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Fanny Kelly: Captive of the Dakotas
Fanny Kelly was born in 1845 in Canada. By 1856, her family had moved to Kansas. She was still a young woman of 19, when she married Josiah Kelly. The couple believed that his poor health might be improved by moving west. In May 1864, they set out in a small train of five wagons for Montana. There were only two women and two children in the group.
On July 12, 1864, the wagon train was intercepted by 100 Teton Dakota warriors. After a short conversation, the Dakotas attacked, killing four emigrants, wounding two others. The women and children were taken captive. Fanny’s husband managed to escape.
The other woman and her children escaped captivity in a few days, and Fanny’s niece also escaped, though she was later killed. Fanny remained with the Tetons for five months enduring the hardship of travel, lack of food and water, and the battles at Killdeer Mountain and Fort Dilts. In addition, she was beaten and had to perform hard labor in the household that kept her.
By September, Kelly’s presence began to cause some problems. Sitting Bull identified her as a source of conflict among the bands, as well as a magnet for Army action. He sought her release, but her owner, a man she called Ottawa, refused to let her go. The Dakotas might have released her at Fort Dilts, but Captain James Fisk did not follow through on negotiations and she was not released.
During her captivity, her husband sent gifts through friendly messengers to encourage her release. But Ottawa wanted to keep her. There is some evidence that her captors were very fond of her, and there is no doubt that she was a hard worker in their households. She was eventually traded to Brings Plenty who gave her the honorable name, Real Woman.
Finally, on December 12, 1864, Kelly was released at Fort Sully. She had endured great hardships and battles. She had lived with three different Dakota families, and had met the great leader Sitting Bull. After her release, she was reunited with her husband. Josiah Kelly lived only three more years. He died just before the birth of their only child.
In 1870, Kelly published her memoir titled: Narrative of my captivity among the Sioux Indians: With a brief account of General Sully's Indian expedition in 1864, bearing upon events occurring in my captivity. For a while, she made her living by traveling from town to town, giving speeches about her experience. The events of the rest of her life are not known.
You can read Fanny Kelly’s entire memoir in its full text online