An Escape: More Trouble at Leavenworth, Part Two

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

Back in December, a free soil man in the company of the subsequently murdered Reese Brown took part in defending the free state polls at Leavenworth. Just across the Missouri from town, the border ruffians got together for another filibustering. They couldn’t leave the proslavery Kansans to have all the fun, after all. Alas, the ferry remained docked on the Kansas side until someone cut it loose and sunk it. At the end of April, a proslavery man found our nameless protagonist and blamed him for that. He tried, at knife point, to make an arrest. Such an arrest had ended with Reese Brown dead back in January. The unknown free stater may have liked and admired Brown, but declined to follow that particular example. Instead he drew his pistol and ordered the proslavery man to let go of his horse or catch a bullet to the face.

Having brought a knife to a gunfight, the proslavery man delivered some threats and let go. The anonymous -to us, but probably not to the Herald of Freedom- antislavery Kansan went on and completed his business in Leavenworth. Around sundown, he started for his home. He didn’t get far before coming to a ravine. There,

he was overtaken by eight or ten men on horseback, led on by the Ruffian. They made him halt, took his arms from him, hit him with their whips, flourished their hatchets over his head, and threatened to hang him on the first tree they came to.

Cooler heads prevailed over all that, with the group settling for incarceration in advance of a trial for larceny. Our hero had stolen the ferry boat and he ought to answer for it, now that the boys had some fun with their whips. They jailed him “in an isolated place near Delaware” toward midnight. Durance vile lasted through the day, when it seems that no one bothered to see to the prisoner’s needs. The next night, the antislavery man

heard a key turn in his door, and footfalls outside the house. he waited some fifteen minutes, and then went to the door, which he found open. Walking out on the prairie, he heard his horse neigh in a clump of trees some distance off and immediately went to him. He found his horse, saddle-bags, and overcoat covered with mud, and soaked through and through.

One doesn’t look a getaway horse in the teeth; our hero mounted up and got out of there before someone had second thoughts.

This all sounds a bit too neat, and I suspect the details benefit from some embroidery in the editorial office, but plausible all the same. The escape raises more questions to me than the capture, but both fit the range of proslavery behavior. Even angry mobs bent on murder sometimes had leaders who would let the victim off with some painful humiliation rather than a murder. Pardee Butler faced men who wanted him dead twice and survived it both times. Furthermore, a group of men with their blood up might talk themselves into something that none of them would do alone. One of Nameless’ captors may have had second thoughts. The proslavery men might even have imposed on a settler who agreed with their politics but didn’t want the risk of getting so personally involved. In any event, letting him go through subterfuge offered a face-saving way to resolve the situation without further violence.

 

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