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.

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