Trouble at Easton, Part One

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

The mayor of Leavenworth would have nothing of any free state election there. If antislavery Kansans wanted to elect officers to their new government, then they would not do it under his watch. He had a riot just last month, thank you. If the 1st Cavalry didn’t ride to his rescue then, he could hardly expect it this time. The free state men didn’t take that laying down; they relocated and rescheduled for January 17, 1856, and twelve miles away at Easton. The change, distance, and deep snow kept many away but about a hundred did appear and vote.

The relocation went off well enough to forestall a major, organized attempt to prevent the election. William Phillips reports that on the evening prior

a small number of pro-slavery men, who had known that an election was to be held at Mr. Minard’s, attempted to get possession of the place so as to prevent it, but were driven off.

One must assume that the driving off involved some credible threats.

As the small band attests, news did get out. Even without advance warning, anybody could see unusual activity in and around Easton. Proslavery men soon gathered. With armed parties on both sides and an election going on, the law of Kansas politics demanded trouble ensue:

Many of the free-state men who went to the polls took guns with them. A small party of these, while going through Easton on their way to the polls, were attacked by a larger number of persons, who had congregated in the store of a pro-slavery man named Dawson. By these men the free-state voters in question were disarmed and driven back in a different direction from the polls.

In less than a year, antislavery Kansans had gone from conspicuously unarmed at the polls to packing heat as a matter of course. But guns don’t work magic. The larger band successfully disarmed the smaller and kept them from voting.

The proslavery men did one better than turning away a small band of voters:

During the day parties of pro-slavery men, who were congregating about Easton, went over to the place where the voting was going on, and threatened to attack the house. Seeing that the free-state men were ready to defend themselves, they did not attack. These threatening visits were made several times during the day, and on each occasion the most violent threats were made; but they dared not attack. During the day voters going to or coming from the polls were molested, and disarmed or driven back.

If you could get to Minard’s house, you could vote. Antislavery Kansans naturally collected there and came in sufficient numbers and arms to deter the customary attack. The commute presented the larger hazard, as they couldn’t lock down the whole vicinity. The small band turned away testifies to that much. Where free soilers could warn off proslavery men near the voting, the tables turned abroad.

 

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