Abbie Gardner Cabin opens for the season

Photo of a cabin

At Pillsbury Point, people enjoy the beautiful view of West Lake Okoboji, the sun glistening off the water, the cool breeze.

However, the scene was anything but peaceful at that same location 161 years ago when the Spirit Lake Massacre occurred in March 1857. Misunderstandings between settlers and American Indians sparked an atrocity that is still remembered today.

Individuals on both sides were killed. The lives of young and old were taken. But one little girl survived to tell the tale.

Abbie Gardner was 13 when she was kidnapped during the Spirit Lake Massacre and lived with the American Indian tribe for months before she was traded back for two horses, 12 blankets, two kegs of powder, 20 pounds of tobacco, 32 yards of cloth, ribbon and other articles.

When she later returned to Pillsbury Point as Abbie Gardner Sharp, she opened a museum to tell her story. Her legacy is still intact as the history of the Spirit Lake Massacre is recalled at the Abbie Gardner Cabin & Museum in Arnolds Park each year.

The state historical site opens for the season Saturday, May 26, and is open noon-4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday through Labor Day weekend.

“Even so many years later, people are fascinated by Abbie Gardner Sharp’s story and are compelled by the issues that led up to the Spirit Lake Massacre and what happened afterward,” said Kiley Roth, community relations coordinator with the Dickinson County Conservation Board, which staffs the cabin in a partnership with the Iowa State Historical Society.

Docents at the museum will take people through the entire story, from the treaties and lack of food that might have helped start the horrific situation to how Gardner survived and regaled others with her story through her adult years.

Visitors will also get to see Gardner Sharp’s original paintings, historic artifacts and newspaper clippings. They can also tour the historic cabin and visit the massacre monument and the Gardner family gravesite.

“This is truly a place that you won’t want to miss when you’re visiting the Okoboji area, or if you live here and have never been to this historic site before,” Roth said. “While you’re there, take a walk along the lake to Pillsbury Point and experience the view that the first settlers to the area would have seen.”

For more information on the Abbie Gardner Cabin & Museum or on other Dickinson County Conservation Board parks and areas, visit the Abbie Gardner Cabin web page or call 712-336-6352. You can also keep up with the latest happenings on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

(Find more history at the Westport Schoolhouse.)

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