“You are always in some scrape” The Capture of Charles Robinson, Part Two

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

The Hunt for Andrew Reeder: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Reeder’s diary is in Transactions of the Kansas State Historical Society, Volume 3


While Andrew Reeder hid in a hotel in Kansas City, Charles and Sara Robinson traveled openly through the Show Me State. The free state first family made it to a ship and down the Missouri to Lexington before trouble found them. There a committee knocked on his door while the Governor slept. He got up, answered it, and learned that they meant to arrest him as a fugitive from justice. Robinson protested that they had no indictment against him and a fugitive would hardly travel in the open as he and his wife had. They wouldn’t hear it. Nor did they agree to let Robinson appeal to his fellow passengers for relief. Finally Charles Robinson asked his wife if he should use the pistol they had with them.

Sara Robinson told him to go for it on the grounds that the committee would either murder Robinson or hand him over to people who would. She had good reason to worry. Accepting arrest hadn’t saved Reese Brown back in January. Reeder fled Kansas rather than stay and make himself a cause célèbre when he heard that if he submitted, he would not make it out alive. If the free state delegate warranted a lynching, then why not the governor?

But the committee assured her that no harm should come to her husband, they would pledge their honor and lives if need be for his protection, if he would go with them; when Mrs. R. withdrew her objection, and both left the boat

The Robinsons left with the committee, who took them before a Judge Sawyer. This Sawyer of Missouri declined to get the Robinsons to whitewash any fences. He hailed originally from Massachusetts, the same as Robinson, “and treated his prisoner more like a prince than a fugitive from justice.”

That night another boat came into Lexington and a passenger on board, Dr. R. H. McDonald, caught wind of Robinson’s arrest. McDonald knew Robinson from their California days, when he took a bullet out of Kansas’ free state governor after a riot.

His first salutation was, “Well, it is you, sure enough! When I heard a man with your name was a prisoner I thought it must be you, as you are always in some scrape.”

Small world. McDonald’s wit did little for Robinson, though his decades-later recollection sounds like one of those things he told people many times over.

Judge Sawyer let Sara Robinson go on with the Howard Committee’s materials; nobody suspected any indictment against her. The Governor remained in custody for a week, at one point telling him that two men had come and tried to organize a lynch mob. When someone suggested the judge turn Robinson out armed the same as the mob, they declined to pursue the matter.

Robinson left Sawyer’s custody when word came from Lecompton that an indictment against him did exist and Wilson Shannon requested his extradition. At that point, the grand jury only had Robinson on the hook for “usurpation of office” rather than the more serious treason charge. A Deputy Marshal arrived, “armed and equipped with requisition, posse, revolvers, and conveyance” to collect the usurping Governor back to Kansas.


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