Abigail Gardner Sharp

Portrait of a woman
Abigail Gardner Sharp

Public Domain/History of Iowa from the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century

Quick Facts
Survived the Spirit Lake Massacre of 1857 and taken captive by Inkpaduta's band. Later wrote a memoir about it and identified one of the campsites she was held at near the pipestone quarries as the band fled pursuing forces.
Place of Birth:
New York
Date of Birth:
Place of Death:
Colfax, Iowa
Date of Death:
January 1921
Place of Burial:
Arnolds Park, Iowa
Cemetery Name:
Gardner Family Cemetery

Abigail (Abbie) Gardner was thirteen years old when the Wahpekute leader Inkpaduta led his band in a raid against her community in Spirit Lake, Iowa. Her captors took her across the tallgrass prairie and through the Pipestone Quarry before releasing her for a ransom in the Dakota Territory.

Born in New York, Abbie Gardner and her family continually moved west in pursuit of the frontier throughout her childhood. They finally settled in Iowa on the shore of West Okoboji Lake in July of 1856. The following winter proved unusually harsh, resulting in food shortages that threatened starvation for both the Euro-American settlements and nearby American Indian encampments. One of these camps included Inkpaduta and his followers.

After being refused help, disarmed, and pushed out of the area by settlers, Inkpaduta and his band launched a series of small raids against settlments they passed as they made their way to Abbie’s community at Spirit Lake (near modern-day Okoboji). They killed over 30 people there (including most of Abbie’s family) in an attack that became known as the Spirit Lake Massacre of 1857. Abbie and three other young women were taken captive as the band fled the scene and returned to the Minnesota Territory.

Later in life, Abbie recalled camping on the prairie near the “the great Red Pipestone Quarry” before the party proceeded to the Dakota Territory. During their brief stay here, Abbie remembered that her captors were “engaged in the delightful task of gathering the pipestone and shaping it into pipes, which were formed in the manner foretold ages ago.” Abbie eventually returned to the pipestone quarries and pointed out the location of their temporary camp.

Of the four female captives taken by Inkpaduta’s band, Abbie was one of two who survived. Elizabeth Thatcher and Lydia Noble were killed by their abductors, but two Wahpeton Dakota hunters purchased Margaret Marble and turned her over to the State of Minnesota. Officials sent three Yankton scouts to recover Abbie. They successfully negotiated her ransom and received $400 each for her return.

Following her release, Abbie reunited with her only remaining sibling, her sister Eliza. She also met Cassville Sharp and married him on August 16, 1857. They had three children and returned to Iowa where Abbie published a book about her experiences both during and after her abduction by Inkpaduta. She tried to reclaim her family’s original home, but was unsuccessful until 1891, when she regained 13 acres of her father’s land claim. Abbie lived there for the next 30 years (now Arnold’s Park) and ran the location as a tourist attraction until her death in 1921.

Pipestone National Monument

Last updated: August 31, 2020