Early in November, 1856, Orlando C. Howe (a lawyer and later a professor of law at the State University of Iowa), R. U. Wheelock, and B. F, Parmenter, guided by a well-known and widely experienced western trapper, Wiltfong, came from Newton, Jasper County, Iowa, to the lake region on a land‐hunting tour. They were particularly attracted by the natural beauty of the region and before leaving staked out claims to the southeast of Marble's place on what is now the site of the town of Spirit Lake. Like many other prospective settlers at that time they did not plan to remain during the winter season; and so, after visiting for some days among the settlers on the south and east shores of the Okobojis, they returned to Jasper County. The route homeward led them to Loon Lake, where they are said to have found Inkpaduta's band encamped. The band seems to have been peaceful enough at the time of the visit; indeed, they made a rather favorable impression upon these prospective settlers.
Although the season had been severe Howe, Wheelock, and Parmenter expected the usual breaking of winter during the closing week of March, when they anticipated that travel across the prairies would be difficult if not impossible owing to the overabundance of snow. It was to forestall delays caused by the melting snows that they started about the first of March for the lake region with ox wagons heavily laden with seed, food supplies, and agricultural implements. From the very start they made but indifferent progress owing to the deep snows and continued intensity of the cold. Tarrying but a short time at Fort Dodge to replenish their supplies and renew former acquaintances, they proceeded up the west side of the Des Moines Valley to their destination. Following the trail up this side of the valley, they missed the two trappers who came down from Granger's Point carrying the news of the massacre to Fort Dodge. When within two or three miles of their destination, and somewhere to the southeast of Gar Lake, on the evening of March fifteenth their oxen became too exhausted to proceed further. Temporarily abandoning the load and the oxen, the men went forward on foot to the settlements along the East Okoboji Lake.
About midnight, after spending several hours in groping their way through the timber along the lake, they came to the Noble and Thatcher cabin. Failing to receive a response after repeated rapping upon the door they pushed the door open and entered only to find everything in confusion. Hesitating to remain for the night amid such evidences of violence, they left at once and made their way along the trail in the direction of the cabin of Joel Howe. At this cabin likewise on account of the darkness they did not discover that there were dead bodies lying in the yard. Entering they found the cabin deserted; but the hour was so late that they decided to remain and make further investigations on the morrow.
The following morning they soon discovered the dead bodies in the yard and other evidences of an Indian visit. From here they crossed the east lake to the Mattock cabin, which they found in ashes; while the clearing around the cabin was strewn with the bodies of the slaughtered members of the family. They now had all the evidence necessary to convince them that an Indian war party had visited the settlement and wiped out the white population. Without further delay they started for the settlements to the southeast along the Des Moines. So anxious were they to spread the news as speedily as possible that Parmenter remained behind to follow more slowly with the oxen, while the other two men rushed on ahead on foot. On Saturday evening, March twenty-first, they arrived at Fort Dodge with the news of the Indian massacre at the lakes. So well-known was Howe in that vicinity that no one hesitated to believe the information which he brought of the Indian raid on the frontier.
When Howe and Wheelock had recited the story of conditions as they found them at the lakes, it coincided so nearly with information already brought to the community that no one could doubt the urgent need for immediate action. And so it was resolved to hold a meeting for the purpose of determining the course to be followed. This meeting was called for the next afternoon (which was Sunday) in the schoolhouse of the village. When the meeting convened practically every able-bodied man in Fort Dodge and vicinity was present. Major William Williams presided as chairman, and Charles B. Richards acted as secretary. Howe and Wheelock were called upon to relate their tale of horrors at the lakes. The recital gave rise to great excitement: the people realized their own proximity to danger.
It was the unanimous sentiment of the meeting that immediate and resolute action should be taken to deal with the situation. The chairman, Major Williams, read a commission held by him from Governor Grimes empowering him in any emergency that might arise to take such action as seemed best in the light of existing circumstances. It was thereupon resolved that at least two companies of volunteers should be called for and sent to the lakes to rescue the living, bury the dead, and if possible overtake and punish the perpetrators of the massacre. Nearly eighty men volunteered at once to join the proposed expedition.
Before the meeting adjourned a messenger, in the person of a Mr. White, was named to carry the news of the massacre to Homer, Border Plains, and Webster City, and to ask the cooperation of these communities in the recruiting of members for the expedition. To make the plea for assistance as effective as possible, Howe was requested to accompany the messenger to these places. The response at Webster City was as spontaneous as at Fort Dodge. Upon the arrival of the messengers a meeting was called in the village schoolhouse, so that all might hear the story of the Indian outrages.
Volunteers were called for, and by nine o'clock on the morning of the twenty-third a company of twenty‐eight men had been selected to undertake the expedition. Only young men were encouraged to volunteer, since it was thought that the older men would not be able to undergo the trials of the trip to and from the lakes. But when both young and old insisted upon going a sort of selective draft was resorted to. On Monday morning, March twenty‐third, all who had volunteered were ranged in a row and J. D. Maxwell, the county judge, was called upon to make the selection, which he did to the satisfaction of all.
But there were problems other than the securing of volunteers to be met and solved‐such as the procuring of tents, provisions, wagons or sleds, and teams, without which the expedition would have little hope of success. By contributions the company was provided with a varied collection of firearms, a wagon, two or three yoke of oxen, food, and some extra clothing and blankets. Among those who gave liberally were "W. C. and S. Willson, A. Moon, the Brewers, Charles T. Fenton, S. B. Rosenkrans, the Funks, E. W. Saulsbury and B. S. Mason." At this time the village of Webster City could boast of but few people who were able to provide much assistance; but each did his best and in the end the volunteers were reasonably well outfitted for the journey.
Departure from Webster City was delayed until one 'clock in the afternoon of the twenty-third, owing to the difficulty of securing the necessary equipment for the men. Even then they were not adequately equipped. Indeed, it was impossible to foresee and prepare for the trials to be faced on the expedition. Moreover, not one of these people had had any experience in contending with the elements under such conditions as then prevailed.
The Webster City company arrived at Fort Dodge about nine o'clock in the evening of the same day and was given a rousing welcome. No better testimonial to the spirit and determination of the men, untrained as they were, can be given than to say that they made the march of more than twenty miles in eight hours over nearly impassable roads. The snow had thawed just enough to cause it to yield readily under the tread of the men‐making the march one continuous flounder from Webster City to Fort Dodger.
In the evening, immediately following the arrival at Fort Dodge, officers for the company were chosen by ballot. The company as then organized was designated as Company C and was officered as follows: John C. Johnson, Captain ; John N. Maxwell, First Lieutenant; Frank R. Mason, Second Lieutenant; Harris Hoover, Sergeant; and A. Newton Hathaway, Corporal. The privates were William K. Laughlin and Michael Sweeney of the Webster City settlement; and Thomas Anderson, Thomas B. Bonebright, James Brainard, Sherman Cassady, Patrick Conlan, Henry E. Dalley, John Erie, Emery W. Gates, John Gates, Josiah Griffith, James Hickey, Humphrey C. Hillock, M. W. Howland, Elias D. Kellogg, A. S. Leonard, F. R. Moody, John Nolan (or Nowland), J. C. Pemberton, Alonzo Richardson, Patrick Stafford, and A. K. Tullis of the country immediately adjacent to Webster City.
Captain Johnson was not a Webster City man but came from Bach Grove. In view of the later incidents of the trip his enlistment was somewhat pathetic. He arrived in town after the beginning of the meeting, which he attended with a friend. He was so impressed by the spirit of the occasion that he volunteered, being one of the first who expressed a willingness to go. He at once sent word to his mother concerning the mission upon which he was going, saying that he probably would not see her for some time—‐ot thinking that it might be his lot never to return.
While news of the massacre was being carried to Homer, Webster City, and Border Plains, the citizens of Fort Dodge and vicinity were hard at work organizing their groups of volunteers, so that by the time the Webster City unit had arrived they were ready for some form of united action. Here too it was thought best to select only the younger men, since the inclemency of the weather as well as the marching conditions at this time would be a severe drain upon the physical endurance of the strongest. In addition it was recognized that the young men would not have in many instances the care of dependent families. Fully eighty men had stepped forward in response to the call for volunteers, and from these two companies were organized.
Early on Monday morning each of the two companies selected officers. Charles B. Richards, who had acted as secretary of the first general meeting, was selected as Captain of Company A; while John F. Buncombe was chosen to head Company B. Captain Richards at once selected Franklin A. Stratton as First Lieutenant, L. K. Allright as Sergeant, and Solon Mason as Corporal; while Captain Buncombe named James Linn as First Lieutenant, Smith E. Stevens, Second Lieutenant, William N. Koons, Sergeant, and Thomas Callagan as Corporal of Company B.
The Roster of Company A at the time of its organization on March 23rd comprised the following privates: George W. Brizee, William E. Burkholder, Henry Carse, Chatterton, Julius Conrad, L. D. Crawford, J. W. Dawson, William De Fore or William A. De Foe, John Farney, William N. Ford, John Gales, William MeCauley, E. Mahan, Michael Maher, B. F. Parmenter, W. F. Porter, L. B. Ridgeway, George P. Smith, Roderick A. Smith, Winton Smith, Owen S. Spencer, C. Stebbins, Silas Van Cleave, D. Westerfield, and R. U. Wheelock.
In Company B were enrolled the following: Jesse Addington, D. H. Baker, Hiram Benjamin, Orlando Bice, R. F. Carter, Richard Carter, Michael Cavanaugh, A. E. Croiise, John Hefley, Orlando C. Howe, D. F. Howell, Albert S. Johnson, Michael AicCarty, G. F. McClure, Robert McCormick, John N. McFarland, A. S. Malcolm, Daniel Morrissey, Jonas Murray, Daniel Okeson, John O'Laughlin, W. Searles, Guernsey Smith, Reuben Whetstone, John White, Washington Williams, and William R. Wilson.
These companies when organized were equipped in the same manner as at Webster City‐that is, by contributions from those older men who, finding age a bar to joining the expedition, contributed whatever they found possible "near the end of a severe winter in a frontier town one hundred and fifty miles from any source of supply. Scarcely was there a man or woman in the little hamlet or in the surrounding country who did not offer some tiling‐guns, ammunition, food, gloves, wearing apparel, blankets, or other articles that might prove useful on the journey. The equipment of arms varied from the worst conditioned shotgun to some of the finest type of Sharps rifle to be found on the frontier.
All of Monday, after the muster in, was spent in collecting the equipment for the expedition. After some little effort two or three ox teams and wagons were secured to haul the food supplies, bedding, and camp equipment. A team and wagon was allotted to each company, so that all supplies for each organization might be kept separate and distinct. The imperfect means of transportation permitted the taking of only limited supplies; and no grain or forage could be taken upon which the oxen might subsist. It was thought, strangely enough, that the cattle might be able to forage for themselves at the various camping or stopping places along the route.
After the companies had been organized as separate units and the "Webster City contingent had arrived, a closer coordination of the forces was effected. A general meeting of the three organizations was called and the matter of coordination discussed. In the end it was decided to organize as a battalion. Major William Williams, the only person who had had military experience and who had been empowered by Governor Grimes to act in such an emergency, was chosen to command the battalion thus created. This was a recognition of the undoubted ability and vigor of the first postmaster, first mayor, and first citizen of Fort Dodge‐especially since his age of sixty years was far beyond that considered desirable for members of the expedition.
The future proved the wisdom of the selection, for his command of the situation had much to do with shaping the later developments more fortunately than otherwise might have been the case. George B. Sherman was selected as quartermaster and commissary; and in order to enable him to better perform his duties he was detached from Company A into which he had already been mustered. Dr. George R. Bissell of Fort Dodge was selected as surgeon, and he proved a most worthy and helpful member of the expedition. Thus organized, the battalion numbered at the time of leaving Fort Dodge a total of ninety-one officers and enlisted men.