McCarty, Dwight D. History of Palo Alto County. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Torch Press, 1910


Chapter IV
The Indians and the Spirit Lake Massacre

    The pioneer family on the western prairie could endure with fortitude the life on a lonely claim, but one danger continually menaced its peace of mind. The roving bands of Indians were generally unfriendly and often treacherously destructive. Once roused to vengeance, the savage nature found expression in deeds of pillage, arson and murder that made one's blood run cold.
     Many different tribes of Indians had roamed over the Iowa prairies before the advent of the white settlers, but all these had gradually drifted westward, and their land acquired by the government, until  in 1851 the last of Western Iowa was ceded by treaty to the United States. Of all the bands of Indians the Sioux were perhaps the most ferocious and warlike. They were continually at war with other tribes and as they saw the onward march of the white settler and felt the encroachments upon their beloved hunting ground, they became sullen and bitter toward the pioneers.
    Some unfortunate conditions served to intensify this feeling. As early as 1847, Henry Lott, and unscrupulous ruffian, who had settled far out on the frontier in Webster County, organized a gang of desperate characters who stole horses and committed many depredations among settlers and Indians. Lott's cabin finally became such a notorious rendezvous, that when a band of Indians under the chief Sidominadotah tracked a number of stolen ponies to his place, they ordered him to leave the county. As he did not do so, a few days afterwards the Indians killed his cattle, drove his family out, and burned his cabin. Lott fled terror-stricken, leaving his wife and children, and one of his small sons died from the cold and exposure. Lott swore vengeance upon the Sioux, but it was several years before he returned.
     The Indians resented the advance of the white man and when the surveyors crossed the Des Moines in 1848, the Indians attacked them, broke up their instruments and drove them back. This incident led to the establishment of Fort Dodge by the government.
     In 1853 Lott and his step-son came back again and settled on the east branch of the Des Moines River in Humboldt County, at a place that has since been known as Lott's Creek.
     In the following January, the chief of the same band of Sioux, unsuspecting and not recognizing his old enemy, camped a short distance from Lott's cabin. Burning with hatred and revenge, in retaliation for the death of his son and destruction of his property years before, Lott treacherously killed Chief Sidominadotah and his whole family except a little girl who hid in the bushes and a boy who was left for dead. 1
The bodies of the chief and his family were brutally left where they lay, the camp was looted and burned, and the Lotts escaped down the river. They sold the booty and hastened still farther west. Several days later Inkpadutah, a brother of the murdered chief, discovered the bodies of the victims, and it was soon known that Lott was the murderer. The Indians were thoroughly enraged and demanded the punishment of Lott, but though attempts were made to follow him, he was never apprehended. Not long after this the head of the murdered chief was ingloriously stuck up on a pole in the town of Homer near Fort Dodge. 2 The failure to punish Lott increased the rage and desire for vengeance among the Sioux. The settlers were greatly alarmed, and there was a vague feeling of distrust that boded ill for the future.
     Inkpadutah, also known as "Scarlet Point" or "Red End," became the chief of the Sioux band. Reckless, domineering and cruel, he ruled the tribe with a strong hand and his harshness drove many of his followers to join more peaceful tribes. His band thus dwindled until it became a small group of straggling Indians, who ranged the country throughout the northwest, committing all sorts of petty depredations. Harvey Ingham, in an article in the Midland Monthly, thus describes their actions: "Inkpadutah and his followers contented themselves with stripping trappers and surveyors, stealing horses, and foraging on scattered settlers, always maintaining a hostile and threatening attitude. Many pages of the Midland would be required for a brief enumeration of the petty annoyances, pilferings, and more serious assaults which occurred. At Dakotah City, in Humboldt County, the cabin of E. McKnight was rifled in the spring of 1855. Farther north, within a few miles of Algona, the cabin of Malachi Clark was entered, and the settlers gathered in great alarm to drive out the Indians- a band of eighty braves led by Inkpadutah in person. Still farther north, near where Bancroft stands, W.H. Ingham was captured by Umposhota, a leader under Inkpadutah in the massacre, and was held a prisoner for three days." 3
     The winter of 1856 was a very severe one. The intense cold and heavy snow was followed by violent storms, and the sufferings of the settlers were extreme. Inkpadutah and his band had been camping at Loon Lake, but in December, 1856, started down the Little Sioux River as far as Smithland. Another part of the band was in camp near Springfield (now Jackson), Minnesota.
     In February, 1857, the Indians and settlers had trouble at Smithland, until the redskins finally were driven away. With their savage natures aroused and with a pent-up desire for vengeance, the combined band of Sioux started north. Inkpadutah knew the defenseless condition of the scattered settlers and he determined to wreak an awful vengeance upon the countrymen of Henry Lott. As the band moved northward they robbed and pillaged with destructive hand, and committed the most barbarous outrages that ever a savage mind devised. No one had been killed, however, when with their murderous desires roused by these atrocities to the highest pitch, they came to the peaceful little settlement on the banks of the lakes in Dickinson County.
     Mrs. Abbie Gardner Sharp, the sole survivor of the terrible massacre, in a letter written in 1887, thus describes that never- to-be-forgotten event:
     "It is with sadness that I recall to memory the ill-fated March the 8th, 1857, when Inkpadutah and his murderous band invaded the peaceful and happy little settlement of Spirit and Okoboji Lakes and completely demolished it. It is not thirty years since those horrible atrocities were enacted, and having lost all on that sad day, that made life dear to me, and though wrecked in health, I still live a witness to those terrible scenes. The outbreak was as sudden and unexpected as a thunderbolt from a cloudless sky. The Indians approached and through their professions of friendship got into the house, taking the people by surprise, and attacking in such a way that one family could not help one another. My father was shot down while his back was turned getting the Indians some flour. They then rushed upon my mother and sister, beating them over the head with the butts of their guns, and drove them out in the dooryard and killed them. My brother and two sisters, all little children, were clinging to me in speechless terror. They next seized these helpless children, heedless of their piteous cries for the help I was powerless to give them, dragging them out of doors, and beating them to death with sticks of stove wood. All through their course they shot down the men when their backs were turned, and then rushed upon the helpless and terror-stricken women and children and killed them in the most cruel and shocking manner. At the time of the massacre I was little more than a child of less than fourteen summers, and was with three other women taken captive, suffering for three months all the cruelties and indignities that Indians only know how to inflict." 4
Over forty persons-men, women and children- were thus brutally murdered at the lakes, 5 and the savages, after holding their war dance and painting their victories in signs upon the smoothed surface of a tree, broke camp and moved northward in their plunder to find fresh fields for their murderous work.
     Our settlers in Palo Alto County knew nothing of these tragedies that were being enacted such a short distance away. The news was first brought to them by three men from Jasper County-Wheelock, Parmenter, and Howe by name, who were on their way to the lakes to join the settlement; but when they found the cabins in ashes and the dead bodies of the victims lying where they had fallen, they hurried back to give the alarm.
     These harrowing reports spread terror through the whole northwest, and many settlers fled to places of safety. The members of the little Irish colony could hardly believe that the Indians who seemed so peaceful when camped so near them that winter could commit such deeds. 6 It was indeed a miracle that they were spared. But in spite of the general stampede to Fort Dodge, the Irish settlers remained for some time. Their cabins furnished a convenient station for the soldiers of the relief expedition as we shall see in the next chapter. It was only after the soldiers of the expedition had all returned home, that the faithful little band finally left the colony to seek a refuge at Fort Dodge until the following spring.

1 For the story of Lott and his troubles see Gue, History of Iowa, vol. 1, pp. 289-292; Smith, History of Dickinson County, chap. 2; Flickinger, Pioneer History of Pocahontas County, pp. 27-28, etc. See also an excellent article by L.F. Andrews in Des Moines Register and Leader, August 12, 1907.

  This Indian boy recovered and was afterward known as "Josh." He was a frequent visitor at the Carter cabin.

2 "Sketch of Early History," by Ambrose A. Call, History of Kossuth County, Union Pub. Co. The late Charles Aldrich, also had a vivid remembrance of this, and says that the skull was fractured in several places by a blunt instrument. L.F. Andrew's article, Des Moines Register and Leader, August 12, 1907.

3 Harvey Ingham, Midland Monthly; Smith, History of Dickinson County, p. 38; Abbie Gardner Sharp, History of the Spirit Lake Massacre, chap. vi.

4 From a letter of Mrs. Abbie Gardner Sharp, Aug. 4, 1887, Annals of Iowa, October, 1898, p. 550. Mrs. Sharp's book, History of the Spirit Lake Massacre, is a graphic description of teh events leading up to that terrible day, and contains a vivid picture of the massacre, the relief expedition, the captivity of Abbie Gardner, her ransom and release.

5 Abbie Gardner Sharp, History of the Spirit Lake Massacre, p. 47.

6 The late J.F. Neary, a member of the original colony, once told me that he thought Inkpadutah's band camped until March, 1857, in Crowley's woods, five miles north of the colony, and M.H. Crowley is of the same opinion. But A.B. Carter, who knew Sleepy-Eye and his band very well, is positive that it was Sleepy-Eye's band that camped at Crowley's and remembers Sleepy-Eye telling him that it was Inkpadutah's band of Indians that was killing whites on the Sioux and at the lakes.