Eveline Stephens married to William Lincoln Lawton

December 28, l899

Truth Stranger Than Fiction
Mrs. Nancy J. Stevens, from Jefferson, Green county, Iowa, is now in Sidney on a visit to her family friends here, consisting of Mrs. John Moomaw and Mrs. J. D. Curran, sisters, and James and H.D. Fletcher, brothers. Mrs. Stevens has passed through an experience that falls to the lot of few and from which all would pray to be exempted. She was married in 1860 to a man named Morton and accompanied him on one occasion on a freighting trip, with Denver as their destination. They had fallen in with a number of teams that traveled together, taking precaution in camping each night for fear of an attack by Indians. They had encamped one night on what was called Plum Creek, near the Platt river, when just at day-break on the following morning a party of sixty Indians, together with four white men, rode down over the bluff at the foot of which they were encamped and made an onset upon the party, killing eleven of the men and one boy, destroying such property as they could not carry off and capturing Mrs. Morton, whose husband was among the killed. She was kept a prisoner among the Indians from the time of the capture August, 1864, until the February following, when her ransom was purchased by the government. But so treacherous were these red rascals that the purchase had to be repeated four times before the prisoner secured her liberty, the Indians turning upon the rescuing party each time and thus recapturing the prisoner for a fresh ransom. Plans were laid at the last purchase for a rapid trip on horseback that should be too swift for successful pursuit, stations being established at convenient distances with fresh horses in waiting, so that 100 miles were cleared on the first day. The sum of $1600 was paid at the last purchase and a faithful half-breed was intrusted with the plans whereby the escape was successfully made. Mrs. Stevens reached her friends in safety, who received her as one risen from the dead. She passed through some dreadful experiences that only nerve and courage could enable her to endure and maintain an existence. She was witness to the burning of one female prisoner and was led to expect the same experience for herself. At one time the fire was kindled for her cremation and only the admiration of the savages for the coolness and courage with which she witnessed these preparations saved her from this terrible fate. She affected great joy that she was about to relieve them of the burden of her maintenance and that she would so soon pass to the happy hunting grounds beyond. The braves rode around the fire in a threatening manner and suffered it to burn entirely away with the laudatory exclamation of “white squaw heap brave, white squaw heap brave!” While with the Indians Mrs. Stevens endured great privations, at one time traveling four days with nothing on which to subsist except a few berries. She married her present husband some time after her return from captivity, with whom she is now enjoying a home near Jefferson, Iowa, and in the midst of the blessings of Christian civilization.

FREMONT COUNTY HERALD. February 25, l910. “LADY CAPTURED BY INDIANS WAS AT THAT TIME A SIDNEY WOMAN”.–Seldom has an article appeared in the Herald that has attracted more attention than the one in our last issue with reference to the lady whose husband was killed by the Indians at Plum creek in Nebraska way back in 1864.

No sooner were the papers in the postoffice than old-time citizens began to call at the office to impart the desired information; Uncle Alf Bobbitt, who has been here always and who remembers distinctly everything of importance that has transpired during all that time–and who, by the way, never misses an opportunity to do the Herald a good turn–called over the phone to tell us the story; while just as soon as the return mail could bring a reply comes an account of the affair from Charles Daniel Rowe who now lives at Woodward, Okla.

The woman in question is now Mrs. Nan Stephens who lives with her husband on a fine farm near Jefferson, Iowa. She is a sister of Hiram and Jim Fletcher and also of Mrs. Emma Curran and of the late Mrs. J.F. Moomaw and was in Sidney at the time of the death and burial of the latter.

At the time the tragedy occurred she was the wife of Thomas J. Morton who in partnership with her brother, William Fletcher, owned and operated a freighting outfit hauling government supplies from Missouri river points across the plains to the then unexplored west. Mrs. Morton, a courageous woman, insisted on accompanying her husband on these trips which required weeks and sometimes months in going and coming. On the ill-fated morning in question while the freighters were camped along Plum creek they were surprised by a band of hostile Indians under the leadership of Big Crow and the entire crew of 11 men were massacred, the train looted of everything of value and the horses driven off to the Indian camp, many miles away.

After being compelled to stand helplessly by and witness the murder of her husband, a brother and nine other men, Mrs. Morton was made captive, strapped to the back of a pony and traveled into camp where she remained prisoner for more than six months. The government soon learned of her plight and set about to devise means for effecting her capture (sic.; Release?) Through their agents and Indian traders the government conferred with the chief and agreed upon a price to be paid for the unfortunate woman. Twice the ransom was paid and accepted and the woman given her freedom. But on both occasions Indian treachery asserted itself, the rescuing party was pursued when but a few miles from camp and their capture retaken, the chief having learned that by retaining possession of her he had a veritable gold mine.

Finally, one of the agents set his wits at work against the cunning of the Indians and won out. Having agreed upon a price he started out upon his journey to bring the woman back to civilization. He took with him a number of good horses which he left in pairs at stated intervals, shortening the distance between posts as he neared the reservation. With the woman in his possession, he started on his mad race for safety. Sure enough, as was expected, the Indians assumed the same tactics and went in pursuit. But the government man and his protege managed to gain the first post where the fresh mounts were stationed and on these began to outdistance their pursuers, whose ponies were lagging, and by continuing these tactics made successful escape, though they hardly paused except to change horses until the entire distance of 400 miles was covered.

Mrs. Stephens says that she was treated with all kindness and consideration at the hands of her captors, who showed no inclination to harm her in any way but gave her the best that was to be had after the manner of Indian living, they holding her only as a source of revenue from the government. However, at best it is scarcely an experience one would care to undergo a second time.

Nancy and George Stephens had a daughter named Eveline in1866. She married William Lincoln Lawton in 1886 and they in turn had a daughter named Lulu Maud Lawton in 1893. Lulu lived until 1982 as Mrs. Purinton.