(Originally published in 1872)
BY FANNY KELLY
About the 1st of October the Indians were on the move as usual [after my abduction in July, 1864, and the massacre of our wagon train in the Powder River area, as we were headed for Montana], and by some means I became separated from the family I was with, and was lost. I looked around for them, but their familiar faces were not to be seen. Strangers gazed upon me, and, although I besought them to assist me in finding the people of my own tipi, they paid no attention to my trouble, and refused to do any thing for me.
Never shall I forget the sadness I felt as evening approached, and we encamped for the night in a lonely valley, after a wearisome day’s journey. Along one side stood a strip of timber, with a small stream beside it. Hungry, weary, and lost to my people, with no place to lay my head, and after a fruitless search for the family, I was more desolate than ever. Even Keoku, or “Yellow Bird,” the Indian girl, who had been given, was not with me that day, making it still more lonely.
I sat down and held my pony. It was autumn, and the forest wore the last glory of its gorgeous coloring. Already the leaves lay along the paths, like a rich carpet of variegated colors. The winds caught a deeper tone, mournful as the tones of an aeolian harp, but the air was balmy and soft, and the sunlight lay warm and pleasant, as in midsummer, over the beautiful valley, now occupied with numberless camps of tentless Indians. It seemed as if the soft autumn weather was, to the last moment, unwilling to yield the last traces of beauty to the chill embraces of stern winter, and I thought of the luxuries and comforts of my home. I looked back on the past with tears of sorrow and regret; my heart was overburdened with grief, and I prayed to die. The future looked like a dark cloud approaching, for the dread of the desolation of winter to me was appalling.
While meditating on days of the past, and contemplating the future, Keoku came suddenly upon me, and was delighted to find the object of her search. They had been looking for me, and did not know where I had gone, were quite worried about me, she said, and she was glad she had found me. I was as pleased as herself, and rejoiced to join them. One has no idea of the extent of an Indian village, or of the number of its inhabitants. It would seem strange to some that I should ever get lost when among them, but, like a large city, one may be separated from their companions, and in a few moments be lost. The Indians all knew the “white woman,” but I knew but few comparatively, and consequently when among strangers I felt utterly friendless. The experi-ence of those days of gloom and sadness seem like a fearful dream, now that my life is once again with civilized people, and enjoying the blessings that I was there deprived of.
Some twenty-five years ago an emigrant train, en route for California, arrived in the neighborhood of the crossing of the North Platte, and the cholera broke out among the travelers, and every one died, with the exception of one little girl. The Indian “Black Bear,” while hunting, came to the wagons, now a morgue, and, finding the father of the girl dying with cholera, took the child in his arms. The dying parent begged him to carry his little one to his home in the East, assuring him of abundant reward by the child’s friends, in addition to the gold he gave him. These facts I gleaned from a letter given to Black Bear by the dying father, and which had been carefully preserved by the daughter.
Instead of doing as was desired, he took the money, child, and every thing valuable in the train, to his own home among the hills, and there educated the little one with habits of savage life. She forgot her own language, her name, and every thing about her past life, but she knew that she was white. Her infancy and girlhood were, therefore, passed in utter ignorance of the modes of life of her own people, and, contented and happy, she remained among them, verifying the old adage, that “habit is second nature.” When she was of marriageble age, Black Bear took her for his wife, and they had a child, a boy.
I became acquainted with this white woman shortly after I went into the village, and we were sincere friends, although not confidants, as I dared not trust her. It was very natural and pleasant also to know her, as she was white, and although she was an Indian in tastes and habits, she was my sister, and belonged to my people; there was a sympathetic chord between us, and it was a relief to be with her.
On the occasion of my first visit with her, Black Bear suggested the idea that white women always drank tea together, so she made us a cup of herb tea, which we drank in company. I endeavered to enlighten her, and to do her all the good I could; told her of the white people, and of their kindness and Christianity, trying to impress her with the superiority of the white race, all of which she listened to with great interest. I was the only white woman she had seen, for whenever they neared any fort she was always kept out of sight. She seemed to enjoy painting herself, and dressing for the dances, as well as the squaws, and was happy and contented with Indian surroundings, for she knew no difference. I know not what has become of her, for I have never heard; neither can I remember the name of her father, which was in the note handed the Indian by his dying hand.
A little boy, fourteen years old, whose name was Charles Sylvester, belonging in Quincy, Illinois, who was stolen when seven years of age, was in the village, and one day I saw him playing with the Indian boys, and, discovering immediately that he was a white boy, I flew to his side, and tried to clasp him in my arms, in my joy exclaiming, “Oh! I know you are a white boy! Speak to me, and tell me who you are and where you come from?”
He also had forgotten his name and parentage, but knew that he was white. When I spoke to him, the boys began to plague and tease him, and he refused to speak to me, running away every time I approached him. One year after, one day, when this boy was out hunting, he killed a comrade by accident, and he dared not return to the village; so he escaped, on his pony, to the white people.
On his way to the States, he called at a house where they knew what Indians he belonged to, and they questioned him, whether he had seen a white woman in the village; he replied in the affirmative, and a bundle of pictures being given him, he picked mine out from among them, saying, “That is the white woman whom I saw.”
After a while, being discontented with his own people, he returned to his adopted friends on the North Platte, and became an interpreter and trader, and still remains there, doing business at various posts.
When the Indians went to obtain their annuities, they transferred me to the Unkpapas, leaving me in their charge, where there was a young couple, and an old Indian, who had four wives; he had been very brave, it was said, for he had endured the trial which proves the successful warrior.
He was one of those who “looked at the sun” without failing in heart or strength. This custom is as follows: The one who undergoes this operation is nearly naked, and is suspended from the upper end of a pole by a cord, which is tied to some splints which run through the flesh of both breasts. The weight of his body is hung from it, the feet still upon the ground helping support it a very little, and in his left hand he holds his favorite bow, and in his right, with a firm hold, his medicine bag. A great crowd usually looks on, sympathizing with and encouraging him, but he still continues to hang and “look at the sun,” without paying the least attention to any one about him. The mystery men beat their drums, and shake their rattles, and sing as loud as they can yell, to strengthen his heart to look at the sun from its rising until its setting, at which time, if his heart and strength have not failed him, he is “cut down,” receives a liberal donation of presents, which are piled before him during the day, and also the name and style of a doctor, or medicine man, which lasts him, and insures him respect, through life. It is considered a test of bravery.
Superstition seems to have full sway among the Indians—just as much as in heathen lands beyond the sea, where the Burmah mother casts her child to the crocodile to appease the Great Spirit. Many of these Indians were from Minnesota, and were of the number that escaped justice two years before, after committing an indiscriminate slaughter of men, women, and children. One day, I was sent for by one of them, and when I was seated in his lodge, he gave me a letter to read, which purported to have been written by General Sibley, as follows:
This Indian, after taking part in the present outbreak of the Indians against the white settlers and missionaries, being sick, and not able to keep up with his friends in their flight, we give you the offerings of friendship, food and clothing. You are in our power, but we won’t harm you. Go to your people and gladden their hearts. Lay down your weapons, and fight the white men no more. We will do you good, and not evil. Take this letter; in it we have spoken. Depart in peace, and ever more be a friend to the white people, and you will be more happy.
H. H. Sibley, Brig.-Gen.
Instinctively I looked up into his face, and said: “Intend to keep your promise?” He laughed derisively at the idea of an Indian brave abandoning his profession. He told of many instances of outrageous cruelties of his band in their marauding and murderous attacks on traveling parties and frontier settlers; and, further, to assure me of his bravery, he showed me a puzzle or game he had made from the finger bones of some of the victims that had fallen beneath his own tomahawk. The bones had been freed from the flesh by boiling, and, being placed upon a string, were used for playing some kind of Indian game. This is but one of the heathenish acts of these Indians. The Indians are fond of recounting their exploits, and, savage like, dwell with much satisfaction upon the number of scalps they have taken from their white foes. They would be greatly amused at the shuddering horror manifested, when, to annoy me, they would tauntingly portray the dying agonies of white men, women, and children, who had fallen into their hands; and especially would the effect of their description of the murder of little Mary afford them satisfaction. I feel, now, that I must have been convinced of her death, yet I could not then help hoping that she had escaped.
These exploits and incidents are generally related by the Indians, when in camp having nothing to do. The great lazy brutes would sit by the hour, making caricatures of white soldiers, representing them in various ways, and always as cowards and inferior beings; sometimes as in combat, but always at their mercy. This was frequently done, apparently to annoy me, and one day, losing patience, I snatched a rude drawing from the hands of an Indian, who was holding it up to my view, and tore it in two, clasping the part that represented the white soldier to my heart, and throwing the other in the fire. Then, looking up, I told them the white soldiers were dear to me; that they were my friends, and I loved them. I said they were friends to the Indians, and did not want to harm them. I expressed myself in the strongest manner by words and signs. Never did I see a more enraged set of men. They assailed me with burning fire-brands, burning me severely. They heated the points of arrows, and burned and threatened me sorely. I told them I meant no harm to them. That it was ridiculous, their getting angry at my burning a bit of paper. I promised I would make them some more; that they should have pictures of my drawing, when, at last, I pacified them. They were much like children in this respect—easily offended, but very difficult to please.
I was constantly annoyed, worried, and terrified by their strange conduct—their transition from laughing and fun to anger, and even rage. I knew not how to get along with them. One moment, they would seem friendly and kind; the next, if any act of mine displeased them, their faces were instantly changed, and they displayed their hatred or anger in unmeasured words or conduct—children one hour, the next, fiends. I always tried to please them, and was as cheerful as I could be under the circumstances, for my own sake.
One day, I was called to see a man who lay in his tipi in great suffering. His wasted face was darkened by fever, and his brilliantly restless eyes rolled anxiously, as if in search of relief from pain. He was reduced to a skeleton, and had endured tortures from the suppuration of an old wound in the knee.
He greeted me with the “How! how!” of Indian politeness, and, in answer to my inquiry why he came to suffer so, replied: “I go to fight white man. He take away land, and chase game away; then he take away our squaws. He take away my best squaw.” Here his voice choked, and he displayed much emotion.
Pitying his misery, I endeavored to aid him, and rendered him all the assistance in my power, but death was then upon him. The medicine man was with him also, practicing his incantations. We were so constantly traveling, it wearied me beyond expression. The day after the Indian’s burial we were again on the move.
Attack on Capt. Fisk’s Emigrant Train, A Big Haul of Whiskey, Poisoned Indians
One of the occupations given me, while resting in the villages between war times, was to prepare the bark of a red willow called killikinnick, for smoking instead of tobacco. They discovered that I could sing, and groups of idle warriors would gather around me before the tent, urging me to sing as I worked. A dreary, dreary task!, chanting to please my savage companions while I rubbed and prepared the bark of willow, my heart ready to burst with grief.
On the 5th of September they went to battle, and surprised a portion of Captain Fisk’s men passing in escorting an emigrant train—fourteen of whom they killed, and captured two wagons loaded with whisky, wines, and valuable articles. There was a quantity of silver-ware and stationery also taken by them.
Among the articles captured and brought into camp were a number of pickles in glass jars, which the Indians tasted. The result was comical in the extreme, for there is nothing that an Indian abhors more than a strong acid. The faces they made can be imagined but not described. Thinking they might be improved by cooking, they placed the jars in the fire, when of course they exploded, very much to their disgust for the “white man’s kettles.”
I could hear the firing plainly, and when they returned that night in triumph, bringing with them the plundered stores, they committed every description of extravagant demonstration.
In the wild orgies which followed, they mocked and groaned in imitation of the dying, and went through a horrid mimicry of the butchery they had perpetrated. They determined to go out again, and capture a quantity of horses corralled in the neighborhood, and sweep the train and soldiers with wholesale massacre; but they feared the white man’s cannon, and deliberated on means of surprising by ambush, which is their only idea of warfare.
Indians are not truly brave, though they are vain of the name of courage. Cunning, stealth, strategy, and deceit are the weapons they use in attack. They endure pain, because they are taught from infancy that it is cowardly to flinch, but they will never stand to fight if they can strike secretly and escape.
Fearing the cannon, yet impatient for the spoil almost within view, the Indians waited for three days for the train to move on and leave them free to attack. For two days I implored and begged on my knees to be allowed to go with them, but to no avail. At last I succeeded in inducing them to allow me to write, as they knew I understood the nature of correspondence, and they procured for me the necessary appliances and dictated a letter to Captain Fisk, assuring him that the Indians were weary of fighting, and advising him to go on in peace and safety.
Knowing their malicious designs, I set myself to work to circumvent them; and although the wily chief counted every word dictated, and as they were marked on paper, I contrived, by joining them together, and condensing the information I gave, to warn the officer of the perfidious intentions of the savages, and tell him briefly of my helpless and unhappy captivity. The letter was carefully examined by the chief, and the number of its apparent words recounted. At length, appearing satisfied with its contents, he had it carried to a hill in sight of the soldier’s camp, and stuck on a pole.
In due time the reply arrived, and again my ingenuity was tasked to read the answer corresponding with the number of words, that would not condemn me. The captain’s real statement was, that he distrusted all among the savages, and had great reason to.
On reading Captain Fisk’s words, that seemed to crush my already awakened hopes, my emotion overcame me. Having told the Indians that the captain doubted their friendliness, and explained the contents of the letter as I thought best, the next day I was entrusted with the task of writing again, to solemnly assure the soldiers of the faith and friendship professed.
Again I managed to communicate with them, and this time begged them to use their field-glasses, and that I would find an excuse for standing on the hills in the afternoon, that they might see for themselves that I was what I represented myself to be—a white woman held in bondage. The opportunity I desired was gained, and to my great delight, I had a chance of standing so as to be seen by the men of the soldier’s camp. I had given my own name in every communication.
As soon as the soldiers saw that it truly was a woman of their own race, and that I was in the power of their enemies, the excitement of their feelings became so great that they desired immediately to rush to my rescue.
A gentleman belonging to the train generously offered eight hundred dollars for my ransom, which was all the money he had, and the noble, manly feeling displayed in my behalf did honor to those who felt it. There was not a man in the train who was not willing to sacrifice all he had for my rescue. Captain Fisk restrained all hasty demonstrations, and even went so far as to say that the first man who moved in the direction of the Indian camp should be shot immediately, his experience enabling him to know that a move of that kind would result fatally to them and to the captive.
The Indians found a box of crackers saturated with water, and, eating of them, sickened and died. I afterward learned that some persons with the train who had suffered the loss of dear relatives and friends in the massacre of Minnesota, and who had lost their all, had poisoned the crackers with strychnine, and left them on one of their camping-grounds without the captain’s knowledge. The Indians told me afterward that more had died from eating bad bread than from bullets during the whole summer campaign.
Captain Fisk deserves great credit for his daring and courage, with his meager supply of men, against so large an army of red men. After assurance of my presence among them, Captain Fisk proceeded to treat quietly with the savages on the subject of a ransom, offering to deliver in their village three wagon loads of stores as a price for their prisoner. To this the deceitful creatures pretended readily to agree, and the tortured captive, understanding their tongue, heard them making fun of the credulity of white soldiers who believed their promises.
I had the use of a field-glass from the Indians, and with it I saw my white friends, which almost made me wild with excited hope. Knowing what the Indians had planned, and dreading lest the messengers should be killed, as I knew they would be if they came to the village, I wrote to Captain Fisk of the futility of ransoming me in that way, and warned him of the treachery intended against his messengers.
No tongue can tell or pen describe those terrible days, when, seemingly lost to hope and surrounded by drunken Indians, my life was in constant danger. Nights of horrible revelry passed, when, forlorn and despairing, I lay listening, only half consciously, to the savage mirth and wild exultation.
To no overtures would the Indians listen, declaring I could not be purchased at any price—they were determined not to part with me.
Captain Fisk and his companions were sadly disappointed in not obtaining my release, and, after a hopeless attempt, he made known the fact of my being a prisoner, spreading the news far and wide. His expeditions across the plains had always been successful, and the Indians, knowing him to be very [fragmented sentence].
The original letters written by me to Captain Fisk are now on file in the War Department at Washington. Officially certified extracts from the correspondence are published elsewhere in this work. The brave, gave him the name of the “Great Chief, who knows no fear,” and he richly deserves the appellation, for the expeditions were attended with great danger. The reports of his various expeditions have been published by [the[ Government, and are very interesting, giving a a description of the country.
In September the rains were very frequent, sometimes continuing for days. This may not seem serious to those who have always been accustomed to a dwelling and a good bed, but to me, who had no shelter and whose shrinking form was exposed to the pitiless storm, and naught but the cold ground to lie upon, bringing the pains and distress of rheumatism, it was a calamity hard to bear, and I often prayed fervently to God to give me sweet release in a flight to the land where there are no storms. Soon the winter would be upon us, and the cold, and sleet, and stormy weather would be more difficult to bear. Would I be so fortunate, would Heaven be so gracious as to place me in circumstances where the wintry winds could not chill or make me suffer?
My heart seemed faint at the thought of what was before me, for hope was lessening as winter approached.
Prairies at Cannon Ball River
Well do I remember my thoughts and feelings when first I beheld the mighty and beautiful prairie of Cannon Ball River. With what singular emotions I beheld it for the first time! I could compare it to nothing but a vast sea, changed suddenly to earth, with all its heaving, rolling billows; thousands of acres lay spread before me like a mighty ocean, bounded by nothing but the deep blue sky. What a magnificent sight—a sight that made my soul expand with lofty thought and its frail tenement sink into utter nothingness before it! Well do I remember my sad thoughts and the turning of my mind upon the past, as I stood alone upon a slight rise of ground, and overlooked miles upon miles of the most lovely, the most sublime scene I had ever beheld. Wave upon wave of land stretched away on every hand, covered with beautiful green grass and the blooming wild flowers of the prairie.
Occasionally I caught glimpses of wild animals, while flocks of birds of various kinds and beautiful plumage skimming over the surface here and there, alighting or darting upward from the earth, added life and beauty and variety to this most enchanting scene.
It had been a beautiful day, and the sun was now just burying himself in the far-off ocean of blue, and his golden rays were streaming along the surface of the waving grass and tinging it with a delightful hue. Occasionally some elevated point caught and reflected back his rays to the one I was standing upon, and it would catch, for a moment, his fading rays, and glow like a ball of golden fire. Slowly he took his diurnal farewell, as if loth to quit a scene so lovely, and at last hid himself from my view beyond the western horizon.
I stood and marked every change with that poetical feeling of pleasant sadness which a beautiful sunset rarely fails to awaken in the breast of the lover of nature. I noted every change that was going on, and yet my thoughts were far, far away. I thought of the hundreds of miles that separated me from the friends that I loved. I was recalling the delight with which I had, when a little girl, viewed the farewell scenes of day from so many romantic hills, and lakes, and rivers, rich meadows, mountain gorge and precipice, and the quiet hamlets of my dear native land so far away. I fancied I could see my mother move to the door, with a slow step and heavy heart, and gaze, with yearning affection, toward the broad, the mighty West, and sigh, wondering what had become of her lost child. I thought, and grew more sad as I thought, until tears filled my eyes.
Mother! what a world of affection is comprised in that single word; how little do we in the giddy round of youthful pleasure and folly heed her wise counsels; how lightly do we look upon that zealous care with which she guides our otherwise erring feet, and watches with feelings which none but a mother can know the gradual expansion of our youth to the riper years of discretion.
We may not think of it then, but it will be recalled to our minds in after years, when the gloomy grave, or a fearful living separation, has placed her far beyond our reach, and her sweet voice of sympathy and consolation for the various ills attendant upon us sounds in our ears no more. How deeply then we regret a thousand deeds that we have done contrary to her gentle admonitions! How we sigh for those days once more, that we may retrieve what we have done amiss and make her kind heart glad with happiness! Alas! once gone, they can never be recalled, and we grow mournfully sad with the bitter reflection.
“O, my mother!” I cried aloud, “my dearly beloved mother!” Would I ever behold her again, should I ever return to my native land? Would I find her among the living? If not, if not, heavens!, what a sad, what a painful thought, and instantly I found my eyes swimming in tears and my frame trembling with nervous agitation. But I would hope for the best.
Gradually I became calm; then I thought of my husband, and what might be his fate. It was sad at best, I well knew. And lastly, though I tried to avoid it, I thought of Mary; sweet, lost, but dearly beloved Mary; I could see her gentle features; I could hear her plaintive voice, soft and silvery as running waters, and sighed a long, deep sigh as I thought of her murdered. Could I never behold her again? No; she was dead, perished by the cruel, relentless savage.
Silence brooded over the world; not a sound broke the solemn repose of nature; the summer breeze had rocked itself to rest in the willow boughs, and the broad-faced, familiar moon seemed alive and toiling as it climbed slowly up a cloudless sky, passing starry sentinels, whose nightly challenge was lost in vast vortices of blue as they paced their ceaseless round in the mighty camp of constellations. With my eyes fixed upon my gloomy surroundings of tyranny, occasionally a slip of moonshine silvered the ground.
I watched and reflected. Oh, hallowed days of my blessed girlhood! They rise before me now like holy burning stars breaking out in a stormy, howling night, making the blackness blacker still. The short, happy springtime of life, so full of noble aspirations, and glowing hopes of my husband’s philanthropic schemes of charitable projects in the future. We had planned so much for the years to come, when,
prosperous and happy, we should be able to distribute some happiness among those whose fate might be mingled with ours, and in the pursuit of our daily avocations we would find joy and peace. But, alas! for human hopes and expectations!
It is thus with our life. We silently glide along, little dreaming of the waves which will so soon sweep over us, dashing us against the rocks, or stranding us forever. We do not dream that we shall ever wreck, until the greater wave comes over us, and we bend beneath its power. If some mighty hand could unroll the future to our gaze, or set aside the veil which enshrouds it, what pictures would be presented to our trembling hearts? No; let it be as the All-wise hath ordained—a closed up tomb, only revealed as the events occur, for could we bear them with the fortitude we should if they were known beforehand? Shrinking from it, we would say, “Let the cup pass from me.”
…To be continued.