Another IAGenWeb Project





SOME time previous to this Harvey Luce and J. M. Thatcher went out for supplies, going as far east as Waterloo. On their return they were accompanied by Enoch Ryan, a brother-in-law of Noble; Robert Clark, a young man from Waterloo; Jonathan Howe, a son of Joel Howe; and Asa Burtch, a brother of Mrs. Thatcher. They traveled with an ox team and their progress through the deep snow was necessarily slow. Upon arriving at Shippey's, in Palo Alto County, some ten miles below Emmetsburg, their cattle were so nearly exhausted that they found it necessary to stop for a few days to rest and recruit them. It was decided that Burtch and Thatcher should stay and take care of the cattle and come on as soon as they were able, while the others took their way over the snow on foot to the lake, arriving there on the sixth of March, just in time to share the fate of their unfortunate neighbors, while Burtch and Thatcher escaped by being left behind.


Late in the fall Eliza Gardner made a visit to Springfield to the family of Doctor Strong, intending to return home after a short time, but the deep snow and the unparalleled severity of the winter made communication between the two places almost impossible and she was compelled to stay where she was. This accounts for her absence at the time of the massacre, and for her being at the home of Mr. Thomas at the time of the attack on Springfield. The incidents of the massacre can never be fully known. All the details we have are those furnished by Mrs. Sharp and they are necessarily very meager, as she saw but little of them. It seems that Mr. Gardner had been contemplating a trip to Fort Dodge for provisions as soon as Mr. Luce returned from his trip to Waterloo. Mr. Luce returning on the sixth, Gardner determined to start on the eighth, and commenced making arrangements accordingly. On that morning the family arose earlier than usual that he might have the advantage of an early start. As they were about to sit down to breakfast, a single Indian came in and demanded food. He was given a place at the table with the family. Soon others made their appearance until Inkpadutah and his fourteen warriors, together with their squaws and papooses, were crowded into the cabin. After dispatching the food that had been provided for the family, they became sullen and insolent, demanding ammunition and numerous other things. One of them snatched a box of caps from Gardner. Another attempted to seize a powder horn from the wall, but was prevented by Mr. Luce. The Indian then attempted to shoot Luce, but was prevented by Luce seizing the gun pointed at him.


At this time two young men from the Granger cabin, Harriott and Snyder, knowing that Gardner intended starting for Fort Dodge, called to send letters down by him to be mailed. Gardner told them at once that he could not go and leave his family, that he believed the situation was serious and that the Indians were bent on mischief. He also wanted the settlers to get together at the strongest place and make preparations for defense. Harriott and Snyder did not believe there was any danger. They thought it a pet of the Indians that would soon pass away. So they did some trading with the Indians and started back to their own cabin, taking no precautions whatever for their own safety. The Indians prowled about the premises until about noon, when they started back towards their camp, driving Gardner's cattle ahead of them, shooting them on the way. This was the first time the cabin had been clear of Indians since they first came in the morning.


It was a serious question now what to do. They wanted to notify the other settlers, and still if any of the men left it would so weaken their own party that it would not be possible to make an effective defense if the Indians returned, which they were liable to do any minute. It was finally agreed that Luce and Clark should go out and warn the rest and return as soon as possible. Accordingly, about two o'clock they set out for the Mattock cabin. Anxiously the inmates of the cabin awaited further developments.


We will let Mrs. Sharp tell the rest. She says: "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. At length, just as the sun was sinking behind the western horizon and shedding its brilliancy over the snowy landscape, father, whose anxiety would no longer allow him to remain within doors, went out to reconnoiter. 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 left in the house.' 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.' 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 'their heads with the butts of their guns; then dragged them out of doors and killed them in the most cruel and shocking manner. 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."


After ransacking the cabin and taking whatever they could make use of and destroying the rest, they started for their camp near the Mattock cabin, taking Abigail (Mrs. Sharp) with them as a prisoner. This occurred just at nightfall. Upon arriving at the camp the Mattock cabin was in flames and the bodies of the murdered victims scattered about it. Nothing can be known as to what transpired here, as all was over and the cabin burning before the arrival of the Indians with their prisoner. Mrs. Sharp makes note of the fact that shrieks were heard issuing from the burning building indicating that one or more luckless victims were suffering the agonies of death from burning. It is conjectured that after the first surprise was over some resistance was made at this point. The bodies of two of the men from the Granger cabin, Harriott and Snyder, were found here; also that of young Harshman.







Doctor Harriott, when found, had a loaded revolver in his hand with one barrel discharged. One or two Sharps rifles were found near the bodies of the men as they lay. In short, everything indicated a complete surprise at first and then alt attempt to rally and make a defense, but too late.


The Indians celebrated their bloody achievement that night; by holding a war dance among the bodies of their luckless victims. Their threatening gestures accompanied by their terrific howls and their monotonous "Hi Yi, Hi Yi," were kept up until far into the night. On the next morning a portion of the force started for the Howe and Thatcher cabin, nearly four miles distant. They met Mr. Howe on the bank of the lake, about a quarter of a mile from his cabin. He had a grain bag with him when found by the burial party, and it is supposed that he had started for either Gardner's or Mattock's for flour. They killed him and severed his head from his body. The skull was found some time after by George Ring on the bank of the lake. They then went to the house of Mr. Howe, where they dispatched the rest of the family, consisting of Mrs. Howe, a grown up son and daughter, and five younger children, and the child of Mrs. Noble. From here they went to the Thatcher cabin. Here were two men, two women and two children, Mr. Noble, wife and one child, Mrs. Thatcher and one child and Mr. Enoch Ryan. As usual they feigned friendship until the men were off their guard, and then shot them both simultaneously. The cabin had but one door and that faced the south. The men were on the north side of the cabin when they were shot. After killing the stock and plundering the house, they took the two w omen (Mrs. Noble and Mrs. Thatcher) prisoners and started back to camp. On their way they again stopped at the house of Mr. Howe. Here Mrs. Noble found her mother lying dead under the bed, where she had doubtless crawled after being left by her murderers. Her brother Jacob, some thirteen years old, who had been left for dead or dying, was found sitting up in the yard, conscious, but unable to speak. To her questions he responded only with a shake of the head. She told him that if the Indians did not come to him and finish the murder, to crawl into the house and get into one of the beds, as perhaps help would come and he might be saved, but the savages killed him before her eyes. While Mrs. Noble was taking note of these things, the Indians were busy with their work of plunder and destruction, after which they, with their prisoners, returned to camp. This was on the ninth of March, and as will appear later on, the day preceding the night in which Markham had his hair-breadth escape by wandering into the very center of their camp before he was aware of their presence.


On the morning of the tenth they broke camp and crossed West Okoboji on the ice to Madison Grove, where they again went into camp, staying one night only. The next day, the eleventh, they took their way north to Marble Grove, on the west side of Spirit Lake, where they went into camp some distance north of Marble's house. Marble had heard nothing of the troubles below and was wholly unsuspicious of danger. As usual, they asked for food. After partaking of it, they bantered him to trade rifles. After some dickering a trade was made. They then proposed shooting at a mark. Accordingly, a mark was set up, and after Marble had shot at it, the Indians turned on him and riddled him with bullets. They then proceeded to appropriate such things as they could make use of and to destroy the balance, after which they took Mrs. Marble with them to their camp, thus bringing the number of prisoners up to four. At night a war dance was held to celebrate the achievements of the day, at which they recounted with pantomimic gestures and energetic action the wonderful deeds in which they had so recently participated.


Before leaving this place the Indians removed the bark from an ash tree and delineated on the white surface by signs and characters a hieroglyphical representation of their recent exploits. Many of the writers who have mentioned this incident have made more of it than the facts would warrant. The three or four published accounts which have been given to the public agree in stating that the picture record gave the position and number of victims correctly, and also represented those killed as being pierced with arrows. Now this is mainly fiction. The first discovery of the tree on which the hieroglyphics were delineated was by a party consisting of O. C. Howe, R. U. Wheelock and the writer sometime in May. They were the first party to take a trip on the west side of Spirit Lake after the massacre. The tree was first noticed by Mr. Howe, and he called the attention of the rest of the party to it. It was a white ash tree standing a little way to the southeast of the door of the Marble cabin. It was about eight inches in diameter, not over ten at the most. The rough outside bark had been hewed off for a distance of some twelve or fifteen inches up and down the tree. Upon the smoothed surface thus made were the representations. The number of cabins (six) was correctly given, the largest of which was represented as being in flames. There were also representations of human figures and with the help of the imagination it was possible to distinguish which were meant for the whites and which the Indians. There were not over ten or a dozen all told, and except for the hint contained in the cabins, the largest one being in flames, we could not have figured any meaning out of it. This talk of the victims being pierced with arrows and their number and position given, is all nonsense. Mr. Howe and the writer spent some time studying it, and, while they came to the conclusion that. it would convey a definite meaning to those understanding it, they could not make much out of it.


After leaving Marble's place, the Indians traveled slowly to the northwest, camping in the groves that border on the small lakes in that direction, never stopping more than one night in a place, until they arrived at Heron Lake, about thirty-five miles northwest of Spirit Lake, sometime about the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth of March.