|We picked Fred & Chris up this morning and started our day out with breakfast at the Country Store across the street. Well they did anyway, I ate oatmeal before we came. Larry said it was some of the best sausage country biscuits & gravy he's ever had. After breakfast we headed out for the short trip to the Iowa Great Lakes, a group of natural glacial lakes. The three principal lakes of the group are Spirit Lake, West Okoboji Lake, and East Okoboji Lake. They are the largest natural lakes in the state of Iowa, covering 15,000 acres, with Spirit Lake being the largest. We stopped by the Spirit Lake Fish Hatchery but unfortunately it was closed. We did chat with a Sheriff on the walking path between the two lakes for a bit, but it was gray & overcast and quite cool. So we didn't venture too close to the shoreline.
Our next stop was at the Abbie Gardner Sharp Cabin. Known first as one of the sites of the 1857 "Spirit Lake Massacre", and later as one of Iowa's first tourist attractions, the Gardner Cabin survives as a reminder of one of Iowa's tragic frontier events. Many American pioneers were unlucky, succumbing to the myriad hazards of the trail on their way to a better life. But of those countless unlucky pioneers, a few were fortunate enough for their story of doom to be enshrined in a monument or museum.
And then there were the settlers at Spirit Lake, in what is now Arnolds Park, Iowa. By all accounts it was an idyllic spot -- until a band of angry Sioux Indians paid a visit in early 1857. By the time the Sioux had left, 36 of the settlers had been slaughtered, and the only survivors were three young women and one girl: Abigail Gardner.
Abigail Gardner was 13 years old in the severe winter of 1856-57, living with her parents, siblings, and extended family in a small cabin south of West Lake Okoboji. They’d only arrived the previous July, just in time to build their cabin, but too late for crop planting. Along the lakes lived a handful of other settler families. According to Abigail (or Abbie, as she was called), on the morning of March 8th, 1857, a band of Wahpekute Dakota came to the Gardner cabin requesting food. After preparing a meal for the group of 14 Dakota men and their families, the settlers and Indians sat and socialized for several hours. At some point, though, the more or less amicable mood changed, according to Abbie, with the Indians becoming more "rude and demanding" before leaving for where they’d set up camp near other settler cabins. Gunshots were heard, and shortly thereafter, some Dakotas returned to the Gardner cabin demanding flour. As Abbie sat with her young cousins and little brother, she witnessed the shooting of her father. When her mother and older sister tried to intervene, they were beaten to death. Subsequently, 30 other settlers were killed, their livestock slaughtered, and four of the women, including Abbie, were taken prisoner.
As they traveled with the Wahpekute, Abbie and the other three captive women were expected to do their share of work, including chopping wood, putting up lodging, and carrying packs. They were left with another band of Wahpekute further north in Minnesota. One captive woman died when she became ill and fell in an icy river. Another was killed because she refused to do as she was told. The third captive woman was purchased by reservation Dakotas in May and brought to U.S. Authorities in St. Paul. Soon after, when the band traveled through Wahpeton territory, Abbie was rescued by a Wahpeton named Hotonwashte—"Beautiful Voice"—and returned to her own people, going to live with a sister in Hampton, Iowa. Only a few months later, Abbie married Cassville Sharp and went on to have two children.
After Abbie’s children were grown, she separated from her husband. Several years later, in 1891, she returned to Lake Okoboji and purchased back her old family cabin, which had been purchased and sold several times in the interim. Abbie lived there and opened it as a tourist attraction, charging 25 cents per adult and 10 cents per child. She set up paintings, displays, and Native American artifacts, and wrote a book, The Spirit Lake Massacre, recounting her version of those events, her captivity, and rescue. In 1895 she got the state to build a 55-foot-tall granite obelisk at the site, commemorating the settlers who were killed. The dead that could be found in 1895 were dug up and buried at the base of the obelisk, except for six members of Abbie's family, who were re-laid to rest under a neighboring pyramid of rocks. Abbie and two of her sons are buried next to it. It’s said that in her later years, Abbie forgave Inkpaduta and his band and developed admiration for Native American cultures. She died in 1921. Her son, Albert Sharp, sold the cabin to the state, and in 1974, it was returned to its original 1856 appearance, with many pioneer artifacts of Abbie’s inside.
There’s more to Abbie’s story, but what about the other side of the story? That belongs to the Dakota warrior, Inkpaduta, much maligned and labeled as "renegade and outlaw" by whites, yet highly respected by many of his own people, the Wahpekute Dakota, and famous in Sioux history. Inkpaduta was born in 1815, son of Wamdesapa, leader of about 550 Wahpekute people. Nomadic hunters, they followed the bison in South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa. In Iowa, treaties had been imposed upon the Ioway and other tribes by 1842, forcing them out of Iowa to Kansas and other states. It was not until 1851 that the Dakotas and the U.S. entered into a treaty establishing a reservation for them along the Minnesota River. They were promised cash, food, self-governance, and a two-year time allowance to get themselves within Rez borders. Inkpaduta and his band, though, wanted to continue their hunting-and-gathering lifestyle along the river valleys and prairies and never were party to any treaties. They resented but tolerated the white intrusion onto their lands.
By 1854, the land was becoming increasingly crowded. Unsavory profiteers such as whiskey traders set up shop, slowly destroying social structure in Indian villages. It was one of these, Henry Lott, reportedly also a horse thief, who murdered Inkpaduta’s brother, Sintominiduta, his wife, and five of his seven children for no apparent reason. To add insult to injury, Sintominiduta’s severed head was hung out on display, and Lott remained free, indicted but unpunished, leaving for California.
The winter of 1856-57 was especially cold and harsh. Dakotas who’d moved to the Rez were finding the promised government meat shipped to them rancid and flour coming to them in hard-as-cement blocks, inedible and unusable. Inkpaduta and his band outside of the Rez hunted elk to feed their families, but destruction of game by sporting whites had already begun. Already-alarmed white settlers became fearful and angry when one of Inkpaduta’s hunters shot a settler’s dog after it bit him. The settlers retaliated by surrounding Inkpaduta’s encampment, confiscating all their weapons, and insisting they leave the area. They left hungry, cold, and without any weapons for hunting. They moved up the Little Sioux River, killing settlers’ livestock for food. Although the Gardner family wasn’t directly involved in this prelude to the tragic events that followed, they and their neighbors became its victims.
The rest of Inkpaduta’s life:
Inkpaduta and his band continued hunting bison and other game as they could, engaging in fights and skirmishes with the army and repeatedly eluding capture. Although he did not take part in the Sioux Uprising of 1862, he fought at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. The following year, Inkpaduta and his band moved north to Canada, where he died in 1881.
Besides the cabin and monument, the grounds also include a visitors center and small family cemetery that holds the remains of Abigail Gardner and her two sons. Next to the simple granite markers is a stone-and-cement edifice, under which the six members of the Gardner family killed in 1857 lie. A teepee frame stands to one side of the visitors center, among picnic tables. Inside the one-room cabin, a small, black, wood-burning stove stands in the center while beds, tables, chairs, and many implements large and small of pioneer times stand against and hang upon the walls. The visitors center contains many interesting items, including Abbie’s paintings, old photographs and newspaper articles, more pioneer tools, and Indian artifacts, such as an arrowhead collection. (Although we weren't able to get in today. The sign indicated it was Open until 4pm, but at 1:30 it was already closed. Bummer!)
We may never know…
What happened on that fateful cold day in March 1857 was a tragedy for the pioneer families who lived around Lake Okoboji. That young Abigail Gardner pulled herself together in such a way as to subsequently lead a productive life as a wife, mother, and businesswoman who started one of Iowa’s first tourist attractions, exemplifies her strength and resilience. That she eventually came to gain an appreciation of Indian culture, in spite of her past, shows she was quite a remarkable woman. Despite his feats as a warrior-leader, Inkpaduta’s life remains more hidden and shrouded in mystery.
If you'd like to read more, I found this to be very interesting: More Info
And finally. I am a few days behind in posting. We are actually now in Grimes, Iowa just outside of Des Moines.
Yesterday we visited the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend. It was amazing & I took a zillion pictures. We moved on and traveled the 3 hours or so to Grimes afterward, arriving at our campground about 6pm.
Today we visited the Bridges of Madison County, located here in Madison County. Yep, the one's used in both the book & the feature film. I took another zillion pics, so hopefully you'll come back to view them!
And Tom, we got your email this afternoon and we so appreciate the invite to park on your farm! And for the offer of a draft horse drawn ride. We would have enjoyed meeting you & taking that ride so much. Unfortunately we are way down south now and nowhere near the Minnesota border. But hopefully we'll be your way again and we'll definitely stop by! Thanks again....