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.

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