James Lane and Charles Robinson administered the oath of allegiance to the Kansas Regulators/Kansas Legion to Andrew Francis on or about October 11, 1855. Francis swore to take orders, bear arms, risk his life, refuse to do business with proslavery men, and to resist the enactments of the Kansas Assembly. They also required him to learn the oath by heart, which helpfully preserved it for posterity in the Howard Report.
The oath very much impressed Francis; he told Lane as much then and there. Lane insisted on the necessity and proceeded to instruct Francis on the group’s secret trappings. One identified oneself with “the right thumb under the chin and the forefinger of the right hand by the side of the nose, gently scratching or rubbing it two or three times.” Those in the know would respond “by placing the thumb and forefinger of the left hand on the lower lip, as if rubbing it.”
I just did both gestures myself. They read as absurdly obvious, but likely could blend into one’s normal mannerisms. Whatever their subtlety, the secret handshake would prove harder to miss. One had to “lock the first two fingers of the right hand over each other” and say “are you in favor of Kansas becoming a free State?” To this one answered “I am, if Missouri is willing.”
Members of the secret brotherhood further demonstrated their mastery of the covert arts:
the private members wore a black ribbon tied upon their shirt bosoms, the colonel wore a red sash, the lieutenant colonel a green sash, the major a blue sash, the adjutant a black sash, the captains white sashes, the lieutenants yellow sashes, the orderly sergeant a very broad black ribbon upon his shirt bosom.
To join this secret society, one had to wear an obvious badge that all of one’s known free state friends also wore and identify oneself by making free state pronouncements. That might not matter for men that the general public knew as members of the free state movement. No one would faint at the news that Jim Lane, Charles Robinson, George Brown, or anyone who had helped administer the free state election favored the cause. But ordinary members might have done better without the ribbons.
The Missourians had their white strings and stalks of hemp just as openly when they came for the elections, but they could hardly conceal themselves regardless. The legislature and the election stealing may have so alienated most Kansans that the affiliation did not pose much risk in the Territory. The conspicuous ribbons all around Lawrence at least suggest that. In such a case the secrecy could come only from a desire for plausible deniability. For that matter, it could have originated from a recreational or recruiting impulse, rather than genuine need. Sneaking about and sharing secrets has an appeal all its own. People then and now join fraternal organizations for just that reason and Francis named himself and Lane as masons so they at least went in for such things in other contexts. Once they fancied themselves in the group, Kansans might find it easier to take the next step and join free state paramilitary bands. Failing that, it put on them at least some small obligation to help such groups if they came under attack. Come for the secrecy but stay so a few men can hide in the attic until the heat’s off.