On September 8, 1855, subscribers could open their copies of George W. Brown’s Herald of Freedom and read about an affair sufficiently infamous by that time that Brown simply introduced it as “Rev. Mr. Butler’s Statement”. Butler, a minister and farmer, had tried his luck in Iowa and Illinois previously and came to Kansas just that spring. Butler settled all of twelve miles from Atchison, home of John Stringfellow’s Squatter Sovereign. His letter to the Herald came, however, from the steamer Polar Star on the Missouri River.
People do move about. Some had gone to Kansas, found that its luxuries came in the prestige brands of oversold and entirely fictional, and gone back home. Butler did not count himself among their number and his letter contained the circumstances of his departure. Satisfied with the cabin he had built, on August 16, Butler went into Atchison planning to get on a boat and leave Kansas only to fetch his family. There he did business with Robert S. Kelley, who served as Atchison’s postmaster in addition to editing the Squatter Sovereign under Stringfellow. As people do, they got to talking. Butler wanted to buy some extra copies of the Sovereign to take with him back to Illinois as “some evidence of what was going on.”
I said to Kelly, in the presence of Arch Elliot, Esq., “Sir, I should, sometime since, have become a regular subscriber to your paper, only, I do not like the spirit of violence that characterizes it.” He said, “I look upon all Free Soilers as rogues, and that they are to be treated as such.” I replied, “Well, sir, I am a Free Soiler, and expect to vote for Kansas to be a Free State.” He said, “I don’t expect you will be allowed to vote.”
You knew where you stood with Robert Kelley. The conversation ended there and Butler, his steamer delayed, spent the day in Atchison speaking freely about how free soilers had every bit as much right to come to Kansas and say their piece as anybody else.
In his Recollections, published the year of his death, Butler reported that he had spoken his opinions freely in Atchison later that day. Over the night, Kelley got together a meeting to discuss what they should do about, or rather to, this free soiler in their midst. They came to a decision and enacted it the next morning and went to the boarding house.
I had been sitting writing letters at the head of the stairs, in the chamber of the boarding-house where I had slept, and heard someone call my name, and rose up to go down stairs; but was met by six men, bristling with revolvers and bowie-knives, who came up stairs and into my room.
Kelley led the band. He, as Butler recounted to the Herald of Freedom:
presented me a series of resolutions, cut out of the Squatter Sovereign, and pasted on a sheet of white paper, and demanded that I should sign them.
We can’t expect Kelly to set the type, fire up his press, and run a single sheet for the benefit of Butler, even if he had a day to do it; setting type takes quite a bit longer than sending a job to your inkjet. Butler didn’t seem to mind the improvised copy, but did think that he ought to read something before he signed it. After a quick glance, he knew he had come into trouble. To buy time to think of a way out, the minister began to read the resolutions aloud. Recollections gives a fuller account on this point than the letter to the editor:
But these men were impatient, and said: “We just want to know will you sign these resolutions?” I had taken my seat by a window, and looking out and down into the street, had seen a great crowd assembled, and determined to get among them. Whatever should be done would be better done in the presence of witnesses.