Woodbury County, Iowa Genealogy

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From the Woodbury County History book, 1984

Pages 3, 4, and 5

 

Unveiling of Cordua-Roberts Monument

 

Paper read by D.S. Lewis at the unveiling of the monument on October 13, 1928.

Courtesy of the Lewis family.

 

            The facts and incidents resisting relating to the events which this stone is designed to commemorate have been so widely published in the newspapers that there remains little for me to do in presenting an historical account of the affair.

            It is known that quite early in the morning of July 9, 1861, Henry Cordua and Thomas Roberts left the home of the former in Cole’s Addition, near the present location of the Franklin School, to cultivate a patch of potatoes in Bacon Hollow, a little to the north of this spot.  It is presumed that the forenoon was spent in the performance of their appointed task.  Noon came and they began preparations for their midday meal.  The horses were tied to the wagon and fed, and Mr. Roberts had repaired to the stream which flows almost at our feet, for water.

            While these preparations were in progress, and while the victims were within a short distance of the plowed field, they were fired upon from ambush.  Mr. Roberts was shot in the back and it is evident from the fat that the paid which he carried still contained about a quart of water, and that is thumb remained in the armhole of his vest, that is death was instantaneous.  Mr. Cordua, whose remains were found a little distance from those of Mr. Roberts, also received a bullet in a vital spot, but surrounding evidences indicated that he had lived several hours after falling.

            The last persons to see these unfortunate gentlemen in life were our late townsman, Cornelius Kelly, then a youth of 17, and his father, Daniel Kelly, and Christian Doss and John Gertz, the latter two mechanics who were assisting the elder Mr. Kelly in building a house on a farm northeast of Cole’s Addition.

            Mrssrs. Cordua and Roberts, on their way to their labor, followed the draw leading through the present Kelly party on their way home and take them into town.  After waiting a short time for their return, Mr. Kelly and his co-workers finally walked to their respective homes.

            When the two men failed to return in the evening, fears arose in the minds of relatives and friends that some accident had befallen them.  Anxiety on the part of Mrs. Cordua was increased by the circumstances of the return of Mr. Cordua’s dog in mid-afternoon, and again later, to the Cordua home, in an apparent attempt to convey a message of some disaster.  The Cordua home was somewhat isolated, there being but two or three neighbors.  There were no men in the vicinity to whom Mrs. Cordua could disclose her fears.

            Finally Mr. White, one of the neighbors, returned, and to him Mrs. Cordua made known her apprehensions.  Mr. White gathered a party to o out and ascertain the reasons for the non-appearance of the men.  Of this party was Mr. Geo. M. Kingsnorth, who is with us today, and the elder Mr. Kelly.  It was about midnight when they arrived on the scene.  They found the wagon overturned, the harness slashed and lying on the ground, and the horses gone.  Owing to the darkness the bodies of the murdered men were discovered until early the next morning.

            Capt. Wm. Tripp, commander of the local company Frontier Guards, with about twenty of his men, immediately started in pursuit of the murderers, who the signs indicated to be Indians and probably two in number, although it was not known how many more might have been lurking in the vicinity.  Capt. Tripp and his command followed the trail to a point in Plymouth County on Willow Creek, a stream which flows into the Floyd near the present town of LeMars.  Here they were joined by Capt. J.F. Morton and his command of Mounted Rangers, who had been ordered by A.W. Hubbard, representing Gov. Kirkwood, to take the field, and discover if possible, the trail of the miscreants.  This expedition started early Wednesday morning from Melbourne, now an extinct town, then the county seat of Plymouth County.

            On the uniting of the two parties, Capt. Tripp’s superior weapons were turned over to Capt. Morton, and he and his men, owing to exhaustion and lack of rations and camp equipment, returned to Sioux City.  Capt. Morton and his troops proceeded a considerable distance up Willow Creek, but finding the trail more and more difficult, and with limited provisions and inadequate equipment, they despaired of ever overtaking the Indians, who were believed to be on Rock Creek, about forty miles away, and returned to Melbourne.  Both expeditions departed hastily, without proper preparation, and the start that the Indians had, it was not surprising that they failed in their purpose.

            This ends the story of the tragedy so far as may be ascertained from local annals and statements of several who were living at the time.  The unfortunate victims were men of highest standing in the community and their tragic and untimely and was deeply deplored.  They were young men with prospects as bright as those of any sought to carve out their fortunes in the newest west.

            Mr. Cordua was of German birth.  He came to Sioux City from Dubuque, in 1857, as one of the proprietors of Cole’s Addition.  He left a widow, who as long since passed on, and two daughters, both of whom are living, one Mrs. Geo. P. Goldie, in California; and the other Mrs. Emilie C. Hoskins, who is here today, and whose sons are participating in these ceremonies.  Of Mr. Roberts nothing is known save the fact of his exemplary life in Sioux City.  He left a widow and three children of whom also nothing is known in Sioux City.

            The bodies of the murdered men were taken to Casady Hall, the civic center of that period, from which they were buried.  Mr. Cordua on Thursday, July 11, and Mr. Roberts on Friday, July 12.  Their graves are in one lot in Floyd Cemetery.’  Resolutions were adopted at the final meeting of Co. ‘A’ of the Regiment of State Mounted Riflemen (formerly known as the Frontier Guards) at Casady’s Hall, October 12, 1861, characterizing the men as true and faithful in the performance of their duties and in every relation of life; as soldiers foremost and fearless; as citizens upright and honorable; as husbands and parents kind and indulgent; as friends sincere and ardent, and as men commanding respect and confidence wherever known.  These resolutions were signed by Isaac Pendleton, J.W. White and Jas. M. Bacon, Committee.

            It may be appropriate to supply a brief historical setting for this recountal.  Civil War between the North and the South was raging.  Garrisons were being withdrawn from western military posts to supply trained officers and soldiers for the Union Army.  The frontier was left practically defenseless against Indian uprising.  In the graver problems that confronted the federal government the welfare and safety of the pioneers of the western fringe of civilization were lost sight of.

            The Indians were in many instances mistreated, and robbed by corrupt agents and government officials, and were resentful of their treatment and restive upon their reservations.  The flower of young manhood in the western states was absorbed into the battalions recruited for the great war.  Echoes of the Spirit Lake Massacre, in which some forty whites perished, still inspired terror in the minds of the pioneer settlers.  Up and down the valleys of the Big and Little Sioux Rivers, the West Fork and the Floyd, marauding bands of Indians, chiefly from Minnesota reservations and indulged their thievish propensities at will.

            Sioux City, as the most populous and important town in this region was looked to for protection.  Realizing this, our citizens on April 25, 1861, took initial steps to organize a military company, first known as Home Guards, afterwards as the Frontier Guards, and finally as the Mounted Riflemen.  This company was armed after a fashion by the state, and placed under the direction of the Governor’s aides, Hon. Caleb Baldwin of Council Bluffs, as first, and afterwards Hon. A.W. Hubbard.  Capt. Tripp was in command with Wm. R. Smith as First Lt.  What they lacked in knowledge of military tactics and strategy they made up in patriotism and enthusiasm.  The company was disbanded late in 1861, to be superseded by Capt. Millard’s Company of Independent Cavalry, recruited fro service in the U.S. forces.  A roster of the Frontier Guards of that day would compare with the membership lists of the Chamber of Commerce, the Labor Unions, and all of the dinner clubs of today.

            Closely following, on May 1, 1861, steps were taken by residents of Melbourne and Sioux City and settlers in eastern Woodbury County to form another company, the Mounted Rangers, which was placed under the command of Capt. J.S. Morton, with O.C. Tredway as 1st Lt.

            These companies though poorly armed and equipped did their best, by frequent scouting expeditions, and by answering appeals for protection from isolated settlements, to allay the fears of our scattered population and to prevent Indian outrages.  How well they succeeded may be seen in the fact that Messrs. Cordua and Roberts were the only victims of Indian atrocity in Woodbury or adjoining counties.

            On the very day of the murder, in response to a request from Smithland for military aid, a detachment of thirty men from the Pioneer Guards set out for the Little Sioux Valley, to scout that part of Woodbury County.  They proceeded from Smithland to Correctionville, and there, in the night, they came into contact with a small band of Indian marauders.  Shots were exchanged and in the scrimmage two of the command were wounded, Isaac Pendleton slightly, and a Mr. Roberts, a brother of Thomas Roberts, seriously.  The Indians escaped in the darkness.

            The brief, inglorious services of these volunteer citizen organizations ended when the federal government by the creation of the military department of the Northwest, with General John Cook, followed by General Alfred Sully in command, took over the defense of the frontier, and the State organized the Northern Border Brigade, under the command of Lt. Col. A. Sawyers.  The military defenses of the Northwestern border were organized, the upriver posts were garrisoned with U.S. volunteers, expeditions were launched to break the power of the hostile tribes and to avenge the dreadful massacres in Minnesota, which occurred in 1862, and by the middle of the decade all fear of Indian outbreaks in this region had vanished.

            The tragedy which we commemorate today had a peculiar interest for the members of my family.  My father, John W. Lewis, was associated with Mr. Cordua in the cultivation of this little farm.  He had planned to go with Mr. Cordua to do the work which was needed to be done.  On the appointed day, however, he was ordered out with a detachment of Capt. Tripp’s company to answer the call of the settlers in the Little Sioux Valley, who had sent in reports of Indian troubles.  Mr. Roberts learned of this and in the spirit of mutual helpfulness and cooperation which prevailed among our pioneers he volunteered to take my father’s place with Mr. Cordua.

            What more striking instance can be cited of losing one’s life to serve a friend, and to serve his community?  For his community he did serve by enabling a soldier to perform his soldierly duty, and by contributing to the production of the crops so sorely needed in the economic life of the frontier.  It was always a matter of bitter regret to my father that he allowed Mr. Roberts to take his place with Mr. Cordua, because the former was owner of a very fine team of horses, which more than likely excited the covetousness of the Indians and prompted the murder.

            The story I have here related has been gleaned from various sources, which I think are reliable, and it has been my endeavor to make this narrative as authentic as possible.


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