“They were going to hang me” The Return of Pardee Butler, Part Three

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

 

Parts 1, 2

At the end of April, 1856, Pardee Butler returned to Kansas. He still had a claim and family in the territory and had promised on the occasion of his near-lynching that he would come back. A brief visit in November had the minister pass through Atchison, the sight of his previous travail, with no difficulty. This time around, a contingent of newly-arrived South Carolinian militants led by Robert S. Kelley seized Butler almost on arrival. They hauled him out of his buggy and into a saloon, demanding his execution. For the second time in less than a year, Butler faced a proslavery mob in Atchison headed by Kelley. Sometimes you just can’t catch a break.

In the saloon, a man quizzed Butler. He wanted to know if the minister had come to Atchison with a gun. Butler had not.

He handed me a pistol and said, “There, take that, and stand off ten steps; and —-, I will blow you through in an instant.”

The Reverend Butler did not consider it any part of his Christian duty to oblige, telling them he had no use for their guns. He reports that this exchange pleased the mob, as it satisfied their sense of honor. His questioner didn’t take it so well

but his companions dissuaded him from shooting me, saying they were going to hang me.

That distinction mattered. Duels took place between equals, so to challenge Butler recognized him as a gentleman. To simply seize and hang the minister instead would show his inferiority as well as his mortality. You hanged criminals and, per the law, living while antislavery in Kansas did constitute something near to a crime all in itself.

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

The mob didn’t need to explain this, to Butler or themselves. They just proceeded with the plan, pinning the minister’s arms behind his back and getting a rope. Then a Missourian, Judge Tutt of St. Joseph, stepped in. He introduced himself as a good southerner and an elder who deserved their attention. From Virginia originally, he had long lived in Missouri and owned slaves there. He wanted Kansas as a slave state. He agreed with the mobs ends completely, but

you will destroy the cause you are seeking to build up. You have taken this man, who was peaceably passing through your streets and along the public highway, and doing no person any harm. We profess to be ‘Law and Order’ men, and ought to be the last to commit violence.

If Butler had broken some law, then the mob should see him tried properly. Otherwise they would discredit their cause and so betray Kansas and Missouri alike. The invocation of law and order didn’t convince anyone to do something crazy like hand Butler over to a sheriff, but it seems to have persuaded some that they had more work to do before fitting the minister with a hemp necklace:

They dragged me into another building, and appointed a moderator, and got up a kind of lynch law trial.

 

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