Another IAGenWeb Project
EVENTS IN IOWA—THE MASSACRE ALONG THE DES MOINES—THE RELIEF PARTY—APPEAL FOR GOVERNMENT PROTECTION—THE SIOUX CITY CAVALRY—THE WEEK AT THE OLD COURTHOUSE—BUILDING THE STOCKADE—DISASTROUS EFFECT ON THE SETTLEMENT—MANY OF THE FIRST SETTLERS LEAVE—MORE PARTICULARS OF THE SIOUX CITY CAVALRY.
WHILE THE events related in the preceding chapter were being enacted on the Minnesota frontier, other events of similar character but on a smaller scale were transpiring nearer home. On the morning of the twenty-ninth of August, 1862, a Norwegian by the name of Nelson came into Spirit Lake with two children that he had carried in his arms from his home on the Des Moines River, some six miles above Jackson. The population on the Des Moines above Jackson at that time were exclusively Norwegians, and while they were sturdy and courageous and developed into the very best of soldiers after a reasonable amount of drill and experience, they, at first had an almost superstitious fear of the Indians, while the Indians entertained the utmost contempt and hatred for them. A large majority of the victims of this massacre were Norwegians, as they had settled on the western border of Minnesota during the last few years in large numbers.
From Nelson's account it appears that the inhabitants along the river had been apprised of the troubles at the agencies, and becoming alarmed by the reports had called a public meeting to consider the situation, and, if possible, devise means of defense. This was on the evening of the twenty-eighth of August. Nelson attended this meeting, leaving his fancily at home in his cabin. Upon his return home he found the family all killed except the two children before mentioned, and they had been taken up by the heels and their heads knocked against the corner of the cabin and they were left for dead on the ground. One of the children afterwards died but the other recovered.
A party of volunteers was immediately organized and proceeded to the Des Moines, where they made a hasty reconnoissance and returned to the lakes on the evening of the same day. A party of refugees from the river came part of the way over and concealed themselves in a ravine over night.
The next day a larger and better equipped party went over. Upon arriving at the river they met a small force from Estherville who were on the same errand as themselves. The two parties consolidated and together they proceeded to investigate the situation. They found that the Indians had struck the river at a point about four miles above Jackson and followed it up, murdering and destroying everything as they went. At one place one of the relief party heard an unusual noise, something resembling a groan, and after hunting around for a while found in the manger of an out-of-the-way stable, a boy about fourteen years old, who had been both shot and stabbed by the Indians and left for dead, but had so far recovered consciousness as to be able to drag himself to the old stable where he was found. He was taken care of by the relief party and eventually recovered.
They continued their march up the river. It was evident that all of the cabins along the river had been visited and depredations committed. The number of victims along the Des Moines was not so great as it would have been but for the fact that they had been warned of danger and many had left the settlement for the danger to subside. Others had concealed themselves in the woods and ravines and made their escape. The relief party followed up the river about fifteen or twenty miles where they camped for the night. At this point they found a cabin where two or three families had joined their forces and barricaded the house and beat off their enemies. The Indians had kept them in a state of siege for fully forty-eight hours. They were concealed in the ravines and thick brush that grew about the house, and every little while they would fire from their cover at the door, and windows of the cabin and any other point they considered vulnerable. The settlers in turn would fire from the portholes they had made in the cabin.
The guide they had in firing was to fire at the cloud of smoke made by the discharge of the Indians' guns, as they kept themselves concealed in the brush and ravines. This kind of skirmishing had been kept up for two days. The last Indian seen there, and the last gun fired, was about sunrise in the morning of the day on which the volunteers reached there in the evening, much to the relief of the besieged party. No one had been killed on either side. This was the only place on the Des Moines River where any resistance was made. There was no settlement above this point, and it was useless to continue the journey farther. The party went into camp about sundown and in the morning started back on their return trip, reaching the lakes on the evening of the same day. The total number of bodies found and buried by them was about fifteen.
The excitement which followed this affair was intense. The whole line of frontier settlements from Mankato to Sioux City was abandoned, except Estherville and Spirit Lake, which, by the way, were the most exposed points on the whole line, being nearer the points infested by the Indians and farther from assistance. When the magnitude and extent of the Minnesota Massacre came to be known and realized, the people here began to have some appreciation of the nature and extent of the danger to which they had exposed themselves, and which they had apparently defied. A short time before they had rested in apparent and fancied security. Now the wonder was that this settlement was not wiped out with the rest, and they realized for the first time how helpless and defenseless would have been their situation had an attack been made.
Efforts were at once made to secure government protection. Either this must be done or the entire line abandoned. The general government was not in position to do much for the frontier. They had just come to a realizing sense of the magnitude of the job they had undertaken in attempting to crush the rebellion. The delays and disasters that had attended the operation of the Army of the Potomac were having a terribly depressing effect on public sentiment, and the results were anything but satisfactory.
This state of affairs was not very favorable to securing help, as every available man was needed at the front. The company heretofore referred to, known at that time as the Sioux City Cavalry, was detailed for service on the frontier. Now, when it is remembered that the frontier line in Iowa is over one hundred and twenty miles in length it will readily be seen that a company of but one hundred men would be very inadequate for the purposes of scouting, to say nothing of looking after frontier defenses.
This company was divided into squads and sent to different points along the border. The one assigned to Spirit Lake arrived on the evening of the day on which the volunteer party returned from their trip up the Des Moines River. This detachment consisted of about thirty men under command of Lieutenant Cassady, and was divided into three parts and stationed at Spirit Lake, Estherville and Okoboji, the Estherville squad being in charge of Sergeant Samuel Wade, the Spirit Lake squad in charge of Sergeant A. Kingman and the one for Okoboji being in charge of Corporal G. Robbins.
Immediately after hearing of the attack on the settlements on the Des Moines River and before the arrival of the detachment of United States troops guider lieutenant Cassady, the settlers gathered at the old courthouse as being the point least liable to attack and the easiest defended of any place about the lakes. Messengers had been sent out in all directions warning the settlers of their danger, and advised them to gather at some central point for mutual protection. The courthouse was the place selected. Here they established a kind of encampment and awaited results. This was the same clay that the first party of scouts left for their trip to the Des Moines. Scouting parties were sent out in every direction, but no Indians were seen nor were there any Indian signs discovered. There were somewhere from twenty-five to forty families represented in the encampment. Taking out the two parties of scouts that went over to the Des Moines, there were not many able-bodied men left. The scouting about the lakes was done by men who had trapped over every foot of the ground and knew it thoroughly. It would be useless to give a list of names of those who took the direction of affairs as there was no regular organization and each one acted on his own judgment. Of course at that time all were in perfect ignorance of the nature and extent of the outbreak and were at a loss to know what course to pursue. All they could do was to keep a sharp look-out and await developments.
During the week's sojourn at the old courthouse many incidents occurred, some of them heartrending and pathetic, and others decidedly absurd and ridiculous. Could those incidents have been preserved and properly written up, they would have formed a chapter at once instructive, interesting and amusing. The innate selfishness of human nature cropped out where least expected. As is usually the case, those who exhibited the most bravado and were the loudest in exploiting their courage were the first to look out for their personal safety, and the last to volunteer when scouts were needed. But human nature is human nature the world over, and if there is anything mean or selfish in a person's makeup it is bound to come to the surface in times like this.
Of course the men could stand it all right enough. They were used to roughing it. Most any of them could lie down on the prairie where night overtook them and sleep as soundly and sweetly as though on a couch of luxury. But the women and children, that was different. The provisions were scant and of the plainest kind. There were no conveniences for cooking and everything had to be cooked over a campfire. Some member of each family had to make a trip to the claim every day for provisions, and some didn't find much when they reached there, as this was a season of general scarcity. As to the old courthouse, the walls were up and the roof on and the floors partly laid, and the joists in place for the rest, which were soon covered by the loose lumber there. The stairs were not up, but a plank walk with cleats spiked across had been built for the workmen to carry material to the upper story and roof, and this was utilized by those who lived in the upper story. The sleeping arrangements were few and simple. A bunch of hay and a few blankets in a retired corner were about all of the sleeping accommodations the best could boast.
Of course sentries were posted every night. The men took their two hours on and four off without complaint, and in fact there were so few of them that at first they came on every night, but after the third or fourth night they were relieved of that duty by the arrival of the soldiers, many of whom had families here. It is difficult to write out in words the vicissitudes of that memorable week, but those who experienced it will always have a vivid recollection of the week at the courthouse.
Soon after the arrival of Lieutenant Cassady with his detachment of the Sioux City Cavalry, it was arranged that the settlers should go back to their places, and the soldiers should adopt a system of scouting such as would preclude the possibility of any considerable body of Indians coming in without being discovered. In addition to this, it was decided to erect a stockade about the courthouse, and to regard it as a kind of general rendezvous or headquarters where the settlers could gather in case of further trouble. Prescott's mill in the Okoboji Grove was in running order at that time, and quite a number of sawlogs were lying in the yard ready to be cut into lumber. The mill was taken possession of and the logs rolled in and cut into planks. These planks were twelve feet long and from four of five inches thick. A trench was dug from twelve to twenty feet from the walls of the courthouse and about three feet deep. The planks were set on end in this trench and strengthened by pinning a piece along the top. Portholes were cut in the proper places in the stockade, and on the whole it was put in pretty good condition for defense. It was while this work was in progress that Lieutenant Cassaday and his soldiers arrived, and they assisted in completing it, and when the settlers went back to their claims the soldiers remained in possession and established headquarters there. This was in August, 1862. The courthouse remained a military post in possession of United States troops until July, 1865.
The inhabitants moved back to their claims, many of them, however, but temporarily. Many who had been here from two to five years and had endured without a murmur their full share of the hardships and privations incident thereto, thought they could see nothing better in the near future, and therefore abandoned what they had or sold it for a mere nominal sum. It was at this time that B. F. Parmenter traded his house and the half block near where the Presbyterian Church now stands to Ethel Ellis for a hundred rat skins.
The proprietors of the town site of Spirit Lake abandoned it and it lay vacant for years, when it was taken and proved up as a private claim. One-half of it was taken by Henry Barkman, one fractional forty by Giese Blackert and the remaining three forties by Joseph Currier, who afterwards sold it to a Mr. Peck, of Minnesota. This tract was afterwards purchased by Mr. J. S. Polk, of Des Moines, and is now known as the Union Land Company's addition to Spirit Lake. Mr. Barkman subsequently made a resurvey of his portion and laid out the town of Spirit Lake according to its present plat and boundaries.
Doctor Prescott, proprietor of the Okoboji town site, sold out for a mere song and moved to Winnebago County, Illinois. O. C. Howe took his family back to Newton, after which he enlisted in the army and was appointed Captain of Company L, Ninth Iowa Cavalry; B. F. Parmenter and R. U. Wheelock moved to Boonesboro, William Barkman went back to Newton, P. Kingman, after selling the Lake View House to Jo Thomas, went to Floyd County in this state, and subsequently to the Black Hills; A. D. Arthur, J. D. Howe and C. Carpenter went to Webster City, Leonidas Congleton and Philip Risling went to Yankton, Dakota, and several others who had been more or less active in county matters up to this time decided they had had enough of pioneering and bade goodbye to the frontier. Property of all kinds that could not be moved became valueless.
Of the soldiers, many who enlisted from this county in 1861 had their families and intended leaving them here for a while at least, but after this outbreak most of them moved their families away. Some of them returned after the close of the war, and others remained away permanently. Of course, a soldier's claim, whether by preemption or homestead, could not be disturbed while he was in the service, and he had six months to get on it after his discharge.
Up to this time the only two military organizations that had figured in the defense of the frontier were Captain Martin's company of state troops, whose service in 1858 and 1859 was noticed in its proper place, and the Sioux City Cavalry, under the command of Captain A. J. Millard. As this company was more intimately connected with the defense of the frontier than any other, and as many of its members enlisted from this county, it is deserving of more special mention. As before noticed, it was organized in Sioux City in the fall of 1861. A. J. Millard, Captain; James A. Sawyer, First Lieutenant; J. T. Copeland, Second Lieutenant, and S. H. Cassady, Orderly Sergeant. In the summer of 1862 Lieutenant Sawyer resigned to take command of the Northern Border Brigade, when Copeland was promoted to be First Lieutenant and Cassady to be Second Lieutenant. The noncommissioned officers were Samuel Wade, Orderly; A. Kingman, First Sergeant; A. Marshall, Second Sergeant; J. W. Stevens, Third Sergeant; J. W. Nevins, Fourth Sergeant and J. H. Morf, Fifth Sergeant; G. W. Lebaurour, First Corporal; J. H. Schuneman, Second Corporal; G. W. Robbins, Third Corporal; Archibald Murray, Fourth Corporal; Thomas G. White, Fifth Corporal; Thomas McElhany, Sixth Corporal ; M. B. Winterringer, Seventh Corporal; John J. Schlawig, Bugler; Fred Borsch, Assistant Bugler; William Godfrey, Saddler; N. W. Pratt, Farrier; J. C. Farber, Wagoner; M. J. Smith, Quartermaster Sergeant. The names of those enlisting in that company from this county have heretofore been given. The detachment of which they formed a part was kept here the greater part of the time from the time of their enlistment to the spring of 1863, when they were detailed for service at General Sully's headquarters in his expedition up the Missouri that summer. Judge A. R. Fulton in his interesting book, "The Red Men of Iowa," pays the following high tribute to this company.
"In this connection it is proper to notice more particularly the military organization under Captain A. J. Millard, known as the Sioux City Cavalry and the services it rendered in protecting the western frontier from the depredations of the Indians. It was a company enlisted in pursuance of a special order of the Secretary of War and operated as an independent organization from the fall of 1861 to the spring of 1863. The company was recruited from citizens, most of whom were heads of families residing at Sioux City and the settlements along the Floyd and Little Sioux Rivers up to Spirit Lake. While acting as an independent organization, they were generally stationed in squads in the principal settlements, including chose at Correctionville, Cherokee, Peterson and Spirit Lake. Their valuable and arduous services doubtless contributed largely to securing to the people of northwestern Iowa immunity from danger during the perilous summer of 1862, when more than eight hundred persons were massacred by the Indians in Minnesota. In the spring of 1863 the Sioux City Cavalry were ordered to rendezvous in Sioux City preparatory to joining an expedition under General Sully against the Indians in which they were detailed as the bodyguard of the General.
"On the third of September, 1863, they participated in the battle of White Stone Hill and distinguished themselves by taking one hundred and thirty-six prisoners. After this battle they were consolidated with the Seventh Iowa Cavalry as Company I. On returning to Sioux City, Captain Millard commanding the company was assigned by General Sully to the command of a sub-district embracing northwestern Iowa and eastern Dakota, with headquarters at Sioux City. On the twenty-second of November, 1864, their term of enlistment having expired, they were mustered out of service.
"Referring to this company, General Sully expresses the following high compliment: `A better drilled or disciplined company than the Sioux City Cavalry cannot be found in the regular or volunteer service of the United States.' "
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