Storming the Leavenworth Polls, Part One

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The Free State Party held a referendum on December 15. Voters would make their wishes known on the Topeka Constitution  and the black law. They came out decidedly in favor of both. In some other place the story might end there, but one couldn’t just vote in territorial Kansas; the proslavery party had a reputation to maintain. While they didn’t make the kind of effort that accompanied the elections for the Assembly of Kansas back in March, nor come again so soon as they had to Lawrence, they couldn’t let the election pass completely unmolested.

The polls in Leavenworth opened about nine in the morning at a house on Cherokee Street, votes received through a window. Everything went well until noon, or one o’clock. Then, according to judge of the election George H. Keller,

while the election was going on, Captain Charles Dunn came there and ordered us to desist. I told him I reckoned not. he commanded me, under the authority of the territorial laws, to desist immediately. I told him not to be too fast; that I did not think we would desist. He said we should, and then called his men, and they rallied around, and he then demanded the ballot-box.

Keller had to know where this would end. A proslavery man, apparently an officer in the territorial militia, came to free state polls and demanded they close up and give over their ballots. When refused, he called up a band of friends and insisted. Keller refused all the same. Dunn

then seized the sash of the window where we had been receiving votes and pulled it out, and all his party and himself came through the window into our room. They were armed with guns, revolvers, and bowie knives.

Tearing out a window and coming through with your belligerent friends had to make an impression. The proslavery men might have expected to find three judges of the election and a clerk or two. They found one judge, Keller, and a clerk and grocer named George Wetherell. Another judge missed the excitement by having gone home for lunch, but the third, Adam Fisher, apparently got the lead out in short order. Keller soon lost track of Wetherell in “the great crowd.”

Wetherell could not lose track of himself, though he might have wished to for a while. On Dunn’s grand entrance

The judges rushed out into the next room, in the same building, and made their way out and made off. In the hurry of the moment, I snatched up the ballot-box and followed them. I threw the ballot-box behind a counter in the adjoining room as I passed out.

Dunn and company either didn’t see, or chose not to see, Whetherell drop the box. Dunn caught up and

caught me [Wetherell] by the throat and pushed me up against the outside of the building, and demanded the ballot-box. I do not exactly remember my reply, but I think I told him I had not got it, but did not tell him where it was. He then struck me in the mouth with his fist, and another person struck me on the right side of the face. I either fell or was pushed down into the sand, the crowd at the time rushing on to me. They jumped upon my head and back, and kicked me in the side.

 

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