The Luxuries of Pawnee

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Reeder called Kansas territorial legislature to meet at Pawnee. The overwhelmingly proslavery body, stolen fair and square by the Missourians, did not particularly want to meet so far into Kansas and so far from Missouri. Nor did many of them thrill at the chance to heed Reeder’s summons and develop good working relationships with the man. By his own admission, some had threatened his life. That tends to make further interaction with people difficult.

Reeder earned their ire by not letting them have elections before any free soilers arrived in Kansas. He saw how they pick-pocketed the territory and made off with its delegate to Congress in the one election he did call early and so issued firm instructions to the judges of legislative elections back in March to exclude non-residents from voting. When those measures did not suffice, Reeder set aside some of the elections the Missourians stole and called new ones. Then he went off to Washington in hopes of getting support from Franklin Pierce to resist Missourian dominance of Kansas.

And now he had come back, without any real help from the president, and called the legislature to meet in the middle of nowhere. Reeder defended his choice on the grounds that distance would mitigate against Missourian intervention. Considering that the legislature wanted to meet virtually on the Missouri border at the Shawnee Mission, one can’t argue with the idea in principle. But Reeder had his personal interest in Pawnee. According to his testimony, the town association gave him a few shares in their venture when he toured the territory. Robert Wilson, who sold him some shares, thought him one of the original stockholders. Either way

Prior to the time that the seat of government was located at Pawnee, Governor Reeder tried to get an interest in the real estate property about there, and made several claims for his friends in Pennsylvania.

Those efforts paid off:

Governor Reeder had a claim of about eighty acres near Pawnee, and was interested in one or two other claims. His nephew, Col. Hutter, had a claim near town. It was some time in February, 1855, that I first heard Governor Reeder speak about locating the capital at Pawnee. I had heard that spoken of before then, but not by him. He spoke of it after he had become interested in the town, and the real estate near there.

Wilson also told the Howard Committee that Reeder coveted the claim of a Mr. Dickinson. The association raised $1,200 to buy him out. As a shareholder in the association, some of that money probably came straight from Reeder’s own pocket. He expected to see it back with the business and settlement that the territorial capital would draw out to the middle of nowhere. But the legislature might not oblige. Reeder had a plan to grease those wheels:

Governor Reeder said to me that we ought to sell shares to the members of the legislature for less than we would to other persons, so that the capitol might remain at Pawnee. I sold Judge Johnson five shares in that way, and with that understanding. I sold Governor Reeder some twenty shares, but I cannot say as it was with any such understanding as that.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Reeder might have bought those additional shares with the intention of selling them at the discounted rate himself. Absent access to his papers, I can’t say. The fact remains that he very clearly chose Kansas capital with an eye to his personal profit. Wilson describes Pawnee very clearly as not an obvious place to locate a government:

Pawnee is a little south of west from here, some 125 miles on the extreme western borders of the population of this Territory, and will not be the center of population unless we get a railroad.

A railroad could change many things, and Kansas had to look like a good spot for one, but no one could miss that the Pacific railroad languished in Congress for years by this point.

Reeder argued that he had to seat the government at Pawnee because the town, meaning himself and his partners, had spent a lot of money preparing the place. When the legislature arrived, Reeder said, they found

The building in which they assembled was of stone, two stories high, about forty feet by eight, well provided with seats and writing-tables. Ample accommodations for boarding and lodging existed in the town

He went on to name four boarding houses which together could serve as many as a hundred and ten people, though he admitted one of these stood two miles from town.

Wilson told a different story

The house of the association has never been finished, and has no windows or doors in it; that is the house the legislature met in.

I don’t know about Reeder, but I suspect that most people then and now would feel the presence of seats and writing tables did not much distract from the absence of windows and doors. Even in summer one might want those, and one certainly would come winter.

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