What must have been the feelings of the settlers when the Indians, arriving near sundown, began the celebration of the war dance of the Sioux! As the hideous painted forms of the red men in a half squat position, in short, quick jumps kept time to the weird accompaniment of the dance, lifting both feet from the ground at once, the settlers must have felt that something unusual was brewing. And when the cadence of the dance was momentarily stopped and the sharp cutting notes of the war whoop rent the frosty air one can scarcely imagine that they could have remained wholly ignorant of its purpose. And yet it is said that the settlers slept that night as they had slept before the appearance of the band; and on the ensuing morning they went quietly and calmly about the duties of their homes wondering, perhaps, when the Indians would leave.
The people at the lakes had received no inkling of the events that had been transpiring to the south, for they were isolated from all other white settlements. They had come to this region so late and under such circumstances that none of the settlers to the south knew they were there. Then, too, the character of the season and the difficulties of transportation were such that no one would think of making a journey in that direction. To the people who had settled along the Little Sioux relief lay in the direction from which they had come‐which was also the direction of their source of supplies. Thus it happened that no warning of impending danger from Indian attacks was given to these advanced settlements. Having no information concerning the conduct of red men in the valley to the south, the settlers at the lakes did not anticipate any unfriendly acts upon the part of the Indians who were now in their midst.
The Indians selected as a site for their camp a spot directly across the trail which led from the Gardner cabin to the Mattock cabin and from thence became the highway of communication between all' of the cabins of the settlement. Thus its location was strategic in an attack upon the settlers. For purposes of conducting their war dance it was necessary that the tepees should be so pitched as to surround a hollow square. It was directly across this square that the trail ran. Thus the Gardners were cut off from the remainder of the settlement. That there was design in so placing the camp can not positively be asserted; but its location did have the effect of isolating the Gardners.
The day before the arrival of the Indians, Luce and his three companions had come in from Shippey's, where Thatcher and Burtch had been left with the exhausted oxen. The evening of their arrival had witnessed a slight moderation in the temperature which was still felt on the morning of the seventh. Everyone had begun to feel that possibly spring might not be far distant.
During the absence of Luce and Thatcher it had been decided by the people of the settlement that Gardner should undertake a trip to Fort Dodge upon their return. Wants had arisen during their absence which it was believed could be satisfied by going to Fort Dodge as the nearest outpost for supplies. It was also deemed desirable to make the trip before the breaking of winter should render the roads impassable. Thus, when Luce and Thatcher returned with the news that relief was near, Gardner at once began preparations to start upon his trip two days later or on the morning of Sunday, March eighth. The purpose of the trip was not only to secure food, FIRST DAY OF THE MASSACRE 97 but also to purchase implements which would be needed in the spring's agricultural activities.^^^ The morning of March eighth dawned cold but clear and bright, forecasting for Gardner the likelihood of a pleasant first day's journey. Having learned from the accounts of Luce something of the condition of the prairie, Gardner arose early in order that as much as possible of his journey might be accomplished during the first day. Not only did Gardner himself arise early, but every member of his family did likewise in order that each might contribute something toward speeding him upon his journey.
Breakfast having been prepared and placed upon the table by Mrs. Gardner and her daughter Mrs. Luce, the members of the family were gathering about the table when the latch of the door was lifted and a tall Indian stepped within the cabin with protestations of hunger and friendship. Mrs. Gardner at once prepared an additional place at the table which the Indian was invited to occupy. The Indian accepted this hospitality and seated himself with the family ; and all were soon engaged in partaking of the morning's meal. It soon developed that this Indian visitor was but a forerunner of more who were to follow. Before the meal had been finished the door was again opened and fourteen Indian warriors, besides women and children, crowded into the cabin. All demanded food, the while protesting friendship as the first comer had done. The Gardners at once set about the satisfaction of this demand as far as possible from their limited store. At first the Indians seemed concerned solely with the gratification of their appetites. But when their hunger had been appeased a member of the party suddenly became insolent. Then others in a sullen overbearing manner demanded various things other than food.
The Indian who had been the first to enter the cabin now demanded that he be given ammunition. Another demanded gun‐caps; and yet another asked for powder. Mr. Gardner, willing to appease the Indians if possible and rid himself and family of the intruders, secured his box of gun‐caps and prepared to distribute them to all. This did not prove to be satisfactory to one of the number who snatched the box from his hand, appropriating all the caps for himself. Upon the wall hung the powder‐horn which another buck attempted to secure, but was prevented from doing so by Mr. Luce who at this moment interfered. This interference angered the Indian who drew up and leveled his gun as if intending to shoot. But Luce was too alert for the Indian and struck the weapon from his hand. The Indians did not seem inclined to carry matters further and withdrew from the cabin‐but in a very bad frame of mind.
As they were slowly and sullenly withdrawing from the Gardner cabin, Bertell E. Snyder and Dr. Harriott, from the cabin across the strait, appeared with letters which they wished to send with Gardner to Fort Dodge. They had been unaware of the presence of the Indian camp until they had come to it that morning. Gardner expressed his fears of future trouble to these men who only ridiculed the thought, refusing to believe that there was any possibility of danger. Nevertheless, Gardner advised that a warning be sent to the settlers urging them to concentrate at the Gardner cabin should trouble arise. To Harriott and Snyder this did not seem necessary: they left for home, protesting that there was no occasion for uneasiness. Gardner, however, told them that under the conditions then developing he did not plan to go to Fort Dodge. In the meantime the Indians had not returned to their camp, but were seen to be prowling about in the vicinity of the Gardner cabin. On their way home Harriott and Snyder met and did some trading with a group of the red men by whom they had been intercepted. So sure were the two men that the Indians were friendly that they did not consider the fact of their presence worth mentioning as they passed the Mattock cabin. As a further indication of their confidence in the friendly character of the red men, it is noted that in a letter written by Dr. Harriott, presumably after his return from the Gardner cabin, he states that Indians had camped near by but they were very friendly and had occasioned no uneasiness among the settlers.
At the same time the fears of the Gardners were increased by the sight of Indians in the nearby timber and by occasional calls at the cabin where new demands were made, many of which could not be met. Although the Indians seemed to maintain a certain gravity of demeanor and apparently were only seeking to gratify their physical wants, Gardner remained firm in his conviction that trouble was brewing and that the remaining settlers should be warned of the impending danger. After much counselling it was decided that Luce and Clark should go at once by a roundabout path along the lake shore to warn the other settlers and to advise that they gather in the Mattock cabin as the one best adapted for defense.
Luce and Clark set out upon their mission about two o'clock in the afternoon. They were to make their way first of all to the Mattock cabin, since it was nearer the Indian camp. Plans decided upon by Gardner, Luce, and Clark were also to be told to the Mattock people so that they might have ample opportunity to prepare for the proposed concentration of the settlers. After this they were to go as far and as rapidly as possible on their work of warning the settlers on the east lake before nightfall would of necessity end their mission.
The fears of the people at the Gardner cabin had been considerably increased by the attitude of the Indians when they took their leave shortly after noon. During the whole of the forenoon they had done no damage to property, and their only overt act had been their behavior within the cabin in the early morning. But they seem now to have suffered a change of mind, for as they moved away toward their camp they drove before them the Gardner-Luee cattle‐about six in number&dsash;shooting them as they proceeded. Apparently there was no motive in doing this‐unless, perhaps, it was the fiendish satisfaction in the taking of life. They did not seem to want the cattle as food, since they left them untouched.
About mid-afternoon a number of shots were heard in the direction of the Mattock cabin. As the afternoon wore away there came no evidence as to the meaning of the firing. The suspense became fearful as all manner of suggestions were offered in explanation of the shooting. Gardner reasoned that it could not have concerned Luce and Clark since they had had plenty of time to be further on their journey than the cabin of Mattock. Mrs. Luce became frantic, for she had believed from the first that her husband would never return. If the Indians should kill any one it would surely be Luce on account of his foiling the savages in their purpose in the morning; and in this intuition she was right. Luce and Clark had not gone far on their mission when they were intercepted and shot by the Indians. This fact, however, did not develop until weeks later when their dead bodies were found along the lake shore not a great distance from Luce's home. Thus no warning of peril reached the Mattock family.
For two hours time dragged on slowly and fearfully at the Gardner home : all eyes watched either for Indians or for the return of the messengers. Neither came. When the sun had sunk to the horizon Gardner stepped outside to look about. Suddenly he came running back calling that the Indians were coming. Upon entering the cabin he began barring the door, determined after the experience of the morning not to allow the red men to enter. Mrs. Gardner objected that they should have faith in the good intentions of the Indians and that it was better for one not to shed the blood of another. Yielding to her importunities, Gardner desisted from barricading the door. The family now awaited in terror the second coming of the Indians.
Looking through the windows they observed nine warriors hurrying toward them from the direction of the camp. With no more formality than during their morning visit they again entered the cabin. One glance sufficed to tell the frightened family that the anticipated trouble was upon them. The first demand of the Indians was for flour‐not only for a part of what the Gardners had but for all. The scarcity of flour had been one of the reasons for the planned trip to Fort Dodge; and yet, at the risk of causing his family to suffer privation, Gardner turned to the flour barrel to gratify the demands of the Indians. As he turned a buck raised his gun to shoot. It seems that either Mrs. Gardner or Mrs. Luce made a move to stay the act of the Indian, but failed. Gardner fell to the floor, the third victim of the Indian massacre at Okoboji. Having made a beginning, the Indians no longer restrained the impulses of their savage nature. After the killing of Gardner their stay at Okoboji became a carnival of murder.
As soon as Gardner fell, the quest for flour was lost sight of and the Indians turned upon the two women who had attempted to protect the object of their rage. Mrs. Luce and Mrs. Gardner were seized and held by several Indians while others beat them into insensibility and death with the butts of their guns. This was but the work of a moment. Indeed, so quickly had it been done that Abbie Gardner did not see the act herself; in her later relations of the affair she relied wholly upon stories related to her frequently by the Indians in their flight following the massacre. Without pause Mr. and Mrs. Gardner and Mrs. Luce were scalped ‐an act of savagery which the children were compelled to witness. When the Indians entered the cabin, Abbie was striving to quiet the younger child of her sister, while the other Luce child clung to one side of her chair and at the other side crouched Abbie's brother, Rowland Gardner, Jr.
Having destroyed the parents, the Indians now turned to the destruction of the children. Rowland Gardner and the two Luce children were torn away from Abbie and beaten to death against the posts of the door and the trunks of trees in the yard. Dropping the dead bodies upon the ground, the Indians appeared to counsel concerning the further disposition of the house and its only living inmate. At the close of their deliberation Abbie was seized by one of the Indians and, much to her surprise, was not killed but led away in the direction of the Indian camp. Her last sight of her family showed them strewn lifeless and bleeding about the doorstep of her home.
Before the Gardner cabin was deserted by the Indians it was completely ransacked. Chests were broken open and their contents scattered about the house and yard. All available food stores and clothing were carried away to the camp. Abbie had abundant opportunity to learn this when later about their evening camp fires bucks and squaws alike, arrayed in the clothing of the murdered people, wildly recounted the incidents of the day. Although she had been carried away from her home without any provision for clothing against the winter's cold, she was not allowed to share in the wearing of the stolen goods. Shivering from cold and fright, she witnessed the fiendish joy with which the events of that memorable day were told and retold by the Indians.
As the evening wore on preparations for the scalp dance began. Soon the rhythmic cadence of the hideous dance song started, and the scalps of the day, elevated on the ends of long poles, could be seen swaying back and forth marking time with the movements of the women who bore them. At every shriek of the dancing women, the captive girl doubtless thought her time had come. In the darkness, lighted occasionally by the flaring of a firebrand, the distorted and hideously painted faces of the savages swinging alternately backward and forward in the dance must have seemed to the prisoner a veritable dance of demons. The dance lasted far into the night, with no sleep for the child who was momentarily expecting to fall a victim of savage fury. Toward morning the dance ended and the savages sought a brief respite in sleep to strengthen them for the work of the succeeding day. At the breaking of the early dawn the Indians were again astir, making preparations for a continuation of their bloody work.
"While the inmates of the Gardner cabin were being massacred similar events were transpiring at the home of the Mattocks. What actually happened at this cabin is not known, since no living witnesses, other than red men, survived to tell the tale. From the position of the bodies when found, it is inferred that the Mattocks must have sensed the situation; but thinking that their own home was lacking in security had started for the cabin of Harriott, Snyder, and Granger across the strait. Mrs. Sharp states that when the Indians brought her to their camp, which had been moved during the day and pitched near the Mattock home, the cabin was in flames and shrieks of human beings were issuing from it. But this could hardly have been true unless there were persons staying at the Mattock cabin unknown to others in the settlement, since all the people were later accounted for in the bodies found.
Snyder, Harriott, and Harshman apparently discovered what was happening across the strait, and with rifles in hand came to the rescue. This is inferred from the fact that their bodies were found in company with those of the Mattocks. Resistance had evidently been made by the men : it is not unlikely that they were attempting to cover the retreat of Mrs. Mattock and her children, since they were in advance, while Mattock, Snyder, Madison, Harsh-man, and Harriott were in the rear with the gun in each case lying by the side of the dead owner. Harriott's gun had its stock broken as if it had been used for a club after other means of defense had been exhausted. Further evidence that resistance was offered to the Indians is to be found in the fact that one young Indian was badly injured, possibly by Dr. Harriott. No one, however, was spared in the attack by the Indians at that point: the dead bodies of eleven persons were found on the path between the two cabins. These were later indentified as Mr. and Mrs. Mattcok, their five children. Dr. Harriott, Bertell Snyder, Robert Madison, and Joseph Harshman. To make the destruction more complete, fire was set to the Mattock cabin which was soon in ruins.
It is said that, leaving the Gardner cabin shortly after noon, the Indians had gone to Mattock's cabin where they wished to get some hay with which to feed their ponies. While they were in the act of taking the hay objection was raised. A parley over the matter seems to have been carried on for some time before the Indians arrived at the killing point. Mattock sent to the Red Wing cabin for help, and Harriott, Snyder, and Harshman responded. Meanwhile the Indians appeared to withdraw, and it was probably decided by Mattock, as a measure of added safety, to take the members of his family to the Red Wing cabin. They were in the act of doing so, Mrs. Mattock and the children ahead and the men in the rear guarding the retreat, when they were fired upon by the Indians from ambush. All were killed outright except Harriott, who resisted and before being disposed of had badly wounded at least one Indian. In their relation of the event the Indians spoke of all having left the cabin before it was destroyed by fire.
Across the strait at the Red Wing or Granger cabin, Carl Granger, who for some reason remained at his cabin when the others crossed to the Mattock home, was brutally slain and scalped. The Indians killed him by splitting his head open with an ax which had evidently been taken from the wood pile near by. Thus the close of the first day of the massacre witnessed a toll of twenty lives. Three groups of settlers had been wholly wiped out‐with the exception of one child who was carried away into captivity.