Storming the Leavenworth Polls, Part Two

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

We left the Levenworth polls with Charles Dunn and friends tearing through the window where one came to vote and demanding the ballot box. The two judges of election and two clerks present, on confrontation with angry, armed men who had just proved capable of violence against architecture and upon studious reflection, ran for it. George Wetherell, one of the clerks, took the ballot box on the way out. He tossed it behind a counter on his way out, only to have Charles Gunn catch up and demand it from him. Gun seized Wetherell, struck him, and knocked him to the ground. The mob rushed on Wetherell, kicking him and jumping on his head and back.

Wetherell could easily have died there. The mob hardly seemed inclined to stop, but apparently didn’t care to risk a fairer fight:

Mr. R.P. Brown, Mr. Anthony, and others came to my rescue, and carried me to Mr. McCracken’s store. I was very much injured on the 15th of December. I was bruised, but received no cut wounds. I was able to be about the store a day or two afterwards a little. In a day or two I was able to attend my ordinary business. I was not right well afterwards. About the first of January, I was taken down sick with rheumatism, and have not been well since. I never had the rheumatism before. I supposed it was the effect of cold weather, and partly from my business.

To hear Wetherell tell it, the mob attacked an unarmed man. H.H. Johnston, who lived fifty to sixty yards away, disagreed. According to him,

Mr. Wetherell drew a bowie knife on him; Captain Dunn, in endeavoring to ward off the blow, knocked the knife out of Wetherell’s hand; Dunn then took Wetherell by the coat collar, by one hand, and struck him several times in the face, and then pulled him down in the mud on his face and hands. A man jumped on Wetherell once or twice with his feet when he was down in the mud, bruising him considerably about the face and head.

Another witness, William Burgess, had Wetherell run

into the street, and as he ran had a revolver and bowie knife in his hand at the same time. […] I am confident that Wetherell had a bowie knife and revolver in his hand.

John Sherman

John Sherman

The Howard Report doesn’t include the committee’s questions to witnesses, but does say when a witness responded and to whom. John Sherman pressed on the point of the weapons, and Burgess added that he

must have dropped the pistol at the scuffle for the ballot-box. While Dunn had hold of Wetherell, the latter drew his bowie knife. Dunn then knocked him down. This was all I saw.

Burgess’ version makes it sound like Wetherell drew his pistol when Dunn first demanded the box, but that would have had to happen in the presence of George H. Keller, as Wetherell’s own version has him ditch the box before leaving the building. Keller

saw no bowie knife or pistol on Mr. Wetherell, and think he had nothing of the kind. I had no arms myself more than a small penknife.

H.M. Hook, a judge of the election who missed the excitement by virtue of going out for lunch, agreed that Wetherell had no arms so far as he knew. G.W. Hollis agreed.

Did Wetherell have a knife and/or revolver that day? He could have concealed them so Keller and Hollis didn’t see. They might have lied for him, either for political purposes or personal connections. However, one could make similar arguments against Burgess and Johnston. Neither one gives a strong indication that they disapproved of the election, but Johnston seems decidedly unimpressed with Wetherell’s trauma. Minutes after his rescue, Johnston saw him:

He told me he was not hurt very badly, that he was more frightened than anything else, and would get all over it in a short time.

Pretty good for a guy that just had his head and back stomped on, and the witnesses largely agree on that happening. Painting Wetherell as an armed man would go some way toward mitigating the rough treatment. But the clerk could have not understood how badly the mob hurt him. We have to consider Wetherell’s account in the same light, but in doing so should keep in mind that a man confessing to a lengthy infirmity may have had to swallow much more pride in 1855 than he would today.

Ultimately, I don’t think the sources let us make a firm determination either way. The witnesses who have Wetherell armed appear to have seen things from afar. Those, aside Wetherell, who have him unarmed didn’t see the attack. Those facts alone suggest that he had at least the knife, but friendly and hostile witnesses could slant their stories equally well. Regardless of the weapons, George Wetherell clearly suffered a serious attack and must have feared for his life.

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