Another IAGenWeb Project





THE DISCOVERY of the massacre and the manner in which it was made public now deserve a passing notice. Reference has formerly been made to a trapper by the name of Markham who was boarding in the family of J. M. Thatcher. It seems that early in the winter some cattle belonging to Markham had strayed away and that he was unable to get any tidings of them until near spring, when he heard they were at Mud Lake (or Big Island Grove, as it was then called) in Emmet County. He went over there, found and identified the cattle, made arrangements for their care, spent some time in that locality, and finally started for home on the ninth of March. It will be remembered this was the day on which the Howe and Thatcher families were murdered and the day after the balance of the massacre. Shortly after he started for the lakes there came up one of the fearful storms so common that winter. The weather was intensely cold for the season of the year but there was no alternative but to press through if possible. He lost his course and struck farther south than he intended, and about eleven o'clock in the evening he reached the house of Mr. Gardner cold, hungry and nearly exhausted. Upon his arrival he was not a little surprised to find the place apparently deserted and everything about the house in confusion, and although he did not encounter any dead bodies, he was pretty sure that there had been trouble with the Indians. He then started down through the grove for the Mattock place. The old foot path followed substantially the same track as is now the highway through the grove. The night was uncommonly dark and objects could not be distinguished at all any distance away. When he had nearly reached Mattock's cabin his attention was attracted by the barking of a dog and the voices of individuals. He stopped to listen, and after taking a careful survey of the situation he found that he had unconsciously walked into the center of the Indian camp, they having pitched their tepees in a circle on both sides of the path. To withdraw from the proximity of his unwelcome neighbors without attracting their attention was an exceedingly difficult job and required all of his tact and address. Aided by the darkness he finally succeeded. He now took his course up across East Okoboji Lake to the cabin of Mr. Howe, where he found everything destroyed and in confusion and the bodies of the murdered victims scattered around. From there he went to the cabin of Mr. Thatcher, where he had been boarding through the winter, but the condition of affairs was similar here to what he found it at the other places. Thinking it unsafe to stay in the house, he went into a deep ravine a short distance away, and spent the remainder of the night. In the morning he found that his feet were partially frozen, but he immediately started for the Des Moines River, which he succeeded in reaching at the George Granger place. Here he fell in with some trappers, two of whom started immediately for Fort Dodge, where they gave the first account of the massacre. But having received the particulars at second hand, and being badly frightened at them, their story was so incoherent and their statements so contradictory, they were not believed and but very little notice was taken of them. Markham, in the meantime, went up the river to Springfield and carried the news of the massacre at the lakes to that settlement so that they had warning that trouble might he expected.


Mention has previously been made of the party from Jasper County, consisting of Howe, Wheelock and Parmenter, who were here in the fall and passed Inkpadutah's camp at Loon Lake at that time. Before leaving the lakes they had determined to make permanent settlement there in the spring. This party left Newton not far from the first of March. At Fort Dodge they crossed the river and came tip all of the way on the west side. By so doing they missed the trappers who went, down with the news of the massacre, as they went down on the east side, consequently they heard nothing of the troubles until their arrival there. They were traveling with ox teams through the deep snow, and of course their progress was necessarily slow. On the night of the fifteenth they camped in a small grove on the bank of Mud Creek, in Lloyd township. The next morning they took an early start, thinking to reach the Gardner place before night, but a storm came up and they lost their course. Having their spring and summer supplies, of course they were heavily loaded. They abandoned their load in a slough some two or three miles east of Gar Lake and struck for the settlement, which they reached about midnight. They first went to Thatcher's, where they found everything in confusion, but did not happen on any dead bodies. Then they went to Howe's, where they camped for the night. In the morning they made such investigation of matters as they were able, and then for the first time the fact became apparent that the settlement had been wiped out by a bloody massacre. The party started immediately for Fort Dodge, arriving there on the twenty-second of March. They were so well known there that their statements were taken without question.


A public meeting was immediately called, at which it was decided to send an expedition to the lakes to bury the dead, relieve the living, if any were found, and if possible to overtake and execute summary vengeance upon the savage marauders who had thus destroyed the settlement. The difficulties in the way of such an enterprise were numerous. The snow, which lay on the ground to an unprecedented depth, was just beginning to soften, and all were aware that just as soon as it commenced melting the streams would be swollen so as to be impassable. The settlers on the river above Fort Dodge became alarmed and most of them left their places and came into town, thus leaving the country through which the expedition must necessarily pass practically uninhabited, and those who remained were so destitute that they could furnish nothing for the expedition. The meeting at Fort Dodge was held on the twenty-third of March. Major Williams being present read a commission he held from Governor Grimes authorizing him in cases of emergency to take the proper measures for the defense of the frontier. Volunteers were called for and it soon became evident that there would be no delay in getting the men. In a few minutes a force of about seventy men was raised. This force was organized in two companies, A and B, Company A under the command of C. B. Richards, and Company B under the command of J. F. Duncombe. Another, Company C, Captain J. C. Johnson, was raised at Webster City, which brough the force up to about a hundred men.










The whole force was under the command of Major William Williams, of Fort Dodge, while George B. Sherman, of the same place, acted as quartermaster and commissary. The expedition was without tents and was but partially supplied with blankets, the men being limited to one apiece. The means of transportation were very imperfect. There was no grain in the country above Fort Dodge, and it was impossible to take any along as it was necessary to take provisions for the round trip. The snow was nearly four feet on the level and all of the ravines and low places were completely filled, and when the snow commenced melting it was one continued reach of water and slush. The enlisted men were no tenderfeet. They comprehended to its fullest extent the perils and privations they would necessarily have to overcome before completing the task they had undertaken, and while they went at the work of preparation with that careless gayety and nonchalance which usually characterize the representative frontiersman, they well knew that it was more than probable that some of their number would be left on that wild and desolate prairie, their flesh to be torn and devoured by the beasts and birds of prey and their bones to bleach in sun and storm until they turned again to dust. Looking back and recalling the events of that memorable expedition the only wonder is that the number of victims was not materially larger.


The expedition left Fort Dodge on the twenty-fourth of March. Some accounts say the twenty-fifth, but this is a mistake. They started on the twenty-fourth, and were nine days in reaching what was then known as the Granger place, in Emmet County, the point where the command divided and the main body turned back. Nine days of rougher campaigning it would be difficult to imagine. The snow had so filled in around the groves and along the streams that at times it was impossible to reach them. It was no uncommon experience to wade through snow and water waist deep during the day, and at night to lie down in their wet clothing, without fire and without tents, and on short rations of food. The only way the men could keep from freezing was by lying so close together that they could only turn over by platoons. The ravines were all filled level full of snow and it was often necessary to detach the teams and rigging a cable to the wagons for the whole party to take hold and make their way through. As the expedition neared the state line, and settlements became sparser and smaller, it was deemed prudent to send a force of scouts out in advance of the main body. Accordingly, on the morning of the thirtieth of March, Major Williams made a detail of ten men to act as scouts, under the command of William L. Church, who, by the way, was a veteran of the Mexican War. Mr. Church with his family, consisting of his wife, his wife's sister and two small children, had settled at Springfield the fall before, and in February Church had made a trip to Webster City for supplies, leaving his family in the settlement at Springfield during his absence. He had reached McKnight's Point, on the west fork of the Des Moines in Humboldt County on his return when he heard of the massacre at the lakes, and also that a relief party was being organized at Fort Dodge and would be up in a few days. He accordingly waited for their arrival, when he enrolled himself as a member of Company C. He had heard nothing of his family since he left home nearly a month before, and was continually in a state of feverish anxiety. Some of the accounts say that Lieutenant Maxwell had command of the scouting party, but this is a mistake. Church had charge of the scouts up to the time they fell in with the Springfield refugees, when he went down the river with them and the scouts were then turned over to Maxwell.







On the morning in question, as soon as the detail was completed, he started with his scouts some distance in advance of the main party. As they were crossing over the divide near the south line of Emmet County, they saw, a long distance ahead of them, a party of pedestrians, but whether they were whites or Indians could not then be determined, as the party when first sighted must have been nearly two miles away. Church brought his men together, had them examine their arms to see that they were in readiness, and gave the word for a cautious advance, he taking the lead. As the distance between the two parties was gradually diminished, it was evident that the strangers were approaching with fully as much caution as Church's party. It was now discovered that they had an ox team with them. This settled the question that they were not Indians. About this time they commenced making signals, which the scouts answered, and throwing away their caution, started on the run to meet them, Church taking the lead. His eagerness was soon explained, as his wife, wife's sister and two children were members of the party, and this was the first intimation he had received since he heard of the massacre as to whether his family were dead or alive. It was a glad, yet a sorrowful meeting. Glad that their circle was yet complete; that none of their number had fallen victims to the savage foe. Sorrowful that so much of danger and suffering had been endured and that so much more of sorrow and privation must come to them before their comfort and safety could be assured.


It was now ascertained that they were a party of refugees fleeing from Indian depredations in the neighborhood of Springfield (now Jackson), Minnesota. The party consisted of about twenty men, women and children, among whom were Mrs. Church, her two children, and her sister Miss Swanger; Mr. Thomas, his wife and several children; David Carver, John Bradshaw, Morris Markham, Jareb Palmer, Miss Eliza Gardner, Doctor Strong and wife, Doctor Skinner and several others. From them it was ascertained that the Indians had made a raid on the settlements along the Des Moines River three days before, an account of which will be given later on. They had with them three persons who had been severely wounded in that attack; namely, Mr. Thomas, Mr. Carver and Miss Swanger. They had been three days upon the road, during which time they had been without provisions, except a kind of lunch they took along with them, and in that time they 'had suffered incredible hardships. The women and children had waded through snow and water waist deep and at night had lain down in their wet clothes completely exhausted.


It was decided by the scouts and refugees to go into came in the nearest grove and to send back messengers to the main body to hurry up supplies and to inform the surgeon that his services would probably be needed. The messengers detailed for this service were Frank Mason of Company C and the writer. The balance of the scouts, together with the refugees, started for the nearest grove, which was on the river directly west from where the two parties met. The place has since been known as "Camp Grove," and is situated on the line between Palo Alto and Emmet Counties. When the messengers reached the main body and delivered their message, excitement ran high. The troops hurried forward as rapidly as possible, and when they reached the grove the boys had campfires already started and everyone set to work immediately to alleviate the sufferings of the exhausted refugees. They gave up for their use the only tent in the command and furnished them with such provisions as they had, while the surgeon, Doctor Bissell, dressed their wounds and made them as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. The next day they started on their way down the river, while the volunteers continued their march toward the lakes.


Governor Carpenter in his account refers to this incident as follows:


"If the expedition had accomplished nothing more, every man would have felt himself repaid for his share in its toil and suffering by the relief it was able to afford to these suffering refugees. In the haste of their departure from Springfield they had taken but little provisions and scant clothing. The women in wading through the drifted snow had worn out their shoes, their gowns were worn to fringes at the bottom, and all in all, a more forlorn and needy company of men and women were never succored by the hands of friends. They cried and laughed, and laughed and cried, alternately. A part of one squad then returned to the main command with the information of our discovery and the residue conducted the worn and weary party to the nearest grove on the Des Moines River, where the main body joined them later iii the afternoon and where we spent the night. The next morning we divided our scanty rations and blankets with them and they went forward toward safety and friends, whilst. we pushed towards the scene of the massacre."


On the afternoon of the first day of April the command reached Granger's place, when it was ascertained that a party of United States troops had come down from Fort Ridgley and were then at Springfield; that a detachment under Lieutenant Murray had been over to Spirit Lake and buried Marble, but did not go down to Okoboji Lake at all. They also reported that the Indians had made good their escape across the Big Sioux River. By the way, this company of United States troops was under command of Captain Barnard E. Bee, who, at the breaking out of the civil war, joined the Confederates and was made a brigadier general, and was killed at the first battle of Bull Run. When it was learned that the Indians had made their escape, it was not deemed necessary that the whole force should go over to the lakes. Indeed, that would have been almost impossible, anyway. The supplies were nearly exhausted and the water was at its highest.


After consultation with his subordinates, Major Williams decided to turn back with the main body, while a party of twenty-three were detailed under the command of Captain Johnson and Lieutenant Maxwell to proceed to the lakes for the purpose of burying the dead and gaining what information they could.


Some accounts place the strength of this party at twenty-five or twenty-six, but twenty-three was the actual number. Their names were as follows:


Captain J. C. Johnson, Lieutenant John N. Maxwell.


Privates—Henry Carse, William E. Burkholder, William Ford, H. E. Dailey, O. C. Howe, George P. Smith, O. S. Spencer, C. Stebbins, S. Van Cleve, R. U. Wheelock, R. A. Smith, William A. De Foe, B. F. Parmenter, Jesse Addington, R. McCormick, J. M. Thatcher, William R. Wilson, Jonas Murray, A. Burtch, William K. Laughlin, E. D. Kellogg.


In the list given to the public by Captain Richards, the name of William De Foe does not appear, but it is pretty certain that he was a member of the party. Captain Richards himself volunteered to go and started with the rest, but upon reaching the river found that he could not cross his pony over, and so he and one other mounted man turned back. It was in this way that the number was reduced to twenty-three, while the original order was for twenty-five. This party took up their line of March 'towards the lakes on the morning of the second day of April, carrying with them two days' rations, and it was then very uncertain when they would get any more. They arrived at the Thatcher cabin about three o'clock P. M., and immediately entered upon the work they had to do. The bodies of Noble and Ryan were found back of the cabin and were the first ones buried. It will be remembered that Mr. Ryan was one of the men who came through from Hampton with Luce and Thatcher, and that he got through on the evening of the seventh, just in time to be killed, while Thatcher, by reason of his cattle giving out, was obliged to lay over and rest them a short time. This delay saved his life.