The delay on the part of Iowa was in large part due to the belief that the frontier troubles demanded action by the Federal authorities rather than by the State. After the presentation of numerous petitions and following considerable debate, the Thirty-fifth Congress enacted a relief measure on June 14, 1858, by which the sum of twenty thousand dollars was appropriated "for defraying the expenses of the several expeditions against Inkpadutah's band, and in the search, ransom, and recovery of the female captives taken by said band in eighteen hundred and fifty-seven." This fund was to be expended under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, who in turn designated the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, W. J. Cullen of St. Paul, Minnesota, as the disbursing agent of the Department.
Under the provisions of this act claims aggregating $7180.36 were presented by lowans to Superintendent Cullen. Upon the submission of required proof and the auditing of claims submitted. Superintendent Cullen recommended a payment of $3156.36 to apply on supplies furnished the Iowa relief expedition, and $1657.00 for services rendered by individual members of the expedition, making a total of $4813.36. These claims were duly certified to the Secretary of the Interior, and the auditors of the Department, after eight months of examination of proof, advised the payment of $3628.43‐a cut of $1184.93 from the Superintendent's recommendations. The act of the Thirty-fifth Congress was later supplemented by a second and a third act by the Thirty-sixth Congress under dates of June 19 and 21, I860‐the first of which set aside $16,679.90, and the second $18,988.84 for the further reimbursement of the State. These measures were further supplemented during the same Congress by an act, under date of March 2, 1861, indemnifying the "citizens of Iowa and Minnesota for the destruction of property at or near Spirit Lake by Inkpadutah's band of Sioux Indians", to the amount of $9,640.74. By these acts the Federal government had set aside a total of $65,308.48 to indemnify the citizens of Iowa and Minnesota for lives lost, property destroyed, and expenses incurred in connection with the rescue of the captives and the punishment of the outlaws. Further than this Congress refused to act, the consensus of opinion in Congress being that the States concerned should supply any further needed relief.
Almost two years after Congress had officially recognized the need of the State for assistance in handling the Indian frontier problem, the Iowa legislature took action. On March 12, 1860, a bill was enacted into law" whereby "the sum of three thousand dollars, or so much thereof as shall be necessary" was appropriated for the aid of those members of the relief expedition who had drawn largely upon their private means to finance the undertaking, but who had not been afforded the expected relief by the Federal government.
Under the provisions of this act the Governor was made the auditor of all claims presented in accordance with its provisions. He was directed to secure copies of all claims filed with the Federal government and, when satisfied by the evidence submitted that such as were yet unpaid were just, he might issue an order upon the Treasurer of State to pay the claims. This law was supplemented on March twenty-second by a second act looking toward the relief of persons specifically named in the law, although no additional funds for such purpose were provided. Under the provisions of these acts there was disbursed under order of the Governor a total of $1126.02, which was distributed among eighty two claimants.
Before the matter had been finally closed the strife between North and South eliminated from the public mind an interest in all things save the momentous struggle then in progress. Thus it happened that the Spirit Lake Massacre and the relief expeditions were lost from view for more than a generation. But there was one individual with an abiding interest who for thirty years cherished the hope of commemorating in some way the heroic struggles of that little group of men who went from Webster City in March, 1857, to relieve the settlers at the lakes. In the summer of 1887 Charles Aldrich, long a resident of Webster City, proposed placing a brass tablet in some suitable place in that city in memory of Company C of the relief expedition. The decision was quickly reached to place the memorial in the Hamilton County court house and to ask the board of supervisors to appropriate three hundred dollars to meet the expense. A petition was circulated in the city and throughout the county requesting such action. Owing to the good will and work of Charles T. Fenton, president of the board, the petition was granted and a committee was appointed to secure and place the memorial.
August twelfth was the date set for the unveiling and dedication of the tablet. Mr. Aldrich planned an elaborate program which was to be given in the court room of the newly erected building; but more than two thousand people attended the ceremony, and so the exercises were held on the lawn in front of the court house. Brief addresses were made by Governor William Larrabee, ex-Governor C. C. Carpenter, Mayor McMurray, Captains Richards and Buncombe, Lieutenant John N. Maxwell, Privates William Laughlin and Michael Sweeney, and Mr. Charles Aldrich. The speeches were so planned as to offer a complete review of the attempt to carry relief to the settlers at Spirit Lake and Lake Okoboji.
The tablet consisted of "a slab of Champlain marble, upon which is artistically mounted a plate of polished brass containing the names of the Hamilton county members of the expedition and a number of other suitable inscriptions." Thus did Hamilton County place "in a position of honor in the Hamilton County court house a lasting attestation to the patriotic spirit of appreciation which animates her citizens."
Encouraged by the response in his home county, Mr. Aldrich set about the stimulation of sentiment in the State at large favoring the erection by the State of some fitting memorial to those pioneers whose lives were sacrificed in March, 1857. This proved a long drawn out and arduous task. The public had all but forgotten the incident; memories had to be refreshed, and a desire for commemoration aroused. This proved too great an undertaking for one person, and so Mr. Aldrich turned to the legislative body of the State. Here he obtained only an indifferent response. But with the awakening in Hamilton County the interest in the project spread; and when the Twenty-fifth General Assembly convened in January, 1894, it became evident that favorable action might be hoped for.
By far the most active and efficient work was done by Mrs. Abbie Gardner Sharp, who came to Des Moines at the very beginning of the session and remained until near its close. In her efforts to secure action she was most ably seconded by Senator A. B. Funk of Spirit Lake. On January twenty ninth a bill was simultaneously introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives, providing for the proper interment of the remains of the victims of the massacre and the erection of a suitable commemorative monument. The bill carried an appropriation of five thousand dollars which was to be expended under the supervision of a commission of five persons appointed by the Governor. Suitable grounds were to be selected near the scene of the massacre. These grounds were to "be purchased, reinterments made and monument erected before the 4th day of July, 1895."
So well had the matter been canvassed among the members of the legislature that there were but few negative votes on the measure. The bill was approved by the Governor on March 30th, and went into effect on April 4, 1894. On April tenth Governor Frank D, Jackson appointed as members of the commission Hon. J. F. Buncombe and ex-Governor C. C. Carpenter of Fort Dodge, Mrs. Abbie Gardner Sharp of Okoboji, Hon. R. A. Smith of Spirit Lake, and Charles Aldrich of Des Moines. Within a short time the commission met at Fort Dodge and later at the Gardner cabin on Lake Okoboji. The commission effected an organization by selecting ex-Governor Carpenter as chairman and Mrs. Sharp as secretary. They quickly decided on the selection of the lot adjacent to and south of the Gardner cabin. This site was immediately presented to the State by its owners, the Okoboji South Beach Company. On June 20, 1894, the P. N. Peterson Granite Company of St. Paul, Minnesota, was awarded the contract for the erection of the memorial. The specifications provided that the monument should be "a shaft 55 feet high above the foundation, in alternate blocks of rough and polished Minnesota granite, with a die 6x6 feet, upon which should be placed four bronze tablets—for the sum of $4,500. The inscriptions placed upon the tablets may be described as follows: On the east, the list of murdered settlers; on the west, a complete roster of the relief expedition commanded by Major William Williams; on the south, historical memoranda relating to the loss of Capt. J. C. Johnson and Private W. E. Burkholder, the list of settlers who escaped from Springfield (now Jackson), Minn., etc.; and on the north, the coat of arms of Iowa, with these words: "Erected by order of the 25th General Assembly of the State of Iowa."
So diligently did the contracting company apply itself in the erection of the memorial that early in March, 1895, four months before the expiration of its contract, the monument was ready for inspection. On March 11, 1895, the commission met at Okoboji and inspected and accepted the work. Upon July twenty-eighth over five thousand people came by wagon and excursion train, from a radius of over fifty miles, to witness the formal dedication of the memorial and its presentation to the State. The gathering was significant in that it marked the opening of a new era in the appropriate marking of historic sites not only in Iowa but in the Middle West.
In the words of the Hon. R. A. Smith, it was "meet and fitting that to the pioneer the same as the soldier should be accorded the meed of praise and recognition .... a just, though long delayed, tribute to the memory of the brave and hardy, though unpretentious and unpretending, band of settlers who sacrificed their lives in their attempts to build them homes on this then far away northwestern frontier.
Upon the platform were seated ex-Governor C. C. Carpenter and Hon. R. A. Smith, members of the relief expedition; Mrs. I. A. Thomas, Rev. Valentine C. Thomas, and Jareb Palmer, who fortunately escaped the massacre at Springfield; Judge Charles E. Flandrau, the Indian agent who made possible the project to rescue Abbie Gardner, and Chetanmaza, the Siouan Indian whose intrepidity secured her release; Mrs. Abbie Gardner Sharp a survivor of the massacre at Okoboji; and various State officials. The memorial was presented to the State by ex- Governor C. C. Carpenter upon behalf of the commission under whose direction it had been erected, and was accepted for the State by Lieutenant Governor Warren S. Dungan and Hon. W. S. Richards.
Thus the people of Iowa, through their law-making body, paid a fitting though somewhat tardy tribute to the memory of the pioneers who, imbued with the true American spirit of progress, were willing to brave the hardships of the frontier that those who came later might share the blessings of a richer civilization. In the words of one of the speakers of the occasion, "Let us hope that this awakening is not ephemeral or temporary .... The story told by this memorial shaft is but a faint expression of the toils endured, the dangers braved and the sacrifices made by the unfortunate victims whose remains lie buried here." The memorial "not only commemorates the great tragedy which crimsoned the waters of these lakes, but it will keep alive the memory of a species of American character which will soon become extinct. As we look away to the west, we are impressed that there is no longer an American frontier; and when the frontier shall have faded away, the pioneer will live only in history, and in the monuments which will preserve his memory."