Sworn “to drive us to Hell”

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

We left Captain Walker, a free state man, in possession of Wilson Shannon’s answer to the town of Lawrence. They had a proslavery army bearing down on them, again, and he had both the authority to call out the United States Army to defend them and a responsibility for their safety as governor of Kansas. They also asked Colonel Edwin Sumner, 1st Cavalry, first and he told them he couldn’t act without Shannon’s go ahead. The committee of safety dispatched Walker their plea for help, the same document but with Shannon’s name in the place of Sumner’s. This put them in the awkward position of acknowledging Shannon as the governor of Kansas when they had elected Charles Robinson to that office, but with lives at stake one must make sacrifices. The New York Times’ correspondent reported that Walker could not get near Lecompton to deliver the message, but secured a proslavery go between. He no sooner had Shannon’s answer than six men commenced chasing after him, firing all the way. Walker lost them in a ravine.

Samuel Lecompte ran his court and grand jury out of Lecompton, which he lent his name. He helped start this latest trouble by summoning the entire free state leadership on suspicion of treason. The Times remarked that he kept issuing summons to that town, which free state men feared to answer. Lecompte himself might happily let them stew through some months of custody before a trial that ended with antislavery Kansans dangling from a rope, but someone else could arrange a fatal accident far sooner. News of that had gotten Andrew Reeder to abandon the plan to serve as the party’s political martyr and test case. Now it must have seemed that anyone foolish enough to go would risk his life attempting just to get to the court.

Thus most of those summoned

consequently stay away; the result of which is they are being subject to a new process for contempt of Court […] the highest crime recognized by law in Kansas while Judge Lecompte is arbiter. We are becoming more suspicious that these demons meditate a night attack upon us, therefore we are keeping out strong guards, and lights are kept burning at night in our principal buildings.

The dangers attached to more than locally famous antislavery men and their agents. The Times told that the proslavery men seized a Mr. Wise, four miles south of Lawrence, and kept him until ten at night. They brandished knives at him and “pricked his vest,” but wise convinced them that he stood with them and they let him go. Before parting, he learned some of their plan. They would arrest Andrew Reeder (now fled), Charles Robinson (likewise), and James Lane (now rumored back in Kansas). Two senators-elect and a governor would make for quite the prize, which they aspired to display hanging from rope by the neck. Should they fail to secure those men,

they are sworn to commence a crusade against Lawrence and “drive us to hell.”

Lights out or not, nobody could have slept soundly on that news.

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2017 by way of 1965

Gentle Readers, I’ve thought quite a bit about whether or not to continue with Modern Mondays. In the past I’ve sometimes had trouble finding an adequately modern event with historical resonance to write about and struggled to write about those I do find in new ways, failing often. The horror that stars in our news for at least the next four years suggests no shortage of incidents to come, which forms part of the problem. I come here to write history, if history I consider relevant to our present circumstances. For all that I wear my politics on my sleeve, I did not set out to write a political blog. I don’t know how often I will keep this up, but here we are.

A white supremacist with the apt name Jefferson Beauregard Sessions will soon lead the Cabinet department responsible for, and founded for the express purpose of, defending the civil rights of African-Americans. People don’t have to take an example from the names their parents chose; this Jefferson could have done better. The brief era when people took the Justice Department’s mission seriously will come to a close just as it has before. We may all be long dead before such a time comes again, if it ever does.

History has no arc and it will not bend toward justice. People bend history. We made this world as we made all the others, with the choices that fill our days. We could unmake it too, if enough of us move in the right direction. That happens, sometimes. When the world tilts our way we call it justice. When it doesn’t, we have to explain it. We can tell ourselves that we just lost that one on a fluke, that something outside the system intervened, or the ill-starred moment just came and no one could do anything.

Everyone has stories. Jeff Sessions will tell you he stood up for civil rights. He will not tell you that he did so by prosecuting people who tried to register black voters. He will tell you that he doesn’t believe in racism, in segregation, that he opposes white supremacy in all its forms. He will not remind you that the Republican Senate found him too racist to give a job on the federal bench to back in in the Eighties. The Republican Senate of the two thousand tens will confirm him and congratulate themselves for all the work he will do ensuring black Americans find it harder and harder to vote. The other side bends history too; they win at least half the time.

Sessions will become Attorney General. We can’t stop it, but we don’t have to go quietly along. Sessions presently represents Alabama in the United States Senate, and by Alabama I must say that I mean the white Alabama of 2016, by way of 1965. White Alabamans knew what they wanted back then: black Americans should not vote, should not protest, should not do anything that made them look like citizens of the United States. They should instead remain, if not chattel, then as close to it as one could feasibly manage. Some whites disagreed with the racial order, even if it did put them on top, but they had a century to alter it and had not found the will or numbers to bend that arc of history.

When American citizens, allegedly as equal and good as your or I, marched to protest Alabama denying their right to vote, the Sheriff of Dallas County called out every white man in his jurisdiction and deputized them. One does this to answer an invading army or a revolution, which came that day in the form of nonviolent protesters walking down a public road. The police told them to stop and go home. They paused, prayed, and the police descended on them with teargas. Some, mounted, rode into the crowd with billy clubs.

We were beaten, tear-gassed, left bloody, some of us unconscious. Some of us had concussions. Some of us almost died on that bridge. But the Congress responded, President Lyndon Johnson responded, and the Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, and it was signed into law on August 6, 1965.

I don’t know how Jefferson Sessions, nineteen that year, spent that day; I suspect he spent it at university. John Lewis, twenty-five, stood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, leading the protesters. Those are his words above. They fractured his skull. He remained with the protest and delivered a speech before seeking treatment. Since 1997, when Sessions claimed his Senate seat, both men have served in the United States Congress. No one needed to tell John Lewis where his old enemy had risen up again. This past week he testified against Sessions’ nomination:

I advise against reading the Youtube comments, Gentle Readers.

I hold to the school that we ought not make people into heroes, as we must revise and edit them past any hope of honesty to turn a person into perfection. For the same reasons, we should not name anyone the conscience of a nation. Everyone has faults, blind spots, contains contradictions. But if we conceive of the United States as a nation of justice and freedom, I don’t know many people living today who have done better at holding the country to those ideals and living them out, broken bones, bruised flesh, and all. If being a good American means the things we so often say it means, we must count Lewis one of the best.

Our questionably-coiffed president-elect, the man who got millions less votes in the election of 2016, must have had his TV on just then. He informed the world via Twitter

You understand the thought process, Gentle Readers. He saw a black man on his television. That must mean poverty and crime, because he has worked hard all his life to ensure just that. For Lewis to represent a large section of Atlanta, which seems to do well enough, would mean that Trump and all the others that update their wardrobe in the bedclothes aisle had failed. It would confront them with black Americans as capable, not merely of good leadership but of anything at all. They could not endure such a tragedy and so will go to heroic lengths to prevent it, like losing an election by more than two million votes and calling it a landslide. Or naming Jefferson Sessions Attorney General.

I have not studied Lewis’ career in Congress, but I don’t doubt he’s had his share of frustrations and disappointments. The latest probably began late on election night. But he’s gotten results too. The broken bones of he and his fellow protesters, coming to them through the television in fuzzy black and white, drove a profoundly white supremacist nation to briefly decide it could be something better. The Voting Rights Act, now teetering on the edge of oblivion, came out of it. That could not stand. Millions of white Americans would not tolerate any such thing and embarked on a decades-long campaign to restore Jim Crow and take it fully national. White supremacy won the White House, despite losing the vote, back in November just as it has previous Novembers when Richard Nixon promised “law and order” (break skulls) and Ronald Reagan declared for state’s rights (the right to murder civil rights activists without federal interference). We have come this way before. We shall again. Departures stand out because we see them so seldom.

Every time a storm hits Washington, you don’t have to go far to find photographs of the soldiers guarding the Tomb of the Unknowns. They come with injunctions to respect the steadfast commitment of these men and women to their duty. That, we believe, says something about us and the kind of nation we have. Maybe it does; I am no connoisseur of martial virtues. Fifty-seven years on, it seems we still stand on the Edmund Pettus Bridge too. Now, just as then, both sides have a large cheering section as the teargas flies and bones break. That says more.

Lawrence Asks Governor Shannon for Help

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Seeing a new proslavery onslaught bearing down on them, the people of Lawrence took what action they could. They begged E.V. Sumner, who came to check on them, to bring his 1st Cavalry down from Fort Leavenworth to protect the town. Sumner wanted to oblige them, but his instructions bound him to act only when called upon by Wilson Shannon, territorial governor. Jefferson Davis’ War Department had made it clear to Sumner that he did not have authority to act on his own and he absolutely did not have it to defend Kansas from external attack.

None of this made for steady nerves and easy sleeping. The New York Times‘ correspondent wrote (PDF) about how things looked on the ground on May 12:

We are approaching near and near an awful something, that is nameless. There is such a profound secresy pervading the acts and intentions of our enemy, that we are somewhat at a loss to know the character of our doom.

I think we can all relate about now. The correspondent put Lecompton, the territorial capital, as their rallying point. More men arrived daily and on the tenth,

they commenced sending out in this direction companies of from twenty-five to fifty who encamped at various places, taking care to not get within three or four miles of Lawrence.

In response, Lawrence had convened a new public safety committee. They needed a new one because half the previous number had fled. That group approached Sumner for help when he called at Lawrence. Sumner evinced a determination “to set us right, and set Missouri right.” But he still needed Wilson Shannon to set him loose. Once that happened, Sumner believed he would have discretionary authority necessary to protect Lawrence. It would help everyone out, except the Missourians, if Lawrence would petition for Shannon to get the ball rolling.

The committee sent a copy of their petition to Sumner, with Shannon’s name in the place of his, and dispatched it via special messenger to Lecompton. That messenger, a Captain Walker,

came near to losing his life in the undertaking. He was overtaken by two men on horseback before he reached the town, one of whom rode ahead in advance of him, and made preparations to prevent him from entering their “holy city”.

No free state man could profane Lecompton, apparently. This reads a bit like they wanted to be sure he didn’t come out with useful military intelligence. But someone took his message on to Shannon all the same and came back with an answer. When Walker turned back with that answer, a party of six followed him

but he having a fleet horse, kept ahead, and by sheering off into a ravine, escaped after being fired upon several times without effect.

Instructions for the Army, Part Two

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Sorry for the late post, Gentle Readers. I forgot to set it to go live at the usual time.

E.V. Sumner wanted to help keep order in Kansas. He had instructions (PDF) from Washington to that effect and a new crisis seemed at hand with yet another proslavery posse and invasion from Missouri in motion. He reached out to Wilson Shannon, who had leave to call on him straight from the President, but Shannon appeared unwilling to take responsibility for calling the 1st Cavalry to the field. Sumner understood Shannon’s shyness as contributing to the danger, because his refusal to intervene and reign in these posses ensured that “they are made up of partisans.” Only the genuine fear both parties had for each other might avert a disaster.

Sumner had gone to Lecompton to see Shannon and then Lawrence to assess the situation there. When he placed himself at Shannon’s disposal on May 12, 1856, he carried with him a copy of a petition that a public meeting in the free state town had drawn up at seven o’clock on the eleventh.

we have the most reliable information from every section of the Territory that armed bands of men are forming, and that several hundreds are now encamped within a few miles of this town, who make the most violent threats of the destruction of the town and its inhabitants

Several hundred would about fit with the descriptions I’ve read elsewhere. Somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 showed up for the Wakarusa War and Jefferson Buford’s men could account for a few hundred just by themselves. Movement of that size would also fit with Marcus Parrott seeing two companies go by in a single day, though he didn’t say how many men in each. A company could mean the military formation, with a paper strength of around a hundred but often rather less than that. Or it could just mean he saw a group of armed men who appeared to share a purpose. Threats of Lawrence’s destruction, people included, came during the Wakarusa War as well. Nothing here looks particularly exaggerated.

Thus the meeting declares that C.W. Topliff, W.G. Roberts, and John Hutchinson go and

wait on Colonel Sumner, Commander of the First Regiment of United States Cavalry, and inform him of our imminent danger, and respectfully ask of him such protection as he may be able to extent to us

Roberts looks like the free state Lieutenant Governor, but his name comes as W.Y. Roberts elsewhere. Given the commonality of Williams and Robertses, I suspect a different person rather than a clerical error. I don’t recognize Topliff or Hutchinson.

If Wilson Shannon wouldn’t call out the army, maybe Lawrence could. Should Sumner come, then the proslavery side would face the same dilemma that the free state party had in December. To press on would mean levying war against the power of the United States. Even Franklin Pierce might have trouble excusing that, though no era suffers a dearth of shameless politicians willing to try just such a maneuver.

Instructions for the Army, Part One

Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis

On May 8, 1856, Marcus Parrott went up to Fort Leavenworth and had a talk with Colonel Edwin Sumner, in command, about the brewing invasion from Missouri. Since the Wakarusa War’s muddled end, Franklin Pierce had granted Wilson Shannon the authority to call out Sumner’s men to preserve law and order in Kansas. Pierce’s proclamation made only fig leaf gestures to neutrality, casting antislavery agitation as the more serious threat. But Pierce’s orders to Sumner (PDF), by way of Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, charged the Colonel with aiding the territorial government against both “insurrection” and “invasive aggression.” Davis’ orders focused entirely on the things that antislavery Kansans had done, reducing the threat of Missourian invasion to a single reference in passing. In that he followed the lead of the President, or the President followed his. We don’t know exactly how things worked out between them, but at least some of the time Davis seems to have had practical control of the executive branch.

Sumner noticed the omission and wrote back to the War Department. Did they mean for him to intervene also if Shannon called on him to stop invaders from Missouri? The Governor had tried just that back in December, but Sumner had demurred for lack of authority to comply on his own. He also seems to have asked about an invasion from parts more distant, whether Jefferson Buford’s men or some sort of armed Emigrant Aid formation. Jefferson Davis wrote back via the Adjutant General’s office on March 26:

in reply to the question as to where the men may come from, or whether armed or unarmed, is not one for the inquiry or consideration of the commanding officer. It is only when an armed resistance is offered to the laws and against the peace and quiet of the Territory, and when, under such circumstances, a requisition for military force is made upon the commanding officer by the authority specified in his instructions, that he is empowered to act.

Colonel Sumner had no authority to act against border ruffians. Should Shannon call on him, he must act in concert with them. Thus Sumner visited Lecompton on May 12, a few days after promising Marcus Parrott that he would look into things. He had bad news, which he shared with the Adjutant General:

Great excitement is prevailing in the country at this moment in consequence of the Marshal and Sheriff summoning large posses, without reference to the Governor, as they say to maintain the law.

Sumner informed Shannon that he would follow his instructions when called upon, to

arrest and hold subject to the orders of the civil authorities any men in the territory against whom writs were issued; and further, that in order to preserve the peace of the country, I would place my entire regiment immediately at any point he might designate.

Shannon, Sumner thought, wanted that badly to keep the peace. He had said as much back in December and now faced a situation much the same, down to the cast of characters. But Shannon didn’t think it proper to “assume the responsibility of controlling them under civil officers”. All of this sounds like Shannon wanted Sumner to go out on a limb face the consequences of intervention against the proslavery party.

“Such neighborly considerations and eloquent innuendoes”

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

Once again, Gentle Readers, please note that I have transcribed Parrott’s letter from his handwritten original and, despite the generous and extensive help of AskHistorians’ Caffarelli, I might have gotten some points wrong.

After informing his brother about the great affairs of Kansas, Marcus Parrott holed himself up in his law office with a gun and hoped for the best. He had some further thoughts about Kansas’ future. He relayed news of James Lane’s challenge to Stephen Douglas, which he called

a good trick of Lane’s. The Col is [one] excellent good shot & understands the duello. There will be no fight, but I think Lane will [rearrange or ravage] “Dregs” Southern swarth & mollify his rampant spirit, which is much delighted in metaphors drawn from the profession of arms.

Marc had heard that Lane had gotten back to Lawrence in time, which gladdened him. I don’t know who would have had charge of the town at just this point, with so much of the leadership fled. Either way, he though Lawrence could use someone who would answer Southerners in a language they understood and respected: honor and violence.

But our author also had personal news. His law practice had not gone well and Marc now hoped to make a fortune for himself in real estate:

If the impending troubles should blow over, I shall start on a trip to the Neosho river, 100 miles south to look at a town title in which I am offered an interest on good terms. […] I wrote to Father yesterday a proposition to let me have money enough to keep a good bargain when I get it. It would relieve me a great deal. If more happens that I struggle along with just enough to keep my head above water from one month’s end to another. Further the proposition with such [neighborly] considerations and eloquent innuendoes as the humble [theme] may inspire.

Marcus Parrott’s money troubles don’t change the course of history, but they do offer us a look into the day to day lives of people in territorial Kansas. Parrott came in as a professional, expecting to do well in law. His practice had not taken off, probably not helped by the disabilities the slave code put on white men who refused to declare for slavery. He wanted to try land, always a good bet in a new territory, but that required capital he didn’t have. His father apparently did, so would dear Edwin kindly lean on the old man a bit?

I don’t know Marc’s terms or the land in question, but he may have had a good deal. Undeveloped land, especially if bought at preemption rates, would almost surely rise in value in the short to medium term as Kansas filled up with land-hungry white colonists. Many a middle class man had staked a claim in a new territory, seen it develop for a few years, then sold it at a tidy profit and moved west to repeat the process.

 

More Leavenworth News from Marc

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

As before, Gentle Readers, please note that I have transcribed Parott’s letter from his handwritten original and, despite the generous and extensive help of AskHistorians’ Caffarelli, I might have gotten some points wrong.

We left Marcus Parrott telling his brother, Edwin, that the second proslavery company headed for Lawrence passed by his window just as he wrote. The timing might come more from Marc’s flair for the dramatic than actual events, but Parrott lived at Leavenworth and proslavery forces had come through there often enough before. The Missouri interfered with the most direct route for many and it had only so many ferries available.

Marc feared what would come. He himself spent time as a prisoner of a proslavery army back in December. Back then, the free state party feared that Wilson Shannon, Governor of Kansas, would summon the 1st Cavalry from Fort Leavenworth against them at Lawrence. Shannon tried at least half that, but without orders from Washington Colonel E.V. Sumner turned him down. Since then, Shannon had gotten the authority from President Franklin Pierce to summon Sumner’s men at will to preserve law and order in the territory. Concerned about all this, Marc reported that he went to the fort that morning, May 9, 1856, and informed Sumner about the proslavery movements. The Colonel told him “he would go over tomorrow”. Marc doesn’t elaborate, but it seems from further context that Sumner promised to look into things on behalf of the antislavery party:

The pro-slavery n[illegible] are now clamorous to have Sumner Removed from the Army – they charge him with being a free soiler. It is doubtless true. It is good for us that if he is. I dare not say that they may regret having him removed.

This would square with John Speer’s account that the garrison generally leaned antislavery. Marc wouldn’t put sacking Sumner past Pierce, who had dismissed Andrew Reeder at the request of Kansas’ proslavery men.

Rumors also flew about that someone had shot Wilson Shannon, which Marc didn’t believe. He did think

Reeder & Robinson are probably at this time under arrest. […] Their arrest is equivalent to their death.

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

At the time of Parrott’s letter, Robinson had probably left Lawrence. Reeder waited until well into the night. Both men had good cause to fear for their lives in proslavery custody, though ultimately only Robinson got captured and he survived. Bringing things closer to home, Marc informed Edd that, “One or two attempts have been made to waylay me at night, but failed.”

Proibably Marc couldn’t count them because he had seen men he suspected of tailing him or setting an ambush, but managed to get away. He may have succumbed to ordinary paranoia, but proslavery Kansans and Missourians really did want to get antislavery militia leaders like Marcus Parrott. Consequently, he armed himself and holed up in his office.

Leavenworth News from Marc

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

It wold take an especially obtuse reader of the May 10, 1856 Herald of Freedom to miss the point: the cause of freedom in Kansas stood on a precipice. Its leaders, facing arrest, had fled. Its semi-official organ, the paper itself, had a grand jury judgment for its suppression. Ordinary Kansans, like Pardee Butler, and low-level free state operatives, like J.N. Mace faced mortal peril. Proslavery men roamed the countryside, harassing travelers and trying to settle old scoresJefferson Buford’s army, a few hundred strong, had come to destroy the free state party. In response to the shooting of Samuel Jones, a new invasion from Missouri seemed in the offing.

That new invasion appears to have turned from fear to reality in the few days prior to the Herald’s edition. The night Andrew Reeder fled Lawrence, he remarked on

Picket guards posted a mile on the road to Lecompton. Reports that they have 300 men assembled.

That number would about match the size of Buford’s expedition. During his flight and long sojourn hiding in a Kansas City hotel, Reeder noted several groups passing through on their way to Kansas. Marcus Parrott, living in Leavenworth, saw more. A lawyer and free state militia leader, Parrott appeared previously as the man that Patrick Laughlin accused of telling him to engage in election trickery. He had also stood for governor against Charles Robinson, on the more conservative Young America ticket.

Gentle Readers, you may also remember Parrott as the author of a letter that I lacked the ability to read a few weeks ago. I got some help from a fellow flair over at Reddit’s AskHistorians, Caffarelli. She kindly donated some of her lunch time to the task and between the two of us (mostly her) I have a fair transcription. Some best guesses remain; I’ll mark them in the quotes with brackets.

Parrott put pen to paper on May 9, writing his brother Edwin. In the customary manner of nineteenth century correspondents, he opened by saying he had just received the latest from “Edd”, complete with $200, but

We are again unfathomably deep in the matter of territorial trouble.

During the last [two] days, arrived men, have been [horsing] toward Lawrence. The town is again investe[d]. Before this reaches you, the telegraph will relieve your suspense. To me, the moment looks big with fate. A Company reached from here at day light this morning, unarmed, or it is said by Shannon who having found the regulars unmanageable, has turned again to his favorite militia.

Wilson Shannon had tried and failed to get the 1st Cavalry to move from Fort Leavenworth to suppress a proslavery invasion in the past, but he could have just as easily used them to suppress the free state movement. That fear didn’t pass when he brokered a tense peace back in December. Since then, Franklin Pierce had placed the Army officially at Shannon’s disposal for the preservation of law and order.

Moreover, at the very moment Parrott wrote, “a company -the second- marched past my window for the scene of strife.”

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.

 

“I’ll burn gun powder in your face.” More Trouble at Leavenworth, Part One

 

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

The Herald of Freedom trumpeted proslavery violence in expectation of new horrors in the near future. With Lecompte’s grand jury ordering the apprehension of the free state leadership and a new invasion from Missouri in the offing, they had plenty of reason to fear. Thus the May 10, 1856 issue reported a series of attacks, from a highway robbery attempt that might have happened, to the easily confirmed shooting of J.N. Mace. For the most part, this all happened in the recent past. Another item took the paper further back, to December before coming up to the present.

At Leavenworth, a place

infested with a gang of outlaws, who, if they had their deserts, would swing on every suple sapling in the woods. Their chief business is to harrass and persecute Free State settlers. They butchered Brown-tarred and feathered Phillips-incarcerated McCrea, in a close and unhealthy prison, for doing that which he would have been a coward not to have done. They have destroyed a printing press, driven families from claims, and insulted and abused women.

I don’t know about abusing women, but Leavenworth had killed Reese Brown. A separate item relates that people back in Illinois had taken up a collection to fund the purchase of a claim for his wife and children. They tarred and feathered William Phillips, though not the William Phillips who reported for Horace Greeley. A proslavery mob destroyed the Territorial Register there. The shoe fit.

Samuel Lecompte

Samuel Lecompte

The proslavery men also came for the Leavenworth ballot box. That occasioned the story that the Herald proceeded to tell, courtesy of and starring a free state comrade of Reese Brown’s, “whose name we withhold for good reasons.” Anonymous stories like this deserve heightened scrutiny, but this one has the sound of more to it than the highway robbery account. Brown and our protagonist aided in the defense of the polls and judges of election at Leavenworth. Soon thereafter, a large band of proslavery men gathered across the river in Missouri. They must have meant to cross and join the fight.

Fortunately, the ferry-boat was on the Kansas side; and by accident it was cut loose from its moorings and sunk.

Accidents do happen. The proslavery men went home cruelly disappointed. On the Kansas side, things settled down about Leavenworth with the murder of Brown until a week prior, when our nameless protagonist again went to Leavenworth. One of Brown’s murderers chatted him up. The paper reports a dialog we should treat with some skepticism, but its content doesn’t seem too out of order. The proslavery man remarked that Andrew Reeder had come back to Kansas and he “would like to see the d—-d scoundrel.” Brown’s compatriot called Reeder “a perfect gentleman.”

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

The proslavery man took the free stater’s horse by the bridle to hold him and continued:

No doubt all such d—-d abolitionists as you think he is a gentleman. You are a d—-d robber, and will catch h-ll; you stole the ferry-boat last winter, and I now arrest you for it.

Our hero asked under what authority his opposite number proposed to make the arrest, at which point the border ruffian produced “a large bowie-knife.” Alas, he brought a knife to a gun fight. Brown’s fellow drew a pistol and offered his regrets. If he could not go free at once, he would “burn gun powder in your face.”