The Silent Eleventh District and a Request for Recommendations

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

In keeping with my new policy, I shall pass over the Tenth District quickly. The Howard Committee found ten men who lived on the Wyandotte reservation who voted proslavery. They appear to have had the legal right to vote, but not in that district. Eleven Pennsylvanians, who the committee found had not properly established residences before the election, also voted. They opted for the free state ticket. The judges questioned both parties under oath and let both vote. The votes of neither party changed the outcome of the election, which the committee declared “conducted friendly.” They further noted that the Tenth constituted “the only one to which the invasion from Missouri did not extend.”

The Eleventh District stretched out over the middle of nowhere, even by the standards of the nineteenth century frontier:

This election district is sixty miles north from Pawnee, and one hundred and fifty miles from Kansas City. It is the northwest settlement in the Territory, and contained, when the census was taken, but thirty-six inhabitants, of whom twenty-four were voters. There was on the day of the election no white settlement about Marysville, the place of voting, for forty miles, except that Marshall & Bishop kept a store and ferry at the crossing of the Big Blue and the California road.

One might hope the middle of nowhere would offer a cleaner election. The committee determined, as best they could, that Marysville returned all of seven legal votes…and three hundred twenty-one fraudulent of the illegal kind.

Would such a dramatic fraud make for eager actual Kansans flooding the committee with damning testimony? It might have, but things did not turn out that way:

Your committee were unable to procure witnesses from this district. Persons who were present at the election were duly summoned by an officer, and among them was F.J. Marshall, the member of the House from that district. On his return, the officer was arrested and detained, and persons bearing the names of some of the witnesses summoned were stopped near Lecompton, and did not appear before the committee.

Lecompton later became home to the proslavery Kansas legislature and loaned its name to the infamous constitution they drew up in 1857. That the witnesses, or people sharing their names, found themselves stopped nearby looks very suspicious. That goes double in light of the arrest of the officer carrying the summonses. Regrettably, the Howard Report appears to contain no testimony from him either. I’d quite like to know what happened, aside the obvious. Did the proslavery forces do something especially egregious and cover it up, or did the Eleventh District witnesses just present a useful target of opportunity as part of a broader campaign to interfere with the committee’s work?

A secondary source might have answers here, but I’ve yet to acquire one. Do any readers know of a good book on Kansas before the war? It appears that Nichole Etcheson’s Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era surveyed the subject most recently. Jonathan Earle’s and Diane Mutti Burke’s Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Missouri: The Long Civil War on the Border sounds interesting, but as a collection of essays probably works better as a companion to a survey than in lieu of one. I can read both, and that sounds like something I would do, but it can take me quite a while to get through a single book, let alone two.

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