Column: There's always something -- or someone -- to fear
WORTHINGTON -- I never have known a Bolivian or a Bulgarian. I can't speak about people in Bolivia or Bulgaria. Speaking of Americans -- I know quite a few of those. I think Americans always need to be afraid of something. It is our heritage.
Paul Revere rode to shout (shudder), "The British are coming! The British are coming!" The British came and went. Next it was Benjamin Franklin warning, "The Germans are coming! The Germans are coming!" (Not in those exact words.)
B. Franklin was not talking about the German army. He was talking about German immigrants. Germans are "stupid" and "swarthy," Franklin wrote. Next thing you know we all will be speaking German rather than English.
The fears never ceased. "Stonewall Jackson and the Rebs are coming!" "General Sherman and the Yanks are coming!"
Eugene Debs ran for the White House as the Socialist Party candidate five times. In 1918 he got put in a U.S. prison. America was fighting Germany and, "The spies are coming! Debs and the spies are coming!"
After the war there was a great Red Scare. The Bolsheviks were coming. In more recent times there was the Communist scare. Now we face the terrorist scare, the Al-Qaeda scare, the Muslim scare. "The terrorists are coming!"
In the earliest days of Nobles County, it was (of course) the Indian scares. "The Sioux are coming!"
The actual Sioux War came in 1862. Chief Little Crow sent his army against unsuspecting white settlers. August 17. "Remember 8/17!"
The Sioux fear still was strong in 1876 after east and north Nobles County were lightly settled. The scare was real. The report was 500 hostile warriors were camped in Murray County and were poised to move south.
Refugee settlers streamed into Worthington. The courthouse square, on which there was not yet a courthouse, became the camp ground. Fear-stricken people, along with their horses and wagons and prairie schooners, were crowded into the one-block square until there was no more space. A. P. Rose, the early Nobles County historian, wrote, "The roads through Elk and Seward townships were lined with wagons."
Run for your life!
Worthington's great Lt. Rezeau Plotts, pioneer, Civil War naval officer, engineer, history teacher at the new Worthington school - Rezeau Plotts was pressed to lead a posse from Worthington "north to the Indians."
The Lieutenant brought together a scouting party. War veterans on horseback were recruited, of course, but Worthington's founding father, Professor Ransom Humiston, wanted to be a part of the action. The Professor and friends rode to meet the Indians in a buggy. They carried parasols and they wore kid gloves and high collars.
Rezeau Plotts was thorough. For two days the Worthington volunteers scoured northern Nobles County and southern Murray County. They sought out settlers who had not fled and talked with them. They looked for signs of encampments where Sioux and their horses might have spent a night. There was nothing. Lots of tall native grass but no native Americans.
Back at Worthington, even before the scouting party returned, some of the settlers began to climb back into their wagons and to head back to their new, crude homes. There was some embarrassment.
Lt. Plotts returned and penned a report to, "The Gentlemen of the Council of the City of Worthington." The local scouts determined (as did others in days ahead) that the spark that kindled the great fear was a teenage boy of the Hemphill family in Murray County.
The boy was sent out to rake hay in the hot August sun. Make hay while the sun shines. When he thought he couldn't bear more, the boy ran back to the family home shouting Indians had threatened him. "Whole bunch of them! From the north! Armed! Lucky I got home!"
The boy's alarm was picked up by a man named Hampton who was giving up on homesteading. As Hampton rode south he spread the alarm wherever he found settlers. "The Indians are coming!" Hundreds of them
And so the great scare began.
All was quiet for awhile until, "The Spaniards are killing the Cubans!" The Spaniards must be stopped or they will take over. Indians were forgotten. Remember the Maine! Remember 2/15!
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column runs each Saturday.