All Hail the King

A few dozen settlers and teamsters were killed in the massacre along the Little Blue River in August 1864, but hundreds more fled their homes in terror.  Republic County historian Isaac Savage turned the episode into a celebration of courage when he told how settlers in northern Kansas came out of hiding in Clay County and, emboldened by the rusty antiques distributed to them at Fort Riley, nervously marched north to repel the bloodthirsty horde from their homeland.  Savage laid it on a bit thick in his 1883 “History of Republic County,” and may have been halfway jesting when he recounted the story of the Salt Creek Militia in an overblown heroic style that today sounds like a collegiate lampoon of Sir Walter Scott.

Yes, heroes!  ye readers of tales of chivalry resonant with the clashing of swords against mailed armor, and bedecked with gaudy plumes!  these hardy, rudely clad frontiersmen, mounted on their horses taken from the plow, were as great heroes as any you read of in your romances;  and, though no fine court ladies bade these brave men adieu, they saw around them wives, mothers, sisters and daughters, whose lives and homes were to be protected from ruthless savages.  The time for departure had arrived.  The gallant captain, seated on a noble charger, addressed his company from a little eminence in front; and, as the locklets from his finely formed forehead floated on the morning breeze, and the burning words fells from his determined lips, all felt that the leader was worthy of his trust, and that he was every inch a hero.

Like many frontier militias in 1864, the Salt Creek crew poked about the countryside anxiously, found no foe keen for battle, heaved a sigh of relief and went home.  If there had been warfare they all most likely would have been slaughtered, many of them killed by their own weapons.  Isaac Savage described their armaments as “some smooth bore, some rough bore, and some with scarcely any bore at all…"

I read Ronald Becher’s “Massacre Along the Medicine Road,” a painstaking investigation into the attack along the Little Blue and its aftermath, to get a grasp of the buildup to the Plains Indian War.  Since most of the action takes place in Nebraska, the turf was less familiar to me, as was the cast of characters.  I was surprised to find one name I recognized in Becher’s story of the blind panic that overtook citizens of Beatrice, victims of a practical joker who whipped them into a frenzy of fear.  With the help of an item printed in the August 18, 1872 edition of the Beatrice Express, Becher unveils the culprit behind the prank.

The spark was supplied by ‘a half idiotic individual named King Fisher’ and several confederates who, having nothing better to do with their time, set fire to the dry prairie and came racing into town with the dreaded cry: The Indians were coming!

King David Fisher was the younger brother of White Rock pioneer and legendary fabulist Samuel Martin Fisher, who came to Republic County a few years before the Lovewells and Davises arrived, but was cheated out of permanent residency when he was bamboozled by loan sharks.  King David stood out in a crowd not only because of his distinctive name, but because he supposedly stood 6’ 6” tall.  The word “supposedly” comes up often in the King David Fisher narrative.  He was supposedly a “49’er,” supposedly married his wife, the former Sophia Pritchard, near Louisville, Kentucky, and was supposedly the namesake of Kingfisher Creek which empties into the Cimarron, and Kingfisher County, northwest of Oklahoma City.  These are only a few of the details of his oral history that are disputed by some family researchers.

According to one account his son Isaac died at Little Big Horn, although Isaac seems to have fallen prey to an Indian attack in Nebraska much earlier, probably in 1867.  At any rate, he is not listed as one of his father’s heirs after King David died at his farm southeast of Hebron, Nebraska, in 1871 at the age of 52.  Predictably, there is an eerie tale surrounding his death, which King David had foretold two weeks prior to the event.  A physician summoned after Fisher made his grim announcement could find nothing seriously wrong with him, though he died nonetheless, right on schedule.  Other, less colorful stories classify his death as a conventional frontier event, following a bout of "lung fever" or typhoid.

One Fisher family story which at first seems better-grounded is that a few months after Samuel Martin Fisher’s wife Euphemia died in 1885, Samuel married his younger brother’s widow Sophia.  She is said to have given Samuel three more children before dying in 1887.  A family history site reports that Sophia had married King David Fisher when she was 14 or 15 and was the mother of their 12 children, or, according to a 1959 newspaper story, their 13 or 14 children, or 7 boys and 2 girls.  Since she would have been 60 when she married Samuel, it seems entirely plausible that she gave birth to 3 more children over the course of the next 15 months.

After all, King David Fisher’s brother Samuel Martin Fisher was that legendary White Rock pioneer who once slew 11 out of 7 Indian attackers, letting 4 get away.   

© Dale Switzer 2023