The Eighteenth District, Part Three

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Parts 1 and 2

Maybe Arnet Groomes took David Rice Atchison’s missing knife and display of weaponry as just a bit of absentmindedness. Given the former senator also misplaced his army, he cuts a bit of a bumbling figure here. Possibly Groomes took Atchison’s remaining knives and guns as good reason not to make trouble. He might have just thought that if it came to a fight, he could handle Bourbon Dave and company. Regardless, he let them stay the night. The next day, they had a chat about Atchison’s purpose, revealing just what one would expect:

He said John Bold had sent for him to come up above, as there were persons coming over there all the time to take the polls. I asked what he was taking so many men up there for; and one of them said, I do not know which one, that they were going up there to guard the polls, and not let certain persons vote.

Like people actually living in Kansas that wouldn’t vote proslavery? Atchison of course meant to deter or drown out their votes, but Groomes introduces a new wrinkle distinct from the usual dreams of hordes of Emigrant Aid Society pauper mercenaries come to Kansas on false pretenses. In cross-examination, Groomes raised this interesting claim:

I judged, from what General Atchison said, that the persons referred to by John Boler were coming over form Iowa, but I do not know as that was so.

Most of the scholarship on Kansas matters focuses, for obvious reasons, on the Missourians. But I know Iowa served as a sometime base and haven for John Brown later on and recall a review of a recent book, Lowell J. Soike’s Busy in the Cause: Iowa, the Free-State Struggle in the West, and the Prelude to the Civil War, about the involvement of Iowa and Iowans. I haven’t read it, alas.

I don’t think we should take Bold/Boler’s comment entirely at face value, but some men might very well have come in from Iowa to counteract the Missourians. They hardly made their efforts a secret and spent any surprise they could have hoped for back when they needlessly stole the election for territorial delegate to Congress. Etcheson reports later on that Iowan college students chipped in to buy guns for Kansas free staters. It wouldn’t stretch credibility much to imagine earlier involvement, though the Howard Committee doesn’t seem to have inquired about such things, understandably given the scale of Missourian operations.

Groomes did make it to the election himself, if in the Fourteenth District (parts 1, 2, 3, 4), where

I saw one illegal vote given , and I objected to it very strongly. It was a man by the name of Charles Gilmor; when I objected, Colonel Craig was sitting in place of one of the judges or clerks who was gone to dinner I supposed. I objected to Cary Whitehead, one of the judges. They took the vote, and said I had no right to object. I asked them to swear him, and they said they had no right to swear him.


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