Note: This story is from my book Highway History And Back Road Mystery II.
Alongside a back road a few miles west of Boone, Iowa we found the lonely grave of a young pioneer boy who met a tragic death, only the first in a violent series of atrocities that stretched over five years and resulted in the infamous Spirit Lake Massacre.
John Henry Lott came to Iowa Territory from Pennsylvania, by way of Ohio, about 1840, and settled with his family at Red Rock, in Marion County. Lott began a successful business trading with the local Sac and Fox Indians. Red Rock was a wild place with an unpleasant reputation, populated by cheats, thieves, and whisky peddlers. No angel himself, Henry Lott fit right in with this group.
When the Sac and Fox left the area under the terms of a treaty, Lott settled in Boone County near the mouth of the Boone River. Here he attempted to recreate his earlier success, but Lott and the Sioux never got along well.
Lott was a horse thief, stealing settlers’ horses and Indian ponies, which he drove out of the area to sell. He also supplied the Indians with whiskey, in defiance of the law. He seems to have been equally unpopular with both the Indians and his neighboring settlers. By the winter of 1846, things had deteriorated between Lott and the Sioux to the point that the Sioux chief, Sidominadotah, known to the whites as Two Fingers, accused him of stealing several Indian ponies and demanded their return.
Lott ignored the chief’s command, and one December day a band of war-painted Sioux warriors attacked his cabin. Lott and his stepson hid across the river, leaving his wife Sally and twelve year old son Milton alone when the Indians appeared and began to slaughter the family’s cattle and ransack the cabin. They fled south, supposedly to summon help, but more likely to save their hides.
Back at the cabin, the Sioux chief ordered the terrified Milton to go outside and round up the stolen horses, threatening to kill the boy if he did not hurry. Once outside, Milton, clad in only pants and shirt, ran downriver to summon aid to come back and rescue his mother.
One can only imagine the terror the boy felt, or the physical torture he endured as he ran down the ice of the frozen river. His feet, face, and hands quickly grew numb in the frigid air, but still he pushed on. Over and over he stumbled, rose to his feet and continued to run through the knee deep snow blanketing the river’s ice. Finally, some 20 miles south of his family’s cabin, young Milton could take no more. He fell once again, and this time he did not have the strength to regain his feet. Milton Lott froze to death there on the river, alone and physically battered by the elements and his ordeal.
At the Lott cabin, the Sioux had finished their looting and abusing Sally Lott and finally rode off. For three days Sally survived, huddled in the cold without a blanket, wearing just rags for clothing to protect herself. She did not know if her sons and husband were alive or dead, and she did not know if the Indians would return or what terrible thing would happen next. Somewhere in those three days she lost her mind and began to collapse physically.
On the third day, John Lott returned to the cabin with a party of settlers and found what was left of his wife. Along the way they had discovered Milton’s frozen body. Unable to bury the boy in the hard ground, they had stuffed him into a hollow log and blocked it with wood and rocks to keep animals from molesting the body. News of Milton’s death was the final straw for Sally Lott, and within a few days she, too, died. Reports of the incident say that death was a merciful escape from her suffering.
A month later, during a break in the cold weather, the temperature had warmed enough that John Lott and several men returned to the hollow log and buried Milton in a proper grave on the bluff above the river where he had died.
But the bloodshed had only begun. Instead of shouldering any responsibility for the events that led to the deaths of his wife and son, John Lott developed a bitter hatred for the Sioux and vowed revenge.
A few weeks after the attack on his cabin he moved to Fort Des Moines, where he married Jemima McGuire on February 14, 1848. The couple would have three children.
In the spring of 1849, Lott moved his family back to the same log cabin in which his first wife died. In 1851, Jemima died in childbirth, but her baby son survived. Lott quickly found homes for his son and two daughters, then moved northward and settled on Lott’s Creek, close to the village of his sworn enemy, Sioux Chief Two Fingers.
Wearing a disguise, Lott befriended the old chief and managed to win his trust, all the while secretly plotting his revenge. Two Fingers never recognized his enemy, and on a visit to the chief’s wigwam, the old Indian proudly displayed several pieces of silverware that he had taken from the Lott cabin during the raid that took the lives of Sally and Milton Lott.
Soon afterward, Lott and his stepson lured the old chief away from his wigwam on the pretense of an elk hunt, and then brutally murdered him. They then returned to his wigwam and killed the chief’s wife and three of his children in a horrible fashion. They attempted to hide the bodies under the ice of the creek, and it is said the water ran so red with their blood that this stretch of river forever after was known as Bloody Run.
John Lott and his son were charged with murder, but they had fled west soon after the murders and were never seen again. There were rumors that he was killed in a shootout in California several years later, though this was never confirmed. Interestingly enough, a John Lott was named the postmaster in a tiny settlement in Doniphan County, Kansas in 1857. This region was home to a great many of the displaced Sac and Fox Indians that Lott had befriended when he first arrived in Iowa. Could this be the same John Lott?
The bloodshed did not end with the deaths of Two Fingers and his family. The chief’s brother, Inkapaduta, vowed revenge for their murders, and in a series of raids in March, 1856, Inkapaduta led a war party in attacks on settlements in the Okoboji and Spirit Lakes area that resulted in the deaths of 35 settlers and the kidnapping of four pioneer women, two of whom died or were murdered in captivity. This series of events became known as the Spirit Lake Massacre.
The Lott cabin where the Indian raid took place has long since disappeared, the blood of Two Fingers and his family no longer runs in Lott’s Creek, and most people have forgotten all about the terrible deeds that took place here. But Milton Lott’s grave still remains to remind us of that tragic day when a terrified young pioneer boy died alone on the frozen ice of the Des Moines River.
Milton Lott’s grave can be found a few miles west of Boone, Iowa, north of the Kate Shelley High Bridge. GPS coordinates at the gravesite are N 42° 05.254 W 093º 56.368.
Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an RV camping journal donated by Barbara House. Barbara makes several variations of these, and they all have pages where you can list the date, weather, where you traveled to and from that day, beginning and ending mileage, campground information including amenities at RV sites, a place for a campground rating, room to record activities, people met along the way, reminders of places to see and things to do the next time you’re in the area, and a page for notes for each day. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.
Thought For The Day – A goal without a plan is just a wish.