Pawnee: Come for the Legislature and Nothing Else

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

When last we left Andrew Reeder, he had called the Kansas legislature to meet at Pawnee. While situated far from the Missouri border and thus presumably more secure against Missourian meddling, Reeder’s choice for the seat of government probably had much more to do with how he planned to get rich off real estate investments thereabout. I hoped that Nichols would have more detail on what Reeder did and how he did it, but she tells essentially the same story that Rawley and Etcheson did. She does, however, give a much more memorable account of the place itself than the spare description from the Howard Report.

One did not just make a day trip to Pawnee.  Nichols takes us there along with the legislators:

They had to make an early start, for Pawnee lay some 125 miles from the Missouri border and, therefore, almost that far from the Territory’s center of population. And they could not travel light, for scouts had warned them that Pawnee was a ‘paper town.’ They carried tents, pots, provisions.

[…]

at last, they came to the capital city, which still existed largely in its promoters’ imaginations. Two half-finished shacks and a windowless, doorless two-story stone capitol building were all that marred the beauty of the rim-nested spot. ‘It was a novel sight,’ reported James Christian, ‘to see grave Councilmen and brilliant orators of the House of Representatives cooking their food by the side of a log, or sleeping on a buffalo robe in the open air, with the broad canopy of heaven for covering.’ The only two things that were plentiful in the new capital, he said, were ‘rocky mounds and highly rectified whiskey.’ Pawnee was a long way from anywhere.

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

The proslavery party, from newspaper editors to legislators-elect, had every reason to hate Andrew Reeder. He set aside some of their elections, which they stole fair and square. He had not hurried through elections back when few save committed proslavery men lived in Kansas. He took precautions, however ineffectual, against fraud in the March elections. He tried to get Franklin Pierce to back him up with the Army. Now he dragged them across the length of Kansas to a transparently fake town which had no accommodations for them and expected them to sleep under the stars for a session of the legislature on top of it? Perhaps I lack a proper appreciation for the great outdoors, but I think that I’d want his head over the last one myself, highly rectified whiskey or not.

Reeder convened the legislature on the “sultry” second of July, 1855:

Looking much cooler than he must have felt in his high stock and best black broadcloth, he lifted his not inconsiderable weight from his chair and faced his unfriendly audience. He stood before it, his gray mustache curling in magnificent defiance of the wilting heat and, speaking with all the oratory befitting the time and the occasion, he came at last to his concluding plea: ‘I ask you, then, gentlemen, to lay aside all selfish and equivocal motives, to discard all unworthy ends and, in the spirit of justice and charity toward each other, with pure hearts, tempered feelings, and sober judgments to enter upon your duties.’

Reeder got the usual polite applause. Perhaps for a moment he thought he had overreacted in sending his family out of the Kansas, but given the things said about him in the papers one imagines he couldn’t have held such a thought long. Any hope that with the legislature seated, everyone would quiet down and get to the important business of making Andrew Reeder rich.

The legislators took Reeder at his word. Magnanimous in victory, they turned at once to burying the hatchet, soberly judging that it best belonged in their fellows.

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