Owing to his imperfect knowledge of the country and to the darkness that had settled down before he had come within known territory, Markham missed the cabin he was seeking and found himself instead at the Gardner home. As he approached the cabin he was surprised to find it deserted. No light could be seen nor was any sound to be heard. Looking more closely he saw the mutilated bodies of the Gardners scattered about the yard; and upon entering the open door of the cabin he beheld the badly pillaged condition of the once happy home.
It was nearly eleven o'clock on the Monday night following the attack upon the Gardners when Markham reached the scene of desolation and horror. Since he had been walking from early morning and had traveled more than thirty miles he felt the need of rest and food, and so without delay set out for the Mattock cabin. He had not gone far when he was startled by the barking of a dog in the low brush just ahead. Stopping and peering through the shrubs he saw directly across his path the camp in which the Indians were then sitting in solemn council over the events of the day. The barking of the dog for some unexplainable reason passed wholly unheeded by the Indians who continued in consultation over their fiendish deeds. Markham slipped by them and hastened as rapidly as he could across the ice of the east lake to the place he called home.
Upon his arrival at the Howe cabin the same scene of violence, confusion, and desolation greeted him. Sickened at the horrible sight, cold, hungry, and exhausted he pushed on to the home of Noble and Thatcher, hoping that there all would be well. Instead, he found only an empty cabin and murdered friends. Afraid to pass the remainder of the night in a cabin which had been so fearfully visited, he dragged himself to a nearby timbered ravine where he remained until dawn. Fearful that if he lay down he would fall asleep and freeze to death‐for the night was bitterly cold‐he kept moving through a limited section of the ravine.
With the coming of daylight Markham set out for the nearest settlement, which was Granger's Point on the Des Moines River. With feet already badly bruised and frozen he journeyed on to spread the tidings of what he had discovered. Famished and half frozen, he struggled for eighteen miles through obstacles that would have deterred all but the most heroic. Completely exhausted from continuous exposure for thirty-six hours, he finally reached the home of George Granger, where he related the story of what he had seen.
Two trappers who happened to be staying temporarily at the Granger home started at once down the Des Moines Valley for Fort Dodge. Upon arriving at Fort Dodge they told the tale of the terrible massacre at the lakes, but their story was so confusing and incoherent that they were not believed. Those who had authority refused to act upon this recital of events; and thus it came about that the first warning of trouble along the frontier went unheeded.
Resting for only a brief time at the Granger home, Markham accompanied by George Granger started north to Springfield to warn that group of settlers against the Indians who had stricken Okoboji. It had occurred to them that the red men might also visit the Minnesota settlement; and they hoped to reach the place before the Indians appeared and thus prevent a repetition of the affair at the lakes. At Springfield these bearers of bad tidings had a wholly different reception than that accorded the men who carried the news to Fort Dodge. No sooner did the people at this place become aware of the outbreak than they took measures looking toward protection from a similar attack. The coming of Markham and Granger was indeed fortunate, for if the information had not reached them when it did it is not unlikely that the settlers of Springfield would have met a fate similar to that of the people at Okoboji.
While some of the settlers fled at once upon receipt of the news, others remained; and a few gave their lives as the price of refusal to believe that danger was imminent. Among these was the Indian trader and settlement storekeeper, William Wood, who steadfastly refused to believe that a massacre would be attempted at Springfield. His refusal to believe that the community was in danger was doubtless due to the fact that he had traded with the Indians for years and did not note, in his recent dealings with them, any cause for alarm.
The thought uppermost in the minds of most members of the settlement was to send a relief party to the lakes at once. After some deliberation this was deemed unwise: soberer second thought convinced them that it would be better to take measures for their own protection. At the time there were fifteen able-bodied men and about twelve adult women in the village. This number, it was argued, would make a reasonably efficient fighting force in case of attack‐although they realized that they would be able to resist for only a brief time, since they were in no condition for a prolonged defense. And so it was decided to send messengers to the United States military authorities at Fort Ridgely for aid.
Two young men, Joseph B. Cheffins who had come thither with the trader William Wood, and a young German, Henry Tretts, were selected to bear the message for help to the Lower Agency of the Sioux."These men carried with them a written statement of facts which was signed by individuals at Springfield who personally knew the agent of the Lower Sioux at Red Wood." Cheffins and Tretts left Springfield at once, but they were not able to reach the Lower Agency until the eighteenth.
The trip was one of unusual privation. Owing to the exigencies of the situation, the men had left hastily and without making adequate preparation for the hardships of such a journey. The direct distance between the two points was not greater than seventy miles, but owing to difficulties encountered they had been obliged to detour and thus the distance traveled was more than one hundred miles.
Under the most favorable conditions they made but little better than fifteen miles per day. The trip was undertaken on foot through deep snow and for most of the way under the disabling effects of a dazzling sun. When the Lower Agency was reached they could scarcely see‐so severely were they suffering from snow blindness. They were also physically exhausted, for they had traveled almost continuously with but very little rest. After their arrival they were forced to remain in bed for two days before they were able to begin the return journey to Springfield.