In March 1857, after a particularly severe winter, a band of fourteen starving, renegade Wahpekute Santee Sioux led by Scarlet Point (Inkpaduta) descended on the settlements scattered along the north western Iowa frontier close to the Minnesota border. The Indians were desperate for food and, furthermore, sought revenge for outrages perpetrated against them by white settlers—including the murder of Scarlet Point’s brother and his family. The killing spree that followed cost the lives of 35-40 settlers who were isolated on their own land holdings. At Spirit Lake the Indians also abducted four women and carried them into captivity. Notable among them was the fourteen year old, Abbe Gardner who survived to be ransomed during the following summer and subsequently wrote an account of her ordeal (is also available as a Leonaur edition). Two attempts were made by government forces to pursue the fleeing Indians from Forts Dodge and Ridgely, but tardy management, a delay in setting off and appalling weather in the form of almost impassable snowfall, meant both rescue and reprisal missions failed. The Spirit Lake raid and massacre was the last Indian attack to take place in Iowa. This unique Leonaur book brings together two accounts of this famous incident in the history of the settlement of the western frontiers of the United States of America.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
About mid-afternoon a number of shots were heard in the direction of the Mattock cabin. As the afternoon wore away there came no evidence as to the meaning of the firing. The suspense became fearful as all manner of suggestions were offered in explanation of the shooting. Gardner reasoned that it could not have concerned Luce and Clark since they had had plenty of time to be further on their journey than the cabin of Mattock. Mrs. Luce became frantic, for she had believed from the first that her husband would never return. If the Indians should kill anyone it would surely be Luce on account of his foiling the savages in their purpose in the morning; and in this intuition she was right. Luce and Clark had not gone far on their mission when they were intercepted and shot by the Indians. This fact, however, did not develop until weeks later when their dead bodies were found along the lake shore not a great distance from Luce’s home. Thus no warning of peril reached the Mattock family.
For two hours time dragged on slowly and fearfully at the Gardner home: all eyes watched either for Indians or for the return of the messengers. Neither came. When the sun had sunk to the horizon Gardner stepped outside to look about. Suddenly he came running back calling that the Indians were coming. Upon entering the cabin he began barring the door, determined after the experience of the morning not to allow the red men to enter. Mrs. Gardner objected that they should have faith in the good intentions of the Indians and that it was better for one not to shed the blood of another. Yielding to her importunities, Gardner desisted from barricading the door. The family now awaited in terror the second coming of the Indians.
Looking through the windows they observed nine warriors hurrying toward them from the direction of the camp. With no more formality than during their morning visit they again entered the cabin. One glance sufficed to tell the frightened family that the anticipated trouble was upon them. The first demand of the Indians was for flour—not only for a part of what the Gardners had but for all. The scarcity of flour had been one of the reasons for the planned trip to Fort Dodge; and yet, at the risk of causing his family to suffer privation, Gardner turned to the flour barrel to gratify the demands of the Indians. As he turned a buck raised his gun to shoot. It seems that either Mrs. Gardner or Mrs. Luce made a move to stay the act of the Indian, but failed. Gardner fell to the floor, the third victim of the Indian massacre at Okoboji. Having made a beginning, the Indians no longer restrained the impulses of their savage nature. After the killing of Gardner their stay at Okoboji became a carnival of murder.
As soon as Gardner fell, the quest for flour was lost sight of and the Indians turned upon the two women who had attempted to protect the object of their rage. Mrs. Luce and Mrs. Gardner were seized and held by several Indians while others beat them into insensibility and death with the butts of their guns. This was but the work of a moment. Indeed, so quickly had it been done that Abbie Gardner did not see the act herself; in her later relations of the affair she relied wholly upon stories related to her frequently by the Indians in their flight following the massacre. Without pause Mr. and Mrs. Gardner and Mrs. Luce were scalped—an act of savagery which the children were compelled to witness. When the Indians entered the cabin, Abbie was striving to quiet the younger child of her sister, while the other Luce child clung to one side of her chair and at the other side crouched Abbie’s brother, Rowland Gardner, Jr.
Having destroyed the parents, the Indians now turned to the destruction of the children. Rowland Gardner and the two Luce children were torn away from Abbie and beaten to death against the posts of the door and the trunks of trees in the yard. Dropping the dead bodies upon the ground, the Indians appeared to counsel concerning the further disposition of the house and its only living inmate. At the close of their deliberation Abbie was seized by one of the Indians and, much to her surprise, was not killed but led away in the direction of the Indian camp. Her last sight of her family showed them strewn lifeless and bleeding about the doorstep of her home.
Before the Gardner cabin was deserted by the Indians it was completely ransacked. Chests were broken open and their contents scattered about the house and yard. All available food stores and clothing were carried away to the camp. Abbie had abundant opportunity to learn this when later about their evening camp fires bucks and squaws alike, arrayed in the clothing of the murdered people, wildly recounted the incidents of the day. Although she had been carried away from her home without any provision for clothing against the winter’s cold, she was not allowed to share in the wearing of the stolen goods. Shivering from cold and fright, she witnessed the fiendish joy with which the events of that memorable day were told and retold by the Indians.
As the evening wore on preparations for the scalp dance began. Soon the rhythmic cadence of the hideous dance song started, and the scalps of the day, elevated on the ends of long poles, could be seen swaying back and forth marking time with the movements of the women who bore them. At every shriek of the dancing women, the captive girl doubtless thought her time had come. In the darkness, lighted occasionally by the flaring of a firebrand, the distorted and hideously painted faces of the savages swinging alternately backward and forward in the dance must have seemed to the prisoner a veritable dance of demons. The dance lasted far into the night, with no sleep for the child who was momentarily expecting to fall a victim of savage fury. Toward morning the dance ended and the savages sought a brief respite in sleep to strengthen them for the work of the succeeding day. At the breaking of the early dawn the Indians were again astir, making preparations for a continuation of their bloody work.
While the inmates of the Gardner cabin were being massacred similar events were transpiring at the home of the Mattocks. What actually happened at this cabin is not known, since no living witnesses, other than red men, survived to tell the tale. From the position of the bodies when found, it is inferred that the Mattocks must have sensed the situation; but thinking that their own home was lacking in security had started for the cabin of Harriott, Snyder, and Granger across the strait. Mrs. Sharp states that when the Indians brought her to their camp, which had been moved during the day and pitched near the Mattock home, the cabin was in flames and shrieks of human beings were issuing from it. But this could hardly have been true unless there were persons staying at the Mattock cabin unknown to others in the settlement, since all the people were later accounted for in the bodies found.