A Family History of Alvin Brooks: Articles and Documents
The Capture of Sarah White
(Later the wife of Erastus Otis Brooks)
Transcribed from E.F. Hollibaugh's Biographical history of Cloud County, Kansas biographies of representative citizens. Illustrated with portraits of prominent people, cuts of homes, stock, etc. [n.p., 1903] 919p. illus., ports. 28 cm.
THE KILLING OF BENJAMIN WHITE AND THE CAPTURE OF HIS DAUGHTER, SARAH CATHERINE WHITE, BY THE INDIANS AUGUST 13, 1868.
That this oft repeated story might be given correctly, the author visited Mrs. White, the widow of Benjamin White and the mother of Miss Sarah White (now Mrs. Brooks), and through the vivid and interesting recitals of this kindly woman, who suffered beyond the power of pen to picture or the human mind to comprehend, a detailed account was obtained. It seemed almost a sacrilege to ask Mrs. White to rehearse the story that brought to her home such pain, grief and desolation, for who would not strive to blot from the memory, the heartaches and the sad recollections it must awaken, and the writer's conscience felt some misgivings when the invalid woman sorrowfully concluded, "In telling you this, I live it all over again." However, she gave the desired information cheerfully, for she realized it was a duty site owed to posterity. Chester Dutton and Virgil Brown also gave accounts pertaining to this tragic affair.
Benjamin White was one of the first settlers on White's creek, having come there with his family in May, 1866. The creek was then known as "Granny" creek, but sometime after the death of Mr. White, L.J. Crans, of Concordia, suggested at a picnic held in the neighborhood, the name be changed to White's creek in honor of Benjamin White, and the name was adopted.
On the fatal day of the Indian raid Mrs. White was alone with her daughter Sarah, a voting woman of about sixteen years, and three smaller children. They had finished milking the cows and returned to the house, when, without the least warning, they were in the midst of a prowling posse of six savages. The Indians divided into two squads on the opposite side of the creek and came around the bend of the stream, three from the north side and three from the south, led by a stalwart redskin who gave one of those fierce unearthly shrieks - the Indian yell - that once heard can never be forgotten, and especially if given when on the warpath. The house stood near the bank of the creek but a few rods distant from their present residence, and in the next instant they were surrounded. In all likelihood they had been skulking about the vicinity of the White home and were aware of the absence of Mr. White, consequently were brave, but to further assure themselves that the women were alone, they peered through the windows, and as their grim-visaged war-painted faces were pressed against the window panes they struck terror to the hearts of these helpless women and children. Not seeing any men, the brave and noble redmen entered the house and proceeded to make havoc with its contents, tearing up what they chose to leave, and proceeding to carry the remainder away as part of their booty. A more critical moment than this, with a helpless woman and her offspring at the mercy of these soulless demons, cannot be conceived. Their first thought was to escape while the house was being plundered and hasten to join Mr. White and his three soils, who were making hay on the Republican river, but the first move they made in that direction was thwarted by two of the Indians seizing the older daughter, a comely young girl just entering upon the dawn of womanhood. The frenzied mother resisted as much as possible, and with a child in her arms was dragged some distance, but her interference was useless. The powerful savages bore the girl away into captivity, her pitiful, agonizing screams wafted on the breezes to the half-crazed, suffering mother, growing fainter and more faint until they disappeared in the distance, leaving the desolate woman haunted by the worst fears - fears that her fate might be even worse than death.
The remaining four brought the other members of the family back and resuming their plundering, took everything in the way of blankets, shawls, etc.., and hung them on the fence. By this time they were laboring under marked excitement. Their posse had been lessened by two, and as they hurriedly skirmished around to get their ponies, Annie, the eldest of the three left with their mother, suggested they go and find Sarah. They started, but only succeeded In moving a few paces when, with menacing threats, they were ruthlessly pulled back to their stations in the little cabin that was being rudely divested of its contents - articles that had been hauled many miles to make them comfortable on the frontier. While the murderers and thieving brigands were packing the goods on their ponies their attention was so diverted that their usually eagle eye did not see the mother and her little children make the second exit. They reached the timber that skirted the creek and drawing themselves through the thick growth of underbrush they hid behind a large cottonwood log. They had no sooner reached this temporary retreat than the demons having discovered their captives had flown, started toward the creek in hot pursuit, renting the air with their frightful war whoops. while they tore up and down the stream like mad fiends, the brush snapping and cracking under the feet of the excited horses as their riders scanned the bends of the creek hunting for the fugutives. But probable fears for the safety of their copper-colored skins prevented them from making a more minute search and saved the scalps of the hiding refugees. The Indians then turned in the direction of the river and rode over to where Mr. White and his sons were working. The summer of 1868 was phenomenally dry and hot, even for Kansas. The productive creek bottoms, which in 1867 and again in 1869 were a great sea of tall blue joint, offorded nothing fit for the mowing machine, and settlers from far and near established camps along the Republican river and put up hay. The meadows between Yuma and Norway were full of hay camps.
Benjamin White and Virgil Brown were camped on the south just above where the railroad bridge now spans the river. Mr. White had been there more than two weeks. He kept a dairy and was providing winter forage for his cows.
William English, whose claim was on the river north of what is now the foot of Broadway, Concordia, and a Mr. Eaves, who lived further down the Republican, had established a camp on the opposite side of the stream from Mr. White and Mr. Brown on the land now owned by Judson M. Dutton. There were many other hay makers at various points along the river, among them Myers and Daugherty, of Salt creek, Cornelius Reed, Sr., Dennis Taylor, with his sons, Lieutenant Johnson and John Harris, the latter from Mill creek. Owing to the condition that they were all cognizant of the fact that an outbreak was liable to occur at any moment it is strange that these men were not armed, nor were there but few firearms in the settlement at that time.
The morning of the raid Virgil Brown had rode over to the camp of English and Eaves and was sitting on his horse conversing with these neighboring hay-makers when they discovered Indians were dashing into the meadow from the south side. Mr. White was standing on the top of a hay stack which they were topping off, while his three sons, John, Martin and Charles, were pitching the hay up to him from a wagon. Two horses stood harnessed to the wagon and four or five others were lariated a short distance away. The boys jumped down, mounted the horses (two on one animal) and rode away toward the river. An Indian charged upon John, knocking him off his horse with the butt of his lance. The other boys jumped, ran to the river and waded across. Meanwhile one of the savages was loosening the picketed horses and Mr. White, who was a brave and. fearless man, bordering on to recklessness, descended from the stack and walked toward the Indian, rapidly at first, then slackened his pace, and finally stopped, and after a moment's hesitation turned and started for the river. Just as he was hidden from view by the intervening timber Mr. Brown and Mr. Eaves heard the report of a gun and saw one Indian going across the prairie with Mr. White's horses, while the others galloped up the river. Mr. White had guns in the camp, but their tent was some distance away. Not thinking they were on the warpath, and being in total ignorance of the outrage just perpetrated upon his helpless family, he walked toward them unarmed, thinking they would desist, but the moment the Indians noted his disadvantage they fired and shot him through the body. John White, the older of the sons, says the Indians carried no firearms heavier than revolvers, but were armed with lances, bows and quivers of arrows. While John was knocked off his horse he skulked along in the grass and remained hidden until Mr. Brown and Mr. English arrived. Mr. White was not yet dead when they found him and anxiously inquired about his boys, but died a moment later. As was the custom in such events on the frontier, messengers were sent to herald the tragedy throughout the settlement and all the available men in the locality assembled to discuss the situation and devise plans for their safety.
Chester Dutton and John Harris had noticed what purported to be figures in the distance. Just as Dennis Taylor rode up the figures came into view again on the bench south of Oneonta. "I am going to see what those objects are," said Mr. Taylor, and putting spurs to his horse the crowd followed. The "objects" proved to be the sorrow stricken wife and mother, mourning the uncertain fate of her beloved daughter, enroute to the camp where she could pour her tale of woe into the ears of the devoted husband and father, and together devise some plan to rescue their child from the brutal savages. All unconscious of his deplorable fate, she, with her children, all barefooted, had trudged those five miles in desperation, alert to every sound, even the winds that rustled in the burnt grasses of the prairie seemed full of peril, and when they heard the sound of approaching horsemen they feared their doom was sealed and hastened on as fast as their sore and bleeding feet could carry them. But Annie had discovered the supposed enemy was not Indians, but white men of the settlement. Mrs. White told her story and then inquired for her husband and sons. Not for several moments could any of those stout, big-hearted frontiersmen reveal to this woman, whose cup of bitterness was already full to overflowing, the sad fate of her husband - the words that would convey his tragic and cruel death were frozen upon their lips as she looked from one to another for her answer. At length Leutenant[sic] Johnson broke the painful, melancholy silence. These were his words: "The boys, Mrs. White, are safe, but the old man is killed." A wagon and team was placed at the disposal of the brave but heart-broken woman, and she with her trembling little ones were taken to a place of safety.
Just prior to this event State Adjutant General McAfee made a personal reconnoisance of the Kansas frontier, and stopping at Lake Sibley, advised the settlers to organize themselves into a militia company, promising to commission the officers they might elect and to arm the company with Maynard carbines. A meeting was promptly called, every available man and boy responding, and Basil Coleman Sanders was elected captain. Peter Harod Johnson, first lieutenant, and Frank Lawrence, of Lawrenceburg, second lieutenant. Wednesday, August 12, 1867, brought the commissions. The carbines that were dispatched at the same time never reached their destination, but Starr carbines were afterward sent to replace them. While the settlers were conversing with Mrs. White, Captain Sanders arrived, and gathering what information he could, said prompt action must be taken. Mrs. White thought the Indians were Pawnees and this gave Captain Sanders hope of being able to rescue the captive girl, but if upon the other hand they were Cheyennes or Arapahoes (as they proved) a strong camp was resting on the Solomon, sending smaller posses to raid salient points simultaneously, inasmuch as the White Rock settlement was in need of assistance. In either case he declared it called for an immediate advance to the White Rock, and called for volunteers to start then and there; no time to turn back for a biscuit or a blanket. The men who valiantly responded to his call were William English, Oscar Taggart, Chester Dutton, Milton Spencer, John Neve, Joe Merica and Jacob Hull. Before reaching Little Oak creek the company was joined by George Dutton and Homer Adkins. First Lieutenant Johnson was detailed to reconnoiter the White premises, find the trail of savages and meanwhile send messengers to Salt Creek and down the river for men to start on a rescuing tour with him the next day with instructions to turn back if the trail led toward the Solomon. For to follow it into the camp of the Cheyennes meant instant death to Miss White and probably the entire party. Captain Sanders and his party rode along the west side of the river with neither road or bridges. Night came on; an inky darkness overspread the sky and their brave captain lead the way by an occasional flash of lightning, the men following in single file. Mr. Dutton brought up the rear, and being a poor horseman and unused to the saddle, he came near being left repeatedly. The others were all soldierly fellows and fine marksmen, but perhaps none of them were more valiant than he.
Late that night they reached a stockade that had been formed by some hay-makers who had been raided by the Indians the day before and lost one of their settlers, a young man by the name of Winbigler, from Illinois.
They pressed on until they knew it was useless to pursue an uncertainty any longer and as they had not been joined by Lieutenant Johnson as directed, they turned back. Upon their return they found the following message from Governor Crawford: "Tell the settlers of Lake Sibley to stick together - By the eternals, I'll see that they are protected" - But the governor not responding as promptly as they expected, the settlers instituted a militia, and places of safety were established in various settlements, at San Mill, Clyde, Clifton and other places along the river. Mrs. White and her family were installed in a vacant log house belonging to Dennis Taylor and situated near the mill, where she could live in an atmosphere of security.
MISS WHITE TAKEN INTO CAPTIVITY.
Words cannot adequately describe the sensations of Sarah Catherine White as she was carried by her brutal assailants about five miles across Buffalo creek, where fifteen other Cheyennes were seemingly awaiting this marauding fraction of their tribe. Here Miss White was left with a guard, one Indian on the brow of the hill and another at the base. The remaining portion of the band started out in the direction of the river. Left on this desolate hill, awaiting her own ouknown[sic] fate and suffering bodily torture from the diabolical assault of her inhuman captors, Miss White speculated in her mind as to her mother and the other three children. She reasoned they had been cruelly maltreateld and then perhaps annihilated, and thought of her father and brothers as saved because of being away, neither did she know differently, but mourned the former as dead or suffering a worse fate until her release six months later. After her conspirators returned they began a journey westward and after several days travel they reached the headwaters of the Republican, where they joined the tribe with their warriors, squaws and papooses.
The squaws were marked in their kind attentions to Miss White and exhibited real sympathy; as they gathered around the fair young prisoner some of them caressed her and murmured the while "poor papoose," "poor papoose," the true mother instinct asserting itself even in the savage breast as they thought of her having been torn from the arms of loving parents.
About three weeks from the date of Miss White's capture, Mrs. Morgan, the four weeks bride of James Morgan of Ottawa county, was carried into the same camp. The meeting between these two young prisoners was a pathetic incident. Miss White was completely overcome and could not utter a word. Mrs. Morgan was the first to speak; approaching Miss White she asked: "Sister, how do you like this life?" Miss White could not answer, she knew what the new captive had undergone and their deplorable situations paralyzed her powers of speech. Yet the two young women were company for each other and were allowed to converse together around the campfire. And inasmuch as both were doomed to the same conditions it was fortunate for both they were in the same camp. Miss White was of rather a submissive nature for she knew of no other alternative, and was a general favorite among both the braves and the squaws.
Among the stolen property of the tribe was a dress that had been taken from the settlement. This they proffered Miss White as a token of their appreciation, but compelled Mrs. Morgan to wear the native costume. Mrs. Morgan was of an aggressive nature and did not readily yield to their indignities, however in some instances they seemed to admire her courage and bravery. On one occasion a squaw requested her to help drive ponies. Mrs. Morgan refused, whereupon the squaw struck her a heavy blow. In an instant Mrs. Morgan was in pursuit of her fleeing assailant, caught her and administered a sound thrashing, amidst the yells of approval from the warriors of the tribe who seemed delighted over her bravery. The two young women were together until their rescue by General Custer and his brave followers.
The captives were given a tent each and were the special property of one Indian after they were established in the tribe, but had been exchanged two or three times among other chiefs of the Cheyennes.
They had planned an escape one night but had forgotten to appoint a meeting place and after going about for sometime without finding each other, and knowing the least signal would bring the savages down upon them, they each returned to their tents. The following day they devised more complete plans, and met that night at a certain tree as designated. Cautiously, silently, the two prisoners who had often considered death would be preferable to their situations, if they were not to be rescued, stole out of the camp while the usually alert savages were slumbering heavily and when beyond the confines of the Indian grounds, bounded along toward the government trail like two frightened deer. They had not gone but a few miles, however, when they heard a low, muffled, rumbling sound as of distant thunder, that seemed to come from the trail just in advance of them. They listened, queried, and in a moment it dawned upon the excited fugitives that a herd of buffalo were coming down the trail, and knowing they would be trampled to death if they did not change their course, sought refuge in a slough of tall grass.
The herd was hours in passing and their escape was retarded. After the buffalo, passed they thought best to locate the trail before daylight, that they could resume their journey after nightfall the following evening. But as they started out again the next evening and were passing down the trail a gun was fired, the bullet whizzing over their heads, and in looking around discovered an Indian in pursuit. Dismayed at their ill-omened fate, there was no alternative but to be marched back to their life of slavery. On the return trip they stopped to rest and the savage dropped asleep with his revolver loose by his side. They were tempted to use it in their defense but thought he might be feigning sleep and kill them or that the other Indians were skulking near by. The slavery and indignities that were imposed upon the young women was made doubly more harrowing after this event and they were watched constantly.
Mr. Morgan was wounded and left for dead at the same time his wife was captured, but was nursed back to life and health by friends in Minneapolis, Kansas, and now lives on his farm in Ottawa county. Mrs. Morgan's brother accompanied General Custer during the winter campaign and was present at the rescue of his sister. He did not recognize her, as the costume and general appearance had entirely changed her personality. In April, when they were rescued, Miss White went into Junction City where some young men from Lake Sibley happened to be, and they chartered a carriage and sent the young woman to her once happy home. Miss White is now Mrs. Brooks, the mother of an interesting family and continues to live in the same vicinity.
General Custer obtained the women by a bold stroke. He with his staff rode into the camp of the Cheyennes and demanded them to care for his horses. His men followed and thus surrounded General Custer demanded the prisoners, and as he did so threw some ropes over the limb of a tree, explaining the result of a refusal. The captives were forthcoming and the chiefs were detained as hostage, and later met with a tragic death.
Word was received by Mr. Dutton from his brother, who had consulted an Indian agent, saying:
"If the Indians were successful in recapturing the young women, which they would try to do, their fate would be terrible."
Miss White taught school in the primitive log house in Elk township, after her return from captivity.
Mrs. Morgan gave birth to an Indian child several months after her release. The child lived to he nearly three years of age. The author conversed with the physician who was called professionally to the bedside of this child during the illness that preceded its death. In his remarks he said the Indian predominated decidedly, also, that Mrs. Morgan's love for the child was very much like that of ordinary mothers and sincerely mourned the death of her offspring. The little fellow had all the instincts and characteristics of his race, would hide behind doors and corners, creep along the grass and bushes, and exhibited many of their traits.
Mrs. Morgan's case was a peculiarly sad one. Mrs. Brooks seems happy with her husband and her several children; but Mrs. Morgan's life became a burden, she was dissatisfied, morose and unhappy. Three children came to bless their home after her return, but she left her husband and children, was very unhappy until finally her mind gave way under the great mental pressure and the poor unfortunate woman finally lost her reason and was taken to the asylum for the insane about two years ago, where she died on June 11, 1902, at the age of fifty-eight years. Thus ended the sad story of a woman whose life was marked by trials and sorrows as is seldom the lot of human beings.
Mrs. White retained the homestead, reared her family there, and has made a comfortable home, now owning over a section of land. She, with her two sons, Lewis J. and William Elmer, operate the farm. Mrs. White says when she hears people complaining of hardships and hard times, she often thinks their knowledge along these lines is very limited.
Transcribed from E.F. Hollibaugh's Biographical history of Cloud County, Kansas biographies of representative citizens. Illustrated with portraits of prominent people, cuts of homes, stock, etc. [n.p., 1903] 919p. illus., ports. 28 cm.
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