A Stolen Child
The incidents of this sad story occurred about twenty-five years ago, not far from the little village of Mendon, in Cache County, Utah; and the writer, accidentally in that neighborhood, was a witness of the tragic drama then enacted, and will endeavor to narrate it from memory. About three miles south of Mendon was the home of a Mr. Thurston, who owned a gristmill, operated by the waters of a large spring, not far away, and impounded in a millpond of not great superficial area, but of considerable depth. His family consisted of a wife— daughter of our beloved brother Erastus Snow, and four or five children, the youngest of whom was a beautiful little girl, not quite three years old. She was a veritable little rosebud the pride and pet of the family, and her name eminently appropriate, was Rosa. Beautiful as a cherub, her loveliness was daintily enhanced, by the care and good taste bestowed upon her attire, by her idolizing mother. Her disposition was as lovable as her person, and was always as bright and sunny as a balmy day in June— full of good nature and of little sayings wise and cute. Poor Child! Sad in extreme was her fate and long shrouded in deep mystery.
One afternoon about two o’clock, as all the children were out at play, a sudden burst of wind and rain drove them into the house for refuge. But in a few moments, the watchful eye of the mother missed the youngest of her flock, and “Where’s Rosa?” she asked. “Why,” said the children, “she was playing with us just now, and came in with us.” But no, she was not there. Hastily stepping to the door, Mrs. Thurston called her darling, but no answer greeted her ear. Alarmed a little, she went outside, looking and calling, her steps growing quicker and her voice taking a ring of dire alarm in its tones. Her husband heard her voice, and came to see what was the matter. Quickly the millwheel ceased to turn, and the father joined in the anxious search, with all the children, visiting each spot frequented by them in their play; but nowhere could their pet be seen, nor could any answering cry be heard to their anxious calls. Alas! They were never to hear that mirthful bird-like voice again.
As the minutes flew swiftly by, wonder changed to anxiety and that into an indefinable dread. Where could she be? How could she so suddenly disappear and leave no trace behind, vanishing, apparently, from the earth, in the short space of not more than five minutes, at the most! Swiftly they flew about, searching and calling in vain. The muddy edge of the millpond disclosed no little footprints, and they remembered she had always avoided it through fear. Could she have fallen into the millrace from the footbridge that spanned it? No; a thorough search down the millrace revealed not her body in its shallow course; they knew she could not have fallen into it. Then they thought perhaps the sudden gust of wind had dazed her, and that she had fled in fright from the house, instead of towards it, and thus had wandered away.
While the rest of the family ran hither and thither among the sage brush, wildly calling the lost one, the father wild with anxiety for his pet hurriedly flew to Mendon, for help to find her, before the chill night should fall, and still more effectually hide the little one. The men of Mendon responded on the instant, and soon more than a score of them with lanterns had joined in the search, every now and then calling little Rosa’s name, then stopping to listen— every sense at its utmost tension, then searching and calling again— listening in vain for the little, tearful voice.
And so passed the dreary, chilly night. And all this time— what of the mother? She could not leave the home to join in the search, she must remain to watch over those left her, thought sorely against her will. Could she have done so, she would have flown upon the wings of mother-love, over that dark and cheerless prairie, nor stop until her strength should utterly give way. So all night long she stands at her door waiting, watching— listening for the distant, joyful shouts that should ring through the black night and tell her trembling heart that her little darling was found. And who may know or tell the agonizing thoughts which sped through that mother’s brain that long and fearful night?— Of her little one alone, terrified in the dark, chilled and stiffened with cold; and— fearful thought!— of coyotes prowling about, or the big gray wolves, from the towering mountains, only a mile or so away! What if even now her darling Rosa lay mangled, torn, or devoured by their cruel teeth— her cries of pain and terror, all unheard by any one who could save! Oh, it was dreadful!
When morning came, and it became known that little Rosa had not been found, many others joined in the search. It was thought she must have wandered towards the mountains. A more systematic form of search was adopted; the men placing themselves in a line facing the mountain and a few yards apart, so that in their forward march not a foot of ground should be unscanned. Thus the line slowly moved forward, until the base of the mountain was reached, without the slightest sign of her presence being discovered, and it was conceded, she could not have gone that way. With dejected steps they returned to the house to devise other plans.
It was now determined to examine the millpond thoroughly; a raft was built and men with long poles felt the entire bottom of the pond unsuccessfully. Then skillful divers explored its dark but clear waters in vain, and at last, to make assurance more sure, the pond was drained, but its water found guiltless.
And so this day passed, and the following night, in a search careful and untiring, and all that willing hearts and tireless feet could do was done. And the next day it was kept up, until it became a certainty that she was not to be found; then the long search was discontinued and men returned to their homes, wondering at so complete a disappearance— one that seemed almost a miracle.
Who may know the agony of that fond mother? Day and night she stood silent at her door. Not a word passed her lips, not a tear dimmed her eye, she ate or drank nothing— she seemed turned to stone, as thus she stood day and night at her door waiting— waiting— for news that never came. Never can the writer forget the look of stony despair upon that mother’s countenance, as thus she stood waiting— hoping— despairing, every faculty concentrated into those of sight and hearing.
Not less distressed was the father; by night and by day he rode, followed up every possible and impossible rumor, and lavishing his little wealth in vain efforts to obtain tidings of his darling child.
What had become of little Rosa? How was it possible for her to be so utterly lost in the space of five minutes, without leaving some clue? It seemed inconceivable— it was a mystery no one could fathom. She seemed to have suddenly vanished from the earth.
At length a man was found, who said, that on the day when Rosa disappeared, he was traveling upon the road, and saw two Indians riding upon one horse approaching; that they turned out of the road a considerable distance before meeting him, and made a wide detour in passing, returning to the road behind him a quarter of a mile away; and that as they passed by, he noticed that the two men sat some little distance apart, on the horse, and that a single blanked was wrapped around both. He had thought nothing of this at the time, not knowing of the little girl’s loss. But since he had heard of it, he thought those Indians might have had her between them, the blanket being so disposed as to keep her from view.
Here was an idea, the Thurston did his best to follow it up, offering a large reward to any Indians, who would restore his child, or give him tidings of her— offering what would beggar him and make an Indian rich. But this too failed. From time to time rumors would float through the air that a white child had been seen with a band of Shoshones in Wyoming, or of Bannocks in Idaho, or with some wandering Utes; but each long and tedious hunt for the band spoken of only resulted in disappointment. He never saw his little Rosebud again.
But the belief grew with the people that thus had she been stolen, and in revenge for the alleged killing of an Indian, a few months previous, by a white man. This belief afterwards became a certainty. About four years after the disappearance of the child, an Indian revealed the sad truth as follows: He said a squaw was near the mill on that day gathering berries in a clump of bushes. When the children ran to the house to escape the storm, little Rosa lingered behind the others a moment; was seized by the squaw, who darted into the bushes, with her hands over the child’s mouth, and delivered her to the two Indians, afterwards seen upon the road. They had placed her between them, hid her from view by the blanket, and had thus carried her away to their band, and left the territory. But she became sick; the squaws stripped her warm clothing off and put it upon their papooses; the other children beat and abused her, and she cried incessantly for “Mamma! Mamma! Oh, Papa! Papa!” They thought she would die, and so started to take her to her father and obtain the reward, of which they had heard; but on the way home, death, her best friend, relieved her sufferings, and they left her body beside the trail.
He said the Indians had stolen her in revenge for the murder of the Indian, and that Pocatello, the chief, had vowed to steal nine more children from the whites to pay the debt.
Ere this reached their ears, the Thurston family had left the place. Heartbroken as they were, they could not endure the scene of so much sorrow, and of such an agonizing uncertainty. Could they have know she was dead, peace would have come to their souls; but the thought that she might still be alive and suffering from Indian barbarity, was always present with them. The family removed to southern California, and made a home not far from San Diego, and near the seashore, where the grand melody of old Ocean rises unceasingly to heaven, as the waves, with gentle ripple or thundering roar, fall upon the beach. Here the writer, in company with Apostles Snow and Thatcher, visited them, a few years ago; but even then, after the lapse of so many years, the father could not speak of his loss with resignation.1
1. The author of this story is unknown, but is thought to be Orson F. Whitney. Old settlers in Cache Valley still remember the tragic disappearance of the Thurston Child. —Preston Nibley