Pioneer Life in Kansas, by Mary Barrett, 1912, Part 10

Oh, joy! the man–a white man, too–had seen her and was waving back at her!

All this the little tot told the older sister who was vainly trying to hide in the short buffalo grass, but the sister would not believe that help was really at hand, but lay there face downward, overcome with fear.

The brave, blue-capped soldier swooped down upon them and leaping from his horse gathered the little tot who had stood up so bravely that he might see her in his arms, at the same time catching sight of the frightened child lying on the ground.

“Both here, thank God!” the rescuer exclaimed and raising the now nearly exhausted children to the horse’s back, he leaped on behind. Encircling each in a strong arm, he bore them gently into the fort and laid them more dead than alive in the father’s arms!

The father sobbed aloud for joy, kissed the sunblistered hands and faces of his rescued darlings and chafed their little feet, now sore and bleeding from the long tramp through the dry buffalo grass.

Women, the wives of the officers, gathered round the little ones and ministered kindly to their needs.

The happy father and kind neighbors would have given the waifs all they wanted to eat, which at the time would have meant certain death, but not so with the kind nurses who had taken charge.

The children were first bathed, dressed comfortably and put to bed, then tea was made, a few crackers crumbled in and at stated intervals a teaspoonful of this was given. A slim diet indeed, it seemed to the starving children, yet this was the only safe course to pursue.

It was many days before the children were strong enough to be trusted in the hands of the men to be taken home, but finally the start was made, much to the relief of the anxious father and the men who had come with him.

No word had been sent to the waiting ones at home. It was not thought safe to send even a part of the men back with word, as it might require all the posse to make a safe journey back from the fort.

So while the anxious ones waited at the fort more anxious ones waited at home! Days came and went, nights passed and no message came to relieve the mind of the almost crazed mother; if she could only know, could only know!

The neighbors did all they cold to comfort her, but their own hearts were almost broken too, for were not their husbands on the chase who knew what might have been their fate?

The last thing at night and the first thing in the morning those waiting souls did, was to strain their eyes westward toward the setting sun in the hope of catching sight of the returning posse!

The journey from the fort home was of necessity made very slowly on account of the convalescent state of the children but at last it was done, the little ones again lay safe in the mother’s arms and all rejoiced over the safe return of the dear ones.

I was not been able to trace, Mary Barrett, the author of this article, but I have been able to discover the Bell family that she spoke about. The father, Aaron, was born in Illinois in 1829, and married, Nancy, when she was only sixteen years old. The girls, Margaret and Sarah, who were taken by the Indians were the couple’s third and fourth of their eventual eleven children. Margaret the elder, married, had two children and passed away at the age of 67. Sarah, the brave little five year old, married at 22, had one daughter and passed away when she was 26 years old.

Pioneer Life in Kansas, by Mary Barrett, 1912, Part 9

After quenching their thirst and resting awhile, they again started on their ceaseless search for “home.” The second night they slept under a lone tree. In the night a hoot owl began his hoarse cry in the branches above and the little wanderers, wakened out a sound slumber, crouched close together in fear, till the coming of day, expecting every minute that an Indian would jump down from the tree and scalp them!

However, when day began to break and a huge bird stretched his neck and flopped his wings and soared out of the tree and away, away, the little girls forgetting for a time their sorry plight, laughed heartily at their being “scared all night at a bird!”

With the coming of daylight the now almost famished and exhausted children started on again in their fruitless search for home. On and on they went across the unknown country, never knowing where nor in what direction, hoping that the rise of the next hill would surely bring them in sight of home!

The third night they came across a dugout which had just been vacated. The children never knew whether the late occupant just left or had been killed by the Indians.

There was bread and meat and cooked beans in the box cupboard and the poor starving children were afraid to eat it! They were afraid the Indians had killed the occupant and poisoned the food so with plenty at hand to appease their hunger, they, with stronger will power than is often found in children of such tender age, refrained from eating and laying themselves down on the bunk the dugout contained, they slept for the first time in many nights with a roof over their heads.

The next morning they were sorely tempted to eat, but being afraid they forbore and started out again the morning of the fourth day, having taken no food at all and only that one drink of dirty water!

All day they tramped and rested, rested and tramped, the hunger growing more intense each minute and the thirst, the awful, maddening thirst, making it hard for them to talk.

In the late afternoon of the fourth day of their tramp, the wanderers looked away across the prairie and saw a moving object. At first they could not tell whether it was a buffalo, a wolf, or what it was. But the object, whatever it might be, was moving and coming in their direction!

Soon they could make out that it was a man on horseback and he was galloping like mad, toward them.

“Oh, it’s an Indian!” gasped the oldest child, “let’s hide quick!” “No,” said the tot of five summers, “I ain’t goin’ to hide, I b’lieve its a soldier huntin’ us, an’ I’m goin’ to stand up where he can see me!”

The older child dropped flat in the grass in an effort to hide but the younger one stood bravely up and waved her tiny hand!

 

Life in Pioneer Kansas, by Mary Barrett, 1912, Part 8

Mr. Bell, the uncle, and some neighbors started immediately for Fort Hays, where some soldiers were barricaded, for help, not knowing what direction the Indians had gone. The men knew too that they were not able to cope with the Indians, and recapture the children should they find them alive.

All possible haste was made in reaching the fort, and soldiers were soon racing over the prairie in every direction, looking for any sign that might tell them Indians had been near.

In the meantime, the Indians had ridden almost night and day, the children knew not in what direction nor how far. Somehow the Indians got wind that the soldiers were after them and dropped the two wretched little girls out on that wide sea of prairie, with not a tree or shrub in sight, and no sign of habitation near!

The Indians made the children understand by signs and motions that they must ride “fast” and “far” and the children, already tired out with the three days and nights ride, could not stand to ride so fast and far as the Indians were going, as they would have to leave them on the prairie!

Poor, forlorn, forsaken, little tots! This last fate was even worse than the first, for the Indians had been as kind to them as they well could be. They had made as soft seats as they could on the ponies’ backs, and tied the children on that they might not fall; they had given them enough to eat to stay their hunger, and had given them tin cups to drink their coffee out of, while the braves drank their coffee out of tin cans!

The Indians certainly had not taken the children with any intention of massacre, but the grief-stricken parents did not know this, did not have even this fact to comfort them.

Now came the saddest, loneliest time there wretched little girls had, or ever would experience. It being about three o’clock in the afternoon as the children supposed, when the Indians dropped them, the little tots started wandering over the prairie, fondly hoping to reach home before night!

The sun went down, the stars peeped out and hungry, tired and oh, so scared, the children lay down on the soft buffalo grass, and with no covering but the sky, no vigil but the stars, soon forgot their wretchedness in slumber, never waking the whole night long!

When the lost children awoke next morning the sun was shining brightly. They arose quickly and started on again, roaming, roaming, they knew not, cared not, where, only that they might get home!

All day long they tramped, without food, without water, the older one trying to cheer the younger with the promise that they would “soon be home, now” when she seemed likely to give up, and wanted to stop.

Near night on the second day of their aimless tramp, they came to a little stream, now dry, save for a little water standing in puddles in the tracks made my the buffalo as they had come down to drink. Here the children laid flat on their stomachs, and drank their fill of the dirty water, but they said long afterwards it seemed the best water they had ever drank!

To be continued on December 10th.

 

Pioneer Life in Kansas, by Mary Barrett, 1912, Part 7

Living in Beloit was a family by the name of Bell. They were among the very earliest to settle here, and knew much of the depredations of the Indians.

A year or so before my acquaintance with this family began, two of the children, girls aged seven and five years, were visiting for a time with an aunt who lived on a homestead about fifteen miles southeast of town.

One day while the aunt was busy in the house and the children were playing in the yard, a band of Indians suddenly surrounded the house. The children ran in, screaming with fright, clinging to the terrified aunt for protection. The husband and uncle were away at a neighbor’s at work, and the poor, helpless woman knew not what to do!

The Indians rode around the house several times, then broke open the door and went in. An Indian seized each one of the children, and another dragged the poor, crazed woman outside and attempted to mount her on a pony. Every time the Indian tried to lift the woman on the pony a big watchdog they owned would bite and claw him so furiously that he would be compelled to drop his burden to fight off the dog.

Strange as it may seem, none of the other Indians offered to help, and so, after receiving several bits and numerous scratches, this Indian, who seemed to be the leader, mounted his pony without his captive, and gave the word to “go!”

The braves who had been holding the terrified children, raised them quickly to the backs of their ponies, leaped on behind them and galloping away, were soon out of sight, leaving the woman more dead than alive, moaning in the yard.

After a time the poor soul dragged herself into the house where she crouched in fear the rest of the afternoon. She was afraid, had she been able to do so, to cross the miles of prairie that she must, to reach her husband’s side, for in those days neighbors were indeed “few and far between.”

With the coming of night the husband came hurrying home, knowing naught of what had taken place, to find his wife hiding in the little cabin, almost too afraid to unbar the door and let him in!

The pony team was soon hitched to a wagon, and they made all possible speed to the Bell’s to inform them what had happened.

Imagine, if you can, what it would mean to have such word brought to you. Their darlings taken by the savages, and carried away, they knew not where! Might they not even before now have been scalped, and left with mangled bodies on the prairie, the wide, wide prairie! Oh, the horror of it! None know, only those who have passed through it, what such anguish means!

To be continued on Thursday the 6th.