“Over hundreds of acres these blossoms are scattered, yellow, purple, white, and blue, making the earth look like a rich carpet of variegated colors. Those blooming in spring are of tender, modest hue, while those of later summer and early autumn are clothed in gorgeous splendor. Solomon’s gold and purple could not outrival them.”
But the beauty disappeared two months after their journey commenced. On July 12, they were attacked by a war party of 250 Indians. The attack came apparently after the military killed some Sioux who had murdered an Army engineer. The army commander mounted their heads on poles near the camp as a warning. Feeling that they were to be exterminated, the Sioux turned hostile.
They attacked the small Kelly camp without warning. Three men were killed at the outset. Two were wounded. Fanny’s husband and one of the ex-slaves escaped. Fanny and her little Mary along another woman and her seven-year-old son were taken captive. Her husband was some distance away, and when he saw what happened and realized the futility of attacking, he decided to ride for help and try to ransom his wife and child.
Fanny tells her story in her “Narrative of My Captivity among the Sioux Indians.” About the initial capture, she wrote: “It was a pitiable sight to see the terrified looks of our helpless children who clung to us for the protection we could not give. Mrs. Larimer was unconscious of the death of any of our party. I did not tell her what my eyes had beheld because I feared that she simply could not endure it, but I strove to encourage and enliven her, lest her excitement would hasten her death or excite the anger of our captors.”
The chief apparently approved of her courage. “He presented me a wreath of gay feathers from his own head, which I took, regarding it merely as an ornament when in reality, as I afterward learned, it was a token of his favor and protection.”
But she didn’t know that, and she and Mrs Larimer feared that when the Indians prepared for departure, “we would be quickly disposed of by the scalping knife, or even should we escape for the time, we saw no prospect of release from bondage. Terror of the most appalling nature for the fate of the children possessed me, and the horrors of Indian captivity that we had ever heard crowded on our minds with a new and fearful meaning – the slow fires, the pitiless knife, the poisoned arrows, the torture of the famine and a thousand nameless phantoms of agony passed before our troubled souls filling us with fears so harrowing that the pangs of dissolution compared to them must have been relief.
“It may be thought almost impossible in such a chaos of dread to collect the soul in prayer, ‘When woe is come, the soul is dumb That Crieth not to God.’”
They were placed on horseback, young Mary clinging to her, and Fanny conceived a plan to save her daughter. The shadows had darkened as they rode, and she whispered into Mary’s ear that they were just a few miles from their camp. Fanny had dropped pieces of paper that she’d been able to grab from her wagon, and now she told her daughter to “drop gently down and lie on the ground for a little while. . . then retrace her steps to the camp.” Surely someone would be there.
The child agreed and the plan worked, at least at the moment. She later discovered Mary had been killed by Indians. But at that moment, Fanny’ knew of no other way to save her daughter. Her feelings were conflicted. “The agony I suffered as indescribable. I was firmly convinced that my course was wise – that I had given her the only chance to escape within my power; yet the terrible uncertainty of what her fate might be in the way before her was almost unbearable.”
In my next blog, I’ll tell you more of Fanny’s seven months with the Indians and how she went from captured drudge to honored guest and finally celebrated heroine in Washington D.C.