A good story can be a joy forever. Or at least for 16 years, which is the case for “Katie’s Sacrifice.” This story of patriotic sacrifice started in 1848 as a tale of personal sacrifice, as Kate gives up her beloved kitten to her disabled cousin. Originally written for The Young Reaper (April 1848; pp. 13-14) by “Sister Mary,” “Kate and Her Kitty” was reprinted in Youth’s Companion.

In 1864, the story took a patriotic turn in the pages of Student and Schoolmate, with little Katie selling her beloved kitten in order to give a dollar to help Union soldiers. The story of a girl helping a family member becomes a tale of over-the-top sacrifice. Katie is the perfect sentimental heroine: the daughter of a poor widow whose kitten is “all the play-fellow” she has, she is a complete innocent, knowing little of the civil war then being fought. Her sacrifice of her “only treasure” is contrasted with the publicized donation of $10,000 by a wealthy man.

Why are the two stories so similar? Were they both retellings of a 19th-century urban legend? Was it deliberate plagiarism? In 1848, the story was by “Sister Mary.” In 1864, it was signed “E. N. H.” Were these the same person? Was “Katie’s Sacrifice” by some who’d forgotten reading it in the Reaper or the Companion in 1848? It would be interesting to know.

“Katie’s Sacrifice,” by E. N. H. (from Student and Schoolmate, November 1864; pp. 140-141)

When I read in the papers the other day that Mr. —— had given ten thousand dollars to aid our suffering soldiers, my heart blessed him for his noble deed. But a single act which I heard of this morning semed to me as truly noble, and as really worth relating, as the generous donation which I have named. Little Katie was the only child of a poor widow. She had not, like many children, a supply of books, pictures and toys. Yet she was a loving, happy child; and her gentle, unselfish disposition endeared her to all the neighborhood. Though this sweet girl was more than six years old, she had heard but little about the present war, or the sufferings of our sick and wounded soldiers, until last week. She lived among the hills, in a lonely part of the country, where no military display had been witnessed, and no hero in “army blue” had passed before her eyes.

But last week, her cousin Archie came from his distant home to spend the August vacation with Katie and her mother. A few other strangers also found their way to the quiet valley, it having somehow reached the ears of those in search of health or pleasure, that a beautiful lake which was nestled between the hills in that locality, afforded fine facilities for rowing and fishing. The new comers had not left all their home cares and duties behind them; especially had they not laid aside their patriotism. City belles and their high-bred mothers spent many a leisure hour in this rustic retreat, making army shirts and drawers, or pressing rare wild flowers for the Albums which should sell in the Sanitary Fair. Thus it happened that the poor widow and her quiet neighbors were stirred up to do their part in the noblest struggle of the age.

Katie’s cousin Archie had gone one day from house to house to collect the rolls of old linen and cotton for hospital use, and to gather the socks for the worn and bleeding feet of soldiers on the march. Almost all found something to give, and bestowed it cheerfully. When the boy came home at night to his cousin’s, he found Katie in tears.

“What ’s the matter?” he kindly asked.

“Oh, Archie! Archie! I have nothing to give for the dear soldiers,” she said. “We do not get any money, and mother can only earn enough to keep us. I have n’t anything in the world but Tippie, and she would n’t be of any use in the army, if I could spare her.”

p. 141

“Perhaps,” said Archie—“but no—it would be too bad, for Tippie is all you ’ve got, and she sleeps with you and plays with you; you could not part with her, surely.”

“What do you mean, Archie?” inquired the child, eagerly.

The boy did not like to say, but his little cousin would not be put off.

“Why, you see, Katie, that girl in white frock and blue ribbons, that stopped for a drink of water from your spring, yesterday, fell in love with Tippie, and teased her mother to buy her. The lady, Mrs. Ruskin, spoke to me about it this morning, and said she ’d give a dollar for the kitten; but I told her it was all the play-fellow you ’d got, and I knew you could n’t spare it; that ’s all;”—and the boy looked down on the ground.

“Spare Tippie! Sell my kitten! the dearest thing in the world; of course I could n’t!” and the child, flushed and agitated, hugged her only treasure tightly to her breast, and bore it away to its place across her bed, where she was soon stretched beside it.

But when the morning came, and a little later than usual Archie rose, neither his cousin or her pet were in the house.

“Katie has made her sacrifice,” said her mother, in answer to the boy’s inquiries. “She loved her kitten dearly, but she is willing to part with it that she may help the poor soldiers, who are doing and suffering so much. So she has gone to take it to Mrs. Ruskin, and before night it will be carried to its new home in A——.”

Dear young readers, should you see that snow-white kitten, with the least possible touch of Malta gray on the corner of its ears and the end of its tail, should you watch its graceful antics and merry capers, and remember that it was Katie Daniel’s only treasure, you would, I think, feel as I do, that the giving up of Tippie was a real and costly sacrifice.

Copyright 1999-2024, Pat Pflieger
To “Nineteenth-Century American Children & What They Read
Some of the children | Some of their books | Some of their magazines
To “Voices from 19th-Century America
Some works for adults, 1800-1872
To Titles at this site | Authors at this site | Subjects at this site | Works by date | Map of the site

Talk to me.