The settlers were unable to complete the task which they had undertaken by noon, and as everything seemed so very favorable it was thought advisable to continue the work without interruption. Accordingly, they did not pause to eat the mid-day meal that had been prepared for them, but continued working until about two o'clock in the after noon. They then withdrew into the cabin to eat their long deferred dinner. While thus engaged they were startled by a cry from Willie Thomas, who was outside at play and who now thought that Henry Tretts was coming.
Immediately the people in the cabin rushed out hoping that the report was true and that the messengers sent to Fort Ridgely were in fact returning. In the distance a man was observed to be approaching. He was clad in civilian dress and to all outward appearances bore a close resemblance to one of the messengers. In fact, so close was the re semblance that David Carver exclaimed, "Yes, it's Henry Tretts!" But the words had scarcely been uttered before a volley of shots came from hitherto unseen guns in the direction of the timber. As near as could be determined fully a dozen guns had been discharged from the underbrush near the stable and hay stacks. The supposed white man was only a decoy Indian dressed in white men's clothing and sent out for the sole purpose of drawing the settlers from the cabin. While he was slowly approaching the cabin, Inkpaduta and his men had crept up the ravine to the rear of the stable and posted themselves for action when the ruse worked out as planned.
In confusion the surprised settlers‐men, women, and children‐scrambled back into the cabin. Doors and windows were closed and barricaded, while women screamed. Bradshaw and Markham, as soon as the doors had been secured, seized their rifles and stood ready to shoot any Indian who might have the hardihood to show himself. The window shutters had been fastened open on the outside thus making it necessary to use the table to close one window; while puncheons were torn from the floor to cover other windows and aid in rendering the cabin bullet proof.
Meanwhile, the Indians kept up a constant fire; but Bradshaw and Markham kept them well in hiding by shooting at any who happened to show themselves. While the men were busy reloading, an Indian was seen to emerge from the brush near the stable and start for the house. Mrs. Church hastily seized a loaded gun and, thrusting it through a porthole, fired. After the tiring the Indian was nowhere to be seen and it was concluded that he had either been badly wounded or killed by the shot. Three or four Indians next appeared from a hazel thicket, but the emptying of the contents of a number of guns into their midst caused them to disappear. All of this had taken place in four or five minutes after the first volley fired by the Indians. In that brief time the Indian attack had been repelled, windows shuttered from within by temporary means, and all doors barricaded securely against a rush attack.
During the attack no one had had time or thought for anything except the necessity of repelling the Indians. When a lull came it was found that several persons had been wounded. Mr. Thomas was bleeding profusely from a wound in his left arm where a bullet had broken a bone. Later this wound, owing to lack of attention, became so irritated and infected that amputation was necessary. David Carver was suffering greatly, for a bullet or buckshot had passed through the fleshy part of his right arm, penetrated his side, and affected his lung; while Miss Swanger, who had been hit on the shoulder, was suffering considerably from pain and was very weak from the loss of blood. It was she who has been alluded to as saying that she was too weak to fight but could pray, and so fell "upon her knees, fervently petitioning the God of Battles to help until the fight closed.
Willie Thomas, who had given the alarm, was missing and no one seemed able to account for him until his older brother stated that after the door had been closed he heard groaning from the doorstep. It was presumed that the boy had been killed. At all events no one felt that it would be wise to open the door at this juncture. It later developed that he had been shot through the head and had probably died in a brief time.
There were now left in the cabin only three able‐bodied men who could be counted upon for effective defense. These men were Jareb Palmer, John Bradshaw, and Morris Markham. Dr. Strong had gone to the Wheeler cabin that forenoon to dress the wounds of Smith and Henderson and had not returned at the time of the attack.
The heavy firing by the Indians did not continue for more than seven or eight minutes when it became desultory in character. Occasionally an Indian would be seen skulking through the edge of the timber, but not one allowed himself to come within range of the cabin. It is presumed that they had counted upon a complete surprise as at Okoboji and were not supplied with the ammunition necessary to conduct a continuous attack. The firing, however, continued until sunset. It was later discovered that the Indians had withdrawn at this time, although this fact was not known to the inmates of the cabin. The desultory nature of the Indian fire had allowed the settlers to prepare, and soon six guns were projecting from as many portholes and covering as many possible lines of approach. This evidence of readiness in the cabin may have led the Indians to defer or abandon their attack.
Meanwhile, the Wood brothers were paying dearly for their misplaced confidence in the peaceful intentions of the red men. It was reported‐ but the statement has never been confirmed‐that when the firing upon the Thomas cabin began William Wood, thinking no harm would come to him, started to cross the river with a view to investigating the cause. When he reached the west bank of the stream, he ran into a group of Indians who at once riddled him with bullets. It is further asserted that a pile of brush was then collected, his lifeless body thrown upon it, and the whole set on fire. This conclusion is drawn from the fact that in a pile of wood ashes, not far from the river's edge, a group of the Fort Ridgely soldiers later found charred human bones and with them a twenty dollar gold piece.
The body of George Wood was found, while that of William Wood was never discovered— unless the charred bones indicated his fate. Since the Wood brothers were the only persons in the settlement who had gold coin it was thought that the remains in the ashes were those of William Wood.
George Wood, who had remained at the store in his brother's absence, possibly witnessed his brother's fate and attempted to forestall a similar one for himself by striving to reach the settlers' cabins. But he was too late. He succeeded in reaching the river and in crossing it, but whiile trying to secrete himself in the underbrush he was seen by the Indians and shot. His body was subjected to no further violence.
It would seem that during the afternoon, while the attack was being made upon the Thomas cabin, Inkpaduta selected three of his band to raid the remaining cabins or at least to investigate them for plunder in case they should be found abandoned. It was probably this trio of Indians who attacked and killed George and William Wood.
The first cabin visited by the three Indians was that of Joshua Stewart. Mr. Stewart was called to the door by one of the number and requested to sell a hog. Some gold coins were displayed by the Indian as evidence that the hog would be paid for when purchased. Mr. Stewart being willing to sell, stepped back into the house to secure his cap and coat. When he reappeared and stepped out into the yard, he was instantly shot by the two Indians who had not appeared to be concerned in the deal. Upon hearing the shots, Mrs. Stewart and the children ran out of the cabin. They, too, were instantly shot down by the Indians and their bodies horribly mutilated with knives.
According to Captain Bee, it was here that "the savages revelled in blood. When I visited the spot, the father lay dead on his threshold, the mother, with one arm encircling her murdered infant, lay outside the door, and by her side was stretched the lifeless body of a little girl of three summers."
But Johnny, a lad of perhaps ten years, eluded the Indians and made his escape. In his own relation to the people at the Thomas cabin he stated that he hid behind a log in the yard while the savages did their work of murder and plunder. After they left he ran to the cabin of Robert Smith, but was frightened away; from there he made his way to the Thomas cabin where he arrived at dusk and was taken in by the inmates‐who, however, came near shooting him for an Indian prowler.
After completing their ghastly work at the Stewart home, the Indians returned in the direction of the Wood store, which they probably planned to pillage. When passing the Wheeler home, they attempted no further molestation than to shoot an ox and empty the contents of their guns into the cabin. One of the charges narrowly missed Mr. Henderson who was lying helpless as the result of his recent amputations. For some reason the Indians did not take the trouble to determine whether any people were really occupying the house.
From here the Indians appear to have gone directly to the Wood store, where they finished their work and then departed for Heron Lake. At the time, however, the departure of the Indians was not known to the terrified inhabitants of the settlement.
At the Wood store on the west side of the river guns, powder, shot, and lead were found in reasonably large quantities and appropriated. But this was not all; food and dry goods were also found and taken. It is said that when they returned to Heron Lake "they had twelve horses, heavily laden with dry goods, groceries, powder, lead, bed-quilts, wearing apparel, provisions, etc. . . . Among this plunder were several bolts of calico and red flannel. Of these, especially the flannel, they were exceedingly proud; decorating themselves with it in fantastic fashion. Red leggings, red shirts, red blankets, and red in every conceivable way, was the style there, as long as it lasted.