of the people at Spirit Lake."
Shortly after this the Springfield Indians left, but before going they told the whites that Inkpadutah's band had started for the Big Sioux and that there was no danger from them. During all of this time Inkpadutah was encamped at Heron Lake, preparatory to his attack on Springfield, which was made on Friday the twenty-seventh of March.
The settlement consisted of the Wood brothers, who were keeping a kind of general store and trading alike with the Indians and whites, and the families of Mr. Thomas, Stewart, Wheeler, Doctor Strong, Doctor Skinner, Smith, and one or two others. Mr. Markham, after making the discovery of the massacre at the lakes, made his way to Springfield and was at the house of Mr. Thomas at the time of the .attack. It was he who carried the news of the massacre at the lakes and the people acted on his information in making preparations for defense and safety. On hearing of the trouble at the lakes, several families congregated at the house of Mr. Thomas for mutual protection, and several other persons assembled at the cabin of Mr. Wheeler for the same purpose.
Two trusty messengers, Charles Tretts and Henry Chiffeu, were dispatched to Fort Ridgley, with a petition setting forth the massacre at the lakes, their defenseless condition and asking for aid. Fort Ridgley is located some seventy-five miles to the north of Jackson, and at that time there was no trail nor any settlement at any point on the route. They made the trip on snow shoes and it can easily be imagined that it was no picnic. They had not yet returned when the attack was made on the settlement, but were hourly expected. When the people on the Des Moines first heard of the massacre at the lakes they were filled with anxiety and apprehension, but as the time wore on and the attack failed to materialize they began to have some hopes that they would be spared, at least until they could receive government aid. Two weeks had now passed since they had heard of the trouble, and during this time they had kept continually on the alert, determined to make what resistance they were able in case of an attack.
Opinion seems to have been somewhat divided as to the probability of an attack. The Wood brothers, with whom the Springfield Indians had done considerable trading during the winter, would not believe the reports of the massacre. They had also traded with Inkpadutah's band when on their way down the Little Sioux the fall before, and scouted the idea of there being any danger. Indeed they carried this feeling to such an extent that some of the settlers accused them of being in league with the Indians. So positive were they that there was no danger that, against the remonstrance of the settlers, they sold the Indians ammunition only a few days before the outbreak, receiving in payment money that had doubtless been taken from the victims of the Spirit Lake Massacre.
As before noted, the attack was made on the afternoon of the twenty-seventh of March. It seems that the men of the party who were forted up at the Thomas cabin had been cutting and hauling wood during the day and had come in about three o'clock in the afternoon for their dinners, and after eating dinner were sitting around the fire talking and smoking when the attack occurred, the details of which are given in the graphic account written by Hon. Charles Aldrich, which is given in the following pages. Had the attack been made two hours earlier, while the men were in the timber at work, in all probability the entire settlement would have been wiped out.
The attack on Wood's place was doubtless made before that at Thomas'. Mrs. Sharp says: "The confidence of William Wood in the friendship of the Indians proved altogether a delusion. He was one of the first who fell. It appears that after he was killed the Indians heaped brush upon his body, and set fire to it. His brother, George, had evidently attempted to escape, but was overtaken by the Indians in the woods and shot down." It will be remembered that the Wood brothers were the owners of the dry goods store robbed by the Indians. The Indians must have been divided into two parties, as Mr. Stewart's and Mr. Thomas' places were attacked, about the same time. An Indian well known to the settlers, who had always professed to be friendly, went to the home of Mr. Stewart and wanted to buy a hog. Mr. Stewart started to go with him to the pen, when concealed Indians fired on him, killing him instantly. The balance of Mr. Stewart's family were then dispatched, with the exception of the oldest child, a boy about eight years old, who escaped by hiding behind a log, where he remained until after the savages left. He then made his way to the Thomas cabin, arriving shortly after the Indians had been repulsed at that point.
The following article on the defense at Springfield, and the heroic conduct of John Bradshaw, and the bravery of Mrs. Church, was written by the Hon. Charles Aldrich and read by him before the meeting for inauguration of Memorial Tablet at Webster City, in August, 1887:
"We have placed conspicuously on this beautiful tablet the names of Mrs. William L. Church and her sister, Miss Drusilla Swanger, with a high tribute to those heroines. Why we have done this I will briefly explain. Not many months before the massacre, the Churches had settled at Springfield, Minnesota, some fifteen miles from Spirit Lake, and about eight miles north of the Iowa line. They resided there when Inkpadutah's band so terribly raided the little settlement at Spirit Lake. Of this massacre Mrs. Abbie Gardner Sharp gives a full and most vivid narration in her book. At that time, in the absence of Mr. Church to this county (Hamilton), his wife was living in their log house with her two little boys and her sister. When the news came to this settlement of four or five families of the murders at Spirit Lake, the people assembled at the home of Mr. Thomas, one of the settlers, and prepared to defend themselves. This was what is called a double log house, quite a large building for that locality at that day, and standing in the margin of the oak grove, not far from the west branch of the Des Moines River. There were in the party Mr. Thomas, his wife and five children; Mrs. Church, her two children and sister; Mrs. Strong and two children, Miss Eliza Gardner, Jared Palmer, David Carver and John Bradshaw. * * Just after they had assembled, two young men, whose names I have forgotten, volunteered to go on foot to Fort Ridgley, seventy-five miles away, and appeal for aid. Those who were left were well armed, reasonably provisioned, stout of heart and determined to make the best defense in their power if they should be assailed.
"A week had nearly passed when little Willie Thomas, aged nine, came running in, exclaiming that the boys were coming who had gone for the soldiers. This was good news, and the people rushed to the door, forming a little group just outside. Sure enough two men were seen coming dressed like whites, but they were Indians in the clothing of men killed at Spirit Lake. Just then the main party of the Indians, who were approaching from another direction, fired a volley from a dozen pieces into the group of men, women and children near the door. Willie Thomas was shot through the head and fell to the ground; Miss Swanger was shot through the shoulder, inflicting, a severe flesh wound; Thomas was shot through the left arm, which was broken and bled profusely; Carver was shot in the body, and for a time suffered the severest pain.
"All except the wounded boy rushed into the house and speedily barricaded the doors and windows. In fact the poor boy seems to have been forgotten for the instant, but it 'nattered little in the result. The firing on both sides now became hot and frequent and continued so for two or three hours. Portholes were made on the four sides of the house by removing the chinking from between the logs. Through these the besieged could plainly see the Indians without exposing themselves. Whenever an Indian showed himself he was fired upon and so they were held at bay. Several times, however, the red devils made a rush toward the house, which they wished to set on fire, but each time discretion proved the better part of valor and they fell back. During this time the condition of things in this remote little fortress can scarcely be imagined or described.
"Miss Swanger and Mr. Thomas were bleeding profusely from their wounds, while the little wounded boy lay shrieking and groaning outside. The little fellow lived about two hours, when death mercifully ended his sufferings. At one time the poor mother feared her husband would bleed to death in spite of everything she could do, while the shrieks and groans of the dying boy just outside the door could be distinctly heard. Miss Swanger at first bled very freely, but Mrs. Church stuffed her handkerchief under her sister's dress and so stopped the flow of blood, while Mrs. Thomas bound up her husband's arm and stopped the bleeding, which otherwise would have ended his life. Mrs. Church and Miss Gardner loaded the guns .and kept watch at some of the portholes. At one time it was thought their bullets would be exhausted, and Misses Swanger and Gardner cast some from an old iron spoon.
"The fight went on until the dusk of evening was beginning to come on. It then happened that Mrs. Church and Miss Gardner were in one of the rooms watching while the men were in the other. They now saw .an Indian dodging behind a large oak tree. While here he kept peering out toward the house. No man was handy to `draw a bead' upon him and Mrs. Church picked up a shotgun heavily charged with buckshot and leveled it in that direction. Presently he stuck his head out again farther than before. Mrs. Church says, `I plainly saw a large dark object by the side of the tree, which I knew to be the head of an Indian, and at this I discharged the gun. I was terribly excited and fell back and cannot tell you whether I hit him or not. I certainly wanted to kill him.' Miss Gardner, who was watching the Indian, averred that she plainly saw him fall.
"In the account written at my instance for the Hamilton Freeman, by Jareb Palmer, who was one of the besieged, he states it as a fact that Mrs. Church killed the Indian.
A year or more later the body of an Indian was found upon a rude platform in a tree top, tree burial being the custom of the tribe. The body was then wrapped in a buffalo robe, and some white woman's feather pillow was under his head. What was left of this dusky brave was tumbled down upon the ground by the men of H. B. Martin's command, from our county. The skull was brought to me and I sent it to the Phrenological collection of Fowler and Wells, New York City. I saw it there some time later with a notice which had appeared in the Freeman pasted across the forehead. Upon the return of some of the men to the locality a few months later the tree was examined and part of the charge of buckshot was still imbedded in it near the spot where Mrs. Church had aimed and the other part had plainly passed on. It would thus seem to be settled as nearly as such an event can be proven that she killed one of the assailants.
"Immediately after this event the Indians ceased firing and left the place.
"One of the settlers, a man named Stewart, with his wife and three children, had been stopping at the Thomas house. Fort Thomas it really deserves to be called henceforth, but the poor wife and mother became insane through her fears of the Indians, and being in such, a crowd of people added to her discomfort and mental trouble. Her husband finally concluded to return to their own house a mile or so distant, believing the danger had passed away. But the same band which had invested the Thomas house came to Stewart's. They called him to the door and shot him the instant he appeared. The fiends then murdered the insane mother and the two little girls. The boy, Johnny, who was eight or nine years of age, managed to hide behind a log. The Indians plundered the cabin and soon left. The boy then fled to the double log house, where he was recognized and taken in at one of the windows.
"The home of the Churches was also pillaged and everything movable carried .away or destroyed. The other houses in the settlement shared the same fate. A span of horses was in the barn at the Thomas place, but the Indians took them away when they left. When darkness came at last, the besieged determined to start south toward the nearest settlement with an ox team and sled, which was the only means left them. The oxen were yoked, hitched to the sled upon which were placed the wounded, the little children and such provisions, and clothing as could be carried. The forlorn little party, with this poor means of locomotion, probably started near the middle of the night, traveling very slowly, as the ground was covered with snow. Mrs. Church and her sister each led or carried one of her little boys. The march was kept up until the oxen tired out, when there was, a short rest. Progress was very slow and most wearisome for some two days. Finally on the third day they saw several men approaching from the south, whom they mistook for Indians.
"This was a 'trying time for the poor refugees. The men, who were rapidly advancing upon them, wore shawls, which made them look like Indians with blankets. Then it was evident that they were well armed. Some of the women and children were wild with affright, and gave utterance to shrieks and lamentations. Two of the men were helpless from wounds, and another was not naturally an Indian fighter, though doubtless brave enough. John Bradshaw thought his time had come, but far from flinching, he took their eight loaded guns and stacked them some rods in advance. He asked the other well men to stay with the women and children .and wounded and keep them from embarrassing him, and he would sell his life as dearly as possible. Thus the dauntless hero stood until he saw a signal from the advancing party and knew they were friends. When the latter came up his face was pale as ashes, but no one doubted that he would have fought while life lasted. We can well imagine that men can be brave when surrounded by other brave men, whatever the odds. But what a grand figure was that of our Hamilton County Bradshaw, going out alone to yield up his life, as he supposed, in so hopeless a fight with merciless savages. It seems to me that that was a scene for a painter or sculptor, and that some time it will be placed upon canvas or in imperishable marble for the adornment of our magnificent Capitol. Where did you ever read of anything more grandly heroic? The terrible alarm was turned in an instant into an abandonment of equally wild rejoicing, for the comers were a detachment from the expedition under Major Williams, and Mr. Church was with them. Mrs. Church and her young sister had worn their dresses off to the knees in walking through the crusted snow, and their shoes were nearly gone. They were almost exhausted from the toilsome march, lack of food, exposure to the inclement weather, and the terrible anxieties of the preceding week.
"But I need take no more time with this narrative. The Churches returned to this county, where they resided until the spring of this year (1887), when they went to Washington Territory, whither two of their children and Miss Swanger (now Mrs. Gillispie) had preceded them. Mr. Church was also a soldier of the Union army as well as a veteran of the Mexican War. All who have known them will agree with me that the permanent record of their actions and sufferings, the heroism of these matchless women in our pioneer days, has been well deserved."
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