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With Spirit Lake Relief Expedition

   Posted by: admin    in Pocahontas, Rolfe, Spirit Lake

The Fort Dodge Messenger: March 30, 1906

With Spirit Lake Relief Expedition

Ora P. Malcom (sic), of Pocahontas, Was One of Fort Dodge Company of Rescuers

Tells Story of Experiences

Perils and Hardships Experienced by Those Who Started on Errand of Mercy

Ora P. Malcolm, of Pocahontas, was one of the members of the detachment from Fort Dodge, which braved hardship and suffering on their way to the rescue of victims of the Spirit Lake Massacre.

The story of that perilous expedition will never cease to be of interest to Fort Dodge people, and Mr. Malcolm is one of those who are best fitted to tell the story of the perilous march.

The Rolfe Reveille contains the following regarding the experience of Mr. Malcolm with the Fort Dodge relief party:

“The news having reached Fort Dodge near which place Mr. Malcolm was working, of the Spirit Lake massacre, a company was formed to go to the scene. Word having been sent to Webster City and Homer, each of these towns raised a company, and the late John F. Duncombe was chosen captain of the Fort Dodge contingent, with which Mr. Malcolm took service. Major William Williams of the Fort commanded the expedition which started on its hard tramp March 24. Snow was two feet deep on the level, and twenty in some places. Three wagons drawn by oxen contained supplies, and because of the roads, some days but six or seven miles were made. The boys at times formed themselves into two lines and tramped back and forth to beat a path so the oxen could pull the loads through.

“When they had finally reached the vicinity of the lakes, they found a detachment from Fort Ridgley had secured the country for the Indians, who were gone. The men were then told off in fours, every fourth man to go to the lakes to help bury the dead and the rest starting homeward. Mr. Malcolm was among the latter. It had started to rain and when they reached Cylinder creek in Palo Alto county the stream was hald (sic – should be half) a mile and filled with floating ice.

“All the party were wet to the skin, and when at night the rain turned to snow and a howling blizzard set in, they found themselves not only in discomfort but in danger. A wagon box had been placed on the ground for shelter and Duncombe and others caulked this with blankets town into strips, proposing to cross the stream in it. He and three others, among the A.N. started across the others declining to trust such a craft.

“The four passed safely, but it being impossible for one or two to take the awkard (sic) craft back in such a gale, they went on a couple of miles to Shippey’s cabin where they found food and shelter.

“Returning the next morning to the stream they found it frozen over excepting a narrow channel. they could see nothing of their friends on the other side, and so Mr. Malcolm, being the lightest of the party, was chosen to go across and investigate. Taking a board from the wagon box, he went carefully out on the ice, placed it across the channel and crawled over.

“He found the men but none would cross the channel on so frail a bridge., and he returned. The next morning it was frozen over and all crossed, and the rest of the homeward journey was without event. the trip lasted seventeen days, and Mr. Malcolm says that no tiem during his service in the war of the rebellion did he experience seventeen days of such hardship as came to him on the Spirit Lake expedition.

“Of the party left to bury the dead at Spirit Lake two perished in the storm and their bleaching bones were found on the prairie long afterward. When the blizzard struck this company they disagreed as to the direction to be taken, and the two who lost their lives struck out with the conviction they could reach a cabin, but they lost their way. The balance of the company stood their ground until morning when they reached timber and were safe.

“When spring had opened Mr. Malcolm came to Pocahontas county with a man named Smith, and the farm now owned by Lot Fisher and the quarter west of it were pre-empted. Later W.H. Hait, Robert Struthers, Perry Nowlen and others arrived, and Pocahontas county had gained some of its best of citizens. Robert Struthers has passed to the great beyond, W.H. Hait is a progressive and vigorous stock raiser and farmer, while Mr. Nowlen and Mr. Malcolm with their good wives are living in Rolfe taking the ease they earned in those early days and the years since.”

(Editor’s note: The Spirit Lake Massacre occurred March 8-12, 1857. Word reached Fort Dodge days later, and a relief expedition was formed. The men faced physical hardships on the way to the scene and on the way home, and two men died in a blizzard while returning. Because of the mass amount of coverage of the expedition, it will have its own page – or pages – which will be a work in progress for some time.)

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