IAGenWeb Project - Allamakee co. Misc. Historical Items

The Indian Scare and Stampede of 1862

by Thomas G. Albert, 1928

I was very much interested in reading a recent Iowa newspaper account of an old time stage driver, Charley Peck, and his experiences as a stage driver on the "Pinhook" line, which was one of the earliest stage lines for the transportation of passengers from Decorah to the terminal station at Lansing, where it connected with the Mississippi River lines of passenger boats which was the main route of through travel both North and South from St. Paul to New Orleans in the early 60s.

Lansing and the near by farm was my boyhood home for a little over twenty years, as I landed there from a boat with the family (I in my mother's arms) when I was a little less than one year old (in 1855) and left there when I was twenty-one years old (in 1875). Then I moved to Keokuk, Iowa where I lived for several years before coming to Oregon in 1882.

I was particularly interested in the account of his experiences in the frenzied "stampede" of the settlers in the Northern frontier of Iowa near the Minnesota state line, which was caused by the first reports of the horrible wholesale massacre of the white settlers at New Ulm in the Southen part of Minnesota in 1862.

Early history calls it one of the cruelest Indian massacres on the Western frontier during the time of the Civil War, and as soon as the guilty ones could be apprehended eighteen of the Sioux Indians who were found responsible for the outrages were hanged at one time by the authorities.

The Indian scare and stampede of those days and incidents connected therewith were deeply impressed on my young mind, and are more vividly real to me today after sixty-two years than at any time since.

As is often truly said, "that in the twilight of one's days, and in the evening of our years", childhood scenes and memories recure more vividly than at any other time of our lives.

We were living, at that time, in the old stone house which my father built on our Iowa River Farm in the fall of 1856. This was about the first stone farm house in that section, as most of the farm homes were built of oak logs from the timber which was so plentiful there, and when well chinked and plastered, were ideal for warmth and durability.

Our farm house was not very far from the Southern line of Minnesota and on the thoroughfare from the new settlements on what was then the frontier, to the market towns on the Mississippi River.

I was a lad about eight years old when these events took place. We were having our usual warm, smoky Indian Summer days of the late fall, and the farmers were all busy finishing up their threshing and preparing for corn husking time and were putting in long hours and sometimes worked far into the moonlight nights to garner the grain and corn before the hard frosts came. My father was away from home for a few days assessing in the Southern part of the county.

On this particular day I remember that my brother, who was about twelve years old, and I were sent on an errand to some of our old neighbors about two miles distant. After resting a short time, we started on our return trip home, and like all lads of that age we were loitering along taking our full time, kicking up the dust with our bare feet as we tramped along in the middle of the road. We hadn't gone far when we were surprised to meet so many teams going toward town. They all seemed to be in a great hurry, whipping up their horses, and most of them were loaded with bedding and household goods, besides the whole family, and some of the women and children were crying and seemed to be frightened. We couldn't understand the reason for so much haste until we neared home and were crossing the bridge when some of the men stopped us and spoke to us in a hurry, but, as we soon found, most all of them were from the new Norwegian settlement up the valley and we couldn't understand much of what they said only, "Indians are coming, run home." So we began to take alarm and made good time getting home. When we told Mother the news, she said she had been warned of the danger and urged to flee with her family, but said that father would soon be home and we would wait for him.

He returned early in the evening and was surprised to see the excitement and the house full of the neighbors and their families. Some of them were preparing to leave with their families for town, the nearest "city of refuge". But father advised them to all stand by him and leave their families in the protection of the big stone house, for if there was to be a fight no better place could be found than its thick three foot walls. I remember that all of that long evening and night the men were busy collecting all the fire arms in the neighborhood, cleaning them up, and melting the old lead and pewter spoons for moulding bullets in the small bullet moulds in use at that time.

I suppose one reason that the scene was so indelibly impressed on my youthful mind was that the "grown folks" were all so busy and excited that our parents just forgot our usual bed time hour and we were allowed to stay up until nearly midnight before we were ordered to wash our dusty feet at the pump and get to bed.

After sundown it was decided to send out a scouting party to reconoiter and find out the true situation and the cause of the rumors that had caused the wild stampede of the border settlers; for word had come that the Sioux Indians were burning the homes and driving off the stock and were coming our way. So several of the young men of the neighborhood formed a company and mounted on their ponies and started toward the state line to investigate. I don't recollect just how many were in the scouting party, but among them were: Robert Wampler, George Bellows, John Ratcliffe, and George Albert. They were all young bloods from seventeen to twenty years old and were all provided with some sort of firearms except Robert Wampler, who was armed with our old fashioned butcher knife which had a blade about fifteen inches long with saw teeth on one edge, which he carried stuck in his belt. It was a warm moonlight night of early fall and the boys were having quite a fine lark until near midnight. They were cantering along on their ponies when suddenly they heard the clattering hoofs of horses or ponies on the rocky road just ahead of them. The leader whipered "now we are in for it, boys" and they quickly proceeded to line up behind their ponies in the brush at the side of the road and prepare for the attack. They didn't have long to wait when around the bend in the dusty road ahead of them came a drove of frightened ponies that had been turned out when the owners had fled from the deserted farms.

The boys then drew a long breath of relief at their "narrow escape" and commenced to laugh at their recent panic, which was before, so serious to them. After riding a few miles farther on they concluded that there was no immediate cause for alarm so returned home.

For some time after, they had very little to say of their experience and "scare" of that night ride, but eventually it leaked out as it was too good a joke to keep very long.

The Indian scare was a very serious affair for all concerned at the time but the stampede was all over the next day when they learned that the Indians were not within seventy-five miles of them.

Most of the refugees returned to their farm homes in a few days, as soon as they learned that the danger was past. But the scare had extended to the nearby river towns and we heard that several passenger steamboats were held at the wharfs at Lansing the first night all ready to put off as soon as the alarm was given that the Indians were in sight.

It was afterward said that several prominent families of Lansing engaged staterooms on the larger boats and spent the first night there so as to be ready for flight, so the general alarm was not confined to the new settlements on the frontier.

The stampede was more serious among the new settlers along the state line due to the fact that most of them were Norwegian families who had recently arrived from the old country and very few of them could understand the English language so when they were made to understand that the Indians were on the warpath they were terrified and sought safety in flight.

It was said that one of our near neighbors on being warned by some of the refugees left their supper on the table and fled with family for safety. And one settler farther north actually set fire to his home and grain stacks before leaving, determined that the bloody redskins should not have any of his property. The next day the scare seemed to be all over and most of the families returned to their farms. It was generally known that the uprising of the Indians of Southern Minnesota was checked by the authorities before it reached the state line.

One of our neighbors who took his family to town for safety and returned the same night to look after his stock came to father the next day and told him if he would let his boy, George, take his team and bring his family home he would pay him five dollars for he knew that the merchants he knew in town would "guy" him for running away on a false rumor.

This somewhat scattering review of my boyhood experience in the Indian scare of 1862 may be of little interest to anyone unless they can remember that far back in the history of Lansing and vicinity.

Although I left the old home town of my boyhood days over fifty years ago I still have a very warm spot in my heart for the dear old town on the banks of the "father of waters" where I spent so many happy years of my life.

someone has written:

We may not tread those dear old paths our feet in childhood made
Or climb those grey old mossy rocks where with our mates we played
But we can walk in fancy there and life grows bright again
Forgetful of these passing years between the now and then.

Thomas G. Albert
Salem, Oregon, March 23,  1928


- contributor's notes:
The stone house is still occupied.  It is on the east side of Mt. Hope and the old Ratcliffe home is on the west side.  Thomas may have sent the article to the Lansing newspaper, but I don't know that for sure.  I just have a typed copy with his signature and dated Salem, Oregon, March 23,  1928.

- contributed by Neva Auenson

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