The Further Testimony of John A. Wakefield, Part Two

John A Wakefield

John A Wakefield

Storming of the Second District Polls: parts 1, 2

The Testimony of John A. Wakefield: parts 1, 2

The Further Testimony of John A. Wakefield, part 1

Proslavery Missourian border ruffians stormed the polls in Kansas’ second district, smashing windows and even jacking the entire cabin up and letting it drop. They threatened bloody murder on the judges of election who refused to let them vote, Harrison Burson and Nathaniel Ramsay. They brandished pistols at the window. They readied a log to use bashing in the door. That more than did it for Parris Ellison, the third judge of election. He seized the ballot box and rushed out, throwing open the door to the mob and cheering for Missouri. The mob rushed in and future sheriff Samuel Jones gave Burson and Ramsay a five-minute ultimatum: the Missouri men would vote or they would fill the cabin with bullets. Five minutes came and went and Jones gave them one more minute.

Then someone called for the judges outside and Jones let them go on the grounds that he got an answer when they returned. Burson and Ramsay went straight to John A. Wakefield to advice.

I told them that we would go down to Mr. Ramsay’s house-about three hundred yards off-and I would draw up a statement of the facts, and send it off immediately to the governor.

Though not disinterested, what with standing for election on the free state ticket, Wakefield had the facts on his side. Every witness for the second district confirms his version of events save for the proslavery candidate who stood against him. His presence at the polls had greatly agitated the Missourians, but they hardly came to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience to begin. Ultimately they complained less about his involvement than about the judges who did as instructed and refused to take votes from men they did not know to reside in Kansas without an oath sworn that they did so reside.

The Missourians saw the two judges and Wakefield going off and a party led by future Sheriff Jones followed, ordering Burson to return. Wakefield advised ignoring him and they convened at Ramsay’s house with twenty or so residents who the Missourians prevented from voting. Wakefield wrote up his account for the governor and everyone signed, but

Just as we were finishing some of them cried out, “Yonder comes the mob.” I looked and saw Jones at the head  of a large number mounted on horses. They rode up to the door and halted, and demanded of Burson that they wanted the poll-books.

Burson had gone, with the poll books, minutes before. The books had to go to the governor with the election returns, so without them the Missourians would have great difficulty papering over their fraud. The mob no more than learned that they’d missed Burson than someone spotted a man crossing a ridge nearby. They raced off and came back with George Umberger. Burson entrusted the poll books to him and the two had split up, but the Missourians seized the right man and forced the books from him.

Then they returned to Ramsay’s house:

They took him [Umberger] prisoner, and brought him back behind one of them -I think it was Jones. As they came they cried out “Take Wakefield, dead or alive-damn him, take him!” I then ran into the house, and told Mr. Ramsay to give me his double-barreled shot-gun, he having taken it down and cocked both barrels when the mob first came to the house. The mob rode up, and I should think a dozen or more presented their pistols to me. I drew up the gun at Jones, the leader. We stood that way perhaps a minute. A man professing to be my friend undertook to take the gun from me, saying, “If you shoot we will all be killed; we can’t fight this army.” My reply was to stand off, or I would shoot him, which he did. Then one of my friends spoke in a very calm manner, and said, “Judge, you had better surrender; we cannot fight this army without arms.”

They had the right of it. Wakefield might kill one or two Missourians, but the twenty or so in Ramsay’s house apparently lacked a gun between them. The Missourians all had guns. Wakefield could count and asked what they wanted him for.

Someone said, “We want you to go back to the polls, and state whether it was not you that persuaded the judges to take away the poll-books.” I said I could easily do that, as I could not get in hearing of the judges; but if I could have got in their hearing, I should have done it. “But,” said I, “if I go back, what security have I that I will not be mobbed or maltreated on the way.”

Wakefield got his guarantees and went off with the Missourians.

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