Secluded from civilization, grossly outnumbered by hostile neighbors, but expected to keep up the appearance of a proper Victorian household—that was the task of an Indian Agent’s wife.
While Mrs. Daniel (Ida) Dyer’s white “verandahed” house was charming, just past her lawn was open prairie with hundreds of white tepees. In her book Picturesque Cheyenne and Arrapahoe Army Life before the Opening of Oklahoma, Mrs. Dyer notes that the village consisted of many noted warriors—warriors that were discontent with reservation life and not very fond of her husband. Also surrounding the agency town of Darlington were thousands of bleached and rotting bones that had accumulated over the years when the Indians tore apart their weekly beef rations. Not what the granddaughter of a U.S. Representative and Lieutenant Governor of Illinois was expecting out of married life, but Ida Dyer was made of stern stuff.
Even though Darlington in the 1880s included a hotel, a commissary, a mission school and a newspaper office, its population was limited to white people who had government permission to live there. Even visitors were sent away unless they had authorization. Mrs. Dyer and the agency employees did have a social life consisting of occasional parties and gatherings with the officers’ families from nearby Fort Reno, but entertainment came second to survival. While the wives of the officers at the fort could count on military protection, the agent’s wife was to offer a level of hospitality to the Indians that often left her vulnerable.
In one instance (which is included in my latest book Holding the Fort), an outlaw band of Cheyenne warriors took up arms. The agency employees and missionaries left Darlington and raced to the fort, but Ida remained at her husband’s side as he worked to get the proper reports completed before abandoning his post. Daylight disappeared and with it their hopes for safe passage to Fort Reno. The streets belonged to the Cheyenne, but the Dyer’s trusted Arapaho friends convinced the rebels that the Dyers had already fled. Understaffed and hopelessly outnumbered, the troopers at Fort Reno didn’t dare leave the fort to attempt a rescue. That left the Dyers as prisoners in their own home for two weeks, crawling past windows and unable to even light a fire for fear of being discovered.
But despite her fear, Ida found much to admire about the people she and her husband were serving. Thanks to her eye for detail and her amusing anecdotes, we can see her love for the Cheyenne and Arapaho people and her concern over the difficulties being forced upon them. Unfortunately, her husband’s ineptitude led to a short tenure as the agent in Darlington. Years later, when he read her published account of their experiences, he gathered every copy of the books he could acquire, burned them, and then divorced Ida. Thankfully, a few copies survived.
While Agent Dyer didn’t appreciate Ida’s recollections, we certainly can. Thanks to Ida Dyer’s firsthand account, we get to meet many women of the west who would’ve otherwise gone unsung.
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Award-winning author Regina Jennings is a homeschooling mother of four from Oklahoma. She enjoys watching musicals with her kids, traveling with her husband and reading by herself. Regina has worked at the Mustang News and First Baptist Church of Mustang, along with time at the Oklahoma National Stockyards and various livestock shows. Her latest release, Holding the Fort is the first book of the Fort Reno Series.
Holding the Fort
Fort Reno Series Book #1
Jennings Winningly Combines Humor, History, and Romance
Louisa Bell never wanted to be a dance-hall singer, but dire circumstances force her hand. With a little help from her brother in the cavalry, she’s able to make ends meet, but lately he’s run afoul of his commanding officer, so she undertakes a visit to straighten him out.
Major Daniel Adams has his hands full at Fort Reno. He can barely control his rowdy troops, much less his two adolescent daughters. If Daniel doesn’t find someone respectable to guide his children, his mother-in-law insists she’ll take them.
When Louisa arrives with some reading materials, she’s mistaken for the governess who never appeared. Major Adams is skeptical. She bears little resemblance to his idea of a governess–they’re not supposed to be so blamed pretty–but he’s left without recourse. His mother-in-law must be satisfied, which leaves him turning a blind eye to his unconventional governess’s methods. Louisa’s never faced so important a performance. Can she keep her act together long enough?