When one looks back over the sixty years that have elapsed since Ma-za-kn-ta-ma-ni delivered his bitter invective against white infidelity at the Upper Agency on the Yellow Medicine, one can only wonder at the transformation which has been wrought in what was popularly known east of the Alleghenies as the Great American Desert. In sixty years the frontier has moved steadily westward until today it is gone not alone from the Mississippi Valley but from the American continent. What was a vast expanse of prairie in 1857 has become a country of prosperous homes.

Where then not a town was to be found today may be seen numerous large cities throbbing with industrial life, while towns and villages dot the landscape everywhere. Loneliness and desolation have given way to that condition where man's habitation is found at every turn. In sixty years this area has changed from the frontier of civilization to the very center of its arts and industries. In a country where Indians were met with by the thousands in 1857, one may now travel for days across the plains without catching a glimpse of a red man. The Indian has all but gone from a land where he once roamed free and uncontrolled

Similarly time has dealt with the people of a different race who played major or minor parts in the tragedy at Spirit Lake and Springfield in 1857. Indeed, time has not always dealt kindly with them, and in more than one instance they have suffered much from its ravages. No one who survived the terrible experience of March, 1857, on the borders of the northwestern lakes was able to regain title to the claims of murdered relatives. The Gardner, Thatcher, and Marble claims were all preempted by the settlers of 1858 without regard to their former holders. Those preempting were perhaps acting within their legal rights; but the first comers, under the customs of the frontier, were entitled to the claims which they had staked out.

So widely have the survivors of the events of 1857 scattered that today but one individual, Mrs. Abbie Gardner Sharp, remains at or near the scene of the massacre. While living with her sister Eliza at Hampton, Iowa, Miss Abbie Gardner became acquainted with Casville Sharp, a young relative of the Noble and Thatcher families. On August 16, 1857, they were married. About a year after the marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Sharp visited the scene of the tragedy at Okoboji in the hope of securing some settlement for the Gardner claim. Although a small amount was paid Mrs. Sharp by J. S. Prescott who had preempted the claim, the sum was only nominal and in no sense an adequate compensation for the property lost.

Mrs. Sharp continued to live in Iowa; but not until 1891 did she regain the site of her childhood home at Okoboji. At that time a company interested in the promotion of the Okobojis as a pleasure resort acquired title to some thirteen acres of land at Pillsbury's Point, West Okoboji. This area included the Gardner cabin. The syndicate at once plotted the land for sale as sites for summer cottages. Out of the proceeds derived from the sale of her history of the massacre, Mrs. Sharp acquired the lot upon which stands the original log cabin home ‐the scene of the massacre. The summer tourist at Okoboji may yet (in 1918) enter the original log cabin and learn from Mrs. Sharp the story of her captivity and rescue.

Mrs. Marble, the only other survivor of the massacre at Lake Okoboji and Spirit Lake, likewise found her husband's claim preempted upon her return. Less fortunate than Mrs. Sharp, she was unable to secure any compensation. For some years she was lost to the knowledge of her Iowa and Minnesota friends. At length, in the early eighties, she was located at Sidell, Napa County, California. Meanwhile, she had married a Mr. Silbaugh. Since then little information has been obtained concerning her, other than that of her death a number of years ago. Thus Mrs. Sharp is now the sole survivor of the massacre at the lakes.

With the survivors of the Springfield massacre it has been different. All who survived were able to regain their claims, since they returned within a brief time to the scene of the massacre and before their holdings had been preempted by settlers in the rush of 1857-1858. In 1913 occurred the death of Mrs. Irene A. Thomas whose cabin was made the rendezvous of the settlers at Springfield, and whose son Willie was the first known victim of the Indian attack. Her husband, it will be recalled, had one arm so badly shattered as to necessitate amputation upon reaching Fort Dodge. A remaining son, Valentine C. Thomas, who was a young boy at the time of the massacre, later served as a minister in Marshalltown, lowa, where he died in August, 1915.

Mrs. Eliza Gardner McGowan was at that time still living in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It will be recalled that following the return of the relief expedition to Fort Dodge she married William R. Wilson, a member of the expedition. For many years Mr. and Mrs. Wilson lived at Hampton and Mason City, Iowa. Some time after Mr. Wilson's death, Mrs. Wilson married a Mr. McGowan and removed to Fort Wayne.

It may be remembered that Johnnie Stewart escaped by hiding in the dooryard of his home while the members of his family were being ruthlessly slaughtered by the Indians. After the Indians left he crawled to the Thomas cabin, which he reached at dusk, was recognized and taken in. In 1915 he was living at Byron, Minnesota; and, from the latest information obtained he is still living at that place.

There also survives a Mrs. Gillespie of Blaine, Washington, who at the time of the Springfield attack was Miss Drusilla Swanger, sister of Mrs. William L. Church.

As we of another generation seek recreation at Okoboji, let us pause in retrospection. Let us, "when we contemplate the dangers braved, the hardships and privations endured, and the final suffering and sacrifice which fell to the lot of the victims whose dust and ashes have been gathered together and interred in this historic spot", be conscious that we are paying "a deserved tribute to courage and self-denial, endurance and self-sacrifice".

Dickinson County Iowa Genealogy - The IAGenWeb Project