Dark and Bloody Tales

In 1875, five years after the great influx of white newcomers, Otoe Indians made their final migration through the valley of the White Rock.  Jewell County pioneer Alma Dahl described the sight to Orel Poole, a granddaughter of Thomas and Orel Jane Lovewell.

"There were about five hundred going in single file past the corner of the bluffs.  Both east and west as far as they could see, the Indians were on the march, carrying their tents with them.  The horses were highly decorated with beaded bridles and their tails were braided and tied with ribbons.  Many of the Indian men were dressed only in shirts of bright materials.  Some had rings in their ears, some wore feathers, many had painted faces.  A few young bucks on horseback broke away from the file and galloped away to the hills yelling.  At this time, the Indians were friendly.  The squaws would point to Alma's baby, smile and say 'pale face papoose…'  The line of marching Indians seemed endless."

Settlers who arrived after 1870 knew only friendly Indians who sometimes dropped by to ask a farm wife for something to eat, and then might light up a pipe and enjoy a smoke with the man of the house.  The idea soon struck the new arrivals that the Indian troubles which had beset previous settlers must have been the settlers' own fault.  A pair of pioneer myths arose to explain away those earlier massacres, myths that were also preserved for us by Orel Poole and Jewell County historian Lillian Forrest.

In one of them, the Jewell County Massacre of 1867 was supposed to have been incited by the shooting of an Indian squaw near the present-day town of Jewell, as she sat on a tree stump nursing her papoose.  Another story explained the Dog Soldier attacks of 1869 as retaliation for the wounding of an Indian boy by a couple of drunks near Scandia, when they vied to see who could aim closest to the boy without hitting him.  As it turns out, in committing both massacres the Indians probably were settling recent scores, but these had nothing to do with the blameless settlers and hunters they slaughtered.

Thomas Lovewell passed along a similar but unrelated myth to his own children and grandchildren, one commonly referred to as "Rawhide."  The tale takes on many permutations, but in its simplest form, it is the story of a blacksmith headed west with a wagon train, who vows to kill the first Indian he sees.  After shooting an innocent squaw as she hefts a jar of water from a creek, he must be handed over to her tribe to be "rawhided" or flayed alive, to avoid war.  Frontier diarist Helen Clark recorded an almost identical event in her trail journal in 1860.  She and Thomas Lovewell followed the same path to Denver within months of each other, and both must have heard the version of the story that was then making the rounds.

There is also a "rawhiding" story in the Daniel Davis family that at first seems to be a riff on one of the Jewell County tales.  Daniel's companion on a hunting trip takes target practice at what he supposes to be a tree stump, but which turns out to be a squaw and her papoose.  Her kinsmen suddenly appear and skin the man alive, forcing Daniel to watch his friend's ordeal.  This, too, is surely just a story, but one which has elements in common with a supposedly true tale which could have involved Daniel Davis and Thomas Lovewell.

When the Lovewells and Davises moved to the valley of the Black Vermillion in Marshall County in 1856, one of their neighbors was Julian Changreau, a French trapper with a Sioux wife, whose household included the couple's two boys and his wife's younger sister.  One day while Changreau was working in his field, a band of Indians raided the house and made off with his teenage sister-in-law.  The trapper rounded up some friends to help him rescue her, but, fearing an ambush, his companions soon turned around and headed back.  That night Changreau found the marauders' village, where he saw the poor girl bound to a stake waiting to be flayed.  He went off some distance to be out of earshot of her screams and spent the night, returning in the morning to fetch her lifeless body home for burial.

Were Daniel Davis and Thomas Lovewell two of the members of the rescue party who turned back short of the goal?  Julian Changreau settled in Marshall County in 1855.  Daniel and Thomas arrived a year later.  While Daniel left Marshall County before the census of 1857, Thomas remained until he was overcome by the lure of Pikes Peak gold in 1859.  There is no firm date attached to the killing of Changreau's sister-in-law, although, like the Davises, she is absent from the 1857 count.  If the killing happened before the Lovewells and Davises arrived in May of 1856, Thomas and Daniel would have missed the terrible event entirely, but they hardly could have avoided hearing about it.  The story of the flaying may have contributed to Daniel's opinion that the young territory was just "too wild" a place for his family.  

As in the “rawhide” myth, there is a female Indian victim, a hideous death by skinning, and no heroes at all on the horizon, only cruel perpetrators and powerless bystanders.  Despite similarities, Changreau’s story is sadder and more disquieting than even the gruesome tales passed along by pioneers to later generations.

When Thomas and Daniel wanted to give young listeners a case of the willies, they recited one of the generic yarns about savage times along the frontier, keeping the true one to themselves, the one they learned when they lived along the banks of the Black Vermillion, a suitable name for the birthplace of a dark and bloody tale.    

© Dale Switzer 2023  dale@lovewellhistory.com