Sarah’s Story

(Please note: There are more interesting details about what went on in the Cheyenne village in my post “Life Within The Tribe” in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen)
When sharing the Story of her daughter being taken, Sarah’s mother remarked, “In telling you this, I live it all over again.”
Sarah Catherine White was one of 7 children in her family. The pretty, auburn-haired girl was only 16 years of age, when she was taken from her family on August 13th, 1868.
Her father, Benjamin White, was one of the first settlers on White’s creek, having come there with his family in May, 1866. The creek was then known as “Granny” creek, but sometime after the death of Mr. White, L.J. Crans, of Concordia, suggested at a picnic held in the neighborhood, the name be changed to White’s creek in honor of Benjamin White, and the name was adopted.
Benjamin white was out working, pitching hay about 5 miles from the family’s home, with Sarah’s brothers, on the ill-fated day.
Meanwhile, Sarah was at home with her mother and 3 younger siblings. They had just finished milking the cows, and returned back to the house.

Just then, a group of Cheyenne men rode up on horseback, letting out their fierce war cries!

It is important to note here that, while most of the Cheyenne tribe’s people were good-natured and stayed home in the camp, living peacefully–  There were a few renegade men who spent most of their time away from the camp, riding all over the countryside, making a general nuisance of themselves.

These renegade men surrounded the White home, and peered into the windows, assuring that the women and children inside were alone. Then they barged in, and began thrashing the house, taking whatever items they desired.

During the terrifying ordeal, Mrs. White grouped her children together, and tried to escape, but they were cut off by two of the men, who grabbed hold of young Sarah and pulled her away from her mother. The remaining four men held on to Mrs. White, who was fighting and thrashing with all her might, and trying to hold on to her younger children. But she could do nothing to save her oldest daughter, who was being carried away from the house, by the other two powerful men.

Mrs. White could hear the terrified and agonizing screams of her daughter fading off into the distance, as she was brutally raped by her captors…

The mother attempted to break free with her children a second time, and run to find help. But again, she was detained, and threatened, while the men continued to thrash and clean out her home.

Finally when the men’s backs were turned, Mrs. White and her children managed to escape off into the woods nearby, where they hid until the Cheyenne men left– taking Sarah with them!

Horrified and heartbroken, the mother cautiously led her barefoot children off in the 5 mile search for her husband, checking all around them constantly, for fear of being caught by the Cheyenne men…

They were soon approached by a group of white settler men, who had been out working with Mr. White. The men reported to Mrs. White that they too had been attacked by the same group of men. And while her older sons were safe and unharmed, her husband (who had bravely faced the attacking men) had been shot and killed.

Meanwhile, young Sarah was being carried away by the men, back toward their camp about 5 miles across the Buffalo river. Along the way, they were met by a group of fifteen other (largely peaceful) Cheyenne men, who’d been waiting for them out in the planes.

Here, Sarah was left with a guard– a man on the brow of the hill, and another man at the base, while the renegade men rode out once again.

As she waited there, Sarah cringed with her thoughts of what might have become of her family… She imagined that they had all probably been assaulted the same way she had, and then murdered. And she of course, had no idea of the fate of her father, but hoped that he and her brothers would be safe, having been far away.

Eventually, Sarah’s captors returned to the base, and the entire group picked up once again, this time on a journey that lasted several days, and led them back to the village, where the Cheyenne women and children resided.

When the women saw Sarah, it was quite obvious from her emotional state, what some of the men had done to her. The women were instantly flooded by a motherly instinct, at the sight of such a young girl being torn from the arms of loving parents and subjected to such treatment. They paid very kind attention to her– some gathering around her, caressing her and murmuring, “Poor papoose, poor papoose”.

It had become clear to Sarah at this point that the 6 men who were riding around terrorizing homes were simply a menacing, individual group, primarily separate from the tribe.

In real life, Sara was actually quite timid and submissive, unlike the character in the film. For some time after her abduction, she was rendered unable to speak, because of the trauma. But the kindness of the regular Cheyenne villagers made the ordeal less troublesome.

About 3 weeks from the date of Sarah’s capture, 19-year-old Anna Brewster Morgan was also brought to the same camp. The meeting between the two young ladies was quite emotional. Anna was the first to speak, asking Sarah if she was well, and how she was being treated. But Sarah could not answer. She instinctively knew that Anna had most certainly suffered the same abuse she had, at the hands of the 6 menacing men. And the entire situation was much too overwhelming for her.

Eventually, Sarah did begin to speak again. And with her sweet nature, she soon became quite an adored favorite of many tribe members.

Among the stolen items in the tribe, was a dress that had been taken from the white settlement, and the Cheyenne villagers offered it to Sarah as a gift to wear.

Sarah also found comfort in Anna’s presence, since Anna quickly took on the role of “Tough, protective big sister.”

After Sarah was rescued by Gen. George Custer, she was reunited with her family. She grew into a strong woman, moving on from her ordeal. Although she proudly offered up her story and her photo to journalists. She also wrote many letters to Custer and his men, thanking them for their rescue efforts.

She later became a school teacher, and married a man named Erastus Otis Brooks. Together, they had two sons: Lewis J. and William Elmer.

Sarah built quite a good life for herself after her capture– taking over her homestead, living to a ripe old age, and finally passing away in the early 1930’s. Her surviving relatives today hold tightly to her letters and writings, proudly sharing them with curious inquirers.  Mrs. White-Brooks said when she hears people complaining of hardships and hard times, she often thinks their knowledge along these lines is very limited.




4 responses to “Sarah’s Story

  1. Flora

    March 22, 2009 at 7:08 am

    Interesting the difference in their outcomes.
    In 1872, only a few years after returning, Anna related to a neighbor, Lavina Gates Chapman, her story. The book Pioneer Woman (you can read this on Google Book Search) says “neighbor”, not friend.( The author of the book was the great-granddaughter of a pioneer woman and rediscovered family documents telling the autobiographies of 600 women.) The two women escaped on foot and got within sight of Fort Dodge when they were recaptured. From the account as told to Lavina:” I fought hard and said I would not go back. But they took me by main force and whipped me and bound me onto the pony. They took us back to the Indian village and they were more strict with us, giving us no privileges whatever. We felt that we would never regain our liberty as we settled down to hard work. An Indian chief proposed to me and I married him, thereby choosing the least of two evils and never expecting to see a white person again. My Indian husband would come in from the warpath bringing many things he thought would please me. The squaws were now waiting on me, bringing me wood and laying it down at my door. All my Indian husband expected of me was to tend his horse when he came in off the warpath. He would throw the lariat to me and I would picket out his horse. I began to think much of him for his kindness to me, and when they brought the news that there were two white men in the camp, I did not care to see them. I was surprised to see my own brother walk into the tent………There were many things that I have not spoken of. we were piloted back to the fort, where the officers’ wives took us in charge and furnished us with clothing from their own wardrobes. We were then sent to our former homes. After I came back, the road seemed rough and I often wished they had never found me.”

    An acquaintance ( again, not referred to as a friend) named Emily Harrison later wrote: Mrs. Morgan’s story is a pitiful one…Miss White, on her return, took it as an awful incident well over, made a little income from rehearsing her story to interested writers, sold her photograph, married a good man and let time haze her memory. When they returned to their homes they were besought by newspaper men and book writers to give an account of their experiences, and furnish their portraits for publication. This Mrs. Morgan refused to do…. She considered it a disgrace, and that a relation of it only added to the infamy. Her brother, Mr. Brewster, felt as she did. Mrs. Morgan was a beautiful woman, yellow hair, blue eyes, and a lovely complexion. She lived for some years but her mind gradually failed and I was told she died in an asylum.”
    Anna started out strong– she strapped on a gun and rode a horse to rescue her husband. She escaped her captors on foot , she fought recapture— think of the risks she took. More rape, torture, murder. Married to a chief, she was respected and protected from rape, didn’t have to work hard, was surrounded by a community of people who esteemed her courage and probably loved her. She goes back to the white world where she was an orphan ( she was taken in by one woman when she was five, then by another woman when she was 11)— and becomes a hardworking isolated housewife . Pioneer women had rough lives– think of all the tasks and no machines to help . Her husband and brother were embarrassed, ashamed of her especially after her having a baby who looked Indian. I wonder if the child was poisoned- he died 10 days after she gave birth to another child. “Her mind gradually failed” —- longterm depression? No mention of close friends — how would she have coped with her broken heart and losing the child who looked like the man she loved? Imagine how her white husband treated her afterward. Imagine her wondering and never knowing what became of her adoptive community. She was still young- her youngest child was seven- when she divorced her husband ( another terrible scandal back then) and imagine her living with her brother for years. She said there were many things she had never spoken of. She never wrote to Custer to thank him and the soldiers. She was never accepted by the community. I found that her mother died in an insane asylum when Anna was 5 so maybe there was a genetic component. But years of anguish couldn’t have helped. She wrote in a letter: “My life received a blight at that time (her capture) which will go with me to the grave. Life has been worth nothing to me since then. Do not mention my husband to me. He reproached me times without number for my misfortune, for having been a helpless victim to the atrocities of the wild savages” (gangrape) . A book called A Fate Worse Than Death tells many stories of that time. Rape, torture, humiliation and mutilation were common fates of captives- and marriages, after return, were broken by this. Families tried to hide their daughters’ experiences from prospective husbands.
    Sarah had the advantage of marrying a man who chose her knowing about what she had been through. She had been gangraped also and traded from man to man, often beaten and whipped by the women, deliberately starved, had frostbitten feet. While captive, she assumed her whole family was killed and yet she managed to endure the experiences and attempt escape. She grew in strength over time. It seems her large family was supportive and proud of her. Anna came from poverty, Sarah’s family may have been higher in status- and this might be another factor influencing the outcome.

    • Bridget Boudreaux-Pham

      July 2, 2013 at 7:04 pm

      I feel so badly for both women. but Anna should have been left with the Indians, for it was there she was well loved & treated with much more respect than from her own race after returning home to be with a husband who treated her with no regard to her feelings. I’m sure that the conception of her subsequent children from him were only from her indignant husband just relieving his sexual tensions on her with no regard for true love. I often too, wondered if Ira was not poisoned by her white husband during Anna’s “distraction” caring for a new newborn child of his. I don’t blame her for divorcing him either! I just wish there were more to know of the chief’s outcome, hoping he & Anna are now reunited, because it was HE who 1st treated her with respect like a wife. The movie is one I own & watch quite frequently & sharing it with my neighbor Julie has opened up her interest in this story as well. I now have someone else who I can talk with about my favorite romantic story of the Old West (Even though some of the facts were changed, it is still my favorite story to discuss & watch). God bless Sarah, Anna, Ira, & “Tokalah” (whatever his true name may have been. ) May they all RIP in the arms of the Almighty as they have suffered ENOUGH!!!

  2. Sandy

    July 26, 2013 at 3:10 am

    That is sad, it sounds like Anna got better treatment from her abusers(captors) than she did from her own family who should have been more supportive. No wonder she wished she had never been found. Sarah on the other hand was a strong person for what she had been through. I know one thing I am glad I did not live back in that day because I would have had enough rebellion in me that they would have done killed me. To me being dead would be better than being raped, beaten, & tortured on a daily basis.

  3. Sandy

    November 17, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    I wish there was at least one photo of the real life Sarah & Anna posted somewhere on the website because I am curious as to what they look like.


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