Surviving Captivity: Idaho-bound Fanny Kelly kept her wits about her during her scrapes with death

Fanny despaired the loss of her entire family and the role her advice had played in these events. After a disastrous attack by Union Brig. Gen. Alfred Sully’s force, the Sioux threatened to burn Fanny at the stake; Ottawa spared her. For the next five months, Fanny was passed around between tribes.

In 1864, as the Civil War ground toward its bloody finish, the West was aflame in widespread Indian conflicts of unimaginable violence and scope. Unconcerned by the dangers of traveling in small groups, a party of Idaho-bound emigrants camped on Little Box Elder Creek in present-day Wyoming. On July 12, they were detected by a roaming party of Oglala led by their war chief, Ottawa.

As the Indians approached, the emigrants prepared to issue a welcome of powder and shot, but Fanny Kelly dissuaded them. She passionately pointed out the Indians’ overwhelming numbers. Fanny’s husband, Josiah, acceded to her pleas and parlayed with the Sioux. The warriors demanded provisions and a prized racehorse. The Kellys gave everything asked for, save Josiah’s guns.

The emigrants were allowed to go in peace, but became apprehensive as the warriors continued to travel with them. Approaching a rocky glen and fearing a trap within, Josiah called a halt. Josiah convinced the leader to accept a farewell feast before departing.


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