Another Clue in the Mysterious Survival of the Children of Fort Bodden

Long has the enigma of Fort Bodden mystified historians, and seldom does new evidence present itself. We have long known the facts: the fort was under siege by the Minnetonka people from June 1864 until August of that same year. The fort repelled several direct attacks, but as the siege dragged on starvation began to strike those who had sought shelter there, including thirty-six women and twenty-two children. When army scouts explored the fort at their first opportunity to so, after the hard winter, they found sixteen survivors, all children. Many Native American bodies were discovered, though not nearly so many as to suggest the men of the fort had successfully fought them off.

Now, though, a journal has been uncovered. A granddaughter of one of the scouts, a Mrs. Patricia Hastings, has recently passed away, willing a small trunk of materials dating back to the 1800’s to her daughter, Mrs. Tricia Running. She brought the journal to my attention, wondering if it might be some sort of fairy story in the vein of L. Frank Baum, and if it might be worth anything in the collectors’ market.

After examining the journal and testing the age of not only the pages but the ink itself, I can confidently say that the material was written around the time of the siege itself. The details are most certainly those a child would notice, but with an accuracy that could not likely be duplicated except by someone who lived not only at that time but in that particular place. I am confident that this a document discovered by Devenmore Hastings, one of the scouts that found the children.

As to the actual account, I cannot give any credibility, save that it was in fact written by an eyewitness. I will present pertinent passages here, along with a running commentary.

The first entry is not dated, though from the subject matter it is likely from before the siege.

Claire and me went down to the stream without telling mamma today. We skipped rocks, but the boys came and showed us some frogs. They were ugly like the boys, so we threw the rocks at them and ran away as fast as we could. When we got home, papa was right frightful angry. He told us we wasn’t allowed out of the fort again until he said so, maybe never.

By looking at the evidence, I do believe the girl is Jana Munroe, the daughter of Matthew and Sarah Munroe. Matthew was a local trapper who often did business at Fort Bodden, and eventually was invited to live within its walls. The Claire she speaks of is likely Claire Lee, daughter of Tanner and Lisa Lee. Tanner was a colonel at the fort, and good friends with Matthew Monroe. The two likely knew of the rising tensions in the area, and by confining their daughters to the fort sought to minimize their danger.

Claire convinced me to come with her outside the fort. She said she seen some fairies, and she wanted to show me. I called her a liar, but she went away so angry I had to follow. We went down to the stream, and she called out their names. I couldn’t spell them, but they sounded like trees growing, and I’m not entirely sure what that means, except that what their names sounded like.

She called out one name three times, and out of one of the trees came a person! He was taller than daddy, and as naked as Adam, but he didn’t seem ashamed. He didn’t seem quite like a man, either, but I’m not sure why. He had pointy ears and eyes that looked like willow bark. He smiled, and said that he’d been watching me for a long time. He called me Jewel. He said I twinkled in the sun like a ruby on his queen’s brow. He called Claire something else. And then he said that if we ever needed help, we should come out to the stream and call him.

When we got back to the fort, our daddies were mad again. They whipped us good. I found out later that we’d been gone for two whole days! I don’t know where they went, cause the sun never stopped shining the whole time we were with the man from the tree.

This ends the next entry, which I strongly suspect happened mere days before the beginning of the siege. Every entry past this is dated.

The man from the tree is, as may be suspected, open to interpretation. I believe it was a kindly Minnetonka tribesman who wished to spare the children of the fort harm, but this seems outside the standard operating procedure for one of that people. Also the name seems to be misplaced, as the names are all guttural, and not sounding “like trees growing.” I am open to suggestions as to who this man might be.

June 14.

All the Indians have come to the fort, and they’ve surrounded us. I’m not sure why they’re so angry, but no one is allowed to leave, and no one wants to. Daddy said he wanted to try talking to them, but Claire’s daddy won’t let him.

Mrs. Longlet wants to have school to keep us children busy. She’s been teaching a few days now, but she keeps forgetting math and teaching us Bible instead. When I told daddy, he told me it is probably better that way. I don’t know what he means.

Claire says she wants to sneak out to go back to the stream, but since the gate’s closed, we can’t, and even if we did we can’t never tell where the Indians are, so we don’t know what’s safe.

There’s always lots of men up around the wall of the fort with their guns. Daddy told me he might teach me how to shoot soon if we stay in here longer. He said it might be better. I think he’s silly, and I told him so, and he agreed.

Daddy is scared, but he doesn’t want to show it. Mamma cries almost every night now. She says it has to get better soon.

We see here some astute observations from the child I will let stand for themselves. I simply choose to add that on June 14 Fort Bodden had been under siege for four days, though those sheltering there had likely been there up to a week longer.

June 22.

Mrs. Longlet keeps forgetting more and more subjects during the school days and doing more and more Bible. She seems to focus more on Revelation than any other book. I think I know why she’s doing it. She keeps saying that judgment is coming. I think she’s saying that because she hates the Indians, and not because she wants to teach us anything. Claire says all teachers are like that, except her fairy friend.

Claire said that her fairy friend has started seeing her inside the fort, though I guess it’s hard for him to come in here. Claire said there was too much iron around. I don’t know why that would stop a fairy, but Claire insists it is very hard for someone sealed in a court to come near iron. I don’t know what she’s talking about.

Claire is acting more and more strange. I know I saw a man come out of a tree a long time ago, but she says queerer things every day. Yesterday she saw my father training me with his pistol, and she said that if I knew the right words I could kill all the Indians without one gun. My father said she was listening to too many fairy tales, and Claire said of course she was.

The Indians are still all around us. The men around the fort still fire every once in a while, but it’s pretty quiet most of the time. Daddy told me that Claire must be very very scared to make up stories like she makes up. I asked him if Mrs. Longlet did the same thing, and he said it was different when the stories are true.

June 24 marked the first full attack by the Minnetonka. The fort lost thirteen of the men stationed there. It was the single greatest loss of life on any day for them, and it caused many to see the situation as fatal. This attitude is reflected in Jana’s next entry, which was written after the attack.

June 26.

It has been two days since the horrible attack. We buried the men who died in the middle of the fort. Many of the women fainted over and over again, though it might have been because of the heat. We now have a whole section of the middle of the fort that we can’t walk on because of the dead bodies. This scares me much.

Claire is the only one who will walk on them. She says it is to visit with her father, who was killed in the attack. I walked with her once, but it hurt my feet to stand on those men. I could almost hear them tell me to get off, because I was in the way of them going to heaven.

My father is now organizing the defenses, and I get to stand guard during the day sometimes. I have gotten good with the gun, I think, but I am not allowed to practice much. We can’t get no more bullets, since the smithy melted down the last of the metal we can find. None of the boys have any more of their metal soldiers, but now any boy old enough to hold a gun gets to be a guard. I am the only girl allowed to do that.

Mrs. Longlet says it is a shame that I am doing such things, but Daddy says that sometimes living is more important than believing. I don’t know who is right, but I am excited to be able to stand with the boys.

Here I believe it would be good insert some of the extant material that has been published since the days of the siege itself. The following comes from the logs of Sergeant Malcolm Biggs.

June 27.

The fort has been surrounded for over two weeks now, and many of the men are growing nervous about food stores. Since we have not been able to trade or go out to the fields to get more food, we don’t have a large amount left. Much of our stores got used up during the winter. No one expected the hostilities to hit us so early this year.

The women are gathering tighter around themselves and clutching at the children. They are afraid.

Mr. Matthew Munroe has started ordering us around, and we do most anything he says. He knows the area and how the Indians think. He has told us we need to send messengers out, but we must do it during the day, and he must be a good and fast rider. I have volunteered, and I will go tomorrow. He has given me several messages, most for Fort Collins, but a few if I am captured by the Indians. He says that one or two might be able to read English, and that I should say ingalla if I am caught, which they think is some sort of magic word.

If I don’t make it to the fort, we’ll only have another week or so before we run out of food. We’ve started talking about the possibility of surrendering if it comes to that, so that maybe the children can survive, but Mr. Munroe insists that that would be far worse for the children. I don’t know what to believe myself.

Claire Lee continues playing her games, talking in the graveyard to her invisible friends. Many of us believe that with the death of her father she has gone insane. We keep her from the rest of the children now, in case she scares them with her stories.

I pray that the Lord watch over me when I leave the fort tomorrow. I have taken Conrad, my horse, and made sure he was fed well today. Conrad knows the importance of this mission, I think, for he was stamping impatiently the entire time I was with him.

Sergeant Biggs never reached Fort Collins. It is assumed he was killed in his flight. However, the horse he says he took, Conrad, was one of the horses found slaughtered in the stables. It has long been a mystery why he would have switched horses, as he apparently was very attached to his horse. The next entry in Jana’s journal offers an apparent answer.

July 1.

Claire is still locked up in the stables during the day. I miss her terrible, but mama says it is best. Today, though we heard a horrible screaming coming from there, and since I was on guard duty, I got to be one of the ones to look. Me and Tommy Elliot and Brandon Rogers went and opened up the stable, and there was Claire with Conrad! We don’t know how he got there. When we asked Claire, she said the fairies brought him back since his owner fell off.

I don’t think it’s bad. Daddy’s been talking about having to eat the horses if we don’t get more food soon, and this means we have one more for food. I do not like the idea of eating horse meat, but it is better than starving.

No one knows where the horse came from. Some people are calling Claire a witch, but I think they’re silly. She just misses her daddy so much she’s making up stories.

July 9.

Claire is gone. I do not know where she went to, but this morning when Brandon went to give her some food, she wasn’t in the stable. There weren’t no horses missing, and there weren’t no holes in the walls neither. She didn’t even leave a note. I miss going to the stream with Claire. I can’t help but think that she has gone to be with her fairy friends, wherever they live.

July 16.

We have killed a horse and eaten the meat. It was very tough and tasted wrong, but we need food. The Indians attacked again yesterday, and Brandon is dead. I cried when they shot him, but I kept firing like Daddy taught me to. I think I hit a few of the Indians. One fell right in front of the fort and his eyes kept looking at me. I had thought they might be made of willow, like the man from the tree, but his eyes were the same as everyone else at the fort. We buried Brandon and the other boys by everyone else. It is hard to walk anywhere in the fort now without stepping on dead bodies. I hate it when I dream of them talking to me, especially Mr. Lee telling me I didn’t take good enough care of Claire.

July 21.

A woman appeared in our stables today. I was the only one that saw her. I was looking for a place to sleep where I couldn’t hear the dead voices, and there she was. She was very very pretty and wore a dress that was greener than all the leaves at springtime. She knew my name, but didn’t tell me hers right away. She had all sorts of food. Squashes and tomatoes and corn and potatoes! She said I was supposed to share with everyone, and that if I made sure there weren’t no iron in the stable, she could come again real soon with more food. Then she walked into the wall and I couldn’t see her no more!

I ran and got Daddy right away. He saw all the food, but didn’t believe me when I told him where it came from. No one did. I think they think whatever happened to Claire is going to happen to me now, but no one is sad to see the food. We all felt like we had a feast tonight. The Indians will probably wonder why we sang so loud.

I didn’t tell no one that the woman said she was Claire.

We have long known that the fort was short on supplies after the long winter. Now we know how they were able to stand against the siege for so long while so short on supplies: someone appeared and gave them food. I suspect that Jana was delirious from hunger, and did not recognize a Minnekon tribeswoman. The Minnekon and Minnetonka had been feuding for some time, and the tribeswoman may have seen this as an opportunity to cause the Minnetonka some pain.

July 25.

No one believed me that we should clear the iron out of the stable, so I started when I get free time, which is not often. Claire came back to me, but she didn’t have any food. She looked so pretty. She asked how everyone was holding up, and I told her that we were already running out of all the food she brought. She said she understood, but it took a while to gather food for us. She said that the fairy food she ate wasn’t safe for us, so she had to go looking here. She said she was disobeying the ceiling court, but she would help out as much as she could. I asked her if the ceiling court was the same as the sealed-in court the man from the tree talked about, but she just laughed.

The Indians started attacking while we were talking, so I had to run to my post. We are running short on bullets, and we had to aim real careful to make sure none of them were wasted. I killed two more of them, and it doesn’t make me happy and it doesn’t make me sad. It sorta makes me feel like doing schoolwork used to. Just something you gotta do to get through the day. And I think that makes me sad, that I think of it that way.

I had to tell someone about Claire and everything she said to me, so I told Brandon last night. I went right up to his grave and told him, but I don’t know if he listened. His voice blends in with all the dead voices.

July 27.

We didn’t eat all day today. There’s still two more horses, but we’re not sure if we want to send out another rider. Those Indians know how to hunt, is what Daddy says. He’s really in command now, and everyone does what he says.

Claire came again last night while I was sleeping in the stable. No one else will come in there with me. She said that she could take anyone who wanted to be with the fairies, and that we could come back after the Indians thought we were all dead and left us alone. I told her I would tell the other children, but I didn’t think it would be a good idea to tell the adults. They wouldn’t believe.

I’m not sure what to tell them. I’m not sure myself. I want to ask Brandon what he thinks, but he’s dead and doesn’t really make much sense anymore.

July 28.

I told the other children. Some are excited, especially those who already lost their parents. Only a few of the boys who are guards thought it would be a good idea, but they agreed to at least talk to Claire the next time she showed up.

July 29.

Me and two of the girls, Paulette and Megan, were in the stable when Claire showed up tonight. She said the full moon was coming soon, and she’d be able to open the doors wide to allow us in, if we wanted, but we’d have to move fast. She could do it for three nights in a row, in case someone changed their mind later. We agreed that I would wait for the last night, so I could encourage as many people as possible. She gave me a flower, and said it would help her find me in case anything happened.

July 31.

Last night I went to my Daddy to tell him what we’re planning. I told him that Claire said she could take as many of us wanted to go, as long as we let her and didn’t try to tell her it was impossible. He didn’t believe me, and told me not to breathe a word to anyone else. He threatened to lock me up. He thinks that I have whatever Claire had. I reminded him about Conrad, and how Claire disappeared and no one knows what happened to her, but he wouldn’t listen.

I told him that maybe he was wrong. Maybe believing was more important than living sometimes, because if you didn’t believe you didn’t live. He didn’t listen to that either. Tomorrow Claire will come for the first night of us leaving. She’s calling it the Exodus.

July 32 [sic].

Ten of the children came with me to the stables. Mostly boys were on guard duty, so no one blinked at so many of us moving around after dark. We found Claire waiting for us. She held one really long candle. ‘Everyone must remember the stream outside. Do you all remember?’ she asked, and I could hear it in the stable! She turned around and led everyone out through a wall, and for just a little bit she turned around and smiled.

August 2.

My daughter has somehow spirited away ten of the children. She insists that it was her friend Claire who took them off to some sort of make-believe world. I am afraid that somehow she has found an exit from the fort we knew nothing of previously and has led them all to their graves by taking them outside among the Minnetonka.

Upon discovery of the missing children this morning, many of the parents that remain alive have begged me to lock up my daughter in the stables as they did Claire, so that whatever brain fever she has will not spread. Mrs. Longlet is once again speaking against witches and the devil. If the Indians have to kill us, I wish they would aim for her first.

After speaking with Jana, I have to agree that something is affecting her, though it may simply be that she is succumbing to starvation quicker than the rest of us. She should be a growing girl, but because of our lack of food, she might be seeing things that are not there.

I agreed to lock her up, and I will make sure to take her food myself tonight. She will spread her lunacy to no one else.

[New entry, undated]

I woke the whole fort, and forced as many as I could to go with the woman. I do not know if it is in fact Claire, somehow grown old and yet still a child, but I do know that the place she showed me is safe without a doubt. Mostly the children that had already agreed to go went, but a few of the men acted as guards, for which I was thankful. The woman would not let them take their guns or even belt buckles, but they themselves could go, and any one of them could overpower her if the need arose.

Jana refused to go. She said she would go tomorrow, on the last night Claire could come. I am organizing a meeting of the fort, to try to convince everyone to come with. I will go if I can as well, but if any refuse, I shall remain faithful and stay with the fort until the end. Perhaps we have a way to get out of this after all.

[New entry, undated]

They do not believe. I do not blame them. They did not see what I saw, that land through the wall. The rest of the children volunteered, including the many boys we have needed to station as guards. If they are allowed to go, and I will see to it they are, we will not be able to hold the fort against another attack. This, of course, is the problem. If the children have truly found a safe place, we have a responsibility to see that they slip away. The soldiers, though, have a duty to protect this fort. And I have a loyalty to the soldiers. And if the children leave, the soldiers fail in their duty, and so I fail in mine. It is a dilemma I am not fond of.

Tonight is the final night. Mrs. Longlet will not go, of course, but I pray that the rest of us will.

[New entry, undated]

I am barricaded in the tower with three others. We are the last.

They are safe. The children all went with that woman, along with many of the women and a few of the men. Some stayed behind, too loyal to country and stubborn to willingly retreat from their ground.

The Indians attacked as we gathered people. I believe they scented they were losing their kills. Those of us who planned to stay behind, along with a few others, flew to the walls to defend what we could. I saw that the doors to the stable close, and no one has yet come out. I watched when the Indians searched it, but none came with fresh blood on their hands.

They will be able to break in soon, but the others went with the woman. Jana, too. They are safe.

The children found by the scouts did not speak English, but made sounds like wind through the leaves, like no native language the scouts had ever heard. None of the children matched the descriptions of any that lived in or near the fort at the time of the siege, though they were without a doubt not Minnetonka nor any other native tribe.

One entry remains in the journal. It is written in a flowing hand, beautiful to see. Some of the words do not have letters that I have ever seen before, but they have a simple elegance that defies description. I reproduce the complete entry as follows:

Grandmother was correct. This is a curious world, but I believe I have found a way to put to use the archaic lettering she used as a child. The men who found us are able to understand it, as I scribble in the dirt with my finger.

I am glad we are able to see this ancient world. It is a mystery, and we shall explore it. We cannot go back, since the Unseelie have most surely sealed the portals behind us as we fled. Perhaps one day we may return, but until then, we shall live in this world.

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3 thoughts on “Another Clue in the Mysterious Survival of the Children of Fort Bodden

  1. Cool! Roanoke perhaps? Virginia Dare?
    Did you write this before or after Emma Bull War for the Oaks?

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