Massacres and Miscellany

In an email conversation with Phil Thornton a few days ago, we discussed how much information concerning Plains warfare in the 1860’s is still lurking out there, written down 150 years ago by the victims of Indian attacks and their neighbors, all just waiting in the dark for some researcher to shine a flashlight on it.

The information provided by settlers and businessmen who lost property and sought judgments from Indian tribes through the Department of Interior, is carefully sorted and preserved at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.  A handful of Western historians have begun to mine the files for their first-hand accounts of depredations, but there’s also good stuff waiting for genealogists, who can learn what personal effects their ancestors possessed that might have been worth stealing, among other things.

The case file of Thomas Lovewell’s brother-in-law Daniel Davis contains affidavits that helped me piece together the timeline of the 1867 Jewell County Massacre, and learn what the sole surviving boy really said to Mr. Lapier, one of the two men who found the bloody and frightened 13-year-old and whisked him to safety.  It also told me how many acres Daniel Davis had under cultivation that year, what he had planted, and how much money he figured he had lost by being chased away from his farm that spring, leaving his crops to rot in the ground.

Although the staff at the National Archives have been very prompt and helpful, I’m only batting .500 at finding what I’m after.  I was sure I’d hit pay dirt when someone finally located Pontus Ross’s file.  Ross was the young Swedish farmer who lost a team of horses in May of 1869 during a famous standoff with Cheyenne Dog Soldiers.  What I got instead was closer to a goose egg.  Ross had taken too long to submit the paperwork, leaving his case to gather dust in a cabinet.  No affidavits were ever filed on his behalf, no testimony was ever taken.  Even so, I did not come away quite empty-handed.  His original claim form contained details about his farming operation, the ages and value of his horses, and the fact that as the Indians galloped away from the field, they destroyed a wagon Ross owned.

Phil believes a friend of his from the D.C. area might be able to locate another file I’ve always hoped to see, a collection of dispatches from Camp Hoffman, an Army installation manned by troops from Fort Harker and Fort Riley who patrolled White Rock Creek in the summer of 1867.  Thomas Lovewell scouted for the soldiers, and, while his service coincided with no major skirmishes, it was not altogether uneventful, resulting in a few family anecdotes.  Perhaps one day the dispatches will fill in any gaps in his story.

While we were daydreaming, I mentioned three other files that could prove interesting.  Samuel Fisher’s depredation claim must have resulted in a hefty folder at the Archives, detailing some $3,000 in losses over a span of six years.  Samuel was Thomas Lovewell’s neighbor and a yarn-spinner of legendary proportions.  One can only hope that eventually Fisher was deposed on his own behalf.  His testimony should make interesting reading.  

The final case file that came to mind was that of Maria Winklepleck, the widow of Reuben Winklepleck and mother of Alonzo Winklepleck, two of the six buffalo hunters who were killed at the mouth of White Rock Creek in 1869.  Another Winklepleck, Edward, Reuben Winklepleck's nephew, was also killed in the attack.

As I was about to send my dream list of files, I quickly googled “Maria Winklepleck” to make sure I was remembering her name correctly.  Suddenly, a link I had never seen before popped into my browser window.  It was an item from the Chicago Tribune archives, a reprint of a story that had appeared in the New Philadelphia, Ohio, Democrat on June 25, 1869.  Under the headline, “Particulars of the Butchery of an Ohio Party in Kansas,” was not only one of the earliest accounts of the massacre, but one with details contained in no other source.

As with the White Rock Massacre, there was one living eyewitness to the ambush that took the lives of the Winkleplecks and three others in May 1869.  John McChesney guided the party of hunters from Waterville in Marshall County, to the northwest corner of Jewell County.  The men were returning east on their way home from a triumphant hunt.  Both wagons were loaded with buffalo meat, and, according to the story in the Tribune, six or seven buffalo calves were being led behind the wagons when Indians appeared.  The existence of the captured buffalo calves and John McChesney’s state of mind immediately after the ambush, as well as Maria’s reaction, are a few bits of the story that appear nowhere else. 

The evening before they were killed, they were attacked by seven Indians, and fought and whipped them.  In the morning one hundred came up and surrounded them, except in one place, where that man escaped …

The man that escaped hired a team and got his wagon home.  He threw all his meat away, saying he never wants to see buffalo meat again.  The man who has escaped I have not seen, but I have heard that he is almost crazy from fright.  His rest is disturbed by imaginary Indian fights at night.  He calls the men by name and jumps up in his sleep to fight the Indians. 

The massacre occurred on Friday the 28th of May, but I did not hear of it until the following Wednesday, in the evening.  I could not believe it until my brother Zeb went and saw the man that had escaped the next morning; and even now at times I can’t help but look for them; but alas! they come not.  What will become of our family, now bereft of a father, God only knows, and in Him I put my trust.  I can not write more now.  If I could see you, I would tell you more particulars.  Tell the sad news to my friends …

Maria Winklepleck

I’m told that Maria Winklepleck eventually received a small settlement for personal items and stock lost in the 1869 attack where White Rock Creek empties into the Republican River.  For the loss of a husband and a son there could be no reimbursement.  

© Dale Switzer 2023