These men were placed by Major Williams under the immediate command of Captain Johnson of Company C; and on the morning of April second the detail, supplied with two days' rations, took up its march for the lakes. From the outset their undertaking was precarious; with limited rations the men had no assurance that they would be able to secure any more supplies. Nevertheless, they courageously undertook the humanitarian task with the hope that somehow the future would care for itself. The burial detail was to proceed to the lakes, perform the sad task of burying the dead, and rejoin the main command at the Irish settlement on Medium Lake. Accompanied by two mounted men‐ Captain Richards and another whose name is now lost ‐the detail set out upon its journey; but at the crossing of the Des Moines, the first stream reached, the horsemen were unable to force a passage. The men crossed safely on a log; but the horses could not be forced to swim the channel, and after an hour's work Captain Richards, and his companion gave up the effort and returned to the main command.
Without incident the members of the party reached the southeastern shore of the east lake about two o'clock in the afternoon. Making their way to the Noble and Thatcher cabin, they found the bodies of Enoch Ryan and Alvin Noble at the rear of the house. Each body had been riddled with bullets. The yard and adjacent prairie were thickly sprinkled with feathers which had come from the destroyed feather ticks for which the Indians had had no use. The bodies were buried at the foot of a large oak tree near the house. While some of the party were interring the dead at this cabin, others walked on to the Howe cabin where seven bodies were found lying about the cabin doorstep. Among the mangled remains found in the yard Thatcher indentified his infant child. The burials at the Howe cabin were completed late in the afternoon; but darkness prevented the men from proceeding to the other cabins.
Returning to the Thatcher cabin they there planned to pass the night. The body of the Thatcher child was interred near the head of a ravine not far from the Thatcher cabin. This was in keeping with the desire of the father that his child should be buried upon his own property. Returning to the Howe cabin the following morning, they found the body of a boy of about thirteen years of age lying at the side of a fallen tree in the dooryard. This apparently was Jacob, the brother of Mrs. Noble, whom she vainly tried to get into the house. The burial detail reported the interment of eight bodies at the Howe cabin.
From Howe's cabin they proceeded to the settlements on the west lake. At this juncture the party was divided, and one section under Captain Johnson took the lake shore trail, while a second under Lieutenant Maxwell crossed the lake directly in line with the Mattock cabin. The Johnson party is said to have found the body of Joel Howe near the trail and to have buried it near the spot where it was found‐a place which was lost sight of until its alleged discovery in August, 1914, by a young man, Lee Goodenough of Knoxville, Iowa, while attending a Young Men's Christian Association camp. At the Mattock cabin the dead were found widely scattered through the clearing and along the trail toward the Granger home across the strait. Every evidence of a desperate resistance was noted. Dr. Harriott was found with his broken rifle still grasped in his hand. Eleven bodies were collected and buried at this place.
Across the strait at the Granger cabin they found the body of Carl Granger horribly mutilated, as by cutting or slashing with some sharp instrument about the face. Near him lay his dog which had evidently remained faithfully by him to the last. The dog's body was also terribly mangled. The Gardner home was the last place to be visited. Here six bodies were found and buried about fifty yards to the southeast of the cabin on a spot said to have been designated by Eliza Gardner when she met the rescue party. As yet the bodies of Luce and Clark had not been found; indeed they were not found until the following June when they were discovered near the outlet of the east lake. Their burial place is not known.
By the time the work of interment was completed at the Gardner cabin, it was late in the afternoon. The rations of the party were all but gone; but the night was coming on, and so the party decided to remain and camp to the north of the Gardner cabin. Fortunately Wilson's memory came to the rescue of the party in their stress for food: he now recalled that in the fall when a visitor at the Gardner cabin he had seen Gardner bury a box of potatoes beneath the stove to insure them against being frozen during the winter. Upon investigation there was discovered nearly a bushel of the potatoes which satisfied the hunger of the men that evening and on the following morning.
After this potato breakfast on the morning of April fourth, sixteen of the twenty-three men composing the detail began the return trip; while seven of the party having interests to look after at the lakes, decided to remain a few days longer. Those who decided to remain were R. A. Smith, Orlando C. Howe, K U. Wheelock, B. F. Parmenter, Asa Burtch, J. M. Thatcher, and William R. Wilson. Howe and Wheelock remained to make sure of their load of supplies which Parmenter had been compelled to abandon when his two companions started ahead of him to Fort Dodge with the news of the massacre.
It appears, however, that the split in the party is to be attributed to something besides business demands. There was a disagreement over the best route to be taken on the return trip. While breakfasting that morning the discussion had arisen. The majority favored as direct a route as possible across the open prairie to the Irish Colony. Others of the party did not consider such a route to be safe, arguing that it would be better to retrace the route by which they had come‐which route would lead them to Granger's Point and thence to the Irish Colony. Meanwhile, a storm was gathering which seemed to add force to the arguments of those in favor of a known road.
The matter could not be settled by argument; and so, after breakfast Captain Johnson, gave the command to fall in. "After the men had fallen in he gave the further order, 'All who favor starting at once across the prairie, step three paces to the front; the rest stand fast' .... What little provision was left in camp was speedily packed and the party made ready to depart at once." Captain Johnson and Burkholder urged united action upon the seven who stood fast; but the appeal was unavailing, for the seven men remained steadfast in their conviction that the course as planned was wrong. They offered to join the party if they would take the Granger route; but Johnson and Burkholder stood as firmly against that proposition as the seven were opposed to their plans. Thus the two groups parted company‐good friends but each firmly convinced that the other was in the wrong. The members of the party that left took all the food, and were allowed to do so because those who remained behind counted upon securing their store from the wagonload of supplies which had been left somewhere out on the prairie.
The men who remained set out at once to locate the wagon and bring in the needed food. It appears that there was no difficulty in finding the wagon with its cargo of supplies. When each man had loaded himself with a supply, they returned as rapidly as possible for the gathering storm had broken and snow was falling heavily. In a short time, it became a blinding, driving whirlwind of snow. Reaching the cabin, they laid in a supply of fuel. Being well armed, they felt no alarm at the prospect of an Indian attack. All that could be done while the storm raged was to await patiently its abatement. Only after two days did the fury of the storm abate sufficiently to permit the men to leave the cabin in safety.
The morning of the second day after the beginning of the blizzard dawned clear and intensely cold, although the weather had moderated somewhat since the previous evening. The snow was frozen with a hard crust and upon it the party from the Gardner cabin made their way rapidly in the direction of Granger's Point. When they arrived at the Des Moines they found the river completely frozen, which made the crossing easy. Thus with little trouble they were again at Granger's Point where they had left the main body five days previously. They now procured a team and wagon, loaded their baggage, and, after resting a day, started for the Irish settlement. At this point they found some of the wounded from the Springfield settlement who had not been able to proceed with the main command. Here also was Henry Carse who, as will be seen, suffered so terribly on the night out from the Gardner cabin. Resting a day at the Irish settlement, they resumed their journey to Fort Dodge. What had been a small party on leaving the Gardner cabin had more than doubled in number when the Irish colonists were bidden goodbye.
When Cylinder Creek was reached the party succeeded through great effort in effecting a crossing. The undertaking required the whole of an afternoon, but by nightfall the men succeeded in reaching Shippey's Point two miles beyond. From here the party proceeded on their way to Fort Dodge, which they reached without further adventures than such as are incident to swimming swollen streams and living on short rations, which, in some instances, consisted of a handful of flour and a little salt, which they mixed up with water and baked over a campfire. A few of the party shot, dressed and broiled some muskrats and tried to make the rest believe they considered them good eating, but that diet did not become popular.
The early part of the day upon which Captain Johnson and party left the Gardner cabin, after the disagreement of the morning, was quite warm, and the rapidly melting snow added greatly to the difficulties of traveling. Being forced to wade through sloughs several feet deep in slush the men were soon wet to the shoulders. But they plodded on cheerfully for they were on the way home after the completion of an arduous duty. While they were in this cheery frame of mind, the blizzard broke upon them in all its fury about four in the afternoon. With the storm came a rapid fall in temperature, and it was not long before the clothes of the members of the party were frozen stiff from feet to shoulders‐ rendering progress next to impossible.
With the oncoming of the storm began the first disagreement among the men after leaving the Gardner cabin in the morning. Again, it was a matter of the best route to be taken. Jonas Murray, a trapper who had volunteered as guide, claimed to be thoroughly familiar with the country. Not all, however, were willing to accept his guidance. Spencer and McCormick were the first to break away from his leadership. This they did when Mud Creek was reached only about eight or nine miles from the point of starting. Crossing far to the north of where Murray maintained was the proper place, these men struck directly east for the settlement which they reached within a short time after the storm broke upon them.
The other members of the party lost much valuable time in wandering southward along the course of Mud Creek. Finally a crossing was effected, but much farther to the south than several thought it should have been. Against the protests of a number, Murray continued to lead the party still farther south. Near sunset Maxwell and Laughlin found a township corner pit, at which they proposed to camp for the night since they feared the loss of direction in the oncoming darkness. But Murray, Johnson, and Burkholder, thought it best to continue and so the party pressed on. Ahead of them was a lake to the east of which was a great stretch of uncommonly high grass which seemed to afford good shelter. Maxwell, Laughlin, and seven others started to walk around this lake to the east; but Johnson, Burkholder, Addington, G. P. Smith, and Murray went around in the opposite direction. Finding a shelter Laughlin called to Johnson's party which could then only be dimly seen through the sedge. Apparently he was not heard, for the men struck out toward the southeast and were not again seen before the Irish settlement was reached. Laughlin's party decided to remain where it was rather than attempt to follow.
As soon as the halt was made the men tumbled down in a shivering heap and huddled closely together to keep from freezing. In crossing sloughs several men had removed their boots to keep them dry, while others had cut holes in the leather in order to let the water out. Carse had removed his boots, but found it impossible to replace them for they were frozen stiff. He then tore his blanket into pieces and wrapped his feet as well as he could, but even then he suffered fearfully from the cold. Maxwell and Laughlin, realizing the danger of freezing to death, did not permit themselves to sleep the whole night through: they kept constantly on the move and compelled the others to do the same. Whenever any man fell asleep the others would pick him up, arouse him, and force him to remain awake and on the move regardless of his objections. Some of the men begged that they be allowed to sleep, protesting that moving about in their ice stiffened garments was worse punishment than they could bear. Thus all night long the awful vigil was kept. It was largely due to the tireless watching of Maxwell and Laughlin that no one froze to death, although the temperature that night was said to have been thirty four degrees below zero at points in Iowa much farther south.
The next day opened clear and cold. About eight miles to the east was seen a grove of timber. Every man expressed himself as willing and able to travel; and so without breakfast (for they had no food) the party started in that direction, believing that the timber bordered the Des Moines. Maxwell was the last to leave camp, and when about three miles from the timber he found Carse sitting on the sunny side of a small mound trying to pull on his frozen boots. The blanket wrappings of his feet had already become so worn in traveling over the ice and snow that he could go no further. Maxwell endeavored to take Carse along with him, but every time he tried to guide him toward the timber Carse obstinately insisted on taking the opposite direction. It soon became evident that the man had grown delirious and that nothing could be done with him on the open prairie. Henry E. Dalley, seeing the difficulty, came to Maxwell's assistance. The two were able to get Carse to the timber, by which time he was unconscious and blood was streaming from his mouth.
Laughlin and Kellogg, who had reached the timber first, had set about the building of a fire when it was discovered that not a member of the party had matches. Laughlin's ingenuity, however, came to the rescue. He had a gun and powder, and was wearing a vest with a heavy, quilted cotton lining. Removing some of the cotton from his vest he loaded the gun with a powder charge and rammed it down tight with cotton. He then discharged the gun into a piece of rotten wood which, after some attention, began blazing. Dallev soon arrived with the helpless Carse. When the blanket wrappings were removed from Carse's feet the skin of the soles came with them. Dalley finally succeeded in stopping the bleeding and in reviving him. It was only a few nights before that Carse had befriended Dalley by taking him under his own blanket. The boy‐for such he was, being less than twenty years of age —‐ was poorly clad and had suffered much from the trials of the expedition. His youthful strength and courage, however, carried him safely through to the end. Meanwhile, Kellogg had seated himself at the base of a tree and before anyone had observed his need for attention he too had become unconscious from exposure. Before he could be revived it was necessary to cut his icy clothing away from his body as the only practicable means of removing it. When this had been done he gradually regained consciousness and seemed but little the worse for his experience.
Laughlin and Maxwell, having attended those who were needing help and noting that all were as comfortable as conditions would permit, started out to cross the river with a view to locating the Irish settlement. They found the river frozen thick enough to support them, with the exception of a few spots over which they improvised a bridge of poles. Making their way to the margin of the timber, they saw the settlement in plain sight not over three miles away. Help was at once secured which enabled them to get the disabled members of the party across the river and to safety in the homes of the settlement. Here they found Major Williams awaiting their coming.
Without delay Major Williams sent men down the Des Moines to look for Johnson and his companions. They remained out during the whole of the day; and when they returned near dark reported that they had discovered no trace of the men, but had found a cabin in which a good fire was burning. The Major concluded that the men had been at the cabin and had then gone southward, following the course of the river. Three of the five men in the party‐Smith, Addington, and Murray‐came to the settlement the following morning but could give little information concerning Johnson and Burkholder. Smith had been the last to see them; and his story left no doubt in the minds of most of his hearers that the two men had perished somewhere to the west of the Des Moines River.
The two unfortunate men having become completely exhausted by wading streams and sloughs had finally sat down declaring that they were unable to go any farther. They were sheeted with ice from head to feet. Their feet were badly frozen and, unable to walk, they insisted, against Smith's advice, upon removing their boots. Realizing that they could not replace the boots they cut their blankets in strips with which to wrap their feet. At this time they were in sight of the timber along the Des Moines River, which they were urged to exert every effort to reach. But they were unable to rise from, the ground. "After vainly trying for a long time to get them to make another effort to reach the timber, Smith at last realized that to save his own life he must leave them. After going some distance he looked back and saw them still on their knees in the snow, apparently unable to rise. It is not likely they ever left the spot where Smith left them, but, overcome with cold, they finally sank down and perished side by side. Nearly eleven years later two skeletons were found near the place where Smith said he left his companions. By the guns and powder flasks lying near them the skeletons were identified as being those of Johnson and Burkholder.