The Fuss and Pardee Butler, Part Eight

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

The mob elected to spare Pardee Butler’s life but, having gone so far and still confronted with the fact that he did not favor slavery for Kansas, expected to vote accordingly, and insisted on speaking openly about such a dire heresy. They had to do something or they would have wasted a good mob.   Thus, as he told the Herald of Freedom:

they sent me down the Missouri river on a raft, without either oar or rudder, the editor of the Squatter sovereign holding the rope that towed me into the middle of the stream.

Lest we imagine a well-appointed raft like something one of one of the many dubious film adaptations of Huckleberry Finn, Butler tells the reader more about his vessel in Recollections:

Then the question came up, what kind of raft shall it be? Some said “One log”; but the crowd decided it should be two logs fastened together. when the raft was completed I was ordered to take my place on it

In a footnote, Butler adds that they chose a rotten log for one of his two. Nice guys. Surely impressed by the seaworthiness of his raft, Butler tried to pass off a pocket full of gold to a local merchant for his next of kin. Fear of the mob prompted refusal. His money would drown with him if it came to that.

The mob further generously supplied Butler’s little ship with a flag

inscribed as follows: “Eastern Emigrant Aid Express. the Rev. Mr. Butler’s Agent for the Underground Railroad.” “the way they are served in Kansas.” “For Boston: Cargo insured, unavoidable danger of the Missourians and the Missouri river excepted.” “Let future emissaries from the North beware. Our hemp crop is sufficient to reward all such scoundrels!”

In Recollections, Butler has a somewhat different flag, complete with a picture:

Butler's Flag

Butler’s Flag

Though neither version of the account leaves any mystery as to what the mob thought Butler did to earn his treatment, they do not match. In both versions, Butler admits that he kept the flag. It passed from his son to the Kansas State Historical Society in the 1920s. As Butler had the flag’s text on hand for both occasions, we can’t attribute the discrepancy to the foibles of human memory. Rather it seems that he dressed up the story a bit for the papers. That said, the slogans he quotes run to the same general point. While Butler clearly stage-managed the story to dispel any impression of abolitionism on his part and so enjoy broader reception in the North, the words he put on the flag for publicity purposes could have easily come from the mob’s imprecations.

Regardless, Butler cut the flag down. He did so against the mob’s orders, but whether they shot him for it or someone in Missouri saw the flag and did the same downstream Butler would end up just as dead. Furthermore, he couldn’t swim and so could hardly ditch the raft in the middle of the broad and, at least at that point, turbulent Missouri. So he made his flag into an oar and paddled to shore twelve miles downstream.

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