Saturday, September 6, 2008

Tragedy Along the Washita

Clara Harrington Blinn

Despite dangers and hardships, thousands of Americans settled in the West in the decade after the Civil War. Among them were Richard and Clara Blinn.

Clara Isabel Harrington was born in Elmore, Ohio, October 21, 1847. She was the daughter of William and Harriet Bosley Harrington, who owned the Baird House in Perrysburg, Ohio. On August 12, 1865, in Sandusky County, she married Civil War veteran Richard Blinn of Perrysburg. The couple spent their wedding night at the Croghan House in Fremont.

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.

Charge of the U.S. Seventh Cavalry on Black Kettle's Village

(Harper's Weekly, December 19, 1868)

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. His superior was of little help; Sheridan believed that Clara had been "subjected to fearful bestiality of perhaps the whole tribe; it is mock humanity to secure what is left of her for the consideration of five ponies."

Clara's feelings were decidedly different than those of Sheridan! 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.

Custer's troops struck the sleeping village before dawn on November 7. Black Kettle, his wife and 100 other Cheyennes died during the short but vicious battle. Two weeks later, Custer, accompanied by Sheridan, returned to the site of the massacre. 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. Soldiers buried them at Fort Arbuckle.

Outraged by the deaths of Clara and Willie, General Hazen criticized the generals for attacking during his negotiations. Without eyewitnesses, the official inquiry proved futile.

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.

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