A Little Bit of Iowa History

While growing up in Boone, Iowa, my Dad was always telling me about historical facts that had happened around Iowa.  The stories were fascinating and I am amazed today at local people who know nothing of them.  The earliest one I was told about, The Cardiff Giant, happened in 1869. Other stories included World Heavyweight Champion (1908-193) Frank Gotch, the 1881 railroad heroine Kate Shelley, the famous bandmaster and composer Karl King (1891-1971), the First Lady to President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) Mamie Doud Eisenhower, and the December 18, 1846, death of 12-year-old Milton Lott, followed by the Spirit Lake Massacre on March 8-12, 1857.

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Worn case showing damage on the spine, especially at the head cap and tail cap.

One day while I was at work in the Conservation Lab, a book was sent up for repair titled The Spirit Lake Massacre by Thomas Teakle.  The book was worn, as the case had seen better days and needed a new case built for it.  Inside, there were greasy fingerprints, lots of pencil marks, water stains, soft paper pages with tears, and an old yellowed newspaper clipping with brittle tape adhering it to a blank page in the front of the book.  Someone had felt it was important enough to add this newspaper article to the book.  Upon looking at it, I found a penciled date of 10/12/38 with a title caption reading “1857 Veteran’s Widow is Dead.”  Further investigation beyond the information provided from the newspaper clipping revealed that Mr. Frank R. Mason, who was a Second Lieutenant of Company C from Webster City, Iowa, in 1856, is mentioned in The Spirit Lake Massacre. His wife, Belle, had passed away at age 84 as the last surviving widow of any soldier on the Spirit Lake Expedition in 1857.  Frank Mason is mentioned several times in this book, so that probably explains why the clipping was attached.

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Acidic newspaper clipping and failing pressure-sensitive tape.

I decided I wanted to remove the newspaper clipping, remove the adhesive, deacidify the clipping, mend it (as it was torn in half), and then encapsulate it with our Minter ultrasonic welder.  While re-assembling the book, I then sewed the encapsulated clipping in to the book.  I then built a new case in red book cloth to finish it.  This book is special to me with its history and all the work I needed to do to it.

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Marginalia and dirty fingerprints.

However, when I decided to do my blog post on this book, I didn’t mean it to be about Frank Mason and the Spirit Lake Massacre, as you can read more about that on your own, but about Milton Lott, a 12 year old boy who was the first death among the settlers of Boone County, Iowa, and whose death was one of the key starting factors of the Spirit Lake Massacre.  I remember when I was very young my Dad would take me down by the river and show me a little grave site with a white picket fence around it.  Was it still there?

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Milton Lott’s grave site by the Des Moines River.

Last fall, on a beautiful day, I drove down by the Des Moines River to see, and there it was. There was also another sign telling about the Milton Lott Tragedy, and how Sioux Indians raided the Lott homestead while Milton’s father, Henry Lott, was gone, and young Milton ran down by the river in the snow and succumbed to the bitter cold.  When his father returned three days later, he and a search party found Milton’s frozen body.  They hid his lifeless body in a hollow log until a proper burial could take place.  Milton’s mother died a week later from stress and exposure, the first woman settler to die in Webster County.  Eventually, Milton’s father and several men headed north and murdered Indian Chief Sidominadotah and his family after seeing that they were in possession of Mrs. Lott’s prized silverware set.  Later Indian Chief Inkpaduta, brother to Sidominadotah, retaliated resulting in the Spirit Lake Massacre.

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Fifty-seven years after Milton perished, the location of his burial was identified by two remaining men, and in 1905 a permanent marker was placed close to his grave site by the river.  It was a peaceful journey to view Milton’s grave site last fall with the trees changing color, the rustling of the leaves, and the swift flow of the Des Moines River, and it got me thinking of a scared young boy trying to flee from the raid on a freezing December day in 1846.  He died alone, and I felt sad for him. I will be back one day to visit Milton again.

4 Comments

  1. I have passed this spot many times in my life. My father and I would pass it on many of our fishing trips to the Des Moines River. Also , I have passed it many times on my way to vist an old friend RiverRat Phipps. He has lived on this road for years. Also many years ago Hoppy Hopkins rented a Log cabin on the hill over looking the area.. This is just one of the many stories of Boone and its suroudings. I come from the area farmers on my mother’s side and area coal miners on my father’s side. I even had an uncle by marriade that was an American indian. I come from the early settlers of Boone and surroundind area. Boone has a rich history , so many things to study.

    1. Thank you Winfield for your comments. I too know of River Rat Phipps and would see him when he would come in to the Ericson Public Library. A very nice man. Lots of history in Boone County that I just wished the residents knew more about. They should have seminar on Boone’s history that the younger generation could attend and learn more about. Mindy

  2. I lived around the corner from Milton’s burial site and use to take the mower down and try to keep the area cleaned up back in my teens. There use to be an old white gate around the area which I would latch closed with no way of opening itself. When I would go back by later on, the gate would be open.

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