“Kill him! Kill him!” The Return of Pardee Butler, Part Two

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

We have the election today, Gentle Readers. I hope you will cast your ballots, however you cast them, untroubled by any forceful echoes of the history we deal with here.

Into the presently brewing Kansas strife returned Pardee Butler. He had followed the news out of Kansas since departing the territory in the fall of 1855, but come April he returned all the same. The minister had a money and time invested in a claim On that claim, Butler had built a house where his wife, their children, and her brother lived in his absence. Samuel Wood slept there the night after he escaped from Jones’ custody.

What befell Pardee Butler next, we have from his Personal Recollections by a circuitous route. Butler wrote it all down in a letter to the Herald of Freedom, just as he had the story of his previous mistreatment. He presents it as the original letter, but Butler’s daughter finished the book and adds a note that the minister had not retained a copy of the letter he sent. Due to events we will soon come to, Butler didn’t get a full copy of that edition of the Herald, but rather “only a mutilated copy of it.” Another paper reprinted the letter in part and Butler reassembled the original from the two.

Butler told the Herald that he had first come back to Kansas in November, where he visited Atchison in the full light of day, declared himself, and went about his business without trouble. Tempers seem to have cooled since his near-lynching in August. Despite the dire news, he seems to have thought he would have the same reception again. On April 30, he crossed the Missouri river and called at Atchison again. This time, Butler didn’t do much to draw notice to himself. He touched base with two businessmen who he had dealt with previously.

Having remained only a few moments, I went to my buggy to resume my journey, when I was assaulted by Robert S. Kelley, co-editor of the Squatter Sovereign, and others, was dragged into a saloon, and there surrounded by a company of South Carolinians, who are reported to have been sent out by a Southern Emigrant Aid Society. In this last mob I recognized only two that were citizens of Atchison or engaged in the former mob.

The speed of Butler’s seizure suggests that Kelley had advance word of his arrival. He doesn’t say it in as many words, but he seems to intend us to understand the man who passed him on the road as carrying the news ahead.

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

Butler stressed the novelty of most of his attackers. The Squatter Sovereign speaks of the same group in other contexts, so we have good reason to believe Butler didn’t change the facts to further dramatize the story or spare himself the enmity of anyone still in Atchison. He understood them as another species of border ruffian, not interested in claims or making new homes for themselves, eschewing legitimate business in favor of proslavery militancy. That also roughly matches the Sovereign’s description.

These worthies

yelled, “Kill him! Kill him! Hang the —- Abolitionist.”

 

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