Dueling at Topeka, Part One

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

James Lane managed to exact his pound of flesh in the Topeka convention’s acceptance of popular sovereignty, however little Charles Robinson and his Republicans liked it. In that respect, at least, the convention would sound as Democratic as its members. But this did not satisfy him. Robinson reported in The Kansas Conflict that Lane also had the convention’s chair to serve as vindication against rumors swirling about. The rumors failed to cease and Lane thus required more satisfaction. As Robinson had it, with his customary charity toward the ex-congressman from Indiana, “he must put a gag in every man’s mouth.”

G.P. Lowry, late of the Kansas Legion and once Andrew Reeder’s private secretary, came up to the attic of the Chase House. There he found Robinson and his fellow abolition-minded Republicans. Lowry related that Lane had challenged him to a duel. Would Robinson serve as his second?

Robinson, who refers to himself in the third person throughout his account

was indignant that the Free-State cause should be tarnished by such transactions, and said it must not be permitted. He utterly detested duelling, knew nothing of the code, and would have nothing to do with it.

One wonders how much of this Robinson put on for posterity. The actual job of the seconds in a duel involved as much negotiation to prevent the duel as it did facilitation. He might genuinely not have known, but he proceeded to act as a second all the same:

thinking he could shame Lane out of the business, [Robinson] went to the Garvey House attic to see Lane. there he found him trembling with fear, or shaking with the ague, so as visibly to move the cot on which he lay. On being reproved for bringing disgrace upon the party, he said Lowry had been repeating the scandal about himself and Mrs. Lindsay, and he had determined to put a stop to it at once and forever.

Lane determined that then, but Robinson reports

Notwithstanding Lane had gone to Robinson’s house early in the morning and begged of him to assist in preventing Lindsay from shooting him, and though Robinson had endorsed a note to effect a settlement, yet not Lane would try to make believe there was nothing to the matter, and he was bound to stop all such talk. After dwelling upon the folly of such a course, saying that if he should kill Lowry, it would not stop the scandal nor vindicate him in public estimation, and if Lowry should kill him he would fare no better, Lane replied that he could do nothing about it, as Parrott was his second and the whole matter was in his hands.

If Lane sounds unstable, perhaps he should. His battle with depression ended in an 1866 suicide. Robinson might have embroidered the account to make him look worse, but the mix of self-sabotage and avoidance rings true to this fellow sufferer. We can’t know Lane’s mind, but he might have settled with Mr. Lindsay and then thought matters concluded until Lowry said something. Lane could have then thought he could never escape from the scandal, unless he did something drastic. Anything to get out of it all could have sounded good in the desperate heat of the moment.

Robinson’s pleas did not move Lane. The parties found a Major Robert Klotz to “superintend” and set the time for eight the next morning.

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