The Indian Agent’s Wife

Regina Jennings

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.

Leave a comment to get your name in a drawing for Holding the Fort, Regina’s new release.

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.

She loves to hear from readers at her website – and on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

Click to Pre-order

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?

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47 thoughts on “The Indian Agent’s Wife”

  1. I think that would ahve been scary to do what she did. She had to have a strong mettle to do all that esp when they were prisoners in their own home.

  2. I am glad that some copies of her account survived. I think it is so important to have factual accounts of historical events. Too many times what we think we know is very skewed.
    This book sounds great.

  3. So fun to have you here, Regina. And I loved learning the real life history that inspired Holding the Fort. Love tales of strong women taming the west! In spite of the husbands sometimes. 🙂 Thank you for sharing Ida’s story.

  4. I’ve read a lot about 1860’s Minnesota history and the Indian Agents here–it’s pretty much a series of horror stories about the ineptitude and corruption of the agents. I’m glad Ida was brave enough to publish her experiences–good, bad, ugly, and beautiful. I’m looking forward to reading your book!

    • You are so right. Some were well-meaning, but incompetent. Some were horribly corrupt. The funny thing is, if you read Ida’s book, her husband is never mentioned. I don’t know if that’s what upset him, or if it was the section she wrote bemoaning the state of Anglo-marriage. 🙂

  5. What a different perspective on life in the home of an Indian Agent. It’s great that Ida’s book survived. Thank you for sharing with P&P readers.

  6. Strong women back in the day were pretty amazing. They still are today but what a different world for women in history. Looking forward to reading Holding the Fort.

  7. Hi Regina…..Welcome back to P&P! We’re so glad to have you. And what an interesting blog! I had no idea what an Indian agent’s wife did.

    Congrats on the new book! It sounds wonderful and that cover is very pretty.

  8. Thank you for such an interesting blog! I looked up Ida Dyer on Amazon and there is a digital work of hers called “Fort Reno.” Did you get to work with or read any of her original materials?
    Thank you again for the post, and for the chance to win your book! Have a great weekend!

  9. What a mean man to destroy her work! I love history, would be so neat if those journals wouldn’t have been destroyed. I love reading historical fiction, please never stop writing!

  10. What an interesting book! And thanks for the history lesson behind the book. Thank goodness her accounts were salvaged to give us a first hand account of those days.

  11. Having read your prior books, I’m really looking forward to reading Holding the Fort. It was interesting to read about Ida and her life as an Indian agent’s wife.

  12. It is too bad that Ida Dyer wasn’t the Indian agent rather than her husband. She obviously was more observant and sympathetic to the conditions his charges were enduring. They obviously didn’t discuss his job much and he wasn’t interested in what she had to contribute. His actions destroying her book show just what a small minded and vindictive man he was. His feeling may have been hurt by what she said but he should have learned from it, not taken offense. I would love to read a copy of her book, Picturesque Cheyenne and Arrapahoe Army Life before the Opening of Oklahoma.
    I like the premise of HOLDING THE FORT. With job opportunities for women rather limited and the women to fill them in short supply, I would think many people had to make accommodations they would not have otherwise. It will be interesting to see how a dance-hall singer manages being a governess to an officer’s children. Congratulations on the upcoming release.

  13. What a harrowing life that must have been. The bravery on Ida’s part, just to live in Darlington, much less all that she did.
    I look forward to reading your book Regina. Western have always been my favorite.

  14. Ida Dyer was one amazing woman and thank goodness, her manuscript survived! Thanks for sharing her account and I am looking forward to Regina’s book.

  15. A very interesting post! I had absolutely no idea; I can only imagine how brave she had to be in those circumstances, especially with a husband that was less than exceptional. Thanks for the giveaway!

  16. I am glad that some of Ida’s books survived. I would love to read Louisa and Daniel’s story. This books sounds perfect for winter reading!

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