Abbie Gardner watched as a renegade band of Sioux Indians, under the leadership of Inkapaduta, came into her family’s cabin and demanded food and supplies.
She hunkered down and shivered in terror as the American Indians then killed her father, her mother and the rest of her family before taking her captive as they went on to kill other settlers in the Iowa Great Lakes area.
Gardner spent three months with her captors before finally being traded back to her people.
But that’s only part of the story.
Both the settlers and the American Indians were dealing with tough issues in that time, leading up to the horrific tragedies in March 1857.
Abbie Gardner Museum and Historic Site docents try to tell the whole story of the Spirit Lake Massacre, with events leading up to it like the Indian treaties and lack of food all area inhabitants dealt with the winter of 1857, to Gardner’s life after her release.
“One of the things I like to bring into the discussion is the massacre was not an event in itself,” said docent Jack Jones. “There were lots of things that led up to the massacre.”
The Abbie Gardner Museum and Historic Site, located at 74 Monument Drive in Arnolds Park, opens for the season Tuesday, May 31. Regular operating hours are noon-4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday through Labor Day weekend.
Visitors can see original paintings, historic artifacts and newspaper clippings. They can also tour the historic cabin and visit the massacre monument and gravesite.
“I hope they can relive that part of history and get empathy for the Indians and the Gardner family and what they went through,” said docent Ed Purdy. “It’s so wonderful the cabin and the surrounding area has been preserved.”
In fact, a large photo from the 1890s of Gardner in a museum she created and ran in her adult years shows paintings that are now on display in today’s museum.
Dickinson County Conservation Board naturalists will also visit the Abbie Gardner Museum during their monthly Hike the Wild program. To take part in this program, meet at the Dickinson County Nature Center in Okoboji at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23, and then caravan to the historic site. Tour the museum and cabin and then hike to Pillsbury Point on the shore of West Lake Okoboji.
For more information on the Abbie Gardner Museum and Historic Site or on Dickinson County Conservation Board programming, visit the conservation board's website or call 712-336-6352. You can also keep up with the latest happenings on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.