“My throat chokes and my eyes fill” The Hunt for Andrew Reeder, Part Eleven

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Reeder’s diary.

Andrew Reeder heard of another boat that might take him away from Kansas City on Wednesday morning, May 21, 1856. He had hidden in a hotel there for ten days and seen many boats come and go. The Converse had come to Kansas City and its captain promised to take Reeder along, provided the free state delegate would agree to remove to Weston or Lexington. The boat would not remain at Kansas City to allow a night boarding, but it regularly stayed over at those towns. Reeder would not hear of it:

What nonsense! Drive 43 miles to Weston or Lexington, through most dangerous neighborhoods to dangerous places.

One can’t fault Reeder for that caution. Even without proslavery men abroad on their way to Kansas, the captain asked him to go either to where enemies took Charles Robinson or to the doorstep of Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow. Reeder might have poor judgment now and then, particularly when he stood to profit from it, but he knew better than to risk his neck on that gambit. He asked his emissary to out him to the captain and promise $200 to either linger in Kansas City Saturday night or come early Friday, but the boat had gone missing in the interim.

The next day Reeder got more dire news out of Lawrence, where the proslavery men had struck. His captivity wore on him. He missed his wife and despaired that if the proslavery men caught and killed him, she would learn it from the newspapers:

God have mercy on her and my dear, dear Ida, my own fond Emma, and my three loved and precious boys, whose hearts are filled with the image of their father, and whom, next to their noble, generous, inestimable mother, I love with deepest affection. How these ties drag me down! If not for them how boldly and proudly could I not denounce and defy my pursuers, and die in conflict with a thousand of them.

Nineteenth century writers, especially men, love to put on a show of bravado. Some probably meant it, but these things always have a degree of performance about them. Yet here Reeder appears in genuine despair, frustrated by constant missed boats and more than a week closeted in a hotel room he left only to move to another. He hid far from home and alone under great strain, by now thinking that any chance of revival might hang on his getting clear of Kansas City. The proslavery men had destroyed the free state hotel in Lawrence and now Reeder thought they might come for him:

The Pro-Slavery boarders are leaving and taking away their families and baggage. Persons in the secrets of the Pro-Slavery party come privately and warn their friends in the house. […]

Mr. Leonard Arms come in to say that it is beyond all question the intention to destroy this house as soon as they get back from Lawrence, but he thinks that if I can get out by 8 or 9 o’clock, I can get away. Sad chance!

Reeder thought he might find a new hiding spot in town, but it could only last him a few days and he would still need to get out of Kansas City somehow. He expected that if the drunken mob took him, Kansas’ first governor would survive less than an hour. Hoped he could keep his family from his thoughts when they came, so he might die bravely,

But when I recur to them, my throat chokes and my eyes fill.

Risk or not, to stay meant death. Reeder arranged to go to the home of a Brown. He disguised himself around five in the evening, in

the dress of an Irish laborer. Have cut off my whole beard and soiled my face with cork, burnt. The ladies, and Mr. Edward and Monroe Eldridge, have been in, and we had a hearty laugh over it, although it is a matter of life and death.

Then Reeder had to wait. While he did, a proslavery mob came and crossed the river, threatening the American Hotel “whooping and yelling like Indians” and firing guns. Reeder drew “a hasty last will” and left it and his diary with Mr. Coates.

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