Appendix 6: Plum Creek Massacre

1864 Plum Creek attack unfolds to horror of soldiers

The Plum Creek Massacre story is told on an Oregon-California Trails Association sign across Phelps County Road 748 from the mass grave and on a Phelps County Historical Society sign at the Plum Creek Cemetery 1-1/2 miles west.

On the morning of Aug. 8, 1864, a war party of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians attacked 12 wagons of a Denver-bound freight wagon train, killing 13 men and taking captive Nancy Jane Morton of Sidney, Iowa, and a boy, Danny Marble of Council Bluffs.

The attack was in full view of several east-bound freight trains and a small detachment of 7th Iowa Cavalry soldiers who were stopped at the Thomas Ranch, 1½ miles west of the burial site.

From a telegraph station at the ranch, Lt. Joseph Bone sent a frantic message for help to Fort Kearny, “Send company of men here quick as God can send them one hundred Indians in sight firing on ox train.”

The troops didn’t arrive until 10 that night.

The victims were buried the following morning; 11 bodies were placed in a common grave in a northwest Phelps County field now owned by archaeologist Steve Holen. He said the other two men may have been in the front of the wagon train and buried where they fell.

Meanwhile, Danny Marble and three other youths captured along the Little Blue River were purchased in early September 1864 by Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle. He released them in northwestern Kansas to a 1st Colorado Calvary officer.

Danny contracted typhoid fever and died Nov. 8 in Denver before he could be returned to his mother.

A wounded Nancy Morton remained a captive until about Jan. 18, 1865, when she was ransomed by traders sent to the upper Powder River country of Wyoming by Maj. John Wood of the 7th Iowa Cavalry. She passed the Plum Creek mass gravesite on her way to her father’s Sidney, Iowa, home.

She later remarried and lived until 1912.

Morton’s manuscripts about her captivity were acquired from her granddaughter by local historian Clyde Wallace and are preserved by the Dawson County Historical Society.

Plum Creek Cemetery

Plum Creek Cemetery north of roads 738 and B was created in the 1930s and is cared for by the Phelps County Historical Society and Nebraska Prairie Museum. There is a sign identifying the nearby locations to the north of the Plum Creek military post and Daniel Freeman’s second store, built in 1864.

One of the two headstones in the cemetery was found by a local family on their property. The name is Sarepta Gore Fly, who had died during an eastbound trip along the Oregon Train in 1865.

In August 1963, the grave of an unknown 1-year-old child who died in 1885 or 1886 was moved to the cemetery from a farm pasture southwest of Loomis. The site has two early 1930s stone monuments. One recognizes victims of the Plum Creek Massacre and the other is “dedicated to those daring pioneers, heralds of modern communication, transportation and civilization.”

© 2018