On the steps of the Washita martyr

Publié le par custerwest

Grandniece Mary Moorehead on the steps of Chief Black Kettle's victim, Clara Blinn
source: Blinn Family Genealogy

Clara Blinn's story (6')

 Mary Forrester Moorehead of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a grandniece of Clara Harrington Blinn. The life and death of her grandmother's older sister has haunted her since childhood.  In those days, all traces of Clara's story were tucked away in a bundle in an old trunk and carefully ignored by the family. "As a child in Kansas, " Moorehead remembers, " I used to sneak up alone to my grandmother's attic and take out of the large wooden trunk a mysterious parcel.  It contained the mementos of my Grandaunt Clara's last days.  I would remove the items one at a time and wonder about them and about Clara."

  The momentos included: an old clipping from an Ottawa, Kansas, newspaper; a hurriedly penciled letter from Clara in scratchy handwriting dated November 7. 1868; a piece from the hem of a calico dress; a fringed, beaded Arapaho bag; a yellowed letter from Gen. Philip Sheridan; a lock of hair; and two tiny stones.

     From the newsclippings and the letters, Moorehead knew that her grandaunt had been a captive in Chief Black Kettle's camp, but she was baffled by her family's silence regarding her grandaunt. "I simply could not understand my family's reluctance to speak of Aunt Clara. My mother had great pride in our family history. Yet she would never, never speak of Aunt Clara when I was young. Neither would my grandmother."

     Ironically, in those days, the only information Moorehead was able to get came from the family's Cherokee maid Ada. She knew something of Plains history and had read old news articles about Clara Blinn. Ada also instilled in Moorehead a curiosity about the Indian side of the story. "Only when I reached adulthood did my mother finally relent and tell Clara's story as the family knew it," Moorehead explains.

   The old momentos, which Moorehead now owns, trace the narrative. She shows the original handwritten letter, now preserved under glass, that Clara wrote from Black Kettle's camp. The plaintive plea for help from the twenty-one-year-old captive entreats: "Kind Friend....if you could only buy us of the Indians with ponies or anything and let me come and stay with you until I could get word to my friends, they would pay you..." Moorehead notes of the letter: "Family legend claims that a trader smuggled a pencil and paper into Clara in a pan of flour. But no one knows for certain." (The letter was delivered to the military and then released to the press. It appeared in many newspapers.) (...)


Moorehead had also retraced her grandaunt's journey from capture in Colorado, south to Oklahoma, o stand at the battle site on the Washita River in November. "I wanted to feel, as much as I could, what it might have been like for Clara," she says.
     Somewhat sadly, she has come to understand her family's early reluctance to talk of her grandmother's older sister. "Reflecting the mentality of the day, Clara was considered a loser in the family. If she had escaped and tried to re-enter the Anglo culture of 1868, she would have been considered sullied, an outcast." For it was naturally assumed that she had met "the fate worse than death," as one cavalry lieutenant remarked on the presumed sexual abuse by the Indians.

"While many women broke from the strain of just trying to exist on the Plains," points out Ms. Moorehead, "Clara's remarkable fortitude kept her struggling for freedom to the very end of her ordeal. To me, Clara was a heroine. She was a young, bright, brave woman. And as much a source of pride as the English colonists in our family. It is a shame to have kept her in an attic so long."

"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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