We left Pardee Butler on the bank of the Missouri and under questioning by Robert S. Kelley’s mob. They wanted to know if he had written about Kansas matters for Horace Greeley’s Tribune. Butler had not, but admitted that he did favor a free Kansas and expected to vote accordingly. Butler wrote to the Herald of Freedom that “the company had grown to some thirty or forty persons (boys included)”.
Butler’s two accounts differ on the timing of the next matter. It clearly happened at the river, but Butler puts it after the questioning in Recollections and before in his letter. I think probably this happened on arrival at the water, but Butler’s story flows better if it comes after the questioning. Anyway, he told it this way to the Herald
Arriving at the bank, Mr. Kelly went through the very interesting ceremony of painting my face with blank paint-thus marking upon it the letter R.-Just how that proved-that it will be better for the people of Kansas to make Kansas a slave State, rather than a free State-I am not informed. Certain is, however, they attached great importance to the operation. Your readers, Mr. Editor, would have been infinitely delighted at the jokes that were perpetrated at the expense of my face.
In Recollections, Butler explains that the R stood for rogue. Then, per his letter to the Herald,
my trial began-if that be called a trial, in which there was neither judge, jury, witness, law, order nor counsel for the prosecution or defense. Loafers and gentlemen, old men and beardless boys, scarce old enough to swear grammatically, drink whiskey, or chew tobacco, all seemed to take it for granted that the Court was organized on the principle of a free fight; and so, severally and together, they pitched in, every one on his own hook. For the space of about two hours I became a sort of target, at which were hurled all sorts of missiles, in the shape of curses, imprecations, arguments, entreaties, accusations, and interrogatories. Acting on the principle that the Holy Roman Inquisition is right when she demands that the prisoner shall testify against himself, they proceeded to question me concerning my motives, actions and intentions; while I replied as best I could
Butler’s summary of his answers runs the same as that in his Recollections. The later work, however, omits a rather understandable failing of courage:
I even preferred them that if they would make out in my presence an impartial report for the Squatter Sovereign, I would make no report to other papers of this outrage upon my person. I was not accused of tampering with slaves. I explained to them that I could not countenance any interference with the relation of master and slave in Kansas while the question remains an open question.
That reads as very close to capitulation, even if that capitulation would implicate his attackers as well. From such a pronouncement, especially in the Squatter Sovereign, many readers would likely understand that Butler treated slavery as present in Kansas until affirmatively voted out. But if Butler’s courage failed him, we should remember that the mob threatened his life. Furthermore, they had mocked and jeered him for some time. A large number of people doing the latter in the best of circumstances makes for a trying experience. Enduring it with the knowledge that the next step might involve your neck and a rope could only make for a far more dire trial still.
Something in all of this, or in the simple reluctance to murder a white man who had only spoken against slavery given no apparent disruption of the system accompanying it, led to mob to doubt. The confidence with which they marched Butler to the river had departed and
At length they came to consult what they should do with me.