Bertrand in Phelps County, Nebraska — The American Midwest (Upper Plains)
The Plum Creek Massacre
On the morning of August 8, 1864, a war party of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians attacked a Denver-bound freight wagon train killing thirteen men and taking captive Nancy Jane Morton of Sidney, Iowa, and nine-year old Daniel Marble of Council Bluffs, Iowa.
The wagon train consisted of twelve wagons from three outfits. Six of the wagons were reportedly from St. Joseph, Missouri, and carried shelled corn and farm implements. Three wagons, loaded with hardware and foodstuffs, were owned by William D. Marble of Council Bluffs. The remaining three were owned by Thomas Frank Morton. Accompanying Morton were his wife, Nancy Jane; her brother William Fletcher, and a cousin, John Fletcher.
The attack scattered the wagons on this site. Some turned toward the river, while others turned southward toward the bluffs. All thirteen men in the combined outfits were killed. Mrs. James Smith, of Marble’s outfit, was traveling far in advance with her husband and his partner. They escaped by hiding in a cattail marsh near the river.
The attack took place in full view of several east-bound freight trains and a small detachment of soldiers of the Seventh Iowa Cavalry. They were stopped at the Thomas Ranch a mile and half west of this site. From the telegraph station at the ranch Lt. Joseph Bone sent a frantic message for
The victims were buried the following morning. Eleven bodies were scattered about this area and were buried in a common grave in a field a few yards south of here. Lt. F.G. Comstock wrote: “…we buried the men in a long trench but nothing had molested (the) dead previous to our arrival.”
From varied accounts a partial list of the victims can be compiled: James Smith, A Mr. St. Clair, Charles Hiff, William D. Marble, Thomas Frank Morton, William Fletcher, John Fletcher, and six unidentified teamsters. The grave was described as being “upon the roadside in a mound slightly elevated and partly surrounded by a ravine.”
In early September, Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle purchased Danny Marble and three other young people captured along the Little Blue and released them to Major Edward Wynkoop, of the First Colorado Cavalry, in northwestern Kansas. While awaiting return to his mother in Council Bluffs, Danny contracted typhoid fever. He died in Denver on November 9. According to legend, Mrs. James Smith died insane at Fort Kearny a few weeks after the massacre.
Nancy Morton, wounded by two arrows, remained a captive until about January 18, 1865, when she was ransomed by traders sent into the upper Powder River country at Wyoming by Major John Wood of the Seventh Iowa Cavalry. From Fort Laramie Nancy Morton returned over the trail to Fort Kearny and then took the stage to Nebraska City. She passed directly by this site where her family and friends had been murdered a few months earlier. She later wrote that being at the common grave brought back “the memory of that fatal morning repeatedly before me, not as a picture, but a present reality.” She reached her father’s home in Sidney on March 9, 1865, later remarried, and lived until 1912.
The story of Nancy Morton’s captivity became known through written manuscripts acquired from her granddaughter by local historian Clyde Wallace, who began his study of the Plum Creek area. The manuscripts are now in possession of the Dawson County Historical Society in Lexington.
Signing and Funding by: The Oregon-California Trials Association
Marker series. This marker is included in the California Trail, and the Oregon Trail marker series.
Location. 40° 40.362′ N, 99° 36.348′ W. Marker is in Bertrand, Nebraska, in Phelps County. Marker is on B Road (Local Route 748). Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Bertrand NE 68927, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 5 other markers are within 14 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Plum Creek Massacre Site (here, next to this marker); The Tobin Indian Raid (approx. 6.9 miles away); M60A1 Main Battle Tank (approx. 8.4 miles away); M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle (approx. 8.4 miles away); Plum Creek Railroad Attack (approx. 13.4 miles away).
Categories. • Disasters • Roads & Vehicles • Wars, US Indian •
Credits. This page was last revised on August 28, 2017. This page originally submitted on August 26, 2017, by Don Morfe of Baltimore, Maryland. This page has been viewed 123 times since then and 45 times this year. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on August 26, 2017, by Don Morfe of Baltimore, Maryland. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.