Thursday, March 5, 2009

Thinking 'Bout History

I'm mildly interested in local history, local being a lot of Kansas. I'm a member of True West's Blog Page or whatever they call it. I got there by way of following Bob Boze Bell's personal blog, which is a story for another day.

A lot of the blogs and entries there are in relation to Western history. Which has caused me to revive some of my own thoughts on the subject. I own land in northwest Kansas that was part of the site of Kansas' Last Indian Raid in 1878. 

When I first heard that Oberlin was the site of that raid, I envisioned the Indians (native Americans if you will) in a concentrated group sweeping down into a small little town. It wasn't that way at all. They rode down in small groups from the south following various draws to the Sappa Creek, southwest of Oberlin some 8-12 miles, attacking the settlers on their individual homesteads and ranches. I've often tried to imagine as I fixed fence or baled hay what it was like to be out working in your fields and lots (it was late September, harvest or late haying time I would suppose) and have riders come down over the hills. 

I understand some settlers escaped trouble by hiding in wild plum bushes on the banks of the creek and in brush piles.  At a ranch on the creek near my property several women were taken captive and "ravished" as the reports put it. One account told of choking the baby to silence it, not enough to kill it, just until it passed out, only to have to repeat it when it started to regain its ability to cry out. Not pleasant thoughts! But not movie plots either. 

Being out on the land where you can be removed from many signs of "progress", no electric lines or roads if you position yourself just right, you can try to imagine what it was like. All told, some 40 settlers were killed, but scattered out over a fairly large area.  

Two men were killed on creek hay ground I once owned so I was close to that happening when I baled. My big pasture which is further up Colvin's draw from the main creek was not noted for any killings, only the land below it.

I was told an interesting story about that place (my pasture) but have since been told it probably didn't happen. Still it makes such a good story.

There is a square 2-story stone house there, since falling down but still standing when I went to NW Kansas 40 years ago. Supposedly the man of the family was gone but the wife and children boarded themselves into the lower level kitchen. When she heard one of the party climb onto the roof to cover the chimney and smoke them out, she knocked the stovepipe aside and fired the rifle up the chimney, shooting him through the hand. They rode away.

I understand however that this story is told about raids in other locations. 

A bit of background as I have read it. This was a part of the Cheyenne's effort to return to their homelands from the Oklahoma reservation they had been taken to. I have heard but am not certain, that no settlers were killed until the Indians got to Sappa Creek. It seems that in 1875, one of their groups had been camped on the Sappa in what is now Cheyenne county, west of where my land is some 20 miles I think. They were attacked at daybreak and killed indiscriminantly including women and children. It was thought the attacks in '78 were in retaliation for that unfortunate incident.

Reading actual reports of those times that are available at the museum in Oberlin make it much more real, more so than seeing a movie I think. They are the words of people who were really there.

A recent comment in the True West blogs said a lot of places don't convey their history, that the old buildings and trappings of the West are swept away. Which is somewhat true I guess. But it seems to me you have to seek out history, study it, then try to find the spots where you can re-enact it in your mind a little. It won't be buried in the present day downtown where today's people are trying to make a living. But you can still find it out in those draws and hills.

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