Death at Summit Springs: Susanna Alderdice and the Cheyennes

6/12/2006 • Battle Of Chickamauga, Civil War 1863, George Custer, Native American Indian Chiefs, Wild West

On the afternoon of July 11, 1869, it was hot and windy in northeastern Colorado Territory — typical summer weather for that part of the country. But it was not otherwise a typical day. As the hour approached 3 o’clock, the order was given by trumpet to charge the Indian village at Summit Springs (near present-day Sterling, Colorado). At the sound of ‘Charge, 244 officers and men of the 5th U.S. Cavalry, along with 50 Pawnee Indians serving as scouts, quickly descended upon the village of 84 lodges. Cheyenne Dog Soldier Chief Tall Bull and his people could not have been more surprised.

The attack was swift and successful. In less than three hours, all the fighting was over. The Indians — mostly Cheyenne Dog Soldiers, but also a few Sioux and Arapahos — had been routed. By 6 p.m., at least 52 warriors, including the powerful and troublesome Tall Bull, lay dead in and around the village, and 17 Indian women and children had been captured. Amazingly enough, the cavalry had suffered just one casualty — a trooper slightly injured by a glancing arrow wound to the ear.

Almost as soon as the shooting stopped, a powerful hail and thunderstorm descended upon the village. Everyone took shelter, but lightning killed one horse while a soldier sat upon it. Twelve other horses had died during the fight, most from sheer exhaustion when the soldiers pursued the fleeing Indians for several miles. There were two other casualties that July day. Tall Bull’s village contained two young white women, who had been captured six weeks earlier in central Kansas. At the time of the 5th Cavalry’s attack, the women were at opposite ends of the village. As the soldiers rode in at the northern end, most of the Indians tried to escape to the south and east. Several of them first sought to kill the two captives.

Maria Weichel, shot through the back with a pistol ball, which hit a rib and lodged in the flesh of her left breast, was painfully and gravely wounded. She would recover. Susanna Alderdice, however, was not so fortunate. The mother of four children, pregnant with her fifth, was shot above the eye, and her skull was crushed by a tomahawk. Falling unconscious upon the hot prairie sand, she breathed her last just as her would-be rescuers discovered her. At 8 o’clock the next morning, under clear skies, Susanna was given a Christian burial. Wrapped in two lodge skins and the best buffalo robe discovered in the village, she was placed in a deep grave. Today, her grave remains unmarked somewhere in the desolate terrain of the Summit Springs battlefield.

Alderdice was born Susanna Zeigler in early 1840 in Green Township, Ohio. The first of Michael and Mary Zeigler’s several children, Susanna would grow up in the Buckeye State. On October 28, 1860, she married 20-year-old James Alfred Daily in Missouri’s Clay County. The Civil War was raging when they moved to Salina, a new town in central Kansas. James, taking advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862, had staked a claim. Susanna’s first child, John Daily, was born there on July 1, 1863.

James Daily heeded the call to duty on July 16, 1864, enlisting for 100 days in the 17th Kansas Volunteer Infantry. He was assigned to Company D and sent to Lawrence. On October 5, the month before James was due to return, Susanna gave birth to her second child, Willis Daily.

Just two days before his enlistment expired, James Daily entered the general hospital at Fort Leavenworth, suffering from fever. James was placed in quarantine, and 11 days later, on November 25, he succumbed to typhoid fever. Susanna Daily, called Susan by her family and friends, was left to raise the two young children, with the help of her parents, who had moved to the Salina area earlier.

The widow then met Tom Alderdice, originally from Pennsylvania, who was serving as a drummer in the 2nd U.S. Volunteer Infantry and was stationed along the Solomon River near Salina. But Tom had a secret he kept from everyone. He was a galvanized Yankee, having earlier served in the Confederate 44th Mississippi Infantry. Captured at Chickamauga in September 1863, he became a prisoner of war at Rock Island, Ill., where he remained for the next 13 months until he took the oath of allegiance and enlisted for a year in Union service on October 17, 1864. He was sent to Kansas, where he was less likely to desert back to Confederate service.

On June 28, 1866, Tom married Susanna, and the family settled on a homestead along the Saline River close to Spillman Creek (near present-day Lincoln, Kan.). In 1867 Frank was born, and in early fall 1868, Alice came into the world. Susanna’s family now included four children.

Central Kansas experienced extreme drought in 1868 and devastating raids by Cheyenne Dog Soldiers, along with some Sioux and Arapaho warriors. Settlements along the Solomon River in Cloud and especially Mitchell counties were the worst hit. In a series of raids on August 12 and 13, many settlers were killed. Sarah White, 17, was captured at her home, and her father murdered.

A call to arms went out, and General Philip Sheridan authorized 50 civilian scouts to serve under Major Sandy Forsyth. At least 23 men were from the Saline River valley, several of whom signed up at the Schermerhorn ranch in Lincoln County in late August. The youngest of the Forsyth Scouts was Susanna’s 16-year-old brother, Eli Zeigler. Susanna’s husband, Tom, also served four months in the scouts, who called themselves the Solomon Avengers.

That September, the Forsyth Scouts found themselves trying to fight off the Cheyenne leader Roman Nose and as many as 700 Dog Soldiers, including Tall Bull, along the Arikaree River, a tributary of the Republican River, just past the Kansas border in Colorado Territory. The scouts made a desperate stand on a small island in the mostly dry creek bed, remaining there for nine days. The beleaguered force survived mostly by eating the horses killed at the beginning of the fight. At least 25 men were seriously wounded, but four of the scouts managed to steal away and obtain military help.

Five of the Forsyth Scouts, including 1st Lt. Frederick H. Beecher, died in what became known as the Battle of Beecher Island. The Indians may have lost as many as 50 men, including the mighty Roman Nose, who was killed while leading a charge. In 1898 the site was rediscovered by some of the surviving scouts. A large obelisk erected there nearly 100 years ago bears the names of each of the Forsyth Scouts. Tom Alderdice is the first name listed, and Eli Zeigler is the last. Both men had survived the famous encounter.

Beecher Island, however, did little to stop or even slow down the Indian raids. Within a month, settlements on the Solomon and Saline rivers were hit again and more settlers murdered. Newlywed James Morgan managed to escape despite a serious hip wound, but his wife, Anna, was captured and soon joined Sarah White in Cheyenne Chief Stone Forehead’s village.

General Sheridan now changed tactics and began a winter campaign. Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, who had risen to major general during the Civil War, emerged from a year’s suspension to command 11 companies of the 7th Cavalry. At the crack of dawn on November 29, 1868, on the banks of the Washita River in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma), Custer surprised the village of Black Kettle, killing the Cheyenne chief and at least 100 others. More than 50 Indian women and children were taken captive. During the Battle of the Washita, the Indians apparently killed two white captives — Clara Blinn and her 2-year-old son, Willie, who had been taken two months earlier in southeastern Colorado Territory.

Reinforced by the 19th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, Custer continued the campaign. On March 13, 1869, he came upon Stone Forehead’s village on Sweetwater Creek (in the Texas Panhandle) and soon learned of two white captives, Sarah White and Anna Morgan. That kept Custer from attacking. What he did do was arrest several chiefs and threaten to hang them, thus securing the release of the two white women.

Custer returned the captive chiefs to Fort Hays, promising to release them when all Indians of the village agreed to return to their reservation. Many settlers believed that Custer had succeeded in finally bringing peace to the Kansas frontier. Custer himself wrote in a report, This I consider as the termination of the Indian war. It was far from the truth.

In May 1869, Major Eugene Carr and several companies of the 5th Cavalry from Fort Lyon in Colorado were traveling to Fort McPherson in Nebraska when they surprised Tall Bull’s Dog Soldiers. A sharp fight on the 13th near Elephant Rock, along Beaver Creek in northwest Kansas, resulted in at least 25 dead warriors and four dead cavalrymen. The soldiers destroyed 25 lodges. Three days later, a fight occurred a few miles away near Spring Creek, resulting in at least 20 Indian casualties (how many dead is unknown). No soldiers were killed in the second fight, but several were wounded. Carr then proceeded to Fort McPherson, having exhausted his rations.

Once Carr had departed, Tall Bull was free to exact revenge for the deaths of his people. His Dog Soldiers struck in a series of raids in Kansas, beginning on May 21. The worst came in Jewell County on May 25 when six hunters were killed. A seventh, John McChesney, hid in nearby tall grass during the attack and was the sole survivor.

On May 28, Tall Bull’s warriors struck a railroad crew working near Fossil Creek (where Russell, Kan., now sits), killing two men and wounding four. The next day, the Dog Soldiers surprised a hunting party of four Americans and wounded Solomon Humbarger in the hip with an arrow. The hunters, neighbors of Tom and Susanna Alderdice, hid in various creek banks while slowly making their way back to the Saline River valley. As the men came into Lincoln County, they realized they were following the tracks of the Indian raiding party.

On Sunday, May 30, about 60 Indians descended upon a new Danish settlement nestled along the banks of Spillman Creek, about 10 miles above where it joins with the Saline River (three miles west of present-day Lincoln). Susanna’s brother Eli Zeigler and a brother-in-law, John Alverson, happened to be driving a wagon near the settlement when they saw the raiders divide into attack groups. Some of the Indians also saw them, and 15 warriors gave chase. The two white men drove their wagon hard to a creek, where they found some protection. The Indians shot at them many times but were unwilling to charge the creek bed. After taking the horses and disabling the wagon, the raiders departed, leaving Zeigler and Alverson unscathed.

People in the Danish settlement were not so lucky. Erskild and Stine Lauritzen were on their way to fetch their 12-year-old son from a neighbor’s house when they were both shot, scalped and stripped naked. Not far from where the Lauritzens were killed, the Indians also surprised Maria and George Weichel and family friend Fred Meigerhoff. The men were armed, though, and they put up a running fight for four miles. The Indians would not quit, and they moved in for the kill once the white men’s ammunition ran out. To obtain a ring, the Indians cut off one of George Weichel’s fingers. His 20-year-old wife, Maria, was taken captive. Also killed that afternoon was a man who had been living with the Lauritzens, Otto Pearson. His scalped and mutilated body would be found two days later on the west side of Spillman Creek.

The raiders were not through. About 5 p.m. that same day, they approached the house where Susanna Alderdice was staying while her husband, Tom, was in Salina, 35 miles away, fetching supplies with some other settlers, including Timothy Kine and William Hendrickson. In the house with Susanna were her four children, John, Willis, Frank and baby Alice; Kine’s wife, Bridget, and their 2-month-old daughter, Katherine; Thomas Noon and his wife; and Nicholas Whalen. The house belonged to Michael Haley, who had allowed them to stay there for their own protection. Haley, however, had taken his family near Fort Harker, where he figured it would be safer during this time of Indian raiding.

Hearing a noise, Bridget Kine went to the front door of the Haley house and looked off toward her own home. She was startled to see Indians taking her husband’s mare. The Noons and Whalen also saw what was happening and bolted from the Haley house, heading in the opposite direction. Bridget and Susanna were left behind without any weapons. The two women quickly gathered their children and ran for the high banks of the Saline River, about 100 yards behind the house.

Carrying only daughter Katherine, Bridget Kine reached the river first, waded to an overhanging tree branch and hid as best she could. With four children in her care, Susanna Alderdice couldn’t move nearly as fast, especially since she must have been carrying the two youngest ones. Once it became obvious that they could not make it to the river, Susanna dropped to the ground. The Indians showed no mercy to her three boys, who were abused and struck down before her eyes. From her hiding place, Bridget Kine heard the screams of the boys and of Susanna, who, like Maria Weichel, was taken captive. Once the Indians had gone off with Susanna and 8-month-old Alice Alderdice, Bridget and her own daughter fled five miles to the fortified Schermerhorn ranch.

There was one more murderous incident along the Saline River on May 30. Two warriors — one old, one still in his teens — came upon John Strange and Arthur Schmutz, both 13. Speaking in halting English, the old warrior claimed to be a good Pawnee Indian. He touched both white boys on the shoulders, counting coup. The younger warrior suddenly raised his war club and struck John Strange in the head, killing him instantly. Arthur Schmutz ran for his life. The young warrior fired an arrow that struck him and penetrated his lung. Arthur yanked the shaft from his side, but the arrow point remained in his lung. Riley and Marion Strange, younger brothers of John, heard the commotion and boldly came forward to help — one carrying a box of ammunition, and the other shooting at the young warrior. The two Indians departed, and Arthur was taken to the hospital at Fort Harker. The doctors there were unable to extract the arrow point from his lung, and the young patient died nearly 11 weeks later.

At the time of Susanna Alderdice’s capture, G Company of Custer’s 7th Cavalry was crossing the Saline River about a mile to the east. Lieutenant Edward Law and 2nd Lt. Thomas March, who had been slightly wounded at the Battle of the Washita, were in command. About half the soldiers had crossed the river when panicked settlers appeared from the west and told of the murderous raiding.

Earlier, March had heard gunshots but had assumed they came from settlers out hunting. The fleeing settlers quickly informed him of his error, and the second lieutenant took 30 soldiers and several of the settlers to go after the raiders. After riding some five miles, March’s command came upon a small party of Indians grazing their horses. Settler Jacob Schafer recognized a mare and a colt that belonged to Timothy Kine and four horses belonging to Frank Schermerhorn. The soldiers fired at the Indians but didn’t hit anyone, and the chase continued. After darkness fell, March still led his men another 15 miles before calling it quits. They didn’t return to their camp until after midnight.

The next day, May 31, settlers and soldiers discovered raid victims scattered along Spillman Creek and the Saline River. Tom Alderdice, returning from Salina, stopped off at the Schermerhorn ranch, where he learned about his son and two stepsons, as well as the capture of his wife and baby daughter. From there, he rode to William Hendrickson’s house, where the bodies of his son Frank, age 2, and his stepson John, not yet 6, had been taken. Tom’s agonizing cries as he viewed the little bodies would never be forgotten by young C.C. Hendrickson, William’s son. At least Tom’s other stepson, the gravely wounded Willis, was hanging on to life.

Despite his tragic homecoming, Tom Alderdice set out on his own on June 1 in search of his wife and baby daughter. Several miles to the north, not far from the Solomon River, he finally picked up the raiders’ trail. He followed that for several more miles before he spotted several warriors coming and going from a creek unknown to him. He hid in a ravine and watched for a while, soon realizing that the Indians were going off on hunting and raiding parties. I supposed a large camp above, he later wrote. He needed help, so he returned to the Saline River valley and then traveled to Fort Leavenworth, hoping the soldiers would join in his rescue mission.

While at Fort Leavenworth, Tom Alderdice was interviewed by the Leavenworth Times and Conservative. The newspaper account mistakenly said that Tom discovered his sons’ bodies near his house, instead of first seeing them at the Hendrickson place. According to the paper, one dead boy had four bullets in his body and another had five arrows in his body. As for the wounded Willis, age 4, the newspaper reported that he was found with five arrows in his body, one entering his back to the depth of five inches.

Another news story said that Tom Alderdice met with George Custer, who was at Fort Leavenworth to serve as a judge at a horse fair. Tom also met Custer’s wife, Libbie, and she later wrote about the encounter in Following the Guidon:

The man was almost wild with grief over the capture of his wife by Indians, and the murder of his children….The man was as nearly a madman as can be. His eyes wild, frenzied, and sunken with grief, his voice weak with suffering, his tear-stained, haggard face — all told a terrible tale of what he had been and was enduring. He wildly waved his arms as he paced the floor like some caged thing, and implored General Custer to use his influence to organize an expedition to secure the release of his wife. He turned to me with trembling tones, describing the return to his desolate cabin….The silence in the cabin told its awful tale, and he knew, without entering, that the mother of the little ones had met with the horrible fate which every woman in those days considered worse than death.

Tom Alderdice told about his own scouting activities and also provided a written description of Susanna to the officers at Fort Leavenworth, and a copy was then forwarded to Major Carr in the field. Tom described his wife as medium height, light complexion, with light brown hair and blue eyes. He also noted that Susanna had a female child eight months old, with her, when captured. Tom returned to the Saline River valley, but soon ventured out again to the creek where he had discovered the Indians earlier. This time, as Major Carr would later report, Tom came upon the Dog Soldiers’ abandoned camp and discovered a most horrible sight — the lifeless form of his baby, Alice, strangled with a bowstring. His captured wife, Susanna, had been allowed to carry Alice for three days before the baby’s incessant crying had prompted the Indians to silence her forever. Now, there was nothing left for Tom Alderdice to do but pray that Carr and his troopers would find Susanna and bring her home safely.

During these tumultuous times on the frontier, female settlers dreaded being captured by Indians. At the hands of their captors, as Mrs. Custer observed, they were liable to face a fate worse than death. If a woman was rescued, the reassimilation into white society was never easy. Published accounts about Indian captivity were often mere whitewashes of the truth. Consider the account left by Veronica Ulbrich Megnin, written only for the government, regarding her captivity when she was just 13. Veronica was seized in 1867, not too far north of where Susanna Alderdice was captured two years later.

I remember vividly the hot summer day of 1867 when a band of Cheyenne Indians swept down upon our farm, captured me and my brother Peter. They whipped us with their rawhides and we cried bitterly for help. More dead than alive they took us away from home and three miles later they shot my brother off the horse and left him, where I pointed out the location four months later to my father….They compelled me to travel with them, we were traveling from one place to another, some of the band were on the go all the time. I did not get enough to eat, suffered from thirst, had to wash and do other work; sometimes they whipped me, sometimes they wanted or threatened to kill me. Soon one Indian, soon another belonging to the band forcibly violated my body, causing me immense pain and anguish thereby. This was almost a daily and nightly occurrence which would have killed me, if I had not been liberated almost exhausted.

Every woman knew that if captured, repeated rapes were likely to occur, but rapes were not mentioned in popular captivity narratives written by women who were later rescued. Like Veronica, Susanna Alderdice and Maria Weichel undoubtedly suffered horribly during their captivity, receiving little food or water and too much sun. The rapes would go on, night and day. To the end of her days, Susanna would surely remember the screams of her children as they were being killed. Susanna and Maria traveled hundreds of miles in captivity.

On June 9, 1869, Major Carr, commanding eight companies of the 5th Cavalry and three companies of Pawnee Scouts, left Fort McPherson with orders to clear the Republican River country of all Indians. Carr would have several minor encounters with Tall Bull’s Dog Soldiers. Late in the day on June 15, a seven-man party of Cheyennes attacked Carr’s camp in an attempt to drive off the mules. Carr reported that his men fought valiantly and prevented them from getting a hoof. One soldier and one teamster were wounded. I got one of the Indians’ ponies. On July 5, a detachment of Pawnee Scouts, commanded by Major Frank North but attached to Major William Bedford Royall, found several Dog Soldiers. In a sharp fight, the scouts killed three warriors and wounded others. Carr feared this engagement would cause the rest of Tall Bull’s village to scatter and escape to Wyoming Territory.

Three days later, shooting erupted again when several Indians came across a small detachment of soldiers. No soldiers were killed, but two of Tall Bull’s warriors were wounded. Corporal John Kile would later be awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery during the skirmish. On that same night, July 8, Indians attacked Carr’s camp and tried unsuccessfully to run off his horses. Sergeant Mad Bear of the Pawnee Scouts was wounded by friendly fire after he charged the retreating Indians and was about to kill one of the warriors. For that action, along with his killing of two warriors in the July 5 fight, Mad Bear was also awarded the Medal of Honor.

On July 9, Carr pushed his men, hoping to overtake the Indians before they had a chance to cross the South Platte River and escape to Wyoming Territory. On the evening of the 10th, Carr camped at a place where the Indians had camped that morning. He knew that a strong final push was needed because the Indians were aware of his presence. After reducing his command to only those men whose horses were fit for a hard and long ride, he was left with 244 soldiers and 50 Pawnee Scouts. William Buffalo Bill Cody, chief scout and guide, rode with them.

Carr’s reduced force struck out in a northwesterly direction on July 11, seeking to pass undetected around the Indians and then attack from a position that would surprise them. By 2 p.m., the force had traveled 35 miles and was maneuvering into position undetected by the enemy. Rolling sand hills provided good cover and allowed Carr to bring his men to within two miles of Tall Bull’s village. The Pawnee Scouts stripped for battle, keeping just enough clothing on to keep from being mistaken for Dog Soldiers. Three leading companies were placed in parallel columns of two, and the order to charge was blown on the trumpet. The attack was hard and swift. Carr later noted in a letter:

I may add that Tall Bull the chief…was killed. He had started off with his favorite wife and little girl and they were hoping to escape when he looked back and saw the destruction of his village and band of robbers in which he had taken great pride. He told his squaw that he could not bear to live after that and was going to turn back and fight and be killed….The squaw said that he turned back and met the soldiers and was killed and that she sat down facing them with her little girl in her lap and they came up and took her as prisoner into camp — she with all the seventeen prisoners were afterwards sent up the Missouri to their friends.

Tall Bull chose to face the soldiers in the high bluffs just to the south and east of the village. There, after he and 19 other warriors engaged the soldiers in the most desperate fighting in the battle, he was killed. Buffalo Bill later took credit for killing Tall Bull. So did Major Frank North, who, as fate would have it, later toured with Cody’s Wild West and died in 1885 from injuries incurred when he was thrown from a horse at Hartford, Conn., the previous year. But it might not have been either of them. Major Carr wrote in 1901 that Daniel McGrath, a Company H enlisted man at the time of the fighting, particularly distinguished himself at the Battle of Summit Springs, Colorado where he killed the Chief Tall Bull. Given that Cody mentioned in one of his accounts of Summit Springs that McGrath had captured Tall Bull’s pony, perhaps McGrath was indeed the one who killed the chief.

The captured village contained much booty, all of which was destroyed the next morning. The soldiers set 160 separate fires to make sure everything burned. Items found included a necklace made of human fingers, 56 rifles, 22 revolvers, 40 bows with arrows, 350 knives, 47 axes, 17 sabers, 690 buffalo robes, 552 panniers (saddlebags), 152 moccasins, 150 pans, kegs and kettles, 9,300 pounds of dried meat, 340 tin cups and plates, 28 new dresses, 1,500 dolls, 200 coffee pots, 418 horses and mules, and more than 10 tons of various Indian clothing, equipment and food. Tall Bull and his followers had lived well. Almost $886 was found in the village, and Lieutenant Edward P. Doherty gave it to the wounded captive, Maria Weichel. Carr wrote: There was the greatest quantity of plunder in the Indian village, such as clocks, watches, photographs, shawls, kitchen and household utensils, mules, horses, etc., etc., which they had taken from settlers and freighters. Carr’s success, however, was somewhat tempered by the death of the other captive, Susanna Alderdice, who must have at least had hope of rescue before the end.

On the morning of July 12, she was buried, according to Carr, on a little bluff, which overlooks Summit Springs, with such religious services as we were able to perform. Dr. Louis Tesson performed the ceremony. The officers at first called the battle Susanna Springs in honor of the late Mrs. Alderdice, but Carr later changed it when he learned the place already had the name Summit Springs. After the burial, the soldiers marched for Fort Sedgwick.

Susanna Alderdice died without knowing that one of her sons, Willis Daily, was still alive. The day after the murderous raid, a soldier had discovered Willis and his two dead brothers naked under a pile of brush. In addition to many arrow wounds, the 4-year-old had taken two bullets in the back and a spear through a hand. One of the arrows had penetrated deep into his breastbone. For some reason, the surgeon accompanying Lieutenant Law’s company had refused to treat Willis, or even to examine him, and the lieutenant could not order him to do so because the boy was a civilian. This surgeon later would be chastised in a Kansas newspaper editorial for his callousness. Willis remained for two days with the metal arrow point imbedded 5 inches in his back before some settlers removed it at the Hendrickson house. According to C.C. Hendrickson, Willis begged so hard to have it taken out that a man by the name of Phil Lantz said that if someone would hold him down, he could pull it out and a man by the name of Washington Smith said he would hold him. Lantz pulled the arrow out with a pair of bullet molds of my father’s and as luck would have it, the spike came out but no one thought he would live.

Willis survived his ordeal but would walk with a limp the rest of his life. He was raised by Susanna’s parents in Cedron Township, about 20 miles north of Lincoln, and eventually received a pension for the Civil War service of his father, James Alfred Daily, who had died just seven weeks after Willis was born in 1864. Willis’ stepfather, Tom Alderdice, had left Lincoln County soon after learning that Susanna was dead. While living in Iowa’s Clinton County in 1873, Tom remarried and had a second family. By the early 1890s he and his family were living in Milan, Kan., southwest of Wichita, but he would not return to Lincoln County until 1911, 42 years after Tall Bull’s deadly raid. Tom’s motive was to find the unmarked graves of John Daily and Frank Alderdice, but he was unsuccessful and left the county for good. He died in Conway Springs, Kan., in 1925.

As for Willis, he married Mary Twibell on March 25, 1886, and they raised a son (named James Alfred after Willis’ father) and two daughters (Anna and Elsie). In 1893, the family moved from Lincoln County to Marshall County and lived on a farm four miles east of Blue Rapids. About 1917 Willis was experiencing leg problems, and at first his old arrow wounds were blamed. Daddy never talked about it [the Indian raid of 1869], his daughter Anna Daily Watters remembered, but I have seen the five big arrow scars on his back many times. Shortly, though, he was diagnosed with cancer. A series of amputations left him without legs but did not keep the cancer from spreading to his vital organs. He died at his home near Blue Rapids on June 16, 1920. Willis was said to be a well-loved man, never showing resentment or bitterness for the trauma of his fourth year of life caused by the Dog Soldiers’ brutal raid in Lincoln County.

This article was written by Jeff Broome and originally appeared in the October 2003 issue of Wild West.

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