The Transformation of Kansans, Part Two

 

H. Miles Moore

H. Miles Moore

We left George Brown’s Herald of Freedom worried about the state of things in Kansas. He painted a nightmarish picture of women in arms and traumatized children who would want revenge against the Slave Power for what it had done or might soon do to their fathers. Brown’s piece drips with nineteenth century domestic sentimentality, but that doesn’t make the feelings behind it less real. He may have exaggerated the number of women and children learning to shoot and keeping guns on hand, but men of the time really did believe that to drive their dependent loved ones to war represented an invasion of the home and a breach of the natural order. We might not express it in such gendered terms, but how many of us want our loved ones to live in a war zone?

Yet Kansas had come to that. A cynical reader might argue that Brown could have made that argument at any point in Kansas’ history. He came to the territory to make it free and so has a vested interest in making things sound dire as possible to shake loose donations for his cause. Maybe so, but Brown told his readers that he did not come to a Kansas so far gone as this:

One year ago the majority of the people of Kansas were decidedly friendly to slaveholders, or indifferent to their claims. Not one in twenty could be found here, who was reputed an abolitionist in the place from which he came. The people were nearly unanimous in condemning a man who was reputed as an abolitionist. The general aim seemed to be to make Kansas a free, white, American State, and no sentiment was expressed against slave holders, slave States, or slave holding where it was legal. Now behold the change!

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Brown wants to have it both ways. He tells us here by implication, and explicitly in context, that the enslavers drove Kansans into the antislavery ranks. Few historians would disagree, but one can quarrel with his version of early Kansas. Most Kansans hailed from Missouri. While some moved probably moved west to be quit of slavery, they had experience living with it and more likely harbored indifferent to positive attitudes toward the peculiar institution. H. Miles Moore, who became the free state Attorney General, stood firm on that point. Joseph Potter told of a similar transformation. In both cases, proslavery men who had some sympathy with the border ruffians changed their colors on seeing just how little respect they had for even the self-determination of their friends.

That Brown dates the shift in Kansan opinion to less than a year ago also tells an interesting story. As of May, 1855, he tacitly admits that most white Kansans did not consider themselves part of his movement. It seems that the fraud and violence at the territorial elections in March didn’t change the minds of as many as one might think. Taking that as given, the much smaller scale trouble in the May special elections to remedy some of that likely didn’t prompt realignments either. But we know by the time of the delegate elections in October that a majority of voting Kansans chose to attend the free state polls and ignore the territorial government’s canvass. The change must have happened over the summer and early fall. If Brown has the right of it, then the purge of antislavery men from the legislature, the ouster of Andrew Reeder, and the passage of the Kansas slave code drove most Kansans into the antislavery camp.

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The Transformation of Kansans, Part One

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Gentle Reeders, I’ve gone a while examining the details of Andrew Reeder’s flight and Charles Robinson’s capture. Then I turned to George Brown’s account of a possible armed robbery foiled near Lawrence. These extended sojourns always risk of losing the forest in the examination of trees, so let’s zoom out a little and look at Kansas’ brief history and current state, as recounted by Brown. Here, unlike in yesterday’s piece, he clearly intends we read him as reporting facts rather than evoking them through a the satirist’s art.

Now, May 10, 1856, Brown looked out on a Kansas where

Our men are arming themselves and training for war. Our women are formed into military companies, and are practising in the pistol-gallery. Our boys are making it a part of their necessary learning to shoot with the rifle and revolver.

When Macbeth murdered the king, Shakespeare had the earth shake and horses in stables devour one another to show us that nature itself rebelled at a regicide. Myths about the wild frontier aside, Brown managed the same without invention. Some boys would have learned shooting regardless, particularly if their families hailed from the slave states, but nineteenth century Americans don’t appear to have gone around armed to the teeth by custom. That Brown puts the training of children for war next to the involvement of women, who nineteenth century mores firmly insisted belonged nowhere near it, speaks volumes. If the world had not turned upside-down, then it had gone still gone wrong indeed to drive the women and children to arms.

Concern for women and children informs Brown’s entire piece:

Are our future statesmen to grow up under this influence? Have slaveholders no fear of consequences, when mothers sleep with pistols or knives under their pillows to protect themselves and their offspring from slaveholding violence or death? What effect must it have on the rising generation to see all this? To see their fathers dragged from their homes to a prison, or exiled to distant and unknown parts, cut off from all communication wit them. Or, listening to these tales as they fall from a mother’s lips, in their lonely and humble homes, who knows what resolves of future revenge may then and there be formed?

Brown ended with a threat: if the slaveholders proceeded on as they had, the sons of their victims would remember and hold them accountable in time. But anger and empathy run together here. The Slave Power had created a situation in Kansas where children might see their mothers hiding weapons under the pillow and their fathers slain or dragged away. If it would drive those children to revenge, then it would also traumatize them. Seeing your loved ones, the source of your security, violently seized or even murdered before your own eyes, could not fail to make a profound impression.

Attempted Highway Robbery

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Immediately beneath the latest brief update on the plight of freedom in Kansas, George Washington Brown’s Herald of Freedom proceeded to an item to further illustrate the point. He set the scene for the Thursday prior, May 1, 1856. “A couple of gentlemen” late of Wisconsin camped by the Santa Fe road, south of Lawrence. Many of Brown’s readers had probably done the same without much incident. Even beyond Kansas, Americans bound west and camping beside a major road would have the same resonance as standing at the ATM might have for us.

The Wisconsinites

were set upon by a party of fifteen South Carolinians, who drew their revolvers and made the demand usual with highwaymen, “your money or your life!” Our Wisconsin friends, not feeling very willing to part with either on such short notice, likewise drew their revolvers and determined to fight as became men. Accidentally (of course) one of them snapped a cap, whereupon the fifteen highwaymen, who represented the boasted chivalric spirit of the Carolinas, cried out, “don’t shoot, for God’s sake, don’t!” and precipitately fled, “followed fast and followed faster” by the men of the North, who by this time were in for a race. But inasmuch as the legs of the pursued were considerably more elongated than the legs of the pursuers, the space soon widened between them, and the Carolinians made good their escape. Southern chivalry! Southern fiddlesticks!

Reading this, I immediately wondered if any of it happened. The Wisconsinites go without names and their ability to scare off fifteen robbers, itself a seemingly improbable number, so easily suggest that Brown wrote fiction. Nineteenth century papers do invent such incidents and report them as news, so Brown would hardly stand apart from the crowd for it.

But we might not dismiss it entirely. Brown might have embroidered a real incident, or imagined one arising from a real situation. At the most basic level, Brown wants his readers to think that armed southerners range about Kansas with intent to rob good Yankees. I don’t know about mundane crimes, but that doesn’t take him far off from the basic facts of life in the territory. They had taken lives before and come by the hundreds to fight for slavery. A little robbery on the side hardly seems out of character or unreasonable for Kansans to fear.

That Brown specifically calls out South Carolinians, rather than Missourians who would make more sense as the local stock villain, inclines me to think he had more than humor in mind. A group of South Carolinians had arrived in Kansas as part of Jefferson Buford’s expedition less than two weeks before. On arriving in the territory and finding no accommodations provided for them, many of Buford’s men cut themselves loose. It wouldn’t strain credulity much for some of them to turn to other crimes to pay their bills, either to get home or keep themselves in Kansas until the fight they signed on for could erupt.

Of course, Brown’s readers knew the conventions of their time. They could take his story as a funny incident of dubious veracity and also take his other meaning: Proslavery men did things like this in Kansas. If they could manage it, and much more, in the nation’s most-watched territory, then what could they do elsewhere? What happened in Kansas or Missouri might soon ensue in Illinois or Ohio. It could happen to you.

“Kill them! kill them!”

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

I hope you all enjoyed your holiday, Gentle Readers. Rather than write history, I spent mine putting together Lego and playing Final Fantasy XIV with a friend. I intended to write after the Lego, but the game consumed the remainder of the productive portion of the day. I have no regrets.

That said, the nineteenth century hasn’t gone away. We left George Washington Brown telling the world the state of affairs in Kansas. Proslavery judge Samuel Lecompte had gotten a grand jury to summon the free state government leadership on grounds of treason. Charles Robinson, the governor, and Andrew Reeder, delegate to Congress and senator-elect, made a run for it. Robinson traveled openly and got caught at Lexington, Missouri. Reeder disguised himself and skulked about at night. He got clear of Missouri, though not without a few close calls and much delay. Brown informed his readers that, whatever happened with the antislavery leadership, ordinary Kansans remained in peril. The territorial government still stood against them, to the point of outlawing their platform. Beyond that, antislavery Kansans faced the threat of individual or mob violence for expressing their opposition to slavery in their territory.

From the general, Brown proceeded to the specific:

The hue and cry is now raised against Gov. Robinson and Senator Reeder. “Kill them! kill them!” is in the throats of every brawler who goes unhung in Kansas. Their movements are watched-their goings out and comings in carefully noted-and they are forced to seek a place of safety in the Free States.

Most of us probably read “hue and cry” as a stock phrase, but it originates in a literal call to apprehend wrongdoers. Brown has Robinson and Reeder’s situation dead to rights: orders existed for their arrest and posses had assembled to take them. If they should die while resisting, or “resisting” arrest, the proslavery party might well experience such remorse as to leave them hung over for a week. Both men feared their death if taken. Reeder fled Kansas, rather than stay behind as a test case, specifically because he had information that he would never live long enough to face trial.

Brown, like the free state leadership, saw the situation as dire. They had taken pains to avoid initiating major violence and, some hotheads aside, feared the results of an armed class of any scale. Proslavery and antislavery Kansans did kill one another over politics, but heretofore the murders happened on a personal scale or between small bands of men. Even a frontier government might contain that sort of thing without undue strain. But now, the free state men feared,

no earthly power can prevent a bloody collision. If it must come, the sooner we have whipped our enemies, the sooner will quiet be restored to the country. Human patience cannot long endure this system of terrorism and persecution. If we can secure quietude in no other way than by fighting for it, surely ’twere infinitely better that we pass through a sanguinary struggle than be made slaves!

Brown could have written all of that on almost any occasion; he had feared for his own life before. But until the grand jury acted, the official reaction to the free state movement had come to little more than rhetorical condemnation and largely unenforced laws. The violence they faced had come irregularly, in response to specific circumstances. While that had come under the color of law when a proslavery army invested Lawrence back in December, the town narrowly avoided destruction. No campaign had grown from that proslavery defeat; the Missourians went home on the instructions of their own leaders. Now a force within Kansas and with the power of the territorial government and its federal imprimatur had moved against them, a force which might call on the United States Army to destroy their movement.

Back in Lawrence with the Herald of Freedom

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

We’ve followed Andrew Reeder and Charles Robinson out of Kansas, both fleeing their arrest in pursuit of Samuel Lecompte’s grand jury investigation. Reeder made it to safety, while Robinson got as far as Lexington, Missouri before proslavery men took him off his boat and back to Kansas. Both feared that they would share in Reese Brown’s fate if taken, killed either extrajudicially or after a jury declared them traitors. However, events progressed around Lawrence even without Reeder and Robinson in attendance. We left the Emigrant Aid Company’s town in the aftermath of Samuel Jones’ shooting. He had come to arrest the just-returned Samuel Wood, who had rescued free state militia leader Jacob Branson from Jones custody back in late November. The last time Wood and Jones crossed paths, a proslavery army came near to destroying Lawrence. The locals could hardly forget that so soon and took pains to distance themselves from whichever of them shot the infamous Jones in the back.

Robinson’s arrest at Lexington took place on May 10, 1856. He remained briefly with a judge there, but soon the word came from the legal governor of Kansas, Wilson Shannon, that the territory wanted its illegal governor back on charges of usurpation of office. I meant to hop back to Kansas with Marcus Parrott’s letter to his brother about the current situation, but an unfortunate infirmity prevents that: I can’t read the handwriting with enough confidence to use it at present. I’ve asked some friends if they might make heads or tails of it, but for now Parrott must wait.

On May 10, 1856, the Herald of Freedom began its second page with an item titled “Another War Threatening Us!” It ran just beneath the endorsement of John C. Fremont for president, “subject to the decision of the national Republican convention.”

George Washington Brown opened up with just the kind of appeal in writing that Charles Robinson and Andrew Reeder hoped to make in print:

“Let our friends in the North be ready! Kansas is again invaded by armed ruffians. They are gathering in by tens, and fifties, and hundreds.”

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Brown probably had the numbers right, to judge from what I’ve seen elsewhere. The hundreds could come in the form of Jefferson Buford’s men. Smaller contingents fit with the pattern established at previous Missourian invasions: local groups would travel together and only collect once within Kansas. The free state editor also claimed that Wilson Shannon had enrolled the lot in the militia, as he had done back during the Wakarusa War. Shannon might well have repeated himself, particularly as the leaders of the proslavery force then proved amenable to calming their men and seeing them off to home when enrolled. Rumors also held that Shannon wanted to bring in the United States Army to handle any arrests, as had happened when Jones tried to take Wood from Lawrence, “but the other officials swear this shall not be.”

With so much of the present crisis looking like a repeat of the previous, one can’t fault Brown for expecting everything to continue.

Then Brown opted to dramatize the real fear that many in Lawrence must have felt, himself included:

The Reign of Terror has commenced. The bowie knife and revolver, the hatchet and hempen rope, are the instruments brought into requisition to awe, intimidate, and crush out the liberty-loving portion of our fellow citizens. Stealthy assassins roam over the country, under cover of night, dogging the footsteps of unsuspecting citizens, and watching the opportune moment to strike the cowardly blow. Men known of men to be murderers, walk unabashed, unwhipped of Justice, in the very presence of the shameless officers of misnamed Law, boldly and boastingly proclaiming their complicity in crime. No man’s life is safe from one day to another, if he has declared, never so mildly, his opposition to the aggressions of Slavery.

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Whether you think Brown a bit purple here or not, you can’t argue with his facts. Proslavery Kansans and their Missourian allies had bragged of their hooliganism. Samuel Jones started his career in Kansas by pulling a gun on the judges of election at Bloomington and telling them they had five minutes to let anyone vote or he would kill them. The bogus legislature made him a sheriff. Knives, revolvers, and hatchets all feature into violent clashes -some of which happened at night- as well as more mundane intimidation.

“A perfect levee” The Escape of Andrew Reeder, Part Five

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

The Hunt, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

The Escape, parts 1, 23, 4

Reeder’s diary.

Andrew Reeder began his flight from Kansas, ahead of an order for his arrest and in fear for his life at the hands of his would-be captors, on May 9, 1856. He did not cross the Mississippi to Illinois until the night of May 26, landing a ways above Alton. There Reeder, no longer disguised, got a ride to Jerseyville, arranged a hotel room in the open and spent mercifully just the one night instead of the near two weeks he had hidden in a Kansas City hotel. At Brighton, he boarded a train for Chicago.

Reeder found Fogg and his baggage on the train, as planned. It turned out that luck had kept him from most of his belongings. While the ex-governor and his escort skulked through the Missouri woods the night previous,

the ruffians had broken open my trunk at Lawrence, stolen and put on my clothes, and chased Chapin, of Ohio, as he came out of the hotel, calling out that it was me, firing at him, and threatening to kill him; and there was a universal determination expressed among them to kill me.

Good for Reeder that he’d fled when he did.

At Chicago, Reeder got a hero’s welcome:

People came in crowds to look at and welcome me. In the evening, as I lay asleep on a sofa, a gentleman waked me up to say that there were a thousand people in front of the hotel calling for me. Went out on the balcony, was received with cheers upon cheers, made them a speech, and was kept all evening shaking hands. Had a perfect levee.

All of this makes Reeder sound a bit like a rock star to us, but the nineteenth century had the idea first. they called assembling where a politician you liked stayed and calling on him to come out and give a speech a serenade. Terming the ensuing reception a levee goes back at least to the Washington administration, where the first president endured them almost endlessly.

The 29th caw Reeder in Bloomington, where Illinois’ Kansas movement held a convention. There he met Sara Robinson, to his understandable surprise given her husband remained in proslavery custody, and addressed the assembly for two and a half hours. On the thirtieth and back in Chicago, Reeder went out and got his picture taken in his disguise “for my dear wife.” Reeder’s disguise, a footnote on his diary informs us, came in the original except for the hat and ax. Those he bought in Chicago.

The cause beckoned. At both Bloomington and Chicago, Reeder called for ten thousand free state men and two hundred dollars each “to equip and provision them for a year.” He hoped to see Illinois provide a thousand of them, half from Chicago and half the rest of the state. Afterwards, Reeder heard from a Major Jones that if the cash appeared, he could guarantee three hundred.

Heartened by that good news, Reeder

Slept to-night in a good bed – the first time I have done so, or had my clothes off, since the 22d.

The next day, Kansas fugitive ex-governor went to Detroit by rail and promptly got mobbed by admirers “who pressed all kinds of good offices upon me.” The Attorney General and Treasurer of Michigan called on him. Considering Reeder joined up with the antislavery cause to revive his political career and had just suffered so lengthy and trying a flight for his troubles, he must have found the reception incredibly gratifying.

A Dark and Stormy Night: The Escape of Andrew Reeder, Part Four

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

The Hunt, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

The Escape, parts 1, 2, 3

Reeder’s diary.

Andrew Reeder had a new problem. He had made it to a steamboat and gone down the Missouri river nigh unto St. Louis, but his proslavery bedmate may have seen through his ax-wielding disguise. Said nocturnal companion, a man named Ross, left the boat before St. Louis despite having paid all the way through. Reeder saw him go straight to the train station and put two and two together: Ross aimed to catch a train and get to St. Louis ahead of him. Then he could meet Reeder with a warrant in hand and the fugitive governor-turned-delegate would end up back in Kansas, possibly killed before a treason trial could sentence him to hang.

Reeder conspired with the captain of the boat, first to transfer him to another vessel, then to find a guide to take him of to Illinois by land. At this point, the Mr. Fogg that Reeder had spent the past few days avoiding enters into the story. Fogg knew Reeder by sight and the ex-governor suspected that his disguise did nothing to change that. Reeder went to him and so finally tells the reader Fogg’s deal. For once, Reeder had ducked an ally rather than a proslavery man:

Saw Fogg, who says two young men from Lawrence are upstairs, who will go with me. Captain could get no guide, but had the route described.

If Reeder couldn’t get a guide, at least he could get a few bodyguards. Arrangements made, he went out and waited on the deck. With the boat crowded, Reeder “Had great difficulty” getting to where he could change. Even with Ross gone and Fogg an ally, he had other men giving him the hairy eyeball. Finally, Reeder tried feigning sleep and that convinced two of his watchers to call it a night.

I thought all had turned in, and was thinking of soon slipping out, having arranged with the captain that the steward should be on the watch if anyone got up to follow me, when, to my great chagrin, the captain came noisily along the cabin, and up to my berth, and nudged me to get up. I was vexed, as I was sure this would attract the attention I had taken so much care to elude.

With no helping it, Reeder pretended to go looking for another spot to sack out and then slipped upstairs. There he found the promised guard absent. Andrew Reeder just could not catch a break. Making the best of it, he went to the cabin of his guards, Bassett and Brackett.

To add to the chance of detection, the captain followed me there.

Of course he did.

Reeder changed his clothes and got the news from his new companions that a pair of men on the deck stood guard.  He had had quite enough and resolved to go anyway, “and if followed to fight it out.” His guards had no weapons, but Kansas’ first governor had a pair of revolvers and a knife that he shared around.

A violent thunder storm came up, and in it, toward the close, we put out the lights and started. The woods being close to the share we stopped in them to see if we were followed. Waited a short time; no one came off the boat, and we struck through the woods; lost the road twice; traveled on, and finally, at 8 o’ clock A.M., struck the Mississippi river fifteen miles above Alton. Got a man to take us across in a skiff.

 

 

A Troublesome Bedmate: The Escape of Andrew Reeder, Part Three

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

The Hunt, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

The Escape, parts 1, 2

Reeder’s diary.

Andrew Reeder had come a long way from Easton, Pennsylvania. Franklin Pierce made him governor of Kansas Territory, where he tried to enact popular sovereignty. His limited, ultimately futile quest to let the white men who lived in Kansas decide the territory for or against slavery ended with the proslavery Kansans getting President Pierce to fire him. The deposed governor then meant to quit Kansas for good, but the free state movement approached him to serve as their spokesman in Washington. Reeder dictated terms, but ultimately agreed. He would start out as their delegate, to become Senator when they secured admission as Kansas sole government. That put him in Washington with credentials from an illegal government that most Kansans supported. There he collided with John Wilkins Whitfield, who had delegate’s credentials from the legal government that most Kansans rejected. To sort this all out, the House of Representatives dispatched a committee to investigate on Kansas’ troubles, with Reeder and Whitfield arguing their respective cases.

Judge Samuel Lecompte put an end to Reeder’s tenure with the committee by getting a grand jury to order him taken in for questioning and optional murder before his likely treason trial, which would surely have put him at the end of a rope. Reeder, like other free state leaders, promptly fled. A series of close calls and frustrating waits had at last put Kansas’ first governor on a steamboat headed for St. Louis, from which he hoped to get the word out that the Missourians had come to Kansas again, this time for blood, and the free state movement needed all the men, money, and guns that the North could spare.

John Wilkins Whitfield

John Wilkins Whitfield

Reeder boarded his boat disguised as an Irish woodchopper, complete with axe. There he found himself in trouble again. Border Ruffians occupied much of the boat, including the comfortable parts. Thus Reeder had to sleep on the deck, sharing his berth with a proslavery man who he thought saw through his disguise. Worse still, a Mr. Fogg shared the boat with them and seems to have known Reeder on sight. Three or four others might also have suspected they had a false Irishman on their hands.

Monday, May 26, 1856, brought another close call. Fogg tried to chat the fugitive delegate up. Reeder “walked away from him.” Fogg didn’t force the matter, but so visibly giving him the cold shoulder can’t have made Reeder stand out any less. On top of that, Reeder expected the boat to reach St. Louis that night, so he wanted to change into his proper clothes. The captain of the boat knew all about Reeder’s situation and one of the governor’s allies had his valise and a trunk on board for just such an occasion.

Reeder doesn’t say why he wanted to change. He may have had people who expected him in St. Louis but didn’t know him by sight. A dirty-faced woodsman might have trouble proving himself a recipient of past Democratic patronage.  Whatever his reasons, Reeder’s plan again hit a snag. The boat stopped at Jefferson City and Reeder watched people coming and going. There he saw Ross, his bedmate, disembark with carpet bag in hand.

Watching, I observed that he went direct to the railroad depot. This being about 11 A.M., it was plain that he could get to St. Louis before evening and have a warrant for me so as to arrest me at once.

Samuel Lecompte

Samuel Lecompte

No one could blame Reeder for paranoia after so long on the run, but that does look like bad news. Reeder consulted the captain and learned he couldn’t get to St. Louis before seven in the morning; he planned to stay the night at St. Charles. The two men hatched a plan to get Reeder into the cabin that night, then transfer him to a boat that they would meet in the morning which could take the former governor by St. Louis and over to Alton, on the Illinois side.

On further reflection, concluded this was not safe, as, if a warrant was out, they would look for me on that boat or at Alton.

Reeder may not have known that a mob out of St. Louis killed Elijah Lovejoy in Alton a few decades back. He doesn’t mention it and proximity alone would give adequate cause for concern. Either way, Reeder didn’t want to risk it and saw the captain again. This time he wanted the captain to see a fellow at the woodyard where the boat had laid up for the night about a guide to get Reeder through to Alton by land and beat the boat, which would let him hop on a train and make his getaway.

Sharing a bed with a suspicious man: The Escape of Andrew Reeder, Part Two

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

The Hunt, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

Reeder’s diary.

We left Andrew Reeder in his woodchopper disguise and bedded out on the deck of a steamboat headed down the Missouri. He had escaped his troubles around Kansas City only to fall into a new set, as he suspected that a Henry Rout recognized him. When the boat stopped at Lexington, Missouri, site of Charles Robinson’s capture, Kansas free state delegate to Congress feared that a mob would come aboard for him as had happened to the free state governor. He rid himself of anything that could compromise his disguise and waited tensely for some hours, but finally called it a night around eleven.

May 25, 1856 did not bring the expected capture. Instead Reeder lay abed until almost nine, as they passed Waverly. A clerk came to inform him of the fact. The pretend woodchopper had claimed he had friends in that town and would disembark on arrival. As he had when a man tried to hire him to chop wood, Reeder had a line ready:

I told him that a gentleman on board had informed me that my friends did not live there any more, and that I would go on to Booneville.

Reeder declared this “partly true.” A person who asked after his business on the boat had prompted him to invent the Waverly friend. Reeder’s interrogator then wanted a name, which Reeder “told him at random.” Then he heard that no such person lived in Waverly. Kansas first governor thanked the gentleman for letting him know.

Gentle Readers, you and I know that smells to high heaven. We also live in a world with readily available instantaneous, cheap communication. Nineteenth century Americans had letters and maybe a telegraph. They also moved about often, particularly in the West, in search of new opportunities. Back then, this sort of thing could happen far more easily and often, making Reeder’s story more plausible.

Before noon, the captain of the boat came down to chat Reeder up. The ex-governor’s co-conspirators had arranged things with him before Reeder came on board, so he knew the score. He’d like to get Reeder off the deck and into the cabin, where he would have more comfort and possibly security, but just then many Border Ruffians occupied it. After letting him know, the captain sent a steward to offer Reeder food on the excuse that he had taken sick. Reeder declined, feasting on “good bread and cheese and a tin cup of water,” from his provisions. Reeder still thought someone marked him back at Lexington, so he must have remained wary of anything that would draw attention.

Later on the captain brought still more bad news: a Mr. Fogg shared the trip with Reeder. He throws a lot of names around, but I don’t think Reeder has mentioned Fogg before. From context, he must have known the delegate on sight. Once more, the fake woodchopper remained on deck. There he slept with a proslavery man named Ross, “of whom I had become very suspicious.”

Reeder doesn’t mean that Ross had roaming hands or a suggestive leer. He might have had both plus a thing for disguised politicians with axes, but scarce beds often meant nineteenth century men would share one. If you’ve heard the story about someone walking in on Lincoln with another man, now you know why. Space and physical comfort, rather than lust, put them under the covers together. Ross had his eye on Reeder, or at least he thought so. So did some others. That night, the delegate paid through to St. Louis and

watched with great care some three or four men who, I had persuaded myself, were suspicious of me.

Two Axemen in Missouri: The Escape of Andrew Reeder, Part One

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

The Hunt, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

Reeder’s diary.

Andrew Reeder left Kansas Territory ahead of an order for his arrest, on the plausible grounds that had he gone quietly he would have soon gone to join the Choir Invisible. Proslavery men had killed Reese Brown after arresting him; they looked set to wipe the free state movement out entirely. As the one man among them who had any national name recognition, Reeder would have given the cause a martyr but also deprived it of its most effective advocate. He spent more than a week closeted in a hotel room in Kansas City, before finally getting clear just as it seemed a mob had come to seize and destroy his hotel. May 22, 1856 found him or the first time enjoying a moment outdoors at a house some miles from Kansas City, out near the edge of the woods.

His relief proved short. On the twenty-third, Reeder ended up shut inside “a stifling room.” Proximity to Kansas City, the urgency of his mission to alert the nation and solicit help for the antislavery cause, and probably his comfort pushed Kansas’ free state delegate on. He hatched a plan to get “a small skiff” and start down the river ahead of a boat coming down. Somewhere downstream he would meet up with that boat and take passage, still using his Irishman disguise. Nine that night, Reeder and a companion set out “each with an ax.” Those axes would provide a handy alibi as well as helping the disguise, aside their obvious use in self-defense if it came to that.

Reeder and his friend, Adams, had trouble finding his other friends with the skiff. While they cast about, someone saw them in the distance. Reeder’s friend went over and chatted the man up, but nothing came of it. Soon after the stranger departed, the skiff arrived. The two men “floated quietly down the river to Randolph landing.” Neither of them knew the place, so they had trouble finding it at night. They ended up about a half mile beyond the landing, where the put in and slept in the woods until morning.

May 24 saw Reeder and Adams take up their bundles and axes for the walk to Randolph, a metropolis of a few houses. Landings like Randolph served mainly to feed the riverboat trade with both fuel and passengers. Steamboats burned through wood at a prodigious rate, making steady work for woodchoppers. Naturally, someone there saw two men with axes and guessed their trade. Adams confirmed that he and Reeder considered their axes more than a fashion statement.

Had we got a job engaged? I whispered to Adams to say “Yes,” but it was too late. He said “No.” The man then walked out into the road and offered us a job.

Adams had stepped in it. I don’t know if Reeder could have chopped a cord of wood or not, but he didn’t have the time for the attempt. To refuse a man who knew they had no work would only raise suspicion. But Reeder had the quick thinking to ask the wage and then insist that they had heard they could do considerably better elsewhere. If they had heard wrong, they might come back and oblige.

Reeder and Adams found a place out of sight of the road and waited, as Reeder had waited back in Kansas City, for a boat to come. It should have passed about ten, but they waited until noon before it did put on an appearance. The boat for Kansas City blew its whistle then, but not any going the other way. Half an hour passed. The two men split their provisions and agreed on a cover story, then got to a hill where they could see the river for a few miles out.

Saw the boat coming, but could not make out her name till she was so near that we had to run down the road. She hauled up to the landing full of passengers, and as the plank was run out I went on board panting with heat, fatigue, and thirst. Passed back among the deck passengers, where, according to my dress, I belonged

Reeder paid for his ticket and spent the afternoon suffering; he didn’t get a drink until evening. When the delegate refreshed himself, he learned that some of the men on the boat with him had come fresh from the sack of Lawrence. A few of the ringleaders had taken deck passage with their rank and file, putting them in close proximity to Reeder.

Among them I saw Henry L. Rout, a lawyer of Liberty, Mo., who picked up my pipe which i had dropped in the berth, and made some jocular remark to me. I was confident that he knew me, and was very uneasy, especially as we were to lay that night at Lexington.

Lexington had captured Charles Robinson. If Rout knew Reeder, then he could raise a mob there and add another antislavery man to the town’s collection.