Situated in a quiet, leafy park near West Lake Okoboji, the Gardner cabin recalls one of the bloodiest chapters in Iowa history. The rough-hewn, one-room cabin dates back to the earliest years of pioneer settlement in the region. In 1857, 33 settlers living in this area were killed by Dakota Indians, violence that was part of a series of skirmishes between the two groups. The event that came to be known as the Spirit Lake Massacre sparked a regional war between Indian tribes and the U.S. Government. The cabin was the home of the eight-member Gardner family, all killed except for 13-year-old Abbie, who was taken captive by the Dakota and later ransomed.
Following years of depression and illness, Abbie eventually recovered enough to write a book about her experiences. The success of the project earned her enough money to return to Arnolds Park and buy her family’s cabin, the only building remaining after the tragedy. She converted the small structure into a museum and welcomed visitors to the site for the next 30 years.
Today, the park includes interesting artifacts, maps and a video that explains events leading up to the massacre in an unbiased, factual way. Nearby, a tall spire monument dedicated in 1895 commemorates the deaths of the pioneers, and a small graveyard holds the remains of those killed, as well as Abbie and her children.