Read SOME SIOUX STORIETTES : Chapter X of Among the Sioux A Story of the Twin Cities and the Two Dakotas , free online book, by R. J. Creswell, on


One of the most touching tragedies recorded in the annals of the new Northwest, was enacted in the sixth decade of the nineteenth century, on the borders of Prince Rupert’s Land and the Louisiana purchase (now Manitoba and North Dakota). It is a picturesque spot, where the Pembina river cuts the international boundary line in its course to the southeast to join the Red River of the North in its course to Hudson’s bay.

Sixty years ago, in this place, encircled by the wood-crowned mountain and the forest-lined river and prairies, rich as the gardens of the gods, there stood a village and trading post of considerable importance, named after the patron saint of the Roman Catholic church, in its midst St. Joseph commonly called St. Joe. It was a busy, bustling town, with a mixed population of 1,500. Most of these dwelt in tents of skin. There were, also, two or three large trading posts and thirty houses, built of large, hewn timbers mudded smoothly within and without and roofed with shingles. Some of these were neat and pretty; one had window-shutters. It was the center of an extensive fur trade with the Indian tribes of the Missouri river. Many thousands of buffalo and other skins were shipped annually to St. Paul in carts. Sometimes a train of four hundred of these wooden carts started together for St. Paul, a distance of four hundred miles.

But old things have passed away. The village of old St. Joe is now marked only by some cellar excavations. It possesses, however, a sad interest as the scene of the martyrdom of Protestant missionaries on this once wild frontier, then so far removed from the abodes of civilization.

James Tanner was a converted half-breed, who with his wife labored, in 1849, as a missionary at Lake Winnibogosh, Minnesota. His father had been stolen, when a lad, from his Kentucky home, by the Indians. Near the close of 1849 he visited a brother in the Pembina region. He became so deeply interested in the ignorant condition of the people there, that he made a tour of the East in their behalf. He visited New York, Washington and other cities, and awakened considerable interest in behalf of the natives of this region. While east he became a member of the Baptist Church. He returned to St. Joe, in 1852, accompanied by a young man named Benjamin Terry, of St. Paul, to open a mission among the Pembina Chippewas and half breeds under the auspices of the Baptist Missionary Society. Terry was very slight and youthful in appearance, quiet and retiring in disposition and was long spoken of, by the half-breeds, as “Tanner’s Boy.” They visited the Red River (Selkirk) settlement (now Winnipeg). While there, Terry wooed and won one of the daughters of the Selkirk settlers, a dark-eyed handsome Scotch lass, to whom he expected to be married in a few months. But, alas, ere the close of summer, he was waylaid, by a savage Sioux, shot full of arrows, his arm broken and his entire scalp carried away. Mr. Tanner secured permission to bury him in the Roman Catholic Cemetery in the corner reserved for suicides, heretics and unbaptized infants. Thus ended in blood, the first effort to establish a Protestant mission in the Pembina country.

June 1, 1853, a band of Presbyterian missionaries arrived at St. Joe. It was composed of the Reverends Alonzo Barnard and David Brainard Spencer, their wives and children. They came in canoes and in carts from Red and Cass lakes, Minnesota, where for ten years, they had labored as missionaries among the Chippewas. They removed to St. Joe, at the earnest request of Governor Alexander Ramsey, of Minnesota, and others familiar with their labors and the needs of the Pembina natives. Mrs. Barnard’s health soon gave way. Her husband removed her to the Selkirk settlement, one hundred miles to the north, for medical aid. Her health continued to fail so rapidly that by her strong desire they attempted to return to St. Joe. The first night they encamped in a little tent on the bleak northern plain in the midst of a fierce windstorm. The chilling winds penetrated the folds of the tent. All night long the poor sufferer lay in her husband’s arms, moaning constantly: “Hold me close; oh, hold me close.” They were compelled to return to the settlement, where after a few days more of intense suffering, she died, Oc, 1853, of quick consumption, caused by ten years exposure and suffering for the welfare of the Indians.

Mrs. Barnard was first interred at the Selkirk settlement, in Prince Rupert’s Land (now Manitoba). In the absence of other clergymen, Mr. Barnard was compelled to officiate at his wife’s funeral himself. In obedience to her dying request, Mrs. Barnard’s remains were removed to St. Joe and re-interred in the yard of the humble mission cabin, De, 1853.

In 1854, Mr. Barnard visited Ohio to provide a home for his children. On his return, at Belle Prairie, Minnesota, midway between St. Paul and St. Joe, he met Mr. Spencer and his three motherless children, journeying four hundred miles by ox-cart to St. Paul. There in the rude hovel in which they spent the night, Mr. Barnard baptized Mr. Spencer’s infant son, now an honored minister of the Congregational church in Wisconsin. On his arrival at St. Joe Mr. Barnard found another mound close by the grave of his beloved wife.

The story of this third grave is, also, written in blood. It was Au, 1854. The hostile Sioux were infesting the Pembina region. Only the previous month, had Mrs. Spencer written to a far distant friend in India: “Last December the Lord gave us a little son, whose smiling face cheers many a lonely hour.” On this fatal night, she arose to care for this darling boy. A noise at the window attracted her attention. She withdrew the curtain to ascertain the cause. Three Indians stood there with loaded rifles and fired. Three bullets struck her, two in her throat and one in her breast. She neither cried out nor spoke, but reeling to her bed, with her babe in her arms, knelt down, where she was soon discovered by her husband, when he returned from barricading the door. She suffered intensely for several hours and then died. And till daybreak Mr. Spencer sat in a horrid dream, holding his dead wife in his arms. The baby lay in the rude cradle near by, bathed in his mother’s blood. The two elder children stood by terrified and weeping. Such was the distressing scene which the neighbors beheld in the morning, when they came with their proffers of sympathy and help. The friendly half-breeds came in, cared for the poor children and prepared the dead mother for burial. A half-breed dug the grave and nailed a rude box together for a coffin. Then with a bleeding heart, the sore bereaved man consigned to the bosom of the friendly earth the remains of his murdered wife.

Within the past thirty years civilization has rapidly taken possession of this lovely region. Christian homes and Christian churches cover these rich prairies. The prosperous and rapidly growing village of Walhalla (Paradise) nestles in the bosom of this lovely vale and occupies contentedly the former site of Old St. Joe.

June 21, 1888, one of the most interesting events in the history of North Dakota occurred at the Presbyterian cemetery, which crowns the brow of the mountain, overlooking Walhalla. It was the unveiling of the monument erected by the Woman’s Synodical Missionary Society of North Dakota, which they had previously erected to the memory of Sarah Philena Barnard and Cornelia Spencer, two of the three “Martyrs of St. Joe.” The monument is a beautiful and appropriate one of white marble. The broken pieces of old stone formerly placed on Mrs. Barnard’s grave, long scattered and lost, were discovered, cemented together and placed upon her new grave. The Rev. Alonzo Barnard, seventy-one years of age, accompanied by his daughter, was present. Standing upon the graves of the martyrs, with tremulous voice and moistened eyes, he gave to the assembled multitude a history of their early missionary toil in the abodes of savagery. It was a thrilling story, the interest intensified by the surroundings. The half-breed women who prepared Mrs. Spencer’s body for the burial and who washed and dressed the little babe after his baptism in his mother’s blood, were present. The same half-breed who dug Mrs. Spencer’s grave in 1854 dug the new grave in 1888. Several pioneers familiar with the facts of the tragedy at the time of its occurrence were also present.

“The Martyr’s Plot,” the last resting place of these devoted servants of our Lord Jesus Christ, is a beautiful spot, on the hillside, in the Presbyterian Cemetery at Walhalla. It is enclosed by a neat fence, and each of these three martyr’s graves is marked by a white stone, with an appropriate inscription.

The Rev. Alonzo Barnard retired to Michigan, where he gave five years of missionary toil to the Chippewas at Omene and many other years of helpful service to the white settlers at other points in that state. In 1883 he retired from the work of the active ministry and spent the remainder of his days with his children.

He died April 14, 1905, at Pomona, Michigan, at the home of his son, Dr. James Barnard, in the eighty-eighth year of his age. There is a large and flourishing Episcopal Indian church at Leech Lake, Minnesota, the scene of Mr. Barnard’s labors from 1843-52.

The rector is the Rev. Charles T. Wright, a full-blood Chippewa. He is the eldest son of that famous chieftain, Gray Cloud and is now himself, chief of all the Chippewas. “Thus one soweth and another reapeth.”