As the inexorable passage of pioneer immigrants pushed westward into the vastness of the American wilderness it was inevitable that the new settlers would collide with the indigenous peoples in their path and that this clash of cultures over that most precious of commodities, the land upon which to live freely, would come to bloodshed. This was hostility that saw little mercy for the combatants, but for women and children an Indian raid could end with not only the loss of male relatives but also with captivity at the hands of tribal warriors. Many a pioneer woman disappeared never to be heard of again, but some were rescued or lived to tell of—and indeed write down—accounts of their gruelling experiences. This book chronicles the experiences of seven such women, including Cynthia Parker—the mother of Quannah Parker—one of the most renowned and feared chiefs of the Comanche's in the history of the American West. Each of these pieces is too small to achieve individual re-publication in modern times, but in this book Leonaur has gathered them together in a gripping collection which is essential reading for those interested in the pioneer movement and the fortitude and endurance of remarkable western women in adversity. Available in soft cover and hard cover with dust jacket.
Our way lay through the streets of the agency, where the bodies of the first day’s victims were still lying. It was an awful sight, and I tried to screen the children from seeing the dead. When we came to where the stores had been I saw Divoll, one of Myrick’s clerks, lying extended on the burnt floor, his features looking natural as in life but the body burnt to a cinder. Myrick, Lynde and others lay there outside. Some of them had been decapitated, but the Indians did not touch them then or seem to notice them. Just as we were passing the last building which, for some cause, had not been fired, they began to stone the windows and set fire to them.<br>
A dreadful storm had been gathering for some time, and just as the buildings were fired it burst with great fury upon us. The noise of the thunder and the flashing of the lightning, together with the roaring and crackling of the flames from the burning houses, made a scene not easily forgotten, and the horrors of that ride will never be effaced. The cavalcade numbered many hundreds and seemed one sad, unending caravan. No pen could describe the hideous features of those painted demons as they rode frantically backward and forward outside the wagons, yelling and shouting and brandishing their weapons with their hands still reeking with the murders they had committed.<br>
I will not dwell longer upon it, but say that we at last came to Little Crow’s village, where a part of the Indians had camped, and there we found Mattie, who had just arrived. The Indian who claimed the dying Mary came up and said she must get out there. I told him she was dying and to let her go on with me so that I could be with her till the last. He brutally said, “She is better than two dead squaws yet. Get along out!”<br>
Mattie came up and we lifted her out and they carried her into a tent as I left, Mattie promising to bury her. She lived about an hour after, reviving, however, to take a little food which Mattie gave her. She was buried there with an old tablecloth wrapping her and in the autumn her friends removed her. We went on farther to Shakopee village, near where Redwood now stands, and remained there until the next Monday, when the whole of the bands went up near Rice Creek, where they camped until after the battle of Birch Coulie. The morning after our arrival at Shakopee camp the Indians were alert very early, having made preparations for attacking the fort. They had prepared arrows with combustible material in order to shoot into the roofs of the buildings to burn them. They were very sanguine of success that day, and rode away saying that they would not come back before “Esan-tanka-tupee” (meaning the “big knife fort”) was taken.<br>
How they gloated over the anticipated spoils of the day and talked of the good things in the “commissary” and the number of guns and the ammunition, and, above all, the pleasure of hewing down and scalping their enemies! Glad as we were to see them ride away, our anxiety was greater, fearing they would succeed. During the afternoon an old squaw mounted one of the lookouts which belong to every village and called my attention to a vast volume of smoke rising far off on the prairie in the direction of the fort. She seemed frenzied with joy, saying to me, “Look! look! see the big steamboat coming! Hurry and get ready to go.”<br>
My heart died within me as I saw the flames and smoke mount higher and higher and thought of what might be taking place in the doomed garrison. The squaws made haste to leave with their ponies and wagons, if they were fortunate enough to have them, to be in at the plundering of the fort. I had just had an interview with Frank Roy, a half-breed, and he said that he feared they would succeed. If they did not, that himself, John Moore and some others had determined to get us away if possible. Saturday the Indians began to return in straggling parties, bringing large quantities of goods of every description. Some had been to New Ulm, and the harrowing tales they told of murder and destruction nearly froze our blood. Godfrey told of killing seventeen women and children and would relate how they fought for their lives before they were killed. Sunday the warriors returned and were feasted according to their custom.<br>
That day a woman was shot in our camp for trying to escape. Monday morning the tents were taken down and orders were given to march. The whole of the lower bands were in motion early in the day, and the cavalcade started. Their haste was so great that we were sure the white troops were after them. When we came to Redwood river crossing the stream was greatly swollen from recent rains and all on foot were compelled to wade. In the rush of teams I felt sure we would be crushed, but I hastily threw my four-year-old boy on to a wagon, the other climbing up behind him, and with my baby in my arms I addressed myself to the river, plunging bravely through in order to keep near my other children. I never knew how I got over; but when on the other side I missed my shoes, which I had taken off in order to have them dry when I landed, and was compelled to go on without them.<br>
The Indian in whose tent I had been was wounded at New Ulm and had to be carried in a litter, and we had strict orders to keep close to the litter at all times and not get away from our friends. As we reached the place where Mr. Reynolds had lived the train halted for fresh water from the spring. When our turn came and I was raising the water to my lips I heard a shout, and looking up saw a horrible form bending over me just ready to strike. It was “Cut Nose,” who had sworn to kill every man, woman and child that he was able to kill. I darted quickly round behind the litter containing my friend, whose voice had saved my life, and after that experience was careful to keep as close to our party as possible.<br>
I wish it were possible for me to describe that march upward. Long lines of wagons, carriages, ponies with poles trailing (as customary with the Indians); each vehicle loaded to its utmost capacity, without regard to size or capability (many of which would suddenly collapse, leaving the occupant stranded, as it were, in mid ocean). The long lines of cattle driven before each band, and the horses lashed without mercy, the warriors riding outside of the cavalcade in order to prevent any escaping, all combined to render it a scene which, once looked upon, could never be forgotten. There were numberless flags carried in the procession. Two or three were of the largest size, but where procured I never knew. One of Wabasha’s band, “Old Brave,” had one which he said was given him in Washington once when he went there with other Indians years before.<br>
The negro Godfrey is one who always stands out most prominently in my memory, not excepting “Cut Nose.” He was everywhere; up and down the line he rode, passing us twenty times an hour and always trying to frighten the captives by his hideous antics. Many of the warriors wore ladies’ bonnets on their heads, and furs dragged downward from their legs. Their breasts were covered with brooches and chains of value; from their ears depended wheels from clocks and watches which they had destroyed. The finest silks were made into shirts; beautiful shawls were used for saddle cloths and cut up for head-dresses and waist girdles. There was no device too ridiculous for their attire and nothing too costly for them to destroy. How often I wished that I might have some of my own comfortable garments to keep us from the cold, but no amount of asking would induce them to give us so much as a blanket, and as the nights were cold, although the days were hot, we needed covering, especially as our bed was the bare earth, often soaked with rain.