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Boone County History

Milton Lott Tragedy

Of all men who played a part in settling the Des Moines Valley, there is no name around which clusters more of a thrilling history that that of Henry Lott, much has been written about him and his troubles and conflicts with the Sioux Indians and the death of his wife and son. The following is a true story, as nearly as possible to obtain it:

Henry Lott was born in Pennsylvania, grew to manhood and was married there. His wife was a widow named Huntington, and was the mother of a son by her first marriage. This son acted a very prominent part in the subsequent history of the Lott family. By her marriage to Lott there children were born, one being Milton, whose untimely death was caused at the hands and circumstances surrounding it from the chief theme of this story.

As first known, Lott was here in Iowa in 1843 at which time he was in business as an Indian trader at Red Rock in what is now Marion county. It is said that he had a thriving business there until Oct. 11, 1845. According the treaty of 1842 the Sac and Fox Indians bid adieu to Iowa and moved west beyond the Missouri River.

So well pleased with his success as an Indian trader in the summer of 1846 he moved north from Red Rock and located on the north bank of the Boone River near its mouth. Here he expected to carry a thriving trade with the Sioux Indians, but didn’t seem to get along with them as well. Three reasons are advanced as the origin of the trouble between Lott and Si-dom-i-na-do-tah and his band of Sioux. The Sioux chief informed Lott that he was an intruder and he had settled on Sioux hunting ground and had given Lott a certain time to leave. His refusal to leave by the time set caused the Sioux to make a raid upon his family and stock.

According to the map issued by W. S. Tanner in 1838, the Sioux hunting grounds did not extend farther than upon the fork of the Des Moines River and this was at least 30 miles north of the place where Lott had located. Ex-Lieut. Gov. B. F. Grue said that Lott’s cabin was the headquarters of a band of horse thieves who stole horses from the settlers in the valley below the mouth of the Boone River and ponies from the Indians about it, then running them last to the Mississippi River and selling them. Mr. Grue thought it was the stealing of the Indians down on Lott and his family.

There is another story that Lott sold whiskey to the Indians and that while they were drunk they destroyed his property and were the cause of the death of his wife and son. Lott told Doras Eslik who settled near the scene of this horror, that he concealed himself across the river and watched the Indians destroy his family or property against the whole band of Indians, and he and his stepson, a boy of about 16, started for the nearest settlement to get help. This left his wife, 12 year old son, and a few other children alone. The Indian chief ordered the boy, Milton Lott, to catch all the horses on the place and deliver them over, on penalty of death, he fled terror stricken down the Des Moines River and was never seen alive again. This left his mother and the other children alone at the mercy of the savages. Some say she fled into the thick timber to escape the tomahawk. Her life was spared, but the nervous shock along with grief and exposure which she suffered were the cause of her death a week later.

It was three days before Lott returned form the settlements with seven white men and 26 friendly Indians belonging to Johnny Green’s band of Mesquakies and Pottawattamies. The names of the settlers who accompanied him were: Doctor Spears, who lived on a claim near where the Rees Coal shaft is situated; John Pea, Jacob Pea, James Hull, William Hull of Pea’s Point; John M. Crooks and William Crooks who lived on the Myers farm south of Boone. When they got there the Indians were gone. They found Mrs. Lott in a sorrowful condition, more dead than alive. She had been left for three days not knowing what had become of the rest of her family or when the Indians might return. In a short time death came to her. She was laid to rest on the Boone River bluff, where the grave may still be seen.

John Pea stayed to help Lott after the others had left caring for the wife, other children and in finding Milton. It was the middle of December 1846 when the raid was made upon the family, the weather was cold and the river was frozen over. They followed the boys tracks. He was thinly clad when he left home and without doubt suffered with cold from the start. Henry Lott and John Pea followed his tracks until they reached a point of about 40 rods below the mouth of a little creek, which comes into the Des Moines River a short distance below the village of Centerville where they found the body of Milton, stiff and still. At this place he attempted to climb the bench that separates the lower and upper bottoms, but must have been numbed by cold that he fell back and didn’t rise again. Not having a way to convey the body to any of the settlements, they decided to place him in a hollow log which they found near by and close the entrance with timbers so as to prevent the animals from molesting it until a proper burial could take place. The date which Milton was found was Dec. 18, 1846. The body of Milton remained in the log until Jan. 14, 1847.

The day of the burial the weather had been moderate and the day was warm and beautiful. At this time the county was not organized and there were no established roads within its borders. With axes, spades and guns the men set out from Pea’s Point on foot for the place of burial, a distance of eight miles. The names of those who attended the burial were: John Pea Sr., John Pea Jr., Thomas Sparks, John M. Crooks, William Crooks, and Henry Lott. On arriving, part of the men were detailed to digging the grave, while the rest filled a tree, hewed enough small pieces to construct a rude coffin. The body of Milton was taken from the hollow log, a sheet wrapped around him and lowered into the grave, dirt was thrown in and the grave was filled. A little mound was rounded up. It was a funeral without a word. There was no scripture read, no prayer offered, no hymn sung, but tears stood in the eyes of the pioneers who stood around the grave of Milton Lott to pay their last respects. The tree near the grave, on which the boy’s name was cut, has long since yielded to the woodman’s ax. No stone was set, or stake driven to preserve the identity of the spot. As time passed on the little mound gradually became merged with the surrounding soil, so the location of the grave was finally almost forgotten.

After the death of Lott’s wife and son, Lott gathered up what property the Indians had left him and moved south after finding homes for the remaining children. He built a cabin on O. D. Smalley’s claim in Dallas County about five miles south of Madrid where he and his stepson lived during the summer of 1847.

In the spring of that year the first assessment of Dallas County was made and in the first of property owners appears the name of Henry Lott, among whose possessions were 13 head of cattle. The record shows that he was the largest cattle owner in the county at that time. These were the cattle which the Indians tried to kill. During the spring and summer these cattle grew fat on the range and all were sold for beef. A man named Ramsey bought one of the steers and butchered it. Mr. Smalley bought a front quarter of this beef and while carving it found one of the arrow heads which the Indians had shot into it. While living here, Lott often spoke of his dead wife and son in a sympathetic way, but would wind up talking that he declared he would someday wreck vengeance upon the old Sioux chief who caused their death.

In the autumn of 1847 he moved to Fort Des Moines and remained there a year, during which time he was married to a woman named McGuire. In the spring of 1849 he moved north and located at the mouth of the Boone River again, occupying the same log cabin in which his first wife died and from which his 12-year-old son had fled form the Indians never more to be seen alive. It was a place around which for him the gloomiest recollections hovered. While living here 3 children were born to him and his second wife, the two oldest being girls and the youngest a boy. At the birth of the boy the wife died, making it necessary for Lott to find homes for the children. The infant boy was adopted by a family named John H. White, in whose care he grew to manhood, and is now the head of the family, being a citizen of Boone, Iowa. The two girls were raised by a family named William Dickerson in Boone County, where they grew to womanhood and were married.

After finding homes for the children, Lott sold his possessions at the mouth of the Boone River and, with his stepson, in the fall of 1853 moved north 45 miles and located on a creek which still bears his name. Whether by purpose or by accident he was once more a neighbor of Si-dom-i-na-do-tah, the old Sioux chief whom he hated so much. If Lott was but on revenge the time was growing short in which to get it. Numerous times he visited the chief in disguise and made himself agreeable by giving him presents. During one of these visits to the wigwam of the chief, the old chief unsuspectingly exhibited to him the silverware which he had taken form Mrs. Lott at the mouth of the Boone River. By his actions it was plain that he regarded them as trophies of a great victory. The sight of the silverware brought vividly back to Lott’s mind the memory of his dead wife and immediately his thirst of vengeance was redoubled. This silverware consisted of a set of silver spoons and a set of silver knives and forks which were a present to Mrs. Lott from her first husband Mr. Huntington. She had always prized them very highly. It is not known whether the killing of Si-dom-I-na-do-tah and his family took place then and there but it is known that Lott in some way got possession of the silverware, for he exhibited it when he reached the settlement, to John Pea, William Dickerson, and O. D. Smalley. He also told each of them that the old Chief would never rob another house or cause the death of another woman.

There are two stories of the way Lott committed the crime, for crime it was called. Some call this act justifiable killing which may be true so far as the chief himself was concerned, but there was no justification for the killing of his family. One story is that the killing occurred on the evening that the chief displayed the stolen silverware. Another is that early one morning Lott went to the wigwam of the chief and reported to him that he had just seen a large number of elk and urged the chief to go with him in pursuit of them. On the trail there Lott killed the chief and took his pony then went back and killed the chief’s family, after which Lott and his stepson escaped to the settlements with out being detected by another Indian. So cunning was the crime that it took several weeks before it was discovered who had perpetrated it. The chief’s pony was in the possession of Lott and his stepson and they were finally indicted by the grand jury at Des Moines. Before the officers could take them in charge, they made their escape to the farther west and what became of them is not really known.

About 57 years after the tragic death of Milton Lott, the writer of this story, Corydon L. Lucas made inquiry through the press asking if there was anyone still alive who could identify the spot where the boy's body was laid to rest. This inquiring developed the fact that two men were still alive in Boone County that were present at the burial. John Pea and Thomas Sparks. On being interviewed, John Pea said he felt sure he could point out the spot where the burial took place, so it was decided to make a trip for that purpose. On Oct. 11, 1903, a party consisting of J. F. Eppert, T. P. Menton, John Pea and C. L. Lucas drove from Boone to Centerville on the Des Moines River. At this place John Pea was appointed guide and the other members of the party followed his lead. He turned south and passed the mouth of the creek already mentioned. At a distance of about 40 rods south of the creek and near a little rivelet fed by a spring on the second bottom he came to a halt and exclaimed “Here is the place” pointing to a spot near the bench which separates the lower and upper bottoms at that place. “We drank water out of the little rivelet on the day of the burial.” Mr. Pea was very positive that this was the correct location of the grave. As so no argument could shake his belief in this, the weeds were cleared away and a stake was driven to mark the spot. Sometime after this stake was driven, Thomas Sparks was taken to the spot marked by the stake and he also identified it as the correct location.

In November 1905, the Madrid Historical Society resolved to place a monument to commemorate the fact that Milton Lott was the first white person to die within the boundaries of Boone County, and to perpetrate the historic even which caused his death. The monument was manufactured by Norris Brothers of Madrid, Boone County, Iowa and it was placed Dec. 18, 1905 just 59 years from the time the body of Milton was found. The monument was placed on the second bottom, above high water mark, and about 30 feet from the grave an iron marker a foot wide, three feet long and two inches thick was placed on the grave. On the day of the dedication these people were present: C. L .Lucas, Dr. H. S. Farr, J. P. A. Anderson and L. D. Norris, members of the Madrid Historical Society and Rev. W. Ernest Stockley, H. A. Oviatt, and Clarence Peterson of Madrid. There were 100 other people from other parts of the county present among whom where J. R. Herron of the Boone Democrat, W. H. Gallup of the Boone Standard, A. J. Barkley, L. Zimbleman, John Pea, J. F. Eppert, S. S. Payne of Boone, D. C. Harmon, F. D. Harmon of Jordon, C. K. Patterson of Centerville, Harry Hartman the owner of the land on which the grave is situated, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Burgess, Joe Adamson of Pilot Mound, James Wayne, Mr. and Mrs. A. J. Cadwell, and Mrs. Joseph Herrman. The last two ladies asked the priviledge of being contributors to the monument fund. After the monument was placed in position the blessing of God was invoked by Rev. W. Ernest Stockley of the Christian Church of Madrid. The monument is of solid iron, set in a concrete base, it is four feet high, 20 inches wide and two inches thick.

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