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Iowa History Daily: March 8 - Inkpaduta, Abbie, and Spirit Lake

Iowa History Daily: On March 8, 1857, incredible violence erupted between the Wahpekute Dakota leader Inkpaduta and the collected American settlers living at Spirit Lake. One of the most infamous moments in Iowa’s history, the story represents the consequences of changes happening in Iowa during the American settlement era.

A bout with Smallpox left Inkpaduta scarred for the remainder of his life, issues with treaty negotiations undercut the ability of his people to practice lifeways built up over hundreds of years, and issues with justice on the frontier undercut his faith in the American government. Inkpaduta sought to lead his people in traditional ways, ranging through traditional Dakota lands into the mid-19th century.

In the midst of the worst winter for at least 100 years, settlers at Smithland disarmed the Dakota and evicted them from a winter camp near the Missouri River. As Inkpaduta led the Dakota band up the Little Sioux River toward Spirit Lake, he watched as one of his grandchildren starved to death. The band begged, traded, and stole food and guns as they made their way up the river. Upon arrival at Spirit Lake, the likely site of Inkpaduta’s summer village, things took a turn for the worse as violence erupted between the Dakota and newly arrived settlers. Moving cabin site to cabin site, the Dakota killed more than 30 people and took several captive.

One of the captives, Abbie Gardner-Sharp, watched as the Dakota killed her family before spending several months imprisoned as the band made their way north and west into Dakota Territory and away from American authority. Eventually ransomed by the governor of Minnesota, Abbie devoted the rest of her life to preserving the site of the attack (now held as one of eight sites administered by the State Historical Society of Iowa). She also authored the dominant narrative of the events.

Following the attack and flight, Inkpaduta stayed west. He spent his life on the western plains, a fugitive from American justice. A participant at the famed Battle of the Little Big Horn nearly twenty years later, Inkpaduta eventually fled the United States with Sitting Bull (among others) and died while exiled in Canada. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar

(Full disclosure: “Notes on Iowa” creator Kevin T. Mason, PhD, focused his doctoral work on Inkpaduta, Abbie Gardner-Sharp, and how we remember the events. For a more in-depth look, please view the video from a February 2021 presentation for the State Historical Society of Iowa found at: and a recent article in “Annals of Iowa” about the events:


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