The Indians were now thoroughly alarmed at the nearness of danger, and for two days and nights they kept up a continuous flight. No stops were made to prepare food: if they ate at all it was while they were on the move. Such a sustained flight would have been arduous enough for untrained marchers under the most favorable conditions, but for the women captives it was terrible. Not only were they compelled to wade through snow and slush but they were burdened with loads which might well have been regarded as too heavy for men to bear. Mrs. Marble states that upon leaving Heron Lake she and her associates "were forced to carry heavy packs, and perform the degrading and menial services in the camp .... that the pack .... consisted of two bags of shot, each weighing twentyfive pounds, and a lot of camp furniture, increasing the weight of the pack to 100 pounds. On top of this heavy load .... was placed the additional weight of an Indian urchin of some three or four years of age.
The papoose which she was supposed to carry seemed to consider that it was entitled to as many liberties and as much attention when carried by her as it would have enjoyed if in the care of its mother. Mrs. Marble objected to making friends with the baby, and watching her opportunity would scratch it in the face until the Indians, hearing its cries, finally concluded it didn't like her and took it away.
Abbie Gardner, though but a girl, was also burdened with a pack—‐hough its weight was somewhat less than that carried by Mrs. Marble. It was made up of "eight bars of lead, one pint of lead balls, one tepee cover made of the heaviest, thickest cloth, one blanket, one bed-comforter, one iron bar, three feet long and half an inch thick .... one gun, and one piece of wood several inches wide and four feet long, to keep the pack in shape.
This burdening of the captives was the more objectionable to them since the Indian men were encumbered with nothing but a gun. As a matter of course the squaws carried packs, but they were accustomed to such burden‐bearing and knew how to save themselves from its ill effects. Moreover, the squaws were frequently equipped with a sort of crude snowshoe which greatly aided them in walking. The white captives sank deep into the snow at every step. They dared not stop to rest, for whenever they slackened their pace the Indians would level guns at them and resort to various other devices to keep them moving.
The food which the Indians had secured at Okoboji and Springfield supplied them for about four weeks. Following this they made little or no effort to secure food by hunting. If game crossed their path they would kill it‐if they could do so without much effort. But there was no organization of hunting parties. After the confiscated supplies were exhausted, they contented themselves with muskrat and skunk; and as a luxury, Mrs. Sharp relates, they indulged in dog. As spring opened they were able to secure a few ducks and geese, which seemed very plentiful, but of which the Indians obtained only a few. Such delicacies, however, were never shared with the captives: they were not even allowed to assist in their preparation.
The treatment of the horses secured at Okoboji and Springfield was still worse. There was neither hay nor grass ‐little or nothing upon which the horses might feed. Even so they were given but slight opportunity to feed. Before the Big Sioux had been reached nearly all of the horses taken in the raids at the lakes had died of starvation. Continued pursuit and ultimate capture by the soldiers seem to have soon lost their terrors for the Indians. Although they kept constantly on the move, progress was not very rapid‐largely owing to the huge drifts of snow over and through which they were compelled to travel.
Their first stopping place, after nearly two weeks of uninterrupted marching, was at the great red pipestone quarry in southwestern Minnesota. This was but little more than one hundred miles northeast of Heron Lake. Here they remained for a day quarrying pipestone and fashioning pipes. A further cause for delay was the fact that the snow was rapidly melting and travel, even for the Indians, was very difficult. The Indians were now in a sacred region to which all the Sioux were wont to make frequent journeys‐ a region closely associated with the superstitions of their race. Here the footprints made by the Great Spirit when he alighted upon the earth could be seen. It was while he stood here that a stream of water burst forth from beneath his feet and flowed away to nourish the plain. Here it was that the Great Spirit fashioned a pipe and smoked: huge volumes of smoke issued forth serving as a signal for all the tribes to assemble from far and near.
When so assembled, the Great Spirit, blowing the smoke over all, bade them meet here always in peace even though they might be at war elsewhere. Moreover, if they wished to receive his favor, the calumet must be fashioned from the rock upon which he stood. Having thus enjoined his people, the Great Spirit disappeared in a cloud. It is said that ever afterward when the Indians met at the pipestone quarry, they met in peace though elsewhere they might be at war.
After leaving the pipestone region so much time was consumed by the Indians in camping that it might be said they camped more than they marched. This is explained by the fact that they felt themselves now wholly free from the danger of pursuit. Spring was rapidly approaching and the smaller game was becoming more plentiful; and so they did not feel the need of hastening to the buffalo ranges in Dakota.
The burdens of the captives grew increasingly more difficult. Although snow no longer impeded their march, the rains were frequent and the rivers and creeks were flowing wide over the valleys. When it rained they were without shelter. The streams were crossed by the Indians on the backs of the few ponies that yet survived. But the captives had to wade at the risk of losing their lives: they could not swim.
Notwithstanding the hardships through which they were compelled to pass, all but Mrs. Thatcher were faring much better than might have been expected. Mrs. Marble, Mrs. Noble, and Abbie Gardner were willing to appear resigned to their lot and did all that was requested of them: they even appeared ready and willing to perform the many menial duties which fell to their lot. With Mrs. Thatcher, however, it was different. She had from the first rebelled at the service imposed by her Indian captors; nor did she hesitate to show them very plainly her frame of mind. This attitude on her part proved to be most unfortunate.
From the beginning of her captivity Mrs. Thatcher had been ill with phlebitis, which before the end of two weeks had developed into virulent blood poisoning. Indeed, so serious was her condition that for a large portion of the march she had been relieved of much of her pack. At the pipestone quarry and on the march after leaving that region the medicine man of the band had undertaken to treat her and the treatment seemed to help her. To such an extent had she been relieved that the Indians considered her again able to bear a pack. Thus it happened that when they arrived at the crossing of the Big Sioux near the present village of Flandrau, Mrs. Thatcher was laden as heavily as were the other three captives.
This crossing had been for generations the fording place of the red peoples in their pilgrimages to the pipestone quarry. Normally the river at this point is wide but shallow. But "the vast amount of snow which covered the ground that memorable winter had nearly gone, by reason of the rapid thawing during the last few weeks, causing the river to rise beyond all ordinary bounds, and assume majestic proportions." Throughout the greater portion of the upper course of the Big Sioux it flows between perpendicular and continuous cliffs of red jasper rocks peculiar to the region, but at or near this traditional crossing place the stone cliffs were neither high nor continuous. Moreover, at this particular time so many tree trunks had become lodged by the spring freshets that at one point a bridge crossing was formed. Upon this the Indians proposed to cross, instead of attempting the more dangerous method of fording. At the prospect of crossing the swollen stream, the captives were terrified, believing that they would again be compelled to wade. They despaired of being able to get across. The situation seemed quite hopeless.
As soon as the determination to cross had been reached, an Indian warrior‐the one who had seized the box of caps from Gardner‐removed the pack from Mrs. Thatcher's back and transferred it to his own. This in itself was ominous, and Mrs. Thatcher was not slow to perceive that some unusual disposition was to be made of her. As she was ordered forward to the driftwood bridge she spoke to her companions, bidding them goodbye and saying as she did so:"If any of you escape, tell my dear husband that I wanted to live for his sake."
When she had made the middle of the stream, the Indian carrying her pack suddenly tripped her into the river. Retaining her presence of mind she was able by desperate efforts to keep herself afloat. A number of times she succeeded in making her way to the banks of the stream where, grasping the roots of trees, she strove to pull herself out of the water. But each time she was met by an Indian who clubbed her loose and with a long pole pushed her into the main current. Finally, as she came to shore and grasped the roots of a tree for what proved to be the last time, an Indian who had always been peculiarly brutal in his treatment of the captive raised his gun and shot her through the head, killing her instantly.
Mrs. Marble relates that the death of Mrs. Thatcher "was hailed by the Indian women with loud shouts of joy and exultation. The feelings of the surviving prisoners at this horrid murder, cannot be imagined. They beheld in Mrs. Thatcher's death, the fate reserved for them, when overpowered by fatigue, they would be unable to proceed." The death of Mrs. Thatcher was a sad blow to the remaining captives: it was particularly distressing to Mrs. Noble. These two women had been lifelong friends and had married cousins. The families had come to the frontier together, had lived in the same cabin, and had planned to build homes as nearly together as possible. Mrs. Noble was so depressed and so bereft of any hope that in the evening she proposed to the other captives that they steal away to the Big Sioux and drown themselves. Mrs Marble, however, succeeded in convincing her that such an act would be useless. But from this time Mrs. Noble seemed to be wholly indifferent as to her treatment or possible fate at the hands of her captors. The captives were now made to realize as never before the heartlessness of their captors: they lived in the expectation that any day might see for them the end of life.
Before them lay many days of the most wearisome travel. It is true that walking had become easier, for spring had really come and the trails were much improved. With spring had come also the blossoming of the prairies; but in this there was neither charm nor beauty for the captives as they wearily plodded on knowing not whither they were bound. After crossing the Big Sioux the journey was continued in a nearly direct line westward. Other bands of Sioux or Yanktons were now frequently seen; and notwithstanding the reputation of Inkpaduta, he and his band were usually very cordially met by other Indians. Indeed, they were more than cordially greeted from time to time at these chance meetings. The fact that they seemed to be known by all bands they chanced to meet suggests that they were not strangers to the region. The story of how they obtained their captives, which was always told, seemed to be received with every sign of approbation.
By May fifth Inkpaduta and his band had reached Lake M'da Chan-Pta-Ya Tonka (Lake with a Grove of Big Trees). This body of water lies to the east of the present town of Madison, South Dakota, at the headwaters of Skunk Creek, and for that reason it has sometimes been called Skunk Lake. Situated about thirty miles west of Flandrau, South Dakota, it is now known as Lake Madison. At the time it was visited by Inkpaduta it was on the margin of the buffalo range. Hunting was now quite the order of the day, and food became plentiful. The dressing and preparing of skins occupied the time of the squaws.