Trouble at Easton, Part Two

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

We left the Leavenworth election of January 15, 1856 over in Easton on January 17. The change of venue and date put proslavery forces momentarily off their game, allowing for some genuine free state voting. When they tried to make a roaring comeback, armed free state men warned them off. Despite repeated threats to the polls, slavery’s friends ended up harassing people going to and fro rather than putting on the customary violence. That turned away some voters, but failed to end the election.

In the days before telephones and the internet, an election required more than just holding the vote. Actual people had to count the ballots and then deliver the results. This usually happened after the polls closed, at which point the free state men who had secured them would also disperse. According to William Phillips, “some eighteen or twenty” present realized the obvious weak spot in their security and stayed behind to guard against the seizure of the ballot box. If they had anything to say about it, the proslavery men would not make off with it as they had back in December.

In the early part of the night an attack was expected, and the free-state men were prepared for it. They knew that messengers had gone to Kickapoo for the Kickapoo Rangers, and an attack was looked for whenever they arrived.

I don’t think the Kickapoo Rangers have appeared on this blog before. In them, we have a group of genuine Kansans organized into a proslavery paramilitary. The Rangers must have taken the scenic route, as the night wore on without an appearance. The proslavery men nearer by, just down at Dawson’s store, appeared in a more timely manner. Joseph Bird, and others, saw it firsthand and told their stories to the Howard Committee:

about six o’clock at night, a large party of horsemen, I should think forty or fifty, not more, came down towards the house, and a few of them, some five or six, demanded the ballot-box. They were not answered right away, and they threatened to come and take the ballot-box; that they would have it, if they had to shoot every man there, or something to that effect. I do not remember the precise words they used.

Phillips’ eighteen to twenty guards then rolled out, forming a line in front of Minard’s house.

Henry Adams, there with Bird, put the proslavery men at “twenty-five or thirty” when he and the others came out with their guns.

Considerable altercation took place back and forth, but I do not recollect exactly what was said. Some of our party were considerably excited and I thought were going rather too far, and Mr. Minard and I were apprehensive they might fire upon this party coming up, and we urged them not to do so, to commit no act of hostility except in self-defence. After some parleying, and, I thought, urging by the leader of the party coming up, to get his men over, they retired without doing anything.

They proslavery men did retreat, but they left watchers on the house. They hadn’t given up yet.


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