The ugliness of their real character for the first time appeared in their treatment of a settler by the name of Robert Hammond. It seems that Hammond resisted their thieving after he had admitted them to his cabin, with the result that he was badly beaten. This episode appears to have started the Indians upon their fiendish career. Having left Hammond helpless in his cabin, they turned, when some distance away, and literally shot the cabin door off its hinges. This was done, presumably, as a warning of what was likely to happen if they were further interfered with. They then left the settlement and continued their journey northward.
As he proceeded up the course of the Little Sioux, Inkpaduta followed the policy of sending out scouting and foraging parties into the surrounding country. At nearly every cabin found by these parties everything in the line of guns, food, and ammunition was either carried off or destroyed. Not infrequently the stock of the settler‐hogs, cattle, or horses‐ was killed and left untouched : the Indians seemed now to be seeking to destroy rather than to take for their own use.
The next settlement reached by the band was Pilot Eock in Cherokee County. While pausing here for a brief time scouts were sent out in all directions through the surrounding country. Very little transpired at Pilot Rock other than the taking of food and arms. Here the Indians found no opposition upon the part of the settlers; and when they had satisfied themselves they left the community.
Another settlement visited was that of the Milford Colony, which was located a little north of the present town of Cherokee. Cattle and hogs were shot, doors torn from their hinges, and furniture ruined. Bedding was torn into shreds, and feather ticks were ripped open and the contents scattered upon the prairie. Here the Indians remained for three days; and while the settlers suffered only from fright and the destruction of property, they were only too happy to note the red men's preparations for leaving. The Indians had tarried at Milford Colonv evidently for rest and recuperation, finding here more supplies than they had encountered elsewhere. This was doubtless due to the fact that the settlers, having but lately come west from Milford, Massachusetts, were well provided against possible future needs. For three days the Indians feasted and appeared to deliberate. Upon the evening of the third day two of the Milford pioneers returned from a business trip to Sac City. The arrival of Parkhurst and Lebourveau seemed to arouse the Indians' suspicion.
They demanded to be told from whence the settlers had come. Not having received the desired information they probably concluded they were being pursued and that night left the settlement. After the departure of the Indians, the Milford pioneers deserted the colony and sought refuge at various places‐at Ashland, at Onawa, and at Smithland. As they came to isolated cabins north of this settlement the Indians resorted to various modes of terrorizing the pioneers. At the cabin of Lemuel Parkhurst they amused themselves for an hour or more by striking their tomahawks into the floor and logs of the cabin, while flourishing scalping knives about the heads of the affrighted occupants. Mrs. Parkhurst finally pacified them by preparing a meal which she set before them. Having consumed this meal, they proffered the peace pipe, shook hands, and departed.
At the cabin of James A. Brown they seemed to be seeking entertainment rather than food. After compelling Brown to mount a hay stack, two Indians climbed up‐one armed with a rifle, the other with a pitchfork. They amused themselves by testing the steadiness of Brown's nerve. He was alternately lunged at by the possessor of the fork and levelled at by the holder of the gun. After thus amusing themselves for ten or fifteen minutes, the Indians allowed him to get down and go to his cabin. They then went to the stable, killed an ox, and attempted to steal a horse; but the animal was so vicious that they finally gave up the attempt and left. These are but incidents illustrative of the behavior of the Indians as they passed to the north of Cherokee and up the Little Sioux.
Arriving in the northwestern corner of Buena Vista County, their conduct became, if possible, still more vicious. Wherever they appeared they were sullen, as contrasted with their tendency to talk and seek entertainment at points further down the river. Waste, violence, and cruelty now characterized their actions. At the home of a Mr. Weaver they not only wantonly shot all his hogs and cattle, but also roughly handled him and the members of his family.
Satisfied with this, they moved off to the northwest. They were next heard of at the home of H. H. Waterman in O'Brien County. The visit to the Waterman cabin, however, seems to have been from a scouting detachment rather than from the band as a whole. In Waterman's own words '"Seven big strapping Sioux bucks stopped at my house; they were so tall I had to look up at them." They told him of the Smithland affair. Although they seemed much excited. Waterman paid little attention to their story for he recognized them as the same Indians that had called upon him more than once before. He did, however, become alarmed when they began stealing his property‐to which he finally objected. But they took everything they could lay hands on; and ended by beating Waterman in the back and stringing him up by the thumbs. Apparently satisfied, they committed no further mischief, but departed in the direction from which they had come.
After the episode at the Waterman cabin the band concentrated at the site of the present town of Peterson in southwestern Clay County, where they found white settlers‐at which they were apparently much surprised. Peterson was only a short distance away from the cabins of Weaver in Buena Vista County and Waterman in O'Brien. Here it would seem they began in earnest the campaign of terror which was to end in massacre at the lakes and in the attack upon Springfield. They were no longer satisfied with thieving and pillaging; but the torturing of people and the taking of human life now seemed to be the pronounced bent and purpose of their raid. The mere presence of white people seemed to infuriate them to frenzied acts, and the wonder is that the general massacre of the settlers did not begin at Peterson rather than at Okoboji.
As already noted there were at Peterson by February, 1857, the families of James Bicknell, Jacob Kirchner, and Ambrose S. Mead. Although the news of Indian depredations had reached these families before the coming of the Indians themselves, conditions were such that no steps could be taken to offer resistance. The Bicknell cabin, being located the furthest to the south and west, was reached first. This probability had been anticipated, for by the time the Indians arrived the inmates had fled to the shelter of the Kirchner home across the river. At the Bicknell home everything was either taken or destroyed. Early on the following morning the Indians crossed the river and appeared at the Kirchner home, where were huddled closely together for mutual protection the families of Bicknell and Jacob Kirchner. Here the Indians repeated their atrocities, leaving only the cabin and the lives of the settlers.
Although the Meads have been spoken of as a part of the Peterson settlement, they were not properly so since they were located some little distance up the course of the stream and were nearer the open prairie. It seems that they had not been warned of the coming of the Indians. Mr. Mead was absent at Cedar Falls; but before going he had arranged with a family by the name of Taylor to jointly occupy the Mead cabin with Mrs. Mead and the children. When the Indians appeared Mr. E. Taylor resisted their meddling in matters about the cabin. This enraged them and they threatened to kill him unless he desisted from objecting to their pillaging. Fearing that they might carry out the threat, Taylor managed to elude the watchfulness of the Indians and started south with a view to procuring help. Mrs. Mead meanwhile had been knocked down and otherwise abused for resisting.
The whole affair at the Mead cabin ended by the Indians attempting to carry off the women and children as prisoners. They succeeded in carrying away Hattie, the eldest of the Mead children, but when they attempted to take Emma Mead, who was about ten years of age, she resisted so strongly that they contented themselves with beating her all the way back to her cabin home and then letting her go. The Taylor child was kicked into the fireplace where he was fearfully burned; while his mother and Mrs. Mead were carried away to camp. On the following morning the prisoners were allowed to return to their home. The Indians evidently feared pursuit or did not care to be burdened with prisoners at this time.
Mr. Taylor made good his escape and started across the country to the Sac City settlement for aid. After some privation, he was successful in reaching the settlement. A relief party consisting of a company of men under Enoch Boss as captain made the march up the Raccoon River to Storm Lake and across country to the Mead home on the Little Sioux. Of course the Indians were gone by this time, but the company started up the river in pursuit. It is written by someone that a member of the party when out on a reconnaissance, discovered the Indians, and at once hurried back to report his discovery. Upon reaching the main party he found an active quarrel going on among the members; and when he reported his news the company at once disbanded and hurried home. Other accounts have related that the Indians were pursued to within a few miles of Spencer, when the company was stopped by a terrific blizzard and compelled to turn back without having accomplished its purpose of punishing the Indians.
While the Sac County relief party was forming and on its way across the country, the Indians had moved up the river to the little group of cabins where Sioux Rapids now stands. No damage was done at this settlement, the band seeming to be content with asking and receiving. Before the relief party arrived, the Indians had reached Gillett's Grove where again they seemed disposed to create trouble.
In the summer and fall of 1856 the Gillett brothers had settled in what was perhaps the finest body of timber along the whole course of the Little Sioux. Through this grove, dividing it nearly equally, flows the Little Sioux. Each of the two brothers had built a cabin upon his claim, one on either bank of the stream. In preparing for the winter they thought in the main only of their need of food and shelter: they troubled themselves little concerning an Indian visitation, reasoning that such an event was quite unlikely as Indians had not been seen since their arrival. Moreover, fishing in that region was poor and game was extremely scarce.
Great therefore was the surprise of the Gillett brothers when in the late winter they learned of the arrival of an Indian party. Although the cabins were well placed for purposes of shelter, the Indians readily located them and at once paid them a visit. The red men were well received and their wants attended to by the settlers. Seeming well pleased they left with protestations of friendship. A few days later a second and different group appeared, led by the same Indian as the first. As the days passed this red man's visits became unpleasantly frequent, but thus far no offensive attitude had been assumed by the Indians. When, however, he began paying unwelcome attentions to Mrs. Gillett it was decided to put an end to his coming.
One day, after the Indian had been peculiarly annoying, Gillett followed him and at some distance from the cabin shot him. The next morning the brothers visited the spot where the Indian had fallen, and finding the body beheaded it. Having committed this outrage they became frightened and decided upon flight to save themselves from Indian vengeance. Accordingly, they hastily packed a few belongings and started across the country toward Fort Dodge. It was later learned that when the Indians discovered the body of the murdered man they destroyed as much of the Gillett property as they could lay hands upon. The influence of this murder in provoking the terrible deeds committed by the Indians a few days later when they reached the lakes can not be definitely determined.
When the Gilletts fled from their homes they knew not whence they were going except that they were seeking to escape from Indian retribution. They finally decided to make an attempt to reach Fort Dodge, although they realized that this would be an exceedingly difficult task since they knew only in a general way the direction in which that station lay. In their wanderings they finally reached the little settlement at Sioux Rapids, where after some counselling it was decided to send couriers to Fort Dodge for relief. Abner Bell, E. Weaver, and one of the Wilcox brothers were chosen to make the journey. It was near the first of March when the men from Sioux Rapids reached Fort Dodge with the intelligence of the Indian depredations along the Little Sioux. At first their story was not believed; but as other reports of Indian depredations in this region continued to come in the people of Fort Dodge came to the conclusion that there must be some truth in what they had been told by the men from Sioux Rapids. Then they became alarmed as they saw evidence of some great plan of Indian revenge against the whole of the exposed frontier. Later the story of Bell and his fellow couriers was confirmed by reports from the Gilletts themselves, from Christian Kirchner, and from Ambrose S. Mead.
An attempt was made to organize a relief party at Fort Dodge, but the effort was soon abandoned by its promoters. The distance was greater than seventy miles, the snow was deep, the cold intense, and the treeless prairies were being constantly visited by terrific storms, all of which combined to make the success of such an expedition seem like the last thing that could be expected. Doubt was strong that such a party would ever be able to reach its destination or offer succor to the settlers on the frontier even though it should be fortunate enough to reach them. It was finally decided that any attempt at relief would probably end in a needless sacrifice of human lives. In the light of future events it may be said that this decision was indeed a wise one.