In May of 1864, 19-year-old Fanny Kelly and her husband Josiah set out from Kansas to Montana in a small train of five wagons. On July 12, the wagon train was attacked by 100 Teton Dakota warriors, killing four and wounding two. The women and children were all taken captive.
Within a few days, the other woman and the children were able to escape, but Kelly was caught and was forced to remain with her captors for five months, enduring grueling conditions, being beaten, and performing hard labor in the household that held her captive. She also survived the battles at Killdeer Mountain and Fort Dilts.
Kelly might have been released at Fort Dilts, but Captain James Fisk didn’t follow through on negotiations, and she was forced to travel on with her captors. Throughout her captivity, her husband sent gifts through messengers to try to convince her captors to release her, but to no avail. She was eventually traded to Brings Plenty, who gave her the honorable name “Real Woman.”
Kelly was finally released on December 12, 1864 at Fort Sully, after surviving months of hardship. She was reunited with her husband, Josiah, who unfortunately succumbed to cholera a mere three years later, just before the birth of their child.
Kelly went on to publish a memoir of her time in captivity in 1870, titled: Narrative of My Captivity Among the Sioux Indians. She died in 1904.
While not much is known about her life after the publication of her book, what we do know proves that Fanny Kelly was an extraordinary woman. To learn more about her time in captivity, check out her book, available for sale at the Pioneer Trails Regional Museum. And be sure to check out our exhibits on the Battle of Killdeer Mountain and Fort Dilts.
Special thanks to the North Dakota Studies Program for the information on Mrs. Kelly.
In honor of Women's History Month, each week of March we will feature a brief story on a woman (or women) in history with a connection to our local area. If you know of someone we should write about, or would like more information, call or stop by the museum and let us know!