A small log cabin sits near Pillsbury Point, along the shore of West Lake Okoboji.
“With inexpressible sadness I now recall some of the scenes and events that transpired in that humble but happy home…” Abbie Gardner Sharp wrote in “History of the Spirit Lake Massacre.”
Her sister reading aloud to the family. Her father helping the kids with schoolwork. Her mother crocheting.
Gardner Sharp’s memories of that place were tainted when tragedy occurred in March 1857. Misunderstandings between settlers and Native Americans 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 Wahpekute band 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 Society of Iowa site opens for the season Friday, May 24, and is open noon-4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday through Labor Day weekend.
“Thousands of people come to the Abbie Gardner Cabin & Museum each summer to learn more about the history of the area, to remember and to learn from the misunderstandings that happened between settlers and native peoples,” said Kiley Roth, community relations coordinator with the Dickinson County Conservation Board, which staffs the cabin in a partnership with the State Historical Society of Iowa.
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 Native American artifacts, Gardner Sharp’s commissioned paintings about her experiences and the tiny, 17-by-23 foot cabin that more than 10 people lived in at one time. They can also visit the massacre monument and Gardner family gravesites.
“This place truly takes you back in time,” Roth said. “Whether you have been there before and want to learn more or have never been, we highly encourage people to head to Pillsbury Point to experience Abbie Gardner Sharp’s story.”