Motion picture and television westerns have made places such as Dodge City, Tombstone, and Deadwood famous in spite of the fact that a century and a half ago they were just small towns on the vast western plain. As well, men such as Wild Bill Hickok, Doc Holliday, and Wyatt Earp have become legends – with many of the tales surrounding their names more fiction than fact.
But sometimes fact is more fascinating than fiction. In his interesting history of Dodge City during the “wild west” days of the late 1800’s, historian Tom Clavin recounts an actual event in the life of the dapper shootist Bat Masterson that for drama and excitement challenges the work of any Hollywood screenwriter.
In the summer of 1874 a family named German decided to migrate west from their home in Georgia. Their goal was to homestead in Colorado. They never made it. They were ambushed by hostile Cheyenne Indians on the Kansas prairie. The parents and the three oldest children were killed and scalped. The four youngest, all girls, watched their family members die, and were then carried away captive.
Before his days as deputy sheriff of Dodge City, Bat Masterson worked as a scout for the U.S. Calvary. He was dispatched with a group of soldiers to locate and rescue the kidnapped German girls. For nearly two months Masterson participated in an arduous search, all the while hoping the girls had not been killed or traded away. In early November, an Indian camp was discovered that the perceptive scout thought might hold the captives. An attack was launched, and the Indians fled. Julia and Adelaide German were discovered hiding under a buffalo robe. The terrified girls were half starved, but otherwise unharmed.
But where were their sisters?
The search continued through the rest of the year and what proved to be a harsh winter. For Bat Masterson, the difficult weather was both a hardship and blessing. He barely survived getting lost in a sudden blizzard. Some of the men in the wagon train he was with wandered off into the storm never to be heard from again. Less than half his team reached a safe destination. But providence was at work. The hardships that afflicted Bat Masterson and his cohorts also impacted the Cheyenne. After six weeks of brutal weather, a representative from the elusive Indians appeared offering to disarm in exchange for food. Terms were offered providing food on the condition that Katherine and Sophia German were returned alive. Bat Masterson was brought to the Indians camp, and led to a tepee where he found the two sisters suffering malnutrition but still alive. Against all reasonable expectation, after six months of searching, all four German sisters were rescued.
For Bat Masterson, this event early in his life ignited a legend that would only grow with his later exploits, and the passage of time.
The story of the desperation and liberation of the German sisters touches a chord in the human heart. The length of their captivity and the helplessness of their condition accentuates the heroism of the search and rescue.
It also provides an illustration of the heart of our heavenly Father for us. The Bible depicts each of us as a sinner in “the snare of devil… taken captive by him at his will” (II Tim. 2:26). It also tells us that the Father sent His own Son Jesus on a rescue mission. “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk. 19:10), and in spite of the peril involved, without regard for Himself, like a shepherd after a lost sheep, our Savior goes after that which is lost until he finds it (Lk. 15:4). We do not seek Him (Rom. 3:11). Our Lord is the great seeker, the searcher of our souls.
“I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick…” (Ez. 34:16)