Ongoing Mysteries

There are a few unknowns about what went on along White Rock Creek between 1866 and 1870 that seem destined to remain mysteries a while longer.  One of these involves a story passed along by Thomas Lovewell’s granddaughter Orel Poole, which is so chock full of details that there almost has to be something to it, despite the fact that it left almost no trace in the public record.  Since there is no primary source evidence to support it, I have thus far left it alone, although I do still dangle bait in the water from time to time, hoping for a nibble.

The spring of 1870, the Government sent soldiers from Fort Sibley to protect the settlers from an Indian uprising that they had knowledge was going to take place as the Indians had sworn that no white man would remain in this territory.

Al Woodruff and Gust Heldt were cutting poles on the new Old Settlers ground.  They heard shooting north of them but thought it was hunters.  Soon an Indian appeared on horseback with a gun and wearing a white shirt, he raised the gun and fired at the men.  They jumped in their wagon and raced their team towards Lovewell’s.  They were both brave men but Gust was very nearsighted and Woodruff could not squint his eye; therefore he had to war a patch over his eye when he shot a gun; he had forgotten the patch that morning.

Lovewell hearing the shooting ran to see what was the trouble.  When the Indian saw him coming he rode on south.

According to Orel Poole, her grandfather had to persuade a dozen of their military protectors to emerge from the dugout where they were hiding, and ride with him to investigate.  

They went to the Peckham farm (which is north of the Newt Angle farm) where they found a family of five massacred.  It was a short distance from where the soldiers were stationed.  The soldiers were young men from the East who thought fighting Indians would be good sport, but when they saw the horrors of the Indian butchery they wanted no more “Indian assignment."

With a tally of victims that rivals the earlier White Rock Massacre, if an event like this one really happened, it should have made a ripple in the historical record, other than providing a family story for a proud granddaughter to share with readers of the Belleville Telescope in 1958.  Orel Poole was twenty years old by the time Thomas Lovewell died, twenty-eight when Orel Jane Lovewell died, and must have heard many of her grandparents' tales first-hand.  She not only received many more from her father, Stephen Lovewell, but also named her grandfather’s old neighbor Augustus “Gust” Heldt as another source.  Therefore, it did not surprise me to run across some information that seemed to validate the story of the 1870 massacre at the Peckham farm.

A 1968 master’s thesis on Indian raids in Kansas during the 1870’s declares that, "In a June raid at White Rock in Cloud County, several persons were murdered," citing the June 14, 1870 edition of the Republican Valley Empire, published at Clyde.  After finding this clue, I immediately ordered a copy of the microfilmed newspaper from the Kansas History Center, and discovered that the master’s candidate had simply misread the item, which does not refer to a specific time when stating that “The only raid the Indians have made where persons were killed, was on White Rock, some fifty miles from here, the particulars of which have been published.”  In other words, the story could refer to Indian depredations along the creek a year earlier, or perhaps even the widely-reported White Rock Massacre of 1867.

However, there is an item from the July 21, 1870 edition of the Leavenworth Weekly Times which suggests that a fatal encounter with Indians did occur that same year at White Rock.  

We learn from Mr. McNab, of Washington county, that, a few days ago, about forty Indians made an attack on seven men in the White Rock settlement.  One of the settlers was killed.  The others obtained arms and started in pursuit of the retreating Indians and succeeded in wounding several of them. 

It is hard to imagine that the item from the Leavenworth paper could be the initial report of the very same raid described by Orel Poole, since the two stories have almost nothing in common.  There were raids in north central Kansas in the spring of 1870, most of them conducted by small bands of Indians looking for horses.  Three men were killed at a mill dam in Mitchell County, the home of Waconda Springs.  According to at least one source, a fourth victim of the same attack later died of his wounds.  However, settlers at nearby Jewell City thought authorities should pay more attention to a gang of white horse thieves operating in their neighborhood.  Indians struck Peter Tanner’s farm along White Rock Creek in northern Jewell County on May 10, briefly depriving him of a team of horses, which he retrieved toward evening, after finding them hidden in a ravine.  During the same raid, Tanner's neighbor Samuel Bowles lost his team permanently, but got his money’s worth out of them by regaling his tinware customers with a comic version of the incident.

A few details of Orel Poole’s story are undoubtedly correct.  After four consecutive years of attacks, the Army had finally learned its lesson, stationing soldiers in the region that spring, with bases of operations at Fort Jewell and Fort Sibley.  Her portrayal of her grandfather’s attitude toward the soldiers is probably accurate.  In Thomas Lovewell’s experience, the Army was never particularly effective at protecting settlers from marauding Indians, not when he was a soldier in the Northwest, nor when he scouted for elements of the 10th Cavalry and 3rd Infantry in Kansas.  But, as for the core of the tale, the killing of a defenseless family on the Peckham farm while a dozen horse soldiers cowered in a nearby dugout, for the moment it will have to remain part of the fog of memory of dangerous times on a frontier which, after 1870, was about to push on west.

© Dale Switzer 2023