On the morning of August 8, 1864, a war party of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians attacked a Denver-bound freight wagon train killing thirteen men and taking captive Nancy Jane Morton of Sidney, Iowa, and nine-year old Daniel Marble of Council Bluffs, Iowa.
The wagon train consisted of twelve wagons from three outfits. Six of the wagons were reportedly from St. Joseph, Missouri, and carried shelled corn and farm implements. Three wagons, loaded with hardware and foodstuffs, were owned by William D. Marble of Council Bluffs. The remaining three were owned by Thomas Frank Morton. Accompanying Morton were his wife, Nancy Jane; her brother William Fletcher, and a cousin, John Fletcher.
The attack scattered the wagons on this site. Some turned toward the river, while others turned southward toward the bluffs. All thirteen men in the combined outfits were killed. Mrs. James Smith, of Marble's outfit, was traveling far in advance with her husband and his partner. They escaped by hiding in a cattail marsh near the river.
The attack took place in full view of several east-bound freight trains and a small detachment of soldiers of the Seventh Iowa Cavalry. They were stopped at the Thomas Ranch a mile and half west of this site. From the telegraph station at the ranch Lt. Joseph Bone sent a frantic message for
help to Fort Kearny, about thirty-five miles east; "and the company of men here quick as God can send them one hundred Indians in sight firing on ox train." The troops did not arrive until ten o'clock that night.
The victims were buried the following morning. Eleven bodies were scattered about this area and were buried in a common grave in a field a few yards south of here. Lt. F.G. Comstock wrote: "...we buried the men in a long trench but nothing had molested (the) dead previous to our arrival."
From varied accounts a partial list of the victims can be compiled: James Smith, A Mr. St. Clair, Charles Hiff, William D. Marble, Thomas Frank Morton, William Fletcher, John Fletcher, and six unidentified teamsters. The grave was described as being "upon the roadside in a mound slightly elevated and partly surrounded by a ravine."
In early September, Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle purchased Danny Marble and three other young people captured along the Little Blue and released them to Major Edward Wynkoop, of the First Colorado Cavalry, in northwestern Kansas. While awaiting return to his mother in Council Bluffs, Danny contracted typhoid fever. He died in Denver on November 9. According to legend, Mrs. James Smith died insane at Fort Kearny a few weeks after the massacre.
Nancy Morton, wounded by two arrows, remained a captive until about January 18, 1865, when she was ransomed by traders sent into the upper Powder River country at Wyoming by Major John Wood of the Seventh Iowa Cavalry. From Fort Laramie Nancy Morton returned over the trail to Fort Kearny and then took the stage to Nebraska City. She passed directly by this site where her family and friends had been murdered a few months earlier. She later wrote that being at the common grave brought back "the memory of that fatal morning repeatedly before me, not as a picture, but a present reality." She reached her father's home in Sidney on March 9, 1865, later remarried, and lived until 1912.
The story of Nancy Morton's captivity became known through written manuscripts acquired from her granddaughter by local historian Clyde Wallace, who began his study of the Plum Creek area. The manuscripts are now in possession of the Dawson County Historical Society in Lexington.
Signing and Funding by: The Oregon-California Trials Association