“We will tar and feather you” The Return of Pardee Butler, Part Four

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

Parts 1, 2, 3

We left Pardee Butler, freshly returned to Atchison, in the hands of a mob led by Robert S. Kelley for the second time in less than a year. They hauled him into a saloon and one of the mob tried to convince the minister to try for a duel. Others wanted to hang him then and there. A Virginia-born Missourian slaveholder, Judge Tutt, stood up in Butler’s defense. He argued that simply murdering an enemy would discredit the good name of proslavery. This moved enough hearts and minds to get Butler a trial, of sorts. The mob took him to another building and convened a kangaroo court.

Kelley served as the prosecution, laying out his story of how Butler opposed slavery in Kansas. Butler then rose in his own defense,

but I was jerked to my seat and so roughly handled that I was compelled to desist.

Judge Tutt tried to step in once more, but Kelley would have none of his ruining the fun. He demanded to know if Tutt “belong[ed] to Kansas.” That must have seemed rich, coming from a longtime ally of border ruffians like Kelley. Tutt answered back that he did not hail from Kansas, but meant to settle in Atchison come the fall. By the ordinary proslavery standard for such things, this made Tutt into a perfectly good Kansan. Even if it did not, Tutt argued that Missouri and Kansas had “identical” interests in the case. Atchison natives Chester Lamb and Samuel Dickson, a lawyer and merchant respectively, took up the same line.

While these gentlemen were speaking, I heard my keepers mutter, “—-. If you don’t hush up, we will tar and feather you.” But when Kelley saw how matters stood, he came forward and said he “did not take Butler to have him hung, but only tarred and feathered”

Thus, for the second time, Robert Kelley plays the part of both Butler’s destroyer and savior. Back in August he got up the mob, but allegedly miscounted its votes to spare Butler. Now he would do it all again. Butler didn’t buy it. He told the Herald of Freedom

Yet in the saloon he had said to the mob: “You shall do as you please.” He dared not take the responsibility of taking my life, but when these unfortunate men, whose one-idea-ism on the subject of slavery and Southern rights has become insanity-when these irresponsible South Carolinians, sent out to be bull dogs and blood hounds for Atchison and Stringfellow-when they could be used as tools to take my life, he was ready to do it.

That sounds like the Robert S. Kelley who appears in Butler’s previous travail. Hindsight might have made the sequel especially apparent to Butler, but he can’t have known that he would end up in the same situation months later when he wrote the paper of his original ordeal. Nor does it strain the imagination to think of Kelley as the sort who wants people killed, but prefers others do the killing. No era has suffered any dearth of such people.

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