View From The Attic
10 November 2008
by Evelyn Birkby
Fremont County Historical Society News
Ordeal of Red Crow's Captive Squaw, Nancy Fletcher
The title of the “Real West” magazine article from 1965, by author Fred Harrison, caught my attention. It read “Ordeal of Red Crow’s Captive Squaw.” The captive in the story, interestingly enough, has a connection to Sidney, Iowa.
Nancy Fletcher was born on Feb. 8, 1845, in Clark County, Indiana. She was four years old when her parents migrated to Sidney, Iowa, “A booming agricultural region.” At the age of fifteen, Nancy Jane was married to Thomas Morton and the couple moved across the Missouri River to Nebraska City where Morton took employment with an overland freighting company. After going on his first trip to Denver City he got a subcontract and went into business for himself.
Before long, Morton owned three wagons and teams. Among his drivers were William Fletcher, his wife's brother, and their cousin, John Fletcher. Nancy Jane accompanied the outfit as camp cook. “They had made four trips to Denver and the fifth trip looked just as promising.” Harrison, tells us.
When the Morton wagons got to Fort Kearney the drivers heard stories of a renegade Indian in the area, Big Crow. They went on to Plum Creek Junction where they were joined by another wagon train headed west. On the morning of August 8 1864, Crow and members of his tribe attacked the two groups. They killed every living thing in sight including the horses except for Nancy Jane, who, even though wounded with two arrows in her side, crept into a stand of grass. Her respite was short. The raiders found her and carried her off to the Indian camp where she became their slave. The article goes into detail about the horrors and the near death experiences she somehow survived.
Hunger and starvation beset the camp during the following winter. Meanwhile, authorities who were investigating the Plum Creek massacre learned that Nancy Jane had been taken alive. Government agents had earned the release of some captives by paying a ransom for them. Friendly Arapahoe made contact with Big Crow and brought two traders who bargained for the white woman. In dire need of food and clothing, the natives agreed to release her for trade goods. Soon after the government men and Nancy Jane rode away, Big Crow changed his mind and tried to get the captive back. The traders had wisely positioned relay horses along the route to speed their return to safety. Black Crow’s warriors failed to catch up with them.
Later, Nancy Jane married George W. Stevens and lived until 1912. Sometime before her death, she wrote down her experiences and thus preserved for us the story of the Sidney, Iowa, lady who, for a time, was a prisoner of Big Crow.
(Fred Harrison, the author of the story in the “Big West” magazine, credited material from the Nebraska Historical Society, a Rapids. S.D. Journal reprint of Nancy Jane’s story, and correspondence with Nancy Jane's granddaughter, a Mrs. Puritan, interviewed in 1964.)