The winter of 1856-7 was a particularly severe one in Iowa, with prolonged heavy snowfall across the region. In March 1857 a chronic shortage of game and other food persuaded the renegade Santee Sioux leader, Scarlet Point, to lead a band of fourteen warriors into the widely separated settlements near the Okoboji and Spirit Lakes, in north western part of the state close to the Minnesota border. Whether or not the violence that followed could have been avoided is unclear, but certainly the Indians had enough experience to know that they could expect little charity from the settlers who had treated them harshly in the recent past. The raid resulted in the deaths of some 35-40 pioneer settlers as the Indians plundered their properties for provisions. The war party also took prisoners—three married women and a girl—whom they dragged northwards into the wilderness. A relief party from Fort Dodge, hampered by the extreme weather failed to defend the settlements and another from Fort Ridgely was unable to catch up to the fugitives. The youngest of the captives was fourteen year old Abie Gardner. She was held prisoner until the summer months of 1857 before being freed on payment of ransom. Two of the adult women were murdered but Margaret Ann Marble, the last of them, was also ransomed. This was the last Indian raid on settlers in Iowa though dissatisfaction among the Sioux was to lead to the Sioux Uprising and far greater bloodshed. Abie Gardner eventually married and, after a period away from her family home, returned to live in the cabin from which she was abducted and from there sold her book about the raid, her capture and ordeal to interested visitors.
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This was the first time the house had been clear of Indians since they first entered, in the morning. A consultation was then held, as to what should be done. It was the desire to notify the other settlers; but if any went to do this it would weaken the force at home; and the Indians were liable to return at any moment; besides, from the direction taken by the Indians, it was almost impossible to reach the other cabins without being discovered by the (now known to be) malignant foe. However, philanthropic considerations prevailed; and it was finally decided that Mr. Luce and Mr. Clark should go to warn the others of the impending danger, while father should remain at home, to defend, as well as possible, the family, in any emergency.<br>
According to this arrangement they started out about 2 p. m., never to return. My sister, remembering the attempt of the Indians to take the life of her husband in the morning, twined her arms around his neck, and weeping said: “O, Harvey! I am afraid you will never come back to me! the Indians will kill you if they don’t anyone else.” This was, indeed, their last parting. About three o’clock we heard the report of guns, in rapid succession, from the house of Mr. Mattock. We were, then, no longer in doubt as to the awful reality that was hanging over us. Two long hours we passed in this fearful anxiety and suspense, waiting and watching, with conflicting hopes and fears, for Mr. Luce and Mr. Clark to return.<br>
At length, just as the sun was sinking behind the western horizon, shedding its brilliant rays over the snowy landscape, father, whose anxiety would no longer allow him to remain within doors, went out to reconnoitre. He, however, hastily returned, saying: “Nine Indians are coming, now only a short distance from the house, and we are all doomed to die.” His first thought was to barricade the door and fight till the last, saying: “While they are killing all of us, I will kill a few of them, with the two loaded guns still left in the house.”<br>
But to this mother protested, having not yet lost all faith in the savage monsters, and still hoping they would appreciate our kindness and spare our lives, she said: “If we have to die, let us die innocent of shedding blood.”<br>
Alas, for the faith placed in these inhuman monsters! They entered the house and demanded more flour; and, as father turned to get them what remained of our scanty store, they shot him through the heart; he fell upon his right side and died without a struggle. When first the Indian raised his gun to fire, mother or Mrs. Luce seized the gun and drew it down; but the other Indians instantly turned upon them, seized them by their arms, and beat them over the head with the butts of their guns; then dragged them out of doors, and killed them in the most cruel and shocking manner.<br>
They then began an indiscriminate destruction of everything in the house; breaking open trunks and taking out clothing, cutting open feather-beds, and scattering the feathers everywhere. When the Indians entered the house, and during these awful scenes, I was seated in a chair, holding my sister’s baby in my arms; her little boy on one side, and my little brother on the other, clinging to me in terror. They next seized the children; tearing them from me one by one, while they reached their little arms to me, crying piteously for protection that I was powerless to give. Heedless of their cries, they dragged them out of doors, and beat them to death with sticks of stove-wood.<br>
All this time I was both speechless and tearless; but, now left alone, I begged them to kill me. It seemed as though I could not wait for them to finish their work of death. One of them approached, and roughly seizing me by the arm said something I could not understand, but I well knew, from their actions, that I was to be a captive. All the terrible tortures and indignities I had ever read or heard of being inflicted upon their captives now arose in horrid vividness before me.<br>
After ransacking the house, and taking whatever they thought might be serviceable, such as provisions, bedding, arms, and ammunition; and after the bloody scalping knife had done its terrible work; I was dragged from the never-to-be-forgotten scene. No language can ever suggest, much less adequately portray, my feelings as I passed that door.<br>
With a naturally sensitive nature, tenderly and affectionately reared, shuddering at the very thought of cruelty, you can, my dear reader, imagine, but only imagine, the agony I endured, when so suddenly plunged into scenes from which no element of the terrible or revolting seemed wanting. Behind me I left my heroic father, murdered in a cowardly manner, in the very act of extreme hospitality; shot down at my feet, and I had not the privilege of impressing one farewell kiss upon his lips, yet warm with life and affection. Just outside the door lay the three children—so dear to me—bruised, mangled, and bleeding; while their moans and groans pierced my ears, and called in vain for one loving caress which I was prevented from giving them.<br>
A little farther on lay my Christ-like mother, who till the very last had pleaded the cause of her brutish murderers, literally weltering in her own blood. Still farther on, at the southwest corner of the house, in a similar condition, lay my eldest sister, Mrs. Luce, who had been so intimately associated with me from earliest recollections. Amid these scenes of unutterable horror, I took my farewell look upon father, mother, sister, and brother, and my sister’s little ones.<br>
Filled with loathing for these wretches whose hands were still wet with the blood of those dearest to me, and at one of whose belts still hung the dripping scalp of my mother; with even the much coveted boon of death denied me, we plunged into the gloom of the forest and the coming night; but neither the gloom of the forest, nor the blackness of the night, nor both combined, could begin to symbolize the darkness of my terror-stricken heart.