The Fuss Continues

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

In discussing Wilson Shannon’s arrival in Kansas, I passed over another matter that I want to address before moving on. To hear Wilson Shannon tell it, Kansas had few problems and they all boiled down to the insistence of antislavery men upon remaining in Kansas, remaining antislavery, and having a fair contest for the territory’s future. If they all just got up and left, things would sort themselves out. One can argue about what Shannon might have done to help them, or just in for the preservation of the white man’s democracy in general, but Shannon asked no such questions of himself. His curious denial amounted to pleading guilty to the indictments of George W. Brown’s Herald of Freedom, and free soil men everywhere. This had to rankle not just in light of the proslavery party’s election fraud, its outlawing antislavery sentiment and excluding people who held such beliefs from holding office or serving on juries, but also in the face of continued violence against free soil Kansans.

Back in May, the special election at Leavenworth saw a fresh round of fraud. Andrew Reeder’s judges of election knew their duty well enough, but also their fates if they objected. They “should be mobbed” and “there would have been a fuss” had they insisted that only legal voters vote. They needed only consult the edifying example of William Phillips to know that. Other examples also presented themselves. The Howard Report includes testimony from an Edward Oakley that

I came out here and landed in Kansas city the first day of April, 1855, with my father, Joseph Oakley, and settled near Lecompton. The town site was laid out, but there were no buildings there. We settled about a mile from the town line. My father’s house was burned by S.J. Jones and his party, on the 28th of May, 1855, while my father was about on his way to Michigan. He and his party had, some two or three weeks before, burned down Mr. Samuel Smith’s house. I was in my father’s home, with Mr. Smith and others, when Jones and his party came up. After the house was set on fire one of Mr. Smith’s sons and a neighbor, by the name of Grout, went to the house and took the goods out of it. I saw the man get up on the roof and set the shingles on fire, but was not near enough to recognize who it was.

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

S.J. Jones had, at the elections in March, stormed the polling place and demanded the judges of the election allow all who came to vote, no questions asked, or he would shoot them dead. One supposes that he had a reputation to maintain. For such exploits, the legislature made him a sheriff. Others behaved similarly. Alice Nichols describes the Kansas that greeted Wilson Shannon:

in Lawrence, Hickory Point, and Kickapoo; in Tecumseh, Black Jack, and Easton; in Osawatomie and Trading Post, as in Atchison and Leavenworth, mouths that owners insisted on opening were daily closed with fists. The bright Kansas sun was forever glinting on brandished arms and the blue air was made bluer still with oaths and threats.

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

Not every fistfight makes the history books, but clearly Kansas lived up to the rough reputation of the American frontier far more than one would like. But what in another territory might come down to a series of personal grudges became in Kansas, thanks to Phillip Phillips, Archibald Dixon, David Rice Atchison, Stephen Douglas, and Franklin Pierce, not to mention the votes of James Lane and Wilson Shannon, an existential battle for the future of the land. Proslavery and antislavery Americans took up the cause. If their battles did not involve cavalry companies and artillery barrages, they could still terrorize.

The proslavery men had an advantage here. Long accustomed to the use of violence to police white opinion, inspired by a mortal dread of the race war that must come if black Americans lived free from fear and bondage, and surely taking reassurance from their command of the territorial government, they struck with confidence. On August 16, they descended upon Pardee Butler, a farmer and preacher who had only arrived the past spring.

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