German Sisters (unknown–unknown)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: January 1, 1995

Updated: June 8, 2019

The four German (Germain[e]) sisters, Indian Captives, were the daughters of John and Lydia (Cox) German, who in the 1850s established a farm near Morganton, Fannin County, Georgia. They were Catherine E. (b. March 21, 1857), Sophia L. (b. August 11, 1862), Julia Arminda (b. March 23, 1867), and Nancy Adelaide (Addie, b. April 26, 1869). During the Civil War German fought for the Confederacy and was taken prisoner. He returned in 1865 to find his farm devastated and decided to make a new life for his family, which grew to seven children. Encouraged by a letter from a friend, the family set out for Colorado on April 10, 1870. Eventually they made it to Howell County, Missouri, where they stayed among relatives for over two years before moving on. In Elgin County, Kansas, German and his eighteen-year-old son, Stephen, plowed fields for pay on the Osage Indian Reservation for ten months before moving on. In August 1874 the family reached Ellis City, where they were advised to take the stage route up the Smoky Hill River to Fort Wallace, since water was more readily available that way. On September 10 the Germans camped on the trail a day's journey from the fort. The next morning as they were breaking camp they were attacked by a war party of Cheyennes led by Chief Medicine Water. John and Lydia German, their son Stephen, and daughters Rebecca Jane and Joanna were killed and scalped. The Indians then took any goods they deemed usable and set the wagon afire. Captured and eventually taken into the Texas Panhandle were Catherine, age seventeen; Sophia, twelve; Julia, seven; and Addie, five. The Germans were victims of the Cheyennes' retaliation for their losses at the second battle of Adobe Walls on June 27.

After a scouting party from Fort Wallace came upon the scene of the massacre a few days later, the military campaigns against hostile Indians in the Panhandle were intensified. In the meantime, the German girls were subjected to exposure, malnutrition, and occasional maltreatment as their captors traveled southward. Catherine, in particular, recalled instances of gang rape by young "dog soldiers" and indignities at the hands of Cheyenne women, particularly Medicine Water's obnoxious wife, Mochi (Buffalo Calf Woman). Eventually Julia and Addie were traded to Grey Beard's band, who for the most part neglected them. Grey Beard steered his following down the east side of the Llano Estacado, while Medicine Water joined with other groups and moved down the west side, probably crossing at several points into eastern New Mexico.

By November 1874 Grey Beard had set up camp north of McClellan Creek, about ten miles south of the site of present-day Pampa. On the morning of November 8, Lt. Frank D. Baldwin's column charged the Indian encampment. So complete was the surprise that the Cheyennes abandoned the village and left most of their property intact. Riding through the deserted camp, William (Billy) Dixon and other army scouts noticed movement in a pile of buffalo hides; they were astonished to find Julia and Addie German, both emaciated and near starvation. Dixon later recalled how hardened scouts and soldiers turned aside to hide their emotions as the little girls sobbed out their story.

At the main supply camp on the Washita River Col. Nelson A. Miles placed Julia and Addie in the care of an army surgeon, who took them to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In January Miles and Col. Thomas H. Neill sent out friendly Kiowas as messengers to find the Cheyennes and induce them to surrender. The Kiowas located the camp of Stone Calf on a tributary of the Pecos River near the New Mexico border. When Stone Calf, who was bringing his people back from exile in Mexico, was told that peace was dependent upon the safety of Catherine and Sophia German, he had them moved into a lodge next to his own. They were released in March, after Stone Calf, Grey Beard, Red Moon, and other chiefs brought in their bands to surrender at Brinton Darlington's agency. The sisters pointed out to the officers the individuals who had murdered their family and those who had abused them, including Medicine Water and Mochi. These, along with others singled out for various crimes, were placed in irons and sent to Fort Marion, Florida, for incarceration.

Catherine and Sophia were subsequently reunited with Julia and Addie at Fort Leavenworth, and Col. Miles was designated their guardian. Congress set aside $10,000 from Cheyenne annuities as an endowment for the girls' support and education. On reaching the age of twenty-one, each sister received $2,500. Reared by Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Corney in Kansas, all four girls eventually married and settled in Kansas, Colorado, and California.

In 1927 Grace E. Meredith, Catherine's niece, published her aunt's narrative of the German sisters' captivity. The following year, Mrs. Adelaide German Andrews and Mrs. Sophie German Feldman stopped in Pampa while en route to visit their sisters, Mrs. Catherine German Swerdfeger and Mrs. Julia German Brooks in California. Timothy D. Hobart, with whom the sisters had corresponded, took them to the site of Lieutenant Baldwin's attack on Grey Beard's camp. Several dignitaries accompanied them, and the event was well covered by area newspapers. A Texas Centennial marker was placed near the site in 1936. In October 1952 Julia Brooks was guest of honor at Gray County's fiftieth anniversary celebration in Pampa.

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Olive K. Dixon, Life of "Billy" Dixon (1914; rev. ed., Dallas: P. L. Turner Company, 1927; facsimile of original ed., Austin: State House, 1987). James L. Haley, The Buffalo War: The History of the Red River Indian Uprising of 1874 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1976). Grace E. Meredith, ed., Girl Captives of the Cheyennes (Los Angeles: Gem, 1927). Joe F. Taylor, comp., "The Indian Campaign on the Staked Plains, 1874–1875," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 34 (1961), 35 (1962).

  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Captives and Victims of Attack
  • Women
  • Native American Captives

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

H. Allen Anderson, “German Sisters,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 10, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995
June 8, 2019

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: