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Compiled by Ed Perley from Articles by Jim Perley for the Logan Observer newspaper
Reproduced with the permission of the author and the publisher.

The Gathering Storm

The Horse Creek Treaty of 1851 was intended to pen the Indians on reservations and make them dependent on the United States for their livelihoods. In time, their dependency was supposed to turn them into good American farmers and tradesmen with little memory of their native cultures. Their situation proved to be more complicated. Some acquiesced and accepted aid until it proved to be insufficient for their needs. Then, they had no choice but to leave the reservations for food. Others felt no obligation to obey the terms of treaties they did not sign. Their attachment to land and ways of life dating back thousands of years was stronger than suspicious blandishments from pale skinned interlopers. Whites continued to signal through their actions that they did not have the Indians' best interests in mind.

General Harney exacerbated a delicate situation when his troops attacked an Indian camp to avenge the troops who died in a conflict known as the Battle of the Mormon Cow. His soldiers attacked a village and killed scores, mainly women and children. They took others prisoner. Harney declared it to be an object lesson the Indians should never forget. The Indians remembered, but they learned a lesson different from what Harney had intended.

While mutual hostility simmered on the plains, families from Milford, Massachusetts settled in Dickenson County, Iowa. Though they were far west of military protection, occasional bands of Indians traveling through did not concern them. An unfortunate confluence of events, unknown the to the settlers, threatened danger. White settlement had driven much of the game from eastern Minnesota Siouan hunting grounds, and the villages were heavily in debt to the whites. Eventually, they were forced to sell their land and move to a reservation. Many Indians refused to move and foraged on their traditional lands. Others joined them when government food shipments were spoiled or inadequate. Government agents and others cheated the Indians. Resentment was palatable but unfocused. Enter Inkapaduta.

As the Iowa History Project and David l. Brestow wrote, Inkapaduta was tall man of about sixty. His face was scared from small pox, and the past had made him bitter. Several years earlier,his brother, Chief Sintomadat traced stolen horses to Henry Lott, a whiskey trader. Lott and his son escaped the Indians, but they became separated, and his son froze to death. Lott vowed revenge. He and his friends axed Sintomadat and nine women and children of the family to death.

Inkapaduta became chief and at first trusted the white judicial system to bring justice. He reported the crime to the army at Fort Dodge, and a court pressed charges. Lott fled to California, but prosecutors made little effort to find him. Actually, even if they had tried, finding Lott would have been a very difficult proposition. Inkapaduta was angry, and the final straw came when the prosecuting attorney nailed Sittomaduta's head to a pole over his house. Inkapaduta vowed revenge.

The winter of 1856-57, considered one of the worst since whites moved to the Midwest, took matters closer to disaster. It brought starvation and death to whites and Indians alike. Even the deer and elk died. Starving Indians under Inkapaduta's command moved south to Smithland where they hunted surviving deer and elk. Local whites became alarmed and accused the Indians of stealing corn from their cribs. To his mind Inkapaduta was only hunting on land his people had owned for generations. The whites, not his people, were the intruders.

Armed vigilantes surrounded the Indians and demanded they leave. Inkpaduta replied they meant no harm and were traveling toward Harrison County and then on to join the Omahas. Fearing an attack, the whites confiscated the Indians rifles and let them leave. Perhaps Inkapaduta also was afraid of an being drawn into a fight, or perhaps he was hatching darker plans. After a day or so, he and his followers changed course and moved up the Little Sioux River toward Spirit Lake. Meanwhile, isolated families in Dickenson County did their chores and warmed themselves beside their fires. They entertained themselves during the dark winter nights, unaware of the coming disaster.

The Indians, under the leadership of Inkapaduta, stole weapons and killed livestock near Cherokee and Peterson. The frightened farmers let them take what they wanted. They tried to mollify the Indians as stories of murderous savage attacks spread through the neighborhood. After he was satisfied they had collected enough supplies, Inkapaduta led his people farther north toward Spirit Lake. When they arrived in the neighborhood, residents of the Iowa Great Lakes were not especially worried. They were used to Indians. As the hard winter continued through March, the settlers assumed the Indians were merely hunting for food. Their cabins were too isolated to hear news of intimidation and theft further south.

The Massacre

Inkapaduta arrived at the Roland Gardener cabin near Lake Okoboji to demand food and ammunition. Such encounters were not uncommon, but Roland sensed something more sinister that time. The family gave the Indians what they demanded. Then Gardner and an Indian struggled over a powder horn. Another warrior raised his rifle after two neighbors arrived. One of the men pushed the Indian's rifle away, but he didn't press the matter. The Indians left.

Gardener was alarmed and asked the two neighbors to warn the other forty or so settlers. At three o'clock, two shots rang out as the Indians killed the two men. Gardener was certain an attack was imminent and decided to barricade the door. At least he could kill a few Indians before they murdered the family. Mrs. Campbell demurred. She argued they could still avoid a fight if they demonstrated their good will and shared more food with the Indians. She believed the Indians were reasonable people suffering like the whites from an unusually harsh winter.

Inkapaduta and several warriors returned in the evening and demanded flour. As Mr. Campbell turned to open the storage bin, a brave shot him in the back. His thirteen-year old daughter Abbie sat quietly in a chair as she clutched her sister's baby. She watched as men dragged her mother, brother, sister and others one by one outside and heard them beaten to death. After what must have seemed like an eternity, a man snatched the baby from Abbie and killed it. Then, they took the terrified girl along on their murderous errand.

That evening, Inkapaduta's Dakota and Yankton Sioux held a war dance. After that, they picked off each of the unsuspecting families. Abbie Gardner was nearly catatonic. She had just watched Inkaptutah's warriors kill her family and knew she might be next. They took her with them to the Mattock's. Mr. Snyder had hurried over there after hearing gunfire. Dr Horiatte and Mr. Snyder returned fire as the Indians attacked, and they died with their rifles in their hands. A couple at another cabin fought on though they were mortally wounded. The husband fired as his wife stuffed rags on his chest to stop the bleeding. Then she killed an Indian she saw through a cabin window. The tribe placed the dead warrier in a tree as was their custom.

Before the day ended at least forty settlers were dead. Some had defended themselves and killed perhaps fifteen or twenty Indians. Two women and the girl Abbie were taken prisoner. The Indians gave them moccasins and ordered them to braid their hair and paint their faces as Dakotas. They ordered their prisoners to chop wood, carry packs, and cook food. But food was scarce and two or three days passed between meals. The group struggled through ten to twenty foot drifts and icy streams during the long march to southwest Minnesota.

Once reunited with the Dakota tribe, Inkapaduta convinced them they had to extirpate the white usurpers or face destruction. It was a battle for their ancestral land and freedom. The warriors caught present day Jackson, Minnesota and New Ulm by surprise.It was over by nightfall, and the Indians moved west. Soldiers arrived to bury the dead and to capture Inkapaduta's warriors. They made good time on a trail of smoldering campfires and goods left behind to speed the Indians' departure. That is, until the government found other work for them. The detatchment was sent to Utah to quell a Morman uprising.

One of the captives, Mrs. Sharp, recalled a rescue detatchment was nearby as they camped in a ravine. An Indian guard watched from a tree as others trained their rifles on their prisoners. Should they be discovered, the white women would be first to die. Fortunately, the soldiers moved on. Fearful of capture, the Indians immediately left. They marched non-stop for two days and nights.

Inkapaduta had no intention of taking part in this war. He led his band and four female prisoners across the Big Sioux River into South Dakota . Lydia Noble grew ill and was unable to carry her load. The Indians threw her into the river, but she climbed out on the other side. Abbie watched an Indian beat the woman to death. Later, Elizabeth Thatcher decided she was better off dead and suggested she and Abbie drown themselves. Abbie refused. She had a story to tell, and she was determined to tell it.

News of the Dakota and Santee Sioux uprising reached Fort Dodge with force of 9/11 attack news generations later. The massacre was equivalent to wiping out most of New York City, given the ratio of dead to survivors in a sparse population. Volunteers set out to avenge the killings. Though it was March 25, the worst winter in memory continued. Soldiers trudged through drifts fifteen to twenty feed deep. Fourteen men suffered from frost bite as the brutal weather converted their rescue mission to a struggle for survival. Rather than fight Indians, the soldiers became a burial detatchment when they made it to Dickensen County. What they found there probably caused many of them to wonder why they had come.

Each cabin held families who had died violently together. The soldiers exhausted themselves digging through deep snow and frozen soil to bury the dead. They had little time or energy to contemplate heroic parents who fought to the end for themselves and their children. The men could only take what was useful as they moved on from one next cabin to the next. The militia had eaten most of their food by the time they arrived at the Gardener cabin. Potatoes and other food stored under the floor were a godsend. It was enough to get them back to Fort Dodge.

Warm days allowed the men easier passage toward Fort Dodge, until a heavy wet snowstorm soaked them to the skin. A sudden chill that froze their clothes solid probably saved their lives. Otherwise, it is likely that hypothermia would have finished them off. A blizzard pinned them down for several days. Once they were underway again, two men, who said they knew a short cut, struck out on their own. A farmer found their bones fourteen years later.

Western Iowa was primed for disaster. Panic stricken settlers left the thinly populated counties for refuge in Sioux City. Unfortunately, only 91 soldiers were stationed there to defend Iowa's northern and western borders. Jumpy families reported ferocious Indians as far south as Harrison County. No matter that most were innocent hunters, every Indian was a potential killer in the settlers' eyes. Skirmishes broke out and during one, white attackers fled for their lives when a superior force overwhelmed them. Fortunately, the Indians, who only intended to defend themselves, did not press the attack, so no whites were killed in this encounter.

The central government called federal troops east to fight the Civil War in 1861 and left Iowa vulnerable to attack from the Santee Sioux still on the war path in Minnesota. The state was virtually defenseless against the Indians and from Confederate irregulars crossing its southern border. Iowa's legislature acted quickly. Govenor Samuel Kirkwood approved a northern and a southern brigade to defend the borders.

Northern troop strength was 40 to 80 vollenteers per unit. Each man supplied his own horse and equipment. Calvery troops quickly built forts at Correctionville, Cherokee, Peterson, Estherville, Clear Lake, and Spirit Lake. Others went up near Sloan, Whiting and perhaps Little Sioux. If a fort was at Little Sioux, it didn't last long. All trace or memory of it is gone.

Inkapaduta led his band deeper into South Dakota to join the Lakota people. Abbie, still a prisoner, dispared of seeing another white person or tree ever again. But two Christian Indians heard of the women and pursuaded Inkapaduta to release one woman to prove the captives were still alive and to facilitate ransom payment. They took Mrs Marble to the Upper Santee agency where Judge Flandreau paid them $1,000 for their trouble. Flandreau took Mrs Marble to St Paul and the territorial legislature appropriated $10,000 for a ransom payment. He and three Indians found the band near present day Ashton, South Dakota. They struck a bargain, and a $1,200 payment apiece freed Abbie and the other remaining woman. The other woman had been killed before the negotiaters arrived.

Inkapaduta later returned to Minnesota and with Little Crow attacked New Ulm and later southern Minnesota. The Minnesota militia and others crushed the uprising by 1862, and when the Indians retreated to South Dakota, Iowa disbanded its northern militia. Settlers tore down the forts for building supplies. The Indian war in Iowa was over, and life returned to normal. By the time the war had come to an end, over 800 whites were dead and over 100 had been taken prisoner. Up to 90% of the Yankton Sioux had been killed. The terrorial government conducted the largest mass execution in United States history when 28 Indians met their end on a huge gallows.

The Aftermath

Once again, Inkapaduta slipped away. He fought with Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull. Their fight eventually led them to the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Inkapaduta's strategic skills helped seal General Custer's fate. His warriors repulsed Major Reno and prevented him from joining Custer with reinforcements. He became a mythic figure, almost like Osama bin Ladin. He inflicted great damage, but he seemed immune to retaliation. Inkapaduta died in Canada at the age of 74.

Abbie lived a troubled, restless life. She raised two children from two failed marriages. Eventually, she wrote her memoirs and bought her childhood home. She converted it into a museum and built a surrounding gable to hide it from all but paying customers. And so, Abbie lived out the rest of her days telling her story at $.25 a person in one of Iowa's first successful tourist attractions.

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Date last updated: April 2008