Abbie Gardner Cabin sesquicentennial July 15-16

For immediate release June 22, 2006


Contact: Jeff Morgan,, (515) 281-3858

(DES MOINES) – The State Historical Society of Iowa and local partners will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Abbie Gardner Cabin July 15-16 in Arnolds Park with activities that include storytelling by members of Native American tribes, several presentations about the lives of pioneers, a barn raising, lodge encampment, tours and more.

“While we’re using this sesquicentennial event to highlight the history of Gardner Cabin, we’re also using it as an opportunity to look back at more than 10,000 years of Lakes history,” said Jerome Thompson, SHSI state curator. “We’re including activities that explore the early biological and archaeological history of the Great Lakes and what the pioneers might have seen when they arrived 150 years ago.”

The event coincides with the 150th anniversary of the Gardner family’s arrival in the West Okoboji Lake area. It was in the family’s cabin on the site that daughter Abbie witnessed the 1857 Spirit Lake Massacre. Nearly 40 settlers perished in the skirmish, including everyone in Abbie’s family except her sister Eliza.

Abbie later turned the site into one of Iowa’s first tourist attractions. Since 1974, SHSI has managed the site, and today visitors are invited to tour the cabin, restored to its 1856 appearance, at no charge.

Events at the site this year include a variety of perspectives on the area’s past. On July 15, visitors can attend hourly presentations on area Native American history. At 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., Matt “Sitting Bear” Jones, a lecturer at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and member of the Otoe-Missouria Nation, will present “Meet Big Knives” to discuss the impact of the first two meetings Lewis and Clark held with the Otoe-Missouria nation and his tribe’s history. At 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., Wynema Morris, a tribal historical researcher for the Omaha Tribal Historical Research Project and enrolled member of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, will present stories from traditional Omaha tribal history.

From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., representatives of the Arnolds Park post office will stamp postal materials with a special cancellation stamp created to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Gardner Cabin.

On July 16, visitors will experience history through the eyes of the pioneers when Loren Horton, retired state historian, presents “Through the Eyes of Pioneers: Iowa Described in 19th Century Diaries” at 2 p.m. The presentation explores diaries and letters of hundreds of thousands of people who crossed Iowa on their way west. The documents describe the land, people, towns and the experience of traveling across the prairie.

Also during the weekend, Thompson will join ARPOKE, a women’s volunteer group in Arnolds Park, to lead a barn raising activity for kids. Thompson and Dickinson County Conservation volunteers will also lead kids in an exploration of replica artifacts from Iowa’s earliest residents (8,000 to 13,000 years ago) and Oneota Lakes residents.

Jim Tuel and Jerry Festenow, historical re-enactment performers, will demonstrate pioneer skills such as flint knapping, rope making, and blacksmithing. Barbara Tagami, an interpretive naturalist for the Dickinson County Conservation Board, and Lynn Cargin, her assistant, will present information on the edible wild plants of Dickinson County.

Tours of the Gardner Cabin site will be provided both days and, weather permitting, Dickinson County Historical Society president LeRoy Koep will be on hand with the society’s covered wagon.

Members of Boy Scout Troop 170 will serve buffalo burgers 11 a.m.-2 p.m. both days and beverages all day both days.

Away from the site, screenings of the documentary The Iowa Great Lakes Remembers: A Look at the Past, A Dream for the Future will be Saturday at the Maritime Museum at 1:30 p.m. and Sunday at the Lakes Art Center at 1 p.m. The documentary includes numerous interviews of longtime area residents recalling life in the area and their hopes for the future. The film is a project of the Friends of the Spirit Lake Library with funding from Humanities Iowa, the National Endowment for the Arts and the State Historical Society of Iowa.

The State Historical Society of Iowa is a trustee of Iowa’s historical legacy and an advocate for understanding Iowa’s past. It identifies, records, collects, preserves, manages and provides access to Iowa’s historical resources. Its dual mission of preservation and education serves Iowans of all ages, conducts and stimulates research, disseminates information, and encourages and supports historical preservation and education efforts of others throughout the state. More information about SHSI is available at or by calling 515-281-5111.


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