FANNY WIGGINS KELLY
The story of Fanny Kelly’s capture and captivity sounds like a modern day fictional account, however the principal events in her narrative actually occurred.
With the assurance of army at Fort Laramie that they would not experience any trouble from Indians, Fanny, a bride of nine months at the age of 19 and her five year old adopted daughter Mary, along with a handful of other emigrants- set out in July of 1864. Eighty miles west of the Fort the party was surprised by a band of 250 Oglala Sioux. Fanny’s husband escaped the attract as he was off chopping wood. the other three men were killed on the spot and Fanny, little Mary were taken captive along with Sarah Larimer, and her eight year old son.
In her written account of her ordeal Fanny wrote, “Many people earnestly assured me that they would have killed their-selves rather than be taken captive to Lord knows what fate.” Her reply was, “But it is only those who have looked over the dark abyss of death, Who know how the soul shrinks from meeting the unknown future.” Experience had taught her that, While hope offers the faintest token or refuge, we pause upon the fearful brink of eternity, and look back for rescue.” (seems like Fanny had a ear for words).
Fanny Kelly had a unique blend of courage and shrewdness, to substain her. But it seemed she was headed for martyrdom rather than survival. The Sioux raided the wagons smashing all they did not want Sarah Larimer screamed and howled as the Indians smashed her daguerreotype equipment. she had planned to earn money in Idaho by taking pictures of the miners. She made such a fuss that one Indian became angered by her noise and pulled his knife and prepared to shut her up. Fanny rushed over and pleaded for Sarah’s life to be spared.
“Perhaps it was the selfish thought of future loneliness in captivity which induced me to intercede.” She conceded in her narrative. The Indian was so impressed with her act that he removed his headdress and presented it to her. Only later did she learn it was a symbol of his personal favor and granted her his personal protection. He was Ottowa, chief of the band. “Very old, over seventy, partialy blind, and very savage looking.” Fanny would become his property for her stay with the Oglala.
Setting of toward the Sioux camp at night, Mrs. Kelly shredded small pieces of paper as a trail and instructed little Mary to silently slip off the horse and follow the trail back to safety. Fanny said she would try to do the same and join her. this ended in tragedy for little Mary she was caught almost immediately and killed and scalped. Fanny was beaten and threatened with death if she ever made such attempt again.
Fanny headed the threat but was i trouble almost immediately, she lost the peace pipe the old chief had entrusted to her care. This was a travesty of decorum and Ottowa was incised and determined she was to die. She was to be tied to a unbroken horse and set loose and the warriors would then shoot arrows at her until the wrath was appeased. Once again Fanny’s resourcefulness prevailed. pulling her purse from under her skirt, she began passing out $120 worth of paper money with pictures on them. The Indians were intrigued and after examining the bills demanded she show how much each was worth by a show of fingers. The weapons were forgotten and no further mention of killing her again.
Fanny strove to be very careful after that, especially after Sarah Larimer and her son disappeared. though she did not know it they had managed to escape.
“The brink of eternity” presented itself to Fanny Kelly with regularity. She accepted a pair of stockings from the Chief’s brother-in-law. This turned out to be a terrible breach of decorum and set of a fued. The old chief shot one of the brother-in-laws horses. In revenge the brother-in-law took aim at Fanny’s heart with a arrow. At the last instant, a young brave named Jumping Bear, leaped in and snatched the arrow out of the air, (it seems he had a serious crush on Fanny). this ended the fued and Ottowa gave the brother-in-law a new horse.
After many days Fanny was looking forward to reaching the Sioux village hoping for better treatment from members of her own sex. To some extent things were better, but the old chief’s oldest wife was a old shrew, who ruled the tee-pee with a iron hand. When Fanny was invited by a kindly neighbor over for a cooked dinner the old chief decided to attend with her. This infuriated the old shrew and she attracted Fanny with a knife. the old chief tried to intervene and the old gal turned on him and stabbed him several times.
Now interring into the fray was the old wife’s brother who feeling Fanny was at fault. Pulled his pistol and fired all six shots at Fanny but missed every time. Instead he hit the chief, when the melee subsided it was discovered that Ottowa had a broken bone near the shoulder..
The chief had a belief that white women possessed special powers in healing, so Fanny was put in charge of his recovery. Ottowa expressed his exasperation at Fanny by pinching her arms. But Fanny reported it was small punishment compared to the old wife’s fate “I never saw the old wife of the chief afterwards.”
Fanny’s account relates many such tales of domestic brawls. She on the other hand striving to survive by diligently displaying obedience and cheerfulness and hard work, became a roll model held up as a example to the others and was conferred with the name of “Real Woman”.
By the time her whereabouts was discovered by the army she was a coveted prize, and the Sioux were reluctant to surrender her. Independent hunters as well as whole tribes were eager to get their hands on her. It was The Blackfoot Sioux who finally convinced the Oglalas to turn Fanny over to them.
She believed they wanted to use her to gain entrance into Fort Sully, and over power the fort. She felt desperate and using her charms influenced Jumping Bear to secretly carry a message to the outpost expressing her misgivings. Supposedly 1,000 braves accompanied Fanny to the fort. Upon their arrival only Fanny and a few chiefs were admitted and the gate quickly closed. Fanny was ransomed for three horses and a load of food supplies. After five months Fanny Kelly was free.
As always the public was curious about her treatment by the Indians. Paramount of course was the question had she been violated? Just as Olive Oatman, Fanny Kelly denied ever having been molested. “True, the Ogalas had treated me at times with great harshness and cruelty, yet I had never suffered from any of them the slightest personal or unchaste insult.”
Fanny did the lecture circuit, and wrote a book about her expernces (My Captivity Among the Sioux Indians) and talked freely about it. The Time/Life , True West , book has four illustrations out of it.
Over on Google under Women Captives of Indians, there are a number of references to Fanny Kelly. At one site Indian Women Captivity Narratives pt3. you can access Fanny’s Book page by page.
Gonna try to spell check this for your benefit and proof read it.
Thanks for visiting the site!