Fanny Kelly

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Not to be confused with the 19th-century actress Frances Maria Kelly, also known as Fanny Kelly.

Fanny Kelly (1845-1904[1]) was a North American pioneer woman captured by the Sioux and freed five months later. She later wrote a book about her experiences called Narrative of My Captivity among the Sioux Indians in 1871.

Early life[edit]

She was born Fanny Wiggins in Orillia in what is now Canada in 1845 to James Wiggins. In 1856, Wiggins decided to relocate his family to the new town of Geneva in the soon-to-be state of Kansas.[2] Along the way, however, he died of cholera, leaving the family to continue on to Geneva on their own.[2] Fanny eventually married Josiah S. Kelly.

Kelly hoped that a change of climate would aid his failing health, so he, Fanny, and her seven-year-old niece and adopted daughter, Mary Hurley, along with two "colored servants", Franklin and Andy, set out on May 17, 1864 from Geneva for the region that is now Idaho or Montana.[2] A fellow traveler, a Methodist clergyman named Mr. Sharp, joined them a few days later. A couple of weeks after that, William and Sarah Larimer and their eight-year-old son Frank, with whom they were acquainted, left a large wagon train to accompany them.[3] Two others joined the group somewhere along the journey, Gardner Wakefield and Noah Taylor.[3]


On July 12, the ill-fated party had crossed Little Box Elder Creek in Wyoming on the Oregon Trail when they encountered a large group of "about two hundred and fifty" Miniconjous and Hunkpapas, reported by Fanny Kelly to be "painted and equipped for war", led by their war chief, Ottawa.[2] By Kelly's account, vastly outnumbered, the immigrants tried to placate the warriors. By the one Sioux account, the Indians had gone to see the white man's "Holy Road" (the Oregon Trail) that they had heard about, met some whites, and ate and smoked with them. While they were eating, a Sioux messenger arrived, reporting that U.S. soldiers had killed some of their relatives on the Missouri River, apparently putting their heads on poles.[4] The Sioux, agitated, then shot some of the emigrants, with Sharp, Taylor, and Franklin being killed immediately.[3] Wakefield was seriously injured. Josiah Kelly, William Larimer, and Andy got away, while the two women and two children were taken captive. Another wagon that happened on the scene by chance sped off, at the cost of one person's life. The Sioux then proceeded to loot the five wagons.

Josiah Kelly and Andy separately made their way to the protection of a large wagon train some miles away, as did the people of the other wagon that had passed by. They later found William Larimer, with an arrow wound to the arm, and Wakefield with three arrows in him, but still alive.[2] After a couple of days, the party made its way to Deer Creek Station, where there was an army garrison.

Meanwhile, the prisoners attempted to escape. The very night of their capture, Fanny Kelly had Mary Hurley slip away in the darkness. Fanny herself tried to follow, but was caught and beaten. Mary's scalped and arrow-ridden body was found a few days later and buried by her uncle.[3] The Larimers did manage to escape the next night.[5] They were reunited with William Larimer at Deer Creek Station. When he had recovered from his wound, the family returned to Kansas.[5]

Fanny Kelly's account of her ordeal[edit]

According to Fanny, she was nearly killed by an old chief for losing his pipe, which she had dropped and broken. She managed to dispel the wrath of her captors by presenting them with some banknotes, telling them of their value. Another life-threatening quarrel ensued when she innocently accepted a gift of stockings from the brother-in-law of the old chief, inadvertently committing a social blunder. Angered, the chief killed one of his brother-in-law's horses. The brother-in-law sought to retaliate by aiming an arrow at Fanny, but Jumping Bear snatched his bow away.[2]

The band arrived at their home village, only to be attacked by a Union Army force led by Brigadier General Alfred Sully. Fanny was hustled away with the rest of the women and children. Freedom was not to be so quickly gained. After several days of pursuit, Sully's men gave up. When the Sioux returned to their homes, they were so angered at their losses, they threatened to burn Fanny at the stake.[2] At a council to decide her fate, Ottawa spoke up for her, and she was spared. She became Ottawa's "exclusive property".[2] She described him as being "over seventy-five years of age, and partially blind".[2]

One day, an Indian arrived at the camp, bearing a letter from Captain Marshall of the Eleventh Ohio Cavalry detailing the attempts that had been made to rescue her.[2] The Indian had been offered a reward to help free her, but he proved to be unfaithful.

On September 5, a large band of Sioux attacked part of a wagon train led by Captain James L. Fisk taking settlers to what is now Montana. Unbeknownst to her, the attack had been repulsed, though the whites had suffered twelve deaths to six by the Sioux. Fanny was made to exchange letters with Captain Fisk to try to get him to lower his guard. Since the Sioux were illiterate in English, she was able to warn Fisk of their intentions. Fisk tried to ransom her, to no avail, but he promised to spread the news of her situation.[2]

When the old chief went away on a journey. Fanny was sent to live in another village with an elderly couple. While there, she met and spoke several times with the chief "Man-Afraid-of-His-Horses".[2] She later found out he had been given two expensive outfits by her husband to try to obtain her release; he, however, reported to Mr. Kelly that he could not find her.[2]

General Sully had been sent to stop the Indian attacks on settlers beginning in 1862. The Sihasapa became weary of the fighting and offered peace. Informed by Captain Fisk of Fanny's plight, Sully insisted she be freed, even though the Sihasapa protested she was being held by the Oglala. In November, Sihasapa warriors including the prominent leader Kill Eagle went to the Oglala camp, but the Oglala resisted the idea of giving Fanny up. Without Oglala permission, the Sihasapa took Fanny away. When the Oglala pursued to reclaim her, the two groups parleyed; the Sihasapa prevailed.[2]

Fanny was taken to a Sihasapa village. She found out that other groups, having learned of the reward offered for her return, tried to buy her. Once, white traders in four wagons came to purchase her release as well; all but one were killed. The sole survivor escaped and walked all the way back to Fort Laramie. Fanny began to fear that the Sihasapa intended to attack Fort Sully and not give her up.[2]

One day, Jumping Bear visited her. Fanny persuaded him to take a letter to General Sully; in the letter, she warned of a planned attack using her return as a ruse to gain entry to the fort. Forewarned, once Fanny and some of the Sihasapa chiefs had entered the fort on December 12 (a statement by officers present says "on or about the 9th day of December"), the gates were swiftly shut. Fanny was at last free.[2]

Alternate account[edit]

According to several books, Fanny did not live with the aged Ottawa. Despite her claim that "I had never suffered from any of them [the Oglallas] the slightest personal or unchaste insult",[2] by other accounts, she was sold to a Hunkpapa Sioux named Brings Plenty to be his wife.[6][7] So pleased was he with her docile demeanor, especially compared to Sioux women, that he named her "Real Woman", and it was only with great difficulty that Fanny was prised away from him by no less than Sitting Bull.[7] In this version of events, Fanny was returned safely to Fort Sully under Sitting Bull's protection.

Later life[edit]

Her husband, once he received the news, traveled to be reunited with her. The couple returned to Geneva, then moved, first to Shawneetown, then to Ellsworth, Kansas. There, an outbreak of cholera claimed Josiah Kelly, who succumbed on July 28, 1867.[2] Their child was born afterward.

She was persuaded to go live with the Larimers, who had settled in Wyoming. While there, however, she claimed her manuscript was stolen for the purpose of plagiarism. Sarah Larimer published a book about her own brief experience in 1870 called The Capture and Escape; or, Life among the Sioux.[8] Fanny had to resort to litigation.[8]


  1. ^ "Fanny Kelly letter : Washington, D.C., to Mr. H.H. Larned, Lansing, Mich. : ALS, 1884 May 19. / Kelly, Fanny, 1845-1904". ArchiveGrid. Retrieved May 29, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Kelly, Fanny (1871). Narrative of My Captivity among the Sioux Indians. Hartford, Connecticut: Mutual Publishing Company. p. 285. Retrieved February 20, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d "Kelley (sic) Larimer Massacre Site and the Mary Hurley Grave". Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office. Retrieved February 20, 2011.
  4. ^ Sandoz, Mari (1942). Crazy Horse: Strange Man of the Oglalas. University of Nebraska Press. p. 147. ISBN 0-8032-9211-2.
  5. ^ a b Michno, Gregory F. and Susan J. (2007). A Fate Worse Than Death: Indian Captivities 1830-1885. Caxton Press. p. 132. ISBN 0-87004-451-6. Retrieved February 21, 2011.
  6. ^ Michno, Gregory F. and Susan J. (2007). A Fate Worse Than Death: Indian Captivities 1830-1885. Caxton Press. p. 133. ISBN 0-87004-451-6. Retrieved February 21, 2011.
  7. ^ a b Vestal, Stanley (1989). Sitting Bull, Champion of the Sioux: a Biography. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 64. ISBN 0-8061-2219-6. Retrieved February 21, 2011.
  8. ^ a b Kathryn Zabelle Derounian-Stodola and James Arthur Levernier. "The Indian Captivity Narrative 1550-1900" (PDF). University of Hong Kong. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 11, 2011. Retrieved February 21, 2011. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)

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