Though somewhat delayed by inability to secure transportation, the relief battalion from Fort Dodge and Webster City got under way about noon on Tuesday, March twenty‐fourth, within four days after receiving the news of the massacre. The first day's march did not record much progress, as the men had advanced only about six or seven miles when they encamped at the mouth of Beaver Creek. By this time they had begun to realize that they were no more than raw recruits with no knowledge or appreciation of active service. With snow nearly four feet deep on the level, and with ravines, gulches, and low places completely filled, they encountered from the beginning almost endless difficulties in marching and in the transportation of supplies. Not a man was intimately acquainted with the surrounding country. Frequently they found themselves plunged into snow‐filled creek beds where with the oxen they floundered vainly for some time in more than fifteen or twenty feet of drifted snow before they gained the lesser depth beyond. The difficulties were greatly increased by the lack of sufficient transportation facilities.

Having baited for the night each company built a monster camp fire around which the men gathered, each endeavoring to prepare his own supper since neither company was provided with a cook. "It was quite amusing to see 'the boys' mix up meal, bake 'slap jacks', fry meat, wash dishes and act the 'housewife' generally, but 'tis said 'practice makes perfect' and the truth of the adage was substantiated in the case under consideration for before our return some of the boys became quite expert in the handicraft above mentioned.

"One of our Lieutenant's‐a jolly good fellow, by the way‐averred that he could throw a 'griddlecake' out of the roof of a log cabin, which he temporarily occupied, and while it performed divers circumgyrations in mid-air, could run out and catch it 't'other side up' on the spider. Emery W. Gates of Company C is said to have successfully demonstrated his ability to perform this feat while the expedition was in camp at McKnight's Point. He was later appointed cook of his company, in which capacity he rendered most acceptable service.

After finishing their first meal the men made ready for the night. Each man had been provided with one blanket, and in this he rolled himself for sleep that came to but few. Many found the pillowing of the head upon the ground or snow not conducive to slumber, while a few were prevented from sleeping by the heavy slumber of others. "My first night on this expedition", says Captain Duncombe, "will never pass from my memory. It is as vivid now as it was at the time. I, too, slept on a snowbank and had as my next neighbor one of those horrible snorers who could make a danger signal louder than a locomotive whistle and more musical than a calliope in the procession of a circus.

The morning of the twenty-fifth saw the men awake and astir early in the preparation of a breakfast that failed to satisfy. On this second day the line of march led them up the course of the Des Moines‐the plan being to travel upon the ice of the river in order to avoid the dangerous pitfalls of the land. The point which they hoped to reach was Dakota City just above the junction of the east and west forks of the Des Moines. In attempting to use the ice as a roadway, the men were compelled to cross and recross the river no less than fifteen or twenty times. In the end this plan of march proved impracticable since the ice in places was not strong enough to sustain the weight of the men; whenever a weak place was reached it was necessary to leave the river and struggle along over the ravines which broke the banks of the river.

Matters became much worse as the day developed into one of considerable warmth. The water running down from the hillsides collected in the depressions and turned the snow of the ravines into slush. With dazzling brilliancy the sun shone upon the white snow, and many of the men suffered so severely from snow‐blindness as to become practically helpless. The rays reflected from the snow also burned the hands and faces of the men. By night the battalion had covered no more than the ten miles to Dakota City. Here they camped as best they could. Some were able to secure places in stables, and a few were taken into the homes; but by far the greater number were compelled to sleep in their blankets on the open prairie. By this time some of the men were showing evidence of exhaustion, while others were suffering a very marked decline in spirits.

On the march north from Dakota City the real difficulties of the expedition developed. Beyond this point the snow was piled so high that frequently the groves and timber along the river could not be reached. When such conditions were encountered the command was compelled to keep to the open prairie. This was not, however, practicable for any considerable time on account of the cutting wind that swept across the snow fields. Having to choose between two evils, they elected what appeared to be the lesser and kept within the shelter of the timber regardless of the difficulties.

To overcome the difficulties on the third day out from Fort Dodge and the first day north of Dakota City, it was found necessary to send the men ahead in double files to break a road for the ox teams and wagons which followed. By marching and countermarching the snow was beaten down so that it was made possible for the oxen to drag the wagons through the deep drifts. This did not, however, always solve the transportation problem, for even with such help the oxen were frequently unable to move the wagons. When the oxen became stalled in a snow bank a long rope was attached to the wagon so that all hands could take hold and pull together with the oxen. By almost herculean efforts the wagons were thus dragged through the drifts of snow. Often the snow would accumulate in great piles in front of the wagons, which caused many pauses in the march. The marching and countermarching, the dragging of wagons by man power, and the clearing away of snow continued during the two days out from Dakota City. Under such conditions the advance of the command was painfully slow.

But the drifts were not the worst obstacle. When ravines or stream heads were encountered in the line of march the oxen could do little but flounder in the snow which was then four or five times as deep as on the level ground of the prairie. They could scarcely secure a footing, for here the soft snow had usually been converted into almost bottomless slush. At such times the men would "wade through, stack arms, return and unhitch the teams, and attach ropes to them and draw them through; this done", they "performed a similar operation on the wagons" It was necessary to resort to this method of advance every mile or two.

In the face of such conditions, it became very evident that the timber at McKnight's Point could not be reached on scheduled time. When the companies came to appreciate more fully the difficulties before them, Captain Buncombe, Lieutenant Maxwell, and R. U. Wheelock were sent ahead as scouts to pick out a better road and if possible secure a camping place near timber and water. To guide the advancing column, beacon fires were built; but these were of little or no use to the men in the rear. The main body of marchers, wet, hungry, and suffering acutely from the cold, toiled on until darkness made further progress seem an impossibility.

Major Williams therefore called a halt and put it to a vote whether we should camp where we were, or still persist in getting to the Point. A majority voted to camp where we were, although several preferred to keep on, fearing we would freeze to death anyway, and that it was as well to keep moving. We were on the bleak prairie .... We had no tents to shelter us; so, to many the outlook was extremely forbidding, but all acquiesced in the will of the majority.

The place selected for the camp was a high ridge from which the snow had been blown by the winter's winds. Each company went into its own camp. The tarpaulin covers for the wagons were removed and stretched around the wagons so as to form a shelter from the wind. Upon the ground under the wagons the men placed their oil‐skin coats to serve as a floor upon which to pile the bedding. Wet boots were used for pillows. Then, huddled closely together under the wagons so that when one turned all had to do likewise, the weary volunteers "turned in" for the night. Being some distance from the timber they could obtain no wood with which to kindle fires ‐without which the men were unable to warm themselves, dry their clothing, or cook their food. For supper they had nothing to eat save crackers and uncooked ham; and the same diet made up the breakfast on the following morning.

Early Friday morning the companies continued the march toward McKnight's Point, where they arrived about noon. Here they found Duncombe, Wheelock, and Maxwell awaiting them. In nearly two days the battalion had covered a distance of something over twelve miles from Dakota City to McKnight's Point. Even at this slow rate of progress they arrived in a thoroughly exhausted condition. Captain Duncombe had reached the Point the evening before in a very benumbed condition and nearly unconscious from the exposure and suffering occasioned by the intensity of the cold. In explaining his condition, however, a story was later told by a member of the expedition to the effect that as the Point was neared by the three scouts Duncombe became exhausted and appeared to be unable to proceed.

Wheelock had with him what was thought to be a cordial, some of which he offered to the Captain. The "cordial" proved to be laudanum, which so affected Duncombe that had it not been for Wheelock and Maxwell, who kept him awake and moving, he would have been overcome. When within two miles of the Point, Maxwell started for help. Too exhausted to walk, he lay down on the snow and rolled himself over and over till he reached the grove; while Wheelock remained with Duncombe to keep him awake and moving. At the grove Maxwell found a cabin in which were Jeremiah Evans and William L. Church. Hearing Maxwell's story, they at once set out to rescue Duncombe and Wheelock. In rolling over and over in the snow Maxwell had made a trail which the rescuers had no trouble in following to the suffering men. After being dragged to the cabin, Duncombe fell asleep and could not be aroused. But by the time the expedition arrived on the following day he had awakened and appeared to be little or none the worse for his unusual experience.

By Saturday a number of the men were ill from exposure, but uncomplainingly continued the trying march. Major Williams, although the oldest man of the expeditionary force, bore his privations extremely well, giving no evidence of exhaustion. If anything the trials of the march had aroused in him a still stronger and sterner fighting spirit. Some of the force, apparently bearing the trials well, were reported as complaining. One of these men is said to have been a veteran of the Mexican War and often made the boast that he had been the third soldier to enter the Mexican fortress of Churubusco when it was stormed and taken by the American forces. But now he declared the continuance of the march "would result in the destruction of the entire command."

Calling a meeting of the battalion. Major Williams addressed the men upon the duties and obligations of the expedition, and he ended by declaring : "You now understand this is not to be a holiday campaign, and every man in the battalion who feels that he has gone far enough is at liberty to return." No one was willing to accept the offer. It appears, how‐ ever, that Daniel Okeson and John O'Laughlin, who had been accepted under protest on account of their age, were now discharged from Company B on account of disabilities incident to their years. Under protest they accepted discharge and returned to Fort Dodge.

The battalion's ranks, however, were not depleted by these dismissals, as Jeremiah Evans and William L. Church at once enlisted‐the former in Company B and the latter in Company C. Evans had been a settler at McKnight's Point for some time, and it was at his cabin that the advance scouts were received and cared for. Church, whose home was at Springfield, Minnesota, had been on a trip to Fort Dodge for supplies and had stopped at the Evans cabin on his return up the river on the Fort Ridgely trail. Upon his arrival he had been told of the massacre at the lakes and also that a relief expedition was being organized at Fort Dodge to rescue the whites who might have escaped and to punish the Indians who had done the deed. Upon hearing this he had resolved to await the coming of the expedition and enlist for service.

At McKnight's Point a halt of a half‐day on Friday afternoon was taken for purposes of recuperation. Here a number of deserted cabins furnished shelter for the men. It was at this halt that Company C selected Emery W. Gates as cook. Following his appointment it is said that Gates prepared for the men one of the best meals they had ever eaten; and they agreed that their stay here was one grand, good time.

Company A also celebrated, but in an entirely different manner. To divert the minds of those who were suffering from the hardships of the march, Captain Richards decided to hold a mock court‐martial. The victim, a man by the name of Brizee, was of course unaware of the fake character of the affair and took the proceeding with great seriousness. It seems that the tar box of Company A's wagon had been lost, and for this Brizee was held responsible. The formal trial procedure‐the organization of the court, the summoning of witnesses, the taking of testimony, and the rendering of a formal decision‐was carried through and Brizee was declared guilty. In all solemnity he was sentenced to be shot. It is said that he was very much frightened and most earnestly implored a pardon which was finally granted.

On the morning of Saturday, the twenty‐eighth, the three companies bade goodbye to McKnight's Point and started for Shippey's Point, which was located on the west fork of Cylinder Creek about two miles above the junction of the main stream with the Des Moines. Since leaving Dakota City the expedition had followed as nearly as possible the Fort Ridgely road up the Des Moines Vallev‐a route which it was planned to continue as far as practicable. At McCormick's place about two miles below Shippey's, they met Angus McBane, Cyrus C. Carpenter, William P. Pollock, and Andrew Hood, who had heard of the massacre at the Irish Colony and were hastening south to Fort Dodge to report.

These men at once joined Company A. It was at Shippey's Point that J. M. Thatcher and Asa Burtch were found anxiously awaiting the coming of the battalion. Thatcher was nearly frantic over the reported fate of his family, but had been induced by Burtch to await the coming of the relief party‐in Company B of which the two men now enlisted. The load of supplies‐mostly flour, which Luce and Thatcher had been taking to the lakes from the eastern part of the state‐was confiscated for the use of the battalion as the supplies of the party were growing uncomfortably low and Sherman, the commissary, was becoming nervous.

On Sunday morning the onward march was resumed with the Irish settlement on Medium Lake as the objective point for the day. As the expedition moved further to the north, the difficulties of the march became greater because the snow increased in depth. From Shippey's Point the march followed the Dragoon Trail, although no team had been able to make its way over this road for weeks. To the tired men the drifts seemed mountain high, while the depth of the snow in the low places seemed fathomless. The "colony" was finally reached without incident.

The settlement at Medium Lake ('oiii])rise(l about XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX twelve or fifteen Irish families who had come from Illinois in the fall of 1856. They had selected claims along the Des Moines River, but had made no permanent improvements. Instead, they had built temporary cabins in a grove at the southwest corner of Medium Lake where they planned to spend the winter. In time this temporary settlement developed into the town of Emmetsburg, which to the present day has retained a large percentage of people of Irish nativity. Here also were many people who had fled from the perils of an Indian attack and had come together for the winter. They were found living in rudely constructed cabin shelters or in dugouts. Destitute of provisions, they were as far as possible being supported from the slender stores of their Irish neighbors upon whose pity they had thrown themselves.

While here the expeditionary force was augmented by new recruits: thereafter it comprised one hundred and twenty-five men. Since most of these persons did not formally enlist their names do not appear upon the official muster roll of the battalion. Not only did the companies receive recruits at Medium Lake, but it was here that they were able to exchange their worn out oxen for fresh teams. They were also able to replenish somewhat their commissary department, for the new members brought with them as much food as the settlement was able to spare.

Dickinson County Iowa Genealogy - The IAGenWeb Project