A Familiar Winter Tragedy and a Unique Consequence
Bloody Run Creek, Humboldt County
Many Iowa weather stories of the nineteenth century tell the tragedy of a person, often a child, often a boy, lost in a snow storm, steps from his home, found dead the next morning, frozen to death. Though these basic features of the story are repeated often, each story is unique: one child had no choice but to seek food for family; another child only meant to check some traps he had set by the river; a third child was so self-reliant that his parents couldn’t imagine he would not find shelter. This Humboldt County story is singular even among these winter tragedies of unique individuals.
In the late 1840s, Henry Lott was living in what is now central Iowa at the mouth of the Boone River. With native people, principally the Dakota/Lakota (Sioux), he had been trading whiskey and trinkets for furs and gold. In the winter, perhaps of 1848, several native men confronted Lott about stealing their horses. As the story goes, through the day, Lott’s accusers drank more whiskey and became more assertive until they actively forced Lott and his family from their cabin. Lott’s young son got separated from his family, lost in the snow. He died.
From Pennsylvania to Montana and Iowa in between, many interactions between native peoples and frontline, unscrupulous whites were ones governed by the reciprocating passions of revenge–a kind of interaction very different from that practiced by Alexander von Humboldt, the county’s namesake. When natives in the territory moved north of Fort Dodge, so did Lott, biding his time, says the storyteller. There Lott made some fraudulent land deals, apparently with other whites, but continued to trade with natives, providing whiskey. Perhaps having worn out his welcome in the Fort Dodge area, Lott moved again in 1852 into Humboldt County east of the river where he built a cabin and put a crude fence around a few acres.
His wife now dead, Lott and his step-son lived in the cabin until the opportunity arose, in January 1854, to confront Chief Si-dom-i-na-do-ta and most of his family on the banks of Bloody Run Creek. On the promise of a nearby elk herd and good hunting, Lott lured Sidominadota away from the family camp. Still within earshot of the camp, Lott shot the native chief twice and killed him. The chief’s two wives heard the shots, and the elder wife with two young children—a boy and a girl– fled the camp. Lott killed the woman and thought he had killed the boy as well, but the girl ran into the woods and hid. Lott did not know that the boy revived, reunited with his sister, and the two together found safety. They did not succumb to the treacheries of Lott or the perils of a nineteenth-century Midwest winter.
Sidominadota’s brother Inkpaduta demanded justice of settler authorities but the whiskey trader could not be found. Later it was discovered he had fled to California where he apparently remained until his death many years later. Although Lott was gone, his determination to kill some native people avenging the winter death of his son, resulted in an apparent reciprocal act of revenge by Inkpaduta at Spirit Lake two years later when winter conditions were again harsh and food scarce. His men’s killing of settler families there is a notorious episode in Iowa history. The role of vengeful Henry Lott and of his young son, lost in the snow, is less well-known.
Source: SHSI: The History of Humboldt County with a History of Iowa, 1901; on-line: Alexander von Humboldt oil painting, 1806, by Fredrich Georg Weitsch, National Museums Berlin, from Encyclopedia Britannica.