MRS. HURD’S NARRATIVE.
On the 2d of June, 1862, Mr. Phineas B. Hurd, with another man, left home, at the north end of Sheteck Lake, Minnesota, on a trip to Dacotah Territory, to be absent a month, taking a span of horses and wagon, and such other outfit as would be required upon such an expedition, leaving Mrs. Hurd alone with her two children and a Mr. Voight, who had charge of the farm. On the morning of the 20th of August, about five o’clock, while Mrs. Hurd was milking some twenty Indians rode up to the house and dismounted. Mrs. Hurd discovered among the horses one of their own that was taken away by Mr. Hurd. Mrs. H. got into the house before the Indians, who entered and began smoking, as was their custom. Five of these she knew, one being a half-breed who could speak English. Her children were in bed, and, at the time of the entrance of the Indians, asleep. The youngest, about a year old, awoke and cried, when Mr. Voight took it up and carried it into the front yard, when one of the Indians stepped to the door and shot him through the body. He fell dead with the child in his arms. At this signal some ten or fifteen more Indians and squaws rushed into the house,–they having been concealed near by,–and commenced an indiscriminate destruction of everything in the house, breaking open trunks, destroying furniture, cutting open feather beds, and scattering the contents about the house and yard.
Mrs. Hurd, in her uncommon energy and industry as a pioneer housewife, had, with a good stock of cows, begun to make butter and cheese, and had on hand at the time about two hundred pounds of butter and twenty-three cheeses. These the Indians threw into the yard and destroyed. While this destruction was going on, Mrs. Hurd was told that her life would be spared on the condition that she would give no alarm, and leave the settlement by an unfrequented path or trail, leading directly east across the prairie, in the direction of New Ulm, and was ordered to take her children and commence her march. Upon pleading for her children’s clothes, they having on only their right clothes, she was hurried off, being refused even her sun-bonnet or shawl. She took the youngest in her arms, and led the other, a little boy of a little over three years, by the hand; and being escorted by seven Indians on horseback, she turned her back on her once prosperous and happy home. The distance across the prairie, in the direction which she was sent, was sixty or seventy miles to a habitation. The Indians went out with her three miles, and before taking leave of her, repeated the condition of her release, and told her that all the whites were to be killed, but that she might go to her mother. Thus was she left with her two children almost naked, herself bareheaded, without food or raiment, not even a blanket to shelter herself and children from the cold dews of the night or storm.
After the Indians left her, three miles from her home, on the prairie, “we took our way,” said Mrs. Hurd, “through the unfrequented road or trail into which the Indians had conducted us. It was clear, and the sun shone with more than usual brightness. The dew on the grass was heavy. My little boy, William Henry, being barefooted and thinly clad, shivered with the cold, and pressing close to me, entreated me to return to our home. He did not know of the death of Mr. Voight, as I kept him from the sight of the corpse. He did not understand why I insisted upon going on, enduring the pain and cold, of so cheerless a walk. He cried pitifully at first, but after a time, pressing my hand, he trudged manfully along by my side. The little one rested in my arms, unconscious of our situation. Two guns were fired when I was a short distance out, which told the death of my neighbor, Mr. Cook. I knew well the fearful meaning. There was death behind, and all the horrors of starvation before me. But there was no alternative. For my children, anything except death at the hands of the merciless savage; even starvation on the prairies seemed preferable to this.
“About ten o’clock in the forenoon a thunderstorm suddenly arose. It was of unusual violence; the wind was not high, but the lightning, thunder, and rain were most terrible. The violence of the storm was expended in about three hours, but the rain continued to fall slowly until night, and at intervals continued until morning. During the storm I lost the trail, and walked on, not knowing whether I was right or wrong. Water covered the lower portions of the prairie, and it was with difficulty that I could find a place to rest when night came on. At last I came to a sand-hill or knoll; on the top of this I sat down to rest for the night. I laid my children down, and leaned over them to protect them from the rain and chilling blast. Hungry, weary, and wet, William fell asleep, and continued so until morning. The younger one worried much; the night wore away slowly, and the morning at last came, inviting us to renewed efforts. As soon as I could see, I took my little ones and moved on. About seven o’clock I heard guns, and for the first time became conscious that I had lost my way, and was still in the vicinity of the lake. I changed my course, avoiding the direction in which I heard the guns, and pressed on with increased energy. No trail was visible. As for myself, I was not conscious of hunger; but it was harassing to the mother’s heart to listen to the cried of my precious boy for his usual beverage of milk, and his constant complaints of hunger. But there was no remedy. The entire day was misty, and the grass wet. Our clothes were not dry during the day. Towards night William grew sick, and vomited, until it seemed impossible for him longer to keep up. The youngest child still nursed, and did not seem to suffer materially.
“About dark on the second day I struck a road, and knew at once where I was, and to my horror found I was only four miles from home. Thus had two days and one night been passed, travelling, probably, in a circle. I felt almost exhausted, and my journey but just begun; but as discouraging as this misfortune might be, as the shades of night again closed around me, the sight of a known object was a pleasure to me. I was no longer lost upon the vast prairies.
“It was now that I felt for the first time it would be better to die at once; that it would be a satisfaction to die here, and end our weary journey on this travelled road, over which we had passed in our happier days. I could not bear to lie down with my little ones on the unknown and trackless waste over which we had been wandering. But this feeling was but for a moment. I took courage and started on the road to New Ulm. When it became quite dark I halted for the night; that night I passed, as before, without sleep.
“In the morning early I started on. It was foggy, and the grass wet; the road, being but little travelled, was grown up with grass. William was so sick that morning that he could not walk much of the time; so I was obliged to carry both. I was now sensibly reduced in strength, and felt approaching hunger. My boy no longer asked for food, but was thirsty, and drank frequently from the pools by the wayside. I could no longer carry both my children at the same time, but took one on at a distance of a quarter or half a mile, laid it in the grass, and returned for the other. In this way I travelled twelve miles, to a place called Dutch Charlie’s, sixteen miles from Lake Sheteck. I arrived there about sunset, having been sustained in my weary journey by the sweet hope of relief. My toils seemed almost at tn end, as I approached the house, with a heart full of joyous expectations; but what were my consternation and despair when I found it empty! Every article of food and clothing was removed! My heart seemed to die within me, and I sank down in despair. The cried of my child aroused me from my almost unconscious state, and I began my search for food. The house had not been plundered by the Indians, but abandoned by its owner. I had promised my boy food when we arrived here, and when none could be found he cried most bitterly. But I did not shed a tear, nor am I conscious of having done so during all this journey. I found some green corn, which I endeavored to eat, but my stomach rejected it. I found some carrots and onions growing in the garden, which I ate raw, having no fire. My oldest child continued vomiting. I offered him some carrot, buy he could not eat it.
“That night we staid in a cornfield, and the next morning at daylight I renewed my search for food. To my great joy I found the remains of a spoiled ham. Here, I may say, my good fortune began. There was no more than a pound of it, and that much decayed. This I saved for my boy, feeding it to him in very small quantities; his vomiting ceased, and he revived rapidly. I gathered more carrots and onions, and with this store of provisions, at about eight o’clock on the morning of the third day, I again set forth on my weary road for the residence of Mr. Brown, twenty-five miles distant. This distance I reached in two days. Under the effects of the food I was able to give my boy, he gained strength, and was able to walk all of the last day. When within about three miles of the residence of Mr. Brown, two of our old neighbors, from Lake Sheteck settlement, overtook us under the escort of the mail carrier. Both of them had been wounded by the Indians and left for dead in the attack on the settlement. Thomas Ireland, one of the party, had been hit with eight balls, and, strange to say, was still able to walk, and had done so most of the way. Mrs. Estleck, the other person under escort, was utterly unable to walk, having been shot in the foot, once in the side, and once in the arm. Her husband had been killed, and her son, about ten years old, wounded. The mail carrier had overtaken this party after the fight with the Indians at the Lake, and placing Mrs. Estleck in her sulky, he was leading his horse. As the little party came in sight I took them to the Indians, and felt that after all my toil and suffering I must die, with my children, by the hands of the savage I feared to look around, but kept on my way until overtaken, whtn my joy was so great at seeing my friends alive I sank to the earth insensible.
“This was a little before sunset, and we all arrived at the residence of Mr. Brown that week. This house was also deserted and empty, but being fastened up, we thought they might come back. Our company being too weak and destitute to proceed, we took possession of the house, and remained ten days. There we found potatoes and green corn. The mail carrier, accompanied by Mr. Ireland, lame as he was, proceeded on the next morning to New Ulm, where they found there had been a battle with the Indians, and one hundred and ninety-two houses burned. A party of twelve men were immediately sent with a wagon to our relief. It was now that we learned the fate of Mr. Brown and family–all had been murdered! We also learned of the general outbreak, and massacre of all the more remote settlements, and the sad, sickening thought was now folly confirmed in my mind, that my husband was dead! my fatherless children and myself made beggars!”
Mrs. Hurd had resided at the Lake three years, and was well acquainted with many of the Indians–could speak their language, and had always treated them with much friendship. It is to this fact that she attributed their mercy in saving her life. But who can bring back to her the murdered husband–the beauty, loveliness, and enjoyment that surrounded her on the morning of the 20th of August, 1862, or blot from her memory those awful, dreary nights of watching, alone upon the broad prairie, in the storm and in the tempest, amid thunderings and lightning? Or who can contemplate that mother’s feelings as her sich and helpless child cried for bread, and there was none to give, or as she bore the one along the most trackless waste, and laid it down amid the prairie grass, and then returned for her other offspring?
The Mantuan bard has touched a universal chord of human sympathy in his deep-toned description of the flight of his hero from the burning city of Troy, bearing his “good father,” Anchises, on his back, and leading “the little Ascanius’ by the hand, who, ever and anon falling in the rear, would “follow with unequal step.” The heroine of Lake Sheteck bore her two Ascanii in her arms, but unequal to the double burden, was compelled to deposit half of her precious cargo in the prairie grass, and returning for the other, to repeat for the third time her painful steps over the same. This process, repeated at the end of each quarter or half mile, extended the fearful duration of her terrible flight through the lonely and uninhabited prairie.
The force of nature could go no farther, and maternal love has no stronger exemplification. But for the plentiful showers of refreshing rain, sent by a merciful Providence these poor wanderers would have fainted by the way, and the touching story of the heroine of Sheteck Lake would have been forever shrouded in mystery.
Originally posted 2009-07-09 23:34:23.