Clara Blinn: Washita martyr

Publié le par custerwest

The story of Clara Blinn and her son, Black Kettle's hostages

sources: Gregory F. Michno
, A Fate Worse than Death, Caxton Press, 2007, page 152
MMS 1646 mf, Richard Blinn's diary, Bowling University ; David J. Wishart (ed), Encyclopedia of the Great Plains Indians, University of Nebraska Press, 2007, page 217


Despite dangers and hardships, millions of Americans settled in the West in the decade after the Civil War. Among them were Richard and Clara Blinn.
Clara, the petite, seventeen-year-old daughter of William Harrington, had married Richard Blinn in Sandusky County, Ohio, in August 1865. The Blinns settled in Colorado Territory, but hard times forced them to join a wagon train returning east to Kansas where Clara's father lived.
On October 9, 1868, near Lamar, Colorado, Cheyenne warriors attacked the train, carrying off Clara and two-year-old Willie Blinn. The warriors left their captives at the winter camp of Chief Black Kettle on the Washita River.
General Philip Sheridan ordered George Armstrong Custer to destroy the village in retaliation for raids throughout the region. Black Kettle pleaded for protection for his people from General William Hazen stationed at Fort Cobb. When Hazen learned that Clara and Willie were in Black Kettle's camp, he began negotiations for their release.


A month after her capture, she smuggled a note to Hazen. Clara pleaded desperately for help - if not for herself, then for her son. Believing that her husband had died in the Cheyenne raid, Clara begged that someone notify her father in Franklin, Kansas:

 “Kind Friends, whoever you may be: I thank you for your kindness to me and my children. You want me to let you know my wishes. If you could only buy us of the Indians with ponies or anything let me come and stay with you until I can get word to my friends, they would pay you, and I would work and do all I could for you. If it is not far from their camp, and you are not afraid to come, I pray that you will try. They tell me as near as I can understand, they expect traders to come and they will sell us to them. Can you find out by this man and let me know if it is white men? If it is Mexicans, I am afraid they would sell us into slavery in Mexico. 
If you can do nothing for me, write to W. F. Harington, Ottawa, Franklin County, Kansas, my father. Tell him we are with the Cheyennes, and they say when the white man makes peace we can go home. Tell him to write to the Governor of Kansas about it, and for them to make peace. 
Send this to him. We were taken on the ninth of October, on the Arkansas, below Fort Lyon. I can not tell whether they killed my husband or not. 
My name is Mrs. Clara Blinn. My little boy, Willie Blinn, is two years old. For our sakes do all you can, let me hear from you again; let me know what you think about it. Write to my father; send him this. Goodbye, Mrs. R. F. Blinn. I am as well as can be expected, but my baby is very weak.”

(Clara Blinn's letter, carried by a little boy named "Cheyenne Jack", who found her in Black Kettle's village)

Custer's troops struck the sleeping village before dawn on November 7. Black Kettle, 12 warchiefs, 20 civilians and 100 other Cheyenne warriors died during the battle. Two weeks later, Custer, accompanied by Sheridan, returned to the battlefield. There among the dead lay Clara - scalped, a bullet hole in her forehead, and her skull crushed. Nearby the generals found the thin, little body of Willie, bearing evidence of bruises about the head (he had been smashed against a tree by the Cheyennes).
Unlike what some have said about the Blinns, evidently to make the Cheyennes look innocent, Clara and Willie were found near the location of Black Kettle's bodies by men from the 19th Kansas. The soldiers and officers who found the bodies made clear that it was on the Washita battlefield. (SEE : finding the Blinns, by Historian Gregory Michno)

William Corbett, Northeastern University
(in Encyclopedia of Indian wars, 2007, "Battle of the Washita", page 217):
“Also, Indians murdered Clara Blinn, a white captive, and her young son during the attack."

The autopsy, performed by Dr. Lippincott and watched by several officers and the reporter Klein, made clear that Willie Blinn was starving, and that his body, "looked like a skeleton". The Indians had made him starving.
Custer himself wrote in his report of the battle: "A white woman was killed by the Indians at the time of the attack."

The graves at Fort Arbuckle are as follow: 

Blinn, Clara Harrington, Nov 27, 1868, hostage killed at Battle of the Washita
Blinn, Willie, s/o Clara, Nov 27, 1868, hostage killed at Battle of the Washita
Richard Blinn survived the Cheyenne raid. He was found on the plains, still searching for his loved ones. In his letter of condolence to Blinn, Sheridan enclosed a piece of Clara's dress and a lock of Willie's hair - remnants of the tragic end of Clara and Willie Blinn. Here's an extract of his diary:

Friday. January 1, 1869

Still storming and no signs of its clearing up. It seems as though everything goes against me. I do not care for what I go through but to think of them, Clara & Willie. If I knew they were safe I would not care for myself for I can stand anything that will do them good, even to laying down my life for them.

But I must know what has become of them if it takes all my life. 


"From Clinton, continue on to Cheyenne, Oklahoma in the heart of Cheyenne country. Here you’ll find the Black Kettle Museum ( 580-497-3929 ) displaying and interpreting the history of the Cheyenne tribe in Oklahoma. (...)  Also in Cheyenne, on the road between the Black Kettle Museum and the Washita Battlefield Historic Site, visit the Clara Blinn House, a tea room, antique store and Native American art gallery."




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