Fanny Kelly . . . Continued

In May, 1864, Fanny Kelly, her husband and adopted daughter joined eight others on a journey westward from Kansas to Idaho. The small four- wagon train included a total of ten adults and two children. Less than two months into the journey, they were attacked by the Sioux. Fanny and her daughter, and another woman and her small son were taken captive. Fanny’s husband escaped and rode for help . . .The tale is told in “Narrative of My Captivity Among the Sioux Indians,” by Fanny Kelly. It is considered among the best of the “Captivity stories” that were popular in the mid-nineteenth Century. What makes it so fascinating is her vivid picture of a way of life that was soon to disappear.
After a desperate Fanny dropped her daughter along the way, hoping she would be rescued by the army, she waited for some time, then also slipped to the ground under cover of night and her horse went on without its rider. Her flight was soon discovered, though, and the Indians beat her and “promised great violence toward me, assuring me that if any further attempts were made to escape, my punishment would be accordingly.”

Because of her escape attempts, she was fastened securely at night. Her white companion and son were not, and both escaped on the second night. Fanny was alone.

The Sioux traveled at night, traveling up into the mountain, taking precipitous trails over the dark abyss “where only the Indian dares to venture.” Fanny secretly dropped letters that she hoped would be a clue to their destination although they had taken paths inaccessible to white men. Hope, even dim hope, was all she had. They crossed the Platt, then separated into small groups and started in every direction to confuse pursuers.

She was forced to lead a horse and carry a number of items, including the chief’s three foot long pipe. Tired and thirsty, she dropped it, not knowing the significance of the pipe and that night the chief told her that she would not arise the next morning, that she was not to be trusted and her life would be forfeit.

An untamed horse was brought into camp and they told her she would be placed on it as a target for the arrows, and the animal might then run at will, “carrying my body where it would. Helpless and almost dying with terror at my situation, I sank on a rocky seat in their midst. In speechless agony, I pledged my soul to God. . . ”

Then she remembered a purse of money in her pocket, and she drew it out, dividing it among them. One hundred and twenty dollars. The Indians laid their weapons on the ground and eagerly took the money, wanting to know what each bill meant. The danger was temporarily over.

They traveled on, and she continued to drop papers by the way, hoping they might lead to her rescue. She had little or no water and no food, and her bed was the hard earth with no covering. With little water available, the Indians kept it for themselves and carried little sticks in their mouths, which they chewed constantly, thus creating saliva, and preventing “the parching sensation I endured for want of this knowledge.”

They traveled three hundred miles to their camp. The thought of death by fire was with her the entire way, and thirst and hunger were daily companions.

Once arriving at camp, she was at first treated with kindness by the women who cared for her bruised and almost broken limbs. To stay alive, she presented a pleasant face even as she tried not to think about her daughter’s fate. She was also given the chief’s daughter to take the place of her own daughter, but every moment in the coming months was dangerous. Her treatment deteriorated after a battle between the Indians and soldiers when many tribe members were killed. Once again she was threatened with death at the stake by the elders, and only a plea by the chief saved her. The Sioux were then forced to escape into the badlands where many children and women starved.

She tried many times during summer and late fall to escape. She is repeatedly betrayed by those who say they will help her, and each attempt puts her in more and more danger.

She also encountered one fair little boy. His mother has been the wife of a white army captain, but because his white wife would soon be arriving from the East, the Indian wife was returned to her people, along with the child. Fanny saw many other fair-faced children and heard “the sad story from their mothers.” They were often cruelly treated by the full-blooded children. (I see a hero here).

She also learned that many Indians who were trusted by soldiers at the nearest fort were, in truth, hostile. And this fact would later play a part in her escape and her heroic – and successful – attempt to save an Army post.

The tale ends during my next blog in two weeks.

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8 thoughts on “Fanny Kelly . . . Continued”

  1. Pat, I love this story.
    I did a lot of research into whites living with Indians for a book and I didn’t get Fanny’s name while I was doing that.
    In mine it was a white woman who was raised by the Flathead Indians and she loved her native family. When they’re killed by white renegades, she’s left alive because she’s white. Of course she hates the whites for this. So she doesn’t settle in well at all in the white world.

    She has an unfortunate tendency to draw her knife when she’s provoked.

  2. This is such a fascinating story, especially since Fannie lived when so many Indian women and children didn’t. Can’t wait to hear more about her.

    I recently read a book about a white woman rescued from Indians. She didn’t even know she wasn’t an Indian because she’d been captured when she was very young. The book is Homecoming by Jill Marie Landis, and it’s wonderful. Loaded with conflict.

  3. Hi Pat,
    Wow, I’m loving this story. I think I’ve read of Fanny before, but you make it all seem so real and I can feel her desperation and emotion. I’ll look forward to the next blog.

  4. I’m going to anxiously await the “rest of the story.” The cruelties were absolutely horrid on
    both sides!!

    Pat Cochran

  5. I can’t believe Fanny made it through all this and lived to tell the tale. I’m still broken-hearted about her daughter, though. I hope she finds some joy in her life when she gets through this! Thanks for sharing her story.

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