Fearless Fanny – The Story of Fanny Huggins Pettijohn – Part III

Fanny and Jonas’ decision to leave Red Iron’s village and return to Traverse des Sioux happened very suddenly. The process began one afternoon in August of 1862 when Fanny’s nephew, Amos Huggins, stopped by Red Iron’s village and asked Jonas to go with him to the Upper Sioux Agency. Jonas picked up several letters there, including one from Fanny’s niece’s husband, James Holtzclaw. James wrote that he had enlisted in the Union Army and he wanted Jonas to return to Traverse des Sioux and help his wife Jane with their farm while he was off fighting in the Civil War. Jonas could not enlist himself because he had suffered an injury to one of legs when he was just a boy and was sometimes described as being lame.[1]

Jonas wanted to support the Union effort and to help James so he promptly decided to leave the government school and return to Traverse. He made arrangements for two teams to come up to Red Iron’s village on Monday and take the family over to Hazlewood where they would prepare for the move. This took place on August 14, 1862, just four days before the outbreak of the U.S. Dakota War on August 18.

No teams showed up for that scheduled move on Monday, August 18, and Jonas hired a Dakota man who had a good wagon and oxen to take them down to Hazlewood. Twelve-year-old Albert and ten-year-old William went on foot, driving their cow and her calf. As Jonas was loading the wagons, he was told by two Dakota men that war had broken out at the Lower Agency that morning. Jonas was skeptical and kept loading up their possessions but in a few moments, a group of warring Dakota appeared and took the wagon and horses, telling him his family was at the Riggs mission. He got to Hazlewood as quickly as possible and he and Fanny and the children became part of the group that fled with the Riggs, the Williamson children and others on August 19, 1862.

According to Mary Huggins Kerlinger, it was Jonas who was the first from that group to show up in St. Peter where hundreds of refugees were seeking safety and where rumors had been flying through the community that all of the missionaries had been killed. Jonas was able to reassure them that was not the case but also had to bring the tragic news of Amos Huggins’ death on August 19, 1862, at Lac qui Parle.[2]

Fanny and Jonas and the children moved in with James and Jane Huggins Holtzclaw at Traverse des Sioux.  James had been given a few weeks of leave to come home to the family after the outbreak of the Dakota war, but he was called back to service by the end of the year. The Huggins family had just gone through the death of Fanny’s nephew, Jane’s brother Rufus, who was only 16 when he succumbed to measles on December 16, 1862, after several weeks of suffering from being wounded in New Ulm in the U.S. Dakota War.

Jonas took over management of the farm for Jane and the Pettijohn children eventually began attending school as everyone attempted to adapt to postwar life. Laura was 14 in the spring of 1863; Albert was 13; William was 10 and Alice was nine years old. Once again the family was struck with tragedy when Alice fell ill and died on April 22, 1863.

Jane Williamson wrote to Mary Riggs on May 6, 1863, describing the sad funeral. “She was very beautiful in death; as white as the paper on which I write and her countenance so serene. You know how they loved her but ‘thy will be done seemed’ to be expressed by both parents in every look and action, even more plainly than words could speak it. Laura too behaved well and did what she could to relieve her mother. I think she appears much better lately and the boys too are better than formerly.”[3] Even 23 years later, however, Fanny still felt the pain of Alice’s death. She wrote to John Poage Williamson on April 6, 1885, “When Alice died it was a dreadful trial. She was so pleasant and we did not know how to do without her. Josephine said that at least she would know Amos in heaven.”[4]

James Holtzclaw had come to rely on Jonas and Fanny to live with his wife, Fanny's niece, Jane, and care for their farm in Traverse des Sioux while he was away. He was home on leave when Fanny and Jonas returned to Traverse in August 1862 but was killed in June of 1864, fighting for the Union Army in the Civil War.

James Holtzclaw had come to rely on Jonas and Fanny to live with his wife, Fanny’s niece, Jane, and care for their farm in Traverse des Sioux while he was away. He was home on leave when Fanny and Jonas returned to Traverse in August 1862 but was killed in June of 1864, fighting for the Union Army in the Civil War.

The next summer, James Holtzclaw was killed in the Battle of Guntown, Mississippi, on June 10, 1864. Jane and James had no children but by this time, Jane was caring for her brother Amos’ two boys whose mother Josephine had moved back to her own family in Illinois. Jonas and Fanny stayed with Jane until 1865 and then decided it was time to establish their own farm. They moved to a farm near LeSueur, Minnesota, just a few miles north of the old village of Traverse on the east side of the Minnesota River.

They were very happy at LeSueur and made many new friends. Unfortunately, their streak of tragedy continued and their house at LeSueur burned to the ground while Fanny was the only one at home. Unable to stop the spreading flames, she escaped but most of their clothing and household furnishings were destroyed.

Jonas received assistance from their neighbors in rebuilding with one man donating sawed planks for the new floors and another delivering a load of shingles for the new roof.  Once again, however, Jonas and Fanny didn’t seem able to settle for any length of time and by 1868, they had moved more than 500 miles south to Linn County, Kansas. Laura was married there in 1873 to Jacob Stover Stevens and the new couple settled on a homestead in Green, Clay County, Kansas, about 150 miles northwest of Fanny and Jonas. William, who was then 21 years old in 1873, set out to seek adventure as a sailor and Jonas and Albert kept the farm going. With Laura so far away, however, Fanny and Jonas decided they should move again and in April 1874, they relocated to Green, Kansas, to be near their daughter.[5]

William returned from the sea not long afterwards and he and his wife Octavia also settled in Green with the rest of the family. Albert married Ida Kast in 1875, and they began to raise their family near Fanny and Jonas as well. As it turns out, these final years of Fanny’s life were the most stable. She and Jonas remained near their children in Clay County, Kansas for the remainder of their lives.

Fanny's final years were perhaps her happiest. She lived near most of her grandchildren, loved her church community and didn't have to pack up and move every few years.

Fanny’s final years were perhaps her happiest. She lived near most of her grandchildren and loved her church, her community and her friends.

Fanny kept in touch with her missionary friends from the early days in Minnesota. Several of her letters to John P. Williamson, the son of Dr. Thomas Williamson, record the details of every life in Kansas. On May 19, 1883, she wrote: “We have both lived longer than I thought we should when we were young. I was sick so much and took so much medicine when I was young that I thot I should not live to be old and the Pettijohn men have not been long lived. He is the oldest many of the name I have ever known….Yesterday I went to the Baptist SS; Wm is superintendent there. In the afternoon we went to the Methodist meeting and SS. Will is finishing his planting today. He and Octavia are well. They have 2 children. Hattie will be 3 years old in October and Zelda is nearly 10 months old. We think them fine children.”

The letter continued: “Laura has three little boys, very energetic little children, Harry Leland, 4 years old, James Jonas, 3 years old and George, 4 months old.”[6] Albert and his wife had five children: Bertha, Dave, Harry, Everett and Cecil.[7]

In November 1892, the family and church community had a surprise party for Fanny’s 80th birthday. Fanny wrote to John P. Williamson about the event. “We were invited to a supper in Green, where all were to be 50 years old or more. The Methodist preacher and his wife told me of it. It was to be the first night of November. I said if they would wait one week, they have one 80. (Fanny’s 80th birthday was November 8, 1892.)

“We talked a little about it. I told them Grandpa would be 79 Saturday and I would go the next Tuesday. (Jonas’ 79th birthday was November 5, 1892.) It was a rainy evening the first and we couldn’t go. The Methodist preacher said to some one could not we get up some presents and take our dinner and make them a surprise. The friends were pleased with the idea. They raised money and bought two good rocking chairs at $2.00 apiece. One woman gave a purse. They collected some over 5 dollars in money. They let Will and Octavia know and they let Jacob and Laura know and they told Father, so they all knew but me.

“Tuesday was election day. Father and I were going to the election and Laura said she was going to Green and their 5 boys all must go too. Father and I were in our own buggy. Jacob whipt up and got to Wills first. When we got there I was surprised to see so many friends. I was glad to see them but never thought of my birthday for a good while. When I got the idea what it meant, I was completely unnerved. I didn’t know what to do or say. But I soon got better and enjoyed the good dinner and the pleasant company. They brought in the chairs and gave me the purse. I told them that just the night before I had thought of what we needed and couldn’t see where or how we could get them… Now to come on such a party almost took my breath away.”[8]

Enclosed with this letter in the same envelope was another letter from Jonas to John Williamson. He explained how he had copied out Fanny’s letter about the birthday party since John had not received it a year earlier. Then he wrote, “Soon after these letters were written….My Dear Wife left me at 7:30 a.m. on the 7th of this month. Funeral services at 11 a.m. on the 9th. Her age was 81 yrs, 3 mo and 27 days. Well may it be said, ‘Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.’

“My dear wife had no fears or doubts. She told the good sisters how to comb her hair to make it smooth when they prepared her body for the burial. She selected the text for the funeral discourse. People by the hundreds came to the funeral. Our pastor, Rev. J. B. Deever of the United Brethren, preached. Rev. John Eldredge of the Baptist church read the 23th Psalm. Rev. R. P. Spurrier made the opening prayer. Rev. Baldwin read the burial formula and offered the closing prayer at the grave….the first hymn that was sung was ‘Shall we gather at the river, Where bright angels feet have trod, With its crystal tide forever, Flowing by the throne of God.’ Then comes the chorus a great many joined in singing.”[9]

Fanny had never lived anywhere longer than a few years except for the years she lived with her parents as a child and young woman. She and Jonas finally found their place in Green, Kansas, where Fanny spent her last 20 years. She and Jonas are buried in the Fancy Creek Cemetery in Clay County, Kansas.

Fanny had never lived anywhere longer than a few years except for the years she lived with her parents as a child and young woman. She and Jonas finally found their place in Green, Kansas, where Fanny spent her last 20 years. She and Jonas are buried in the Fancy Creek Cemetery in Clay County, Kansas.

A copy of Fanny’s obituary was carefully tucked into this letter, which John Williamson saved in his personal papers that eventually were given to the South Dakota State Historical Society at Pierre. Fanny’s conversion, her work as a missionary and government teacher, and her role in the community are described. Then the anonymous author wrote: “No individual with whom the writer has had an intimate acquaintance had more of a real self sacrificing missionary spirit than did she. She has doubtless passed into the better land….”[10]

Jonas lived another two years before he joined Fanny in death on April 20, 1896. They are buried side by side in the Fancy Creek Cemetery near Green, Clay County, Kansas.


[1] Autobiography, Family History and Various Reminiscenses of the Life of Jonas Pettijohn, by Jonas Pettijohn, Green, Kansas, August 1880, Dispatch Printing House, Clay Center, Kansas. Minnesota Historical Society, Lower Sioux Agency, Morton, Minnesota,  p.10  (Hereafter Jonas Pettijohn Autobiography) On March 24, 1834, Jonas was injured when his cousin, Daniel Pettijohn, accidentally hit his right knee with an axe and completely dislocated his leg. He was in bed for three months and wrote that his Mother brought him back to health.

[2] Kerlinger Journal, p. 235

[3] Jane Williamson at St. Peter, to Mary Riggs at St. Anthony Village, May 6, 1863. Minnesota Historical Society, Riggs Family Papers, P727.

[4] Fanny Riggs to John P. Williamson, April 4, 1885, from Green, Clay County, Kansas to Greenwood, South Dakota. South Dakota State Historical Society, Pierre, SD, John Poage Williamson Papers 3471A. The Josephine Fanny mentions is the widow of Amos Huggins, who was killed on August 19, 1862. Jonas Pettijohn was the one who traveled up to Lac qui Parle in June of 1863 and brought Amos’ body back to Traverse for burial in the family plot. One of the reasons that Fanny mentioned Alice’s death to John Williamson is that John and his wife Sarah had just recently lost one of their own children, Mabel, who died at the age of seven years on January 6, 1885.

[5] Jonas documented all of the family’s places of residence over these years of turmoil. At one point he wrote, “Financially I was badly used up, to say the very last. I had sold my farm and all my personal property, and had spent more than $500, actual cash, in less than one year, and now had little or nothing to commence anew on; but I lived through all those mistakes I made and am living yet….Let me say right here and now that your mother has been a loving, faithful and uncomplaining wife, during all these years of disappointed anticipations and blasted hopes.  Jonas Pettijohn Autobiography, pp.58-59

[6] Mary and Jacob Stevens reported in the 1900 Federal Census that they had seven children, four of whom were living. Harry was on his own at the time of that census but James, 20; Jesse, 15; and William, 12; were listed with the family. George had died on April 26, 1895 at the age of 12 years and another baby, identified only as Frances, is buried in the family plot at Fancy Creek Cemetery in Clay County, Kansas, but the stone has no dates. I have not found a seventh child unless they were referring to Jacob’s daughter by his first wife. Both the baby, named Sarah, and Jacob’s first wife, Elizabeth, died in 1871.

[7] Albert and his wife, Ida Kast Pettijohn, moved to Washington in about 1898 but they apparently were not in Green, Clay County, Kansas, in 1892. I don’t know where they were living at that time.

[8] Jonas Pettijohn to John Poage Williamson, March 15, 1894. Jonas told John that a letter Fanny had written to him on January 13, 1893, had been returned to them and he wrote out the entire letter again. South Dakota State Historical Society ,Pierre, South Dakota, John Poage Williamson Papers, 3471A

[9] Ibid., Jonas Pettijohn to John Poage Williamson, March 27, 1894.

[10] Ibid., Fanny Huggins Obituary

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