A Closer Look at David Rice Atchison, Part Two

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)


We left David Rice Atchison, Senator from Missouri, invisible in the records. Between February second and twentieth of 1855, he drops off the map. During that time, Lewis Cass believed that Atchison toured the South soliciting support for his crusade in Kansas. Large rallies would have generated news reports, but if Atchison came to a state capital quietly and talked to fellow politicians behind closed doors, we might never know. Outside of Missouri and Washington, few people likely knew him on sight. He appears again back in Missouri, possibly in St. Louis on the twentieth and definitely in Jefferson City by the twenty-second.

Bourbon Dave arrived to disappointing news. The Missouri legislature had just voted to postpone choosing a new senator. Until that point, Atchison may have expected easy reelection. It turned out that his battle with Thomas Hart Benton had cost him the support of many Democrats, enough together with Missouri’s Whigs to deny him a clear majority. With nothing much to do in the state capital, he made for the border the next day. He had Kansas to save for slavery, after all. Elections for the legislature would take place on March 30 and he could hardly miss that. On the twenty-fifth, Atchison went into Kansas in the company of “eighty men and twenty-four wagons.” He came packing two Bowie knives and four pistols, just for himself. The proceeds of his movement, in fraud and intimidation, amounted to control of the legislature of Kansas.

Robert Morse Taliaferro Hunter (D-VA)

Atchison wrote his F Street messmate, Robert M.T. Hunter, celebrating the victory and asking for ten thousand southerners to come and consolidate their victory. If they could “take possession of and hold every acre of timber” then Kansas could never go against slavery. Missouri could swing half of the ten thousand, he believed, but the rest of the section had to do its part. If the section failed Atchison, then it would lose Missouri and, soon after, Texas and Arkansas. With them gone, the South would have to concede the territories entire to freedom.

But none of this made Atchison “a Bandit, a ruffian, an Aaron Burr.” Atchison did not, he would have his friend know, preside over a regime of violent hooliganism. Instead he saved the lives and homes of antislavery Kansans by restraining his men. Where he went, nothing violent transpired. He couldn’t claim any responsibility for other places, but he assured Hunter that only the most impudent got “the hickory.”

One must suspect Atchison of polishing up his reputation here, but the Howard Report found only violent threats where he personally went. He may, as he did when proslavery forces moved against Lawrence, have acted to restrain his followers just as he claimed. He still got the mob in position where it could do harm and we ought to understand the border ruffians as part of a movement he started, organized, and led. The two do not cancel out, but only together form a complete picture of Missouri’s senator.

Andrew Butler of South Carolina, another of Atchison’s late messamates fabulously declared

the advent of Kansas shall be to the living Atchison a Star in his varied galaxy of life.

A young friend or relation of Butler’s had just gone off to Kansas and Butler asked Atchison to look after him.

James Mason

James Mason, author of the Fugitive Slave Act, proved less effusive. He heard rumors that people in Kansas wanted Andrew Reeder deposed in favor of a more pliable governor. The proslavery side should not use their victory as an excuse to color outside the legal lines. Instead, if Reeder proved intransigent against the proslavery legislature, then they could charge him with various offenses and ask his removal. Atchison had anticipated Mason’s advice, bending Franklin Pierce’s ear on the issue through his old friend, classmate, and present Secretary of War. Jefferson Davis had his back, to the point where the papers referred to a coalition of the two men against Reeder. In the summer, Pierce fired him at the request of Kansas’ legislature.

In the mean time, Atchison’s Platte County men destroyed the Parkville Industrial Luminary for objecting to how Missouri had outright stolen Kansas’ legislature. Parrish, Atchison’s biographer, stresses that he has no evidence the man himself took part in the destruction, but also notes that the Squatter Sovereign praised the act. Given the close personal and political relationship between the brothers Stringfellow and Atchison, it seems unlikely they would have done so if Atchison objected. Instead they advised continuing the campaign against antislavery papers elsewhere in Missouri and, as they later would, in Lawrence.

Atchison’s reelection campaign also got off to an odd start. A proslavery convention met at St. Louis between the twelfth and fourteenth of July. It heard a motion that Atchison and his old law partner Alexander Doniphan, leading contenders for the Senate seat, give speeches. Atchison tried to give them a pass, aiming to keep the convention a proslavery affair rather than introduce partisanship into things. Doniphan, a Whig, followed his lead. The convention wouldn’t hear of it and appointed a committee, which Atchison again refused. The usual order of such things seems to have involved such refusals, but then one reconsidered when a committee affirmed that the convention really wanted you to speak. Maybe Atchison proved himself in earnest in the hopes that it would win him popularity enough to keep his post in the Senate, but Parrish rightly points out that he didn’t give up on Kansas after realizing that he would not again serve as senator. Rebuffed, the convention turned to the favorite pastime of nineteenth century mass meetings: drawing up a set of resolutions. Over in Kansas., the free state men did the same.

A Closer Look at David Rice Atchison, Part One

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison looms large in the story of Bleeding Kansas. A man of his beliefs and inclinations, living just across the line in Missouri, would have probably taken part regardless of his national prominence. Though all but forgotten today, except for the false trivia about his serving as president for a day, in his time Atchison enjoyed a national following. After Calhoun’s death, he served as one of the most high-profile spokesmen for extreme proslavery politics. He had the high esteem of his peers in the Senate, who elected him president pro tempore, unanimously, during what many consider that body’s golden age. He appears in antislavery sources as a crude drunkard, probably with some justice, but Atchison also received a fine education and served ably as a lawyer and judge before his political career. In the former capacity, he worked to defend the Mormons from their hostile Missourian neighbors. We may know far more about him, except that most of his papers went up in smoke in a house fire. Thus when William Earl Parrish took Atchison as his subject, he produced a spare monograph that remains the Senator’s lone biography. Parrish leans heavily on Atchison’s ease in making political friends to underline his abilities, while not neglecting that Bourbon Dave put them to work in the service of slavery.

Parrish traces Atchison’s involvement with filibustering Kansas from its start. He joined with the Stringfellows, close friends of his, in calling for a meeting to discuss Kansas matters and plan a response to the Emigrant Aid Company in the summer of 1854, with the ink barely dry on the Kansas-Nebraska Act. That meeting formed the Platte County Self-Defense Association, which accepted B.F. Stringfellow’s Negro-Slavery, No Evil. as its manifesto. As soon as Atchison got home from Washington, he took up control of the Self-Defensives. They used their group as a model in establishing the blue lodges that spread across Missouri and joined with a separate group Parrish calls the Kansas League, which operated inside the territory. Then the Senator came into Kansas to speak at his namesake town, just before they began selling off lots.

Atchison’s organization did not elude national notice. Amos Lawrence wrote him in March of 1855, asking the Senator to rein in his followers. Lawrence made no bones about their conflicting purposes: Atchison wanted slavery in Kansas and Lawrence wanted it out. But he asked that the two sides have a fair fight of it and assured Atchison that his organiztion did not actually have a vast legion of militant Yankees bent on conquest. If his side failed, Lawrence promised that antislavery Kansans would accept a loss in good grace “but they will never yield to injustice.”

Amos Adams Lawrence

Atchison answered in April, two weeks after the legislative elections where he and his conducted one of the largest and most flagrant frauds in American electoral history. He had no regrets:

You are right in your conjecture that I and my friends wish to make Kansas in all respects like Missouri. Our interests require it. Our peace through all time demands it, and we intend to leave nothing undone that will conduce to that end and can with honor be performed. If we fail, ten we will surrender to your care and control the State of Missouri. We have all to lose in the contest; you and your friends have nothing at stake. You propose to vote or to drive us away from Kansas. We do not propose to drive you and your friends from that Territory; but we do not intend either to be voted or driven our of Kansas, if we can help it; for we are foolish enough to believe we have as much right to inhabit that country as men from New England. Neither do we intend to be driven from Missouri, or suffer ourselves to be harassed in our property or our peace, if we can help it. At least we will try and make you and your friends share some of our anxieties.

At the time of the first delegate election, Atchison stumped across western Missouri. He told the people of Weston in to do their duty, anticipating what he would write to Lawrence in the spring:

When you reside within one day’s journey of the territory, and when your peace, your quiet, and your property depend upon your action, you can, without an exertion, send 500 of your young men who will vote in favor of your institutions.

That day or shortly thereafter, Atchison ran a convention of the various blue lodges in Weston which nominated John Wilkins Whitfield as delegate.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Bourbon Dave didn’t leave things sit with that, of course. He skipped the first few weeks of the new term of Congress that began in December of 1854. Instead of Washington, Atchison went to Independence where he presided over a meeting to choose blue lodge emissaries to fan out across the South and replicate his work. Some would send men, but Atchison would take money and propaganda too. B.F. Stringfellow drew Virginia (his home state) and Maryland as his assignment. Platte and Buchanan counties would pay his travel expenses. He traveled back east with the Senator.

At Atchison’s request the Senate had elected Jesse D. Bright, a friend of Atchison’s from university days and who represented Indiana whilst owning slaves and a plantation in Kentucky, as his replacement. Bright offered to resign in Atchison’s favor, but the Missourian turned him down. He did little in the Senate, and missed sessions entirely toward the end of January. Parrish couldn’t find proof of it, but suspected that Atchison went with Stringfellow to lobby Virginia and Maryland. The Senator likely last served in his official capacity in Washington on February 2, 1855. Afterwards, he drops off the radar for about twenty days again. The papers, national and Missourian, took no note of him except for the latter complaining that he had vanished.

The absence drew some attention after the fact. Gideon Welles confided to his diary (in a volume I can’t find online) that he asked Lewis Cass after Atchison in that time. A mutual friend told Cass that Atchison had gone

on a tour through the Southern States, concocting measures with the Governors and leading men at the South to make Kansas a slave state.

“Kill them! kill them!”

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

I hope you all enjoyed your holiday, Gentle Readers. Rather than write history, I spent mine putting together Lego and playing Final Fantasy XIV with a friend. I intended to write after the Lego, but the game consumed the remainder of the productive portion of the day. I have no regrets.

That said, the nineteenth century hasn’t gone away. We left George Washington Brown telling the world the state of affairs in Kansas. Proslavery judge Samuel Lecompte had gotten a grand jury to summon the free state government leadership on grounds of treason. Charles Robinson, the governor, and Andrew Reeder, delegate to Congress and senator-elect, made a run for it. Robinson traveled openly and got caught at Lexington, Missouri. Reeder disguised himself and skulked about at night. He got clear of Missouri, though not without a few close calls and much delay. Brown informed his readers that, whatever happened with the antislavery leadership, ordinary Kansans remained in peril. The territorial government still stood against them, to the point of outlawing their platform. Beyond that, antislavery Kansans faced the threat of individual or mob violence for expressing their opposition to slavery in their territory.

From the general, Brown proceeded to the specific:

The hue and cry is now raised against Gov. Robinson and Senator Reeder. “Kill them! kill them!” is in the throats of every brawler who goes unhung in Kansas. Their movements are watched-their goings out and comings in carefully noted-and they are forced to seek a place of safety in the Free States.

Most of us probably read “hue and cry” as a stock phrase, but it originates in a literal call to apprehend wrongdoers. Brown has Robinson and Reeder’s situation dead to rights: orders existed for their arrest and posses had assembled to take them. If they should die while resisting, or “resisting” arrest, the proslavery party might well experience such remorse as to leave them hung over for a week. Both men feared their death if taken. Reeder fled Kansas, rather than stay behind as a test case, specifically because he had information that he would never live long enough to face trial.

Brown, like the free state leadership, saw the situation as dire. They had taken pains to avoid initiating major violence and, some hotheads aside, feared the results of an armed class of any scale. Proslavery and antislavery Kansans did kill one another over politics, but heretofore the murders happened on a personal scale or between small bands of men. Even a frontier government might contain that sort of thing without undue strain. But now, the free state men feared,

no earthly power can prevent a bloody collision. If it must come, the sooner we have whipped our enemies, the sooner will quiet be restored to the country. Human patience cannot long endure this system of terrorism and persecution. If we can secure quietude in no other way than by fighting for it, surely ’twere infinitely better that we pass through a sanguinary struggle than be made slaves!

Brown could have written all of that on almost any occasion; he had feared for his own life before. But until the grand jury acted, the official reaction to the free state movement had come to little more than rhetorical condemnation and largely unenforced laws. The violence they faced had come irregularly, in response to specific circumstances. While that had come under the color of law when a proslavery army invested Lawrence back in December, the town narrowly avoided destruction. No campaign had grown from that proslavery defeat; the Missourians went home on the instructions of their own leaders. Now a force within Kansas and with the power of the territorial government and its federal imprimatur had moved against them, a force which might call on the United States Army to destroy their movement.

Back in Lawrence with the Herald of Freedom

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

We’ve followed Andrew Reeder and Charles Robinson out of Kansas, both fleeing their arrest in pursuit of Samuel Lecompte’s grand jury investigation. Reeder made it to safety, while Robinson got as far as Lexington, Missouri before proslavery men took him off his boat and back to Kansas. Both feared that they would share in Reese Brown’s fate if taken, killed either extrajudicially or after a jury declared them traitors. However, events progressed around Lawrence even without Reeder and Robinson in attendance. We left the Emigrant Aid Company’s town in the aftermath of Samuel Jones’ shooting. He had come to arrest the just-returned Samuel Wood, who had rescued free state militia leader Jacob Branson from Jones custody back in late November. The last time Wood and Jones crossed paths, a proslavery army came near to destroying Lawrence. The locals could hardly forget that so soon and took pains to distance themselves from whichever of them shot the infamous Jones in the back.

Robinson’s arrest at Lexington took place on May 10, 1856. He remained briefly with a judge there, but soon the word came from the legal governor of Kansas, Wilson Shannon, that the territory wanted its illegal governor back on charges of usurpation of office. I meant to hop back to Kansas with Marcus Parrott’s letter to his brother about the current situation, but an unfortunate infirmity prevents that: I can’t read the handwriting with enough confidence to use it at present. I’ve asked some friends if they might make heads or tails of it, but for now Parrott must wait.

On May 10, 1856, the Herald of Freedom began its second page with an item titled “Another War Threatening Us!” It ran just beneath the endorsement of John C. Fremont for president, “subject to the decision of the national Republican convention.”

George Washington Brown opened up with just the kind of appeal in writing that Charles Robinson and Andrew Reeder hoped to make in print:

“Let our friends in the North be ready! Kansas is again invaded by armed ruffians. They are gathering in by tens, and fifties, and hundreds.”

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Brown probably had the numbers right, to judge from what I’ve seen elsewhere. The hundreds could come in the form of Jefferson Buford’s men. Smaller contingents fit with the pattern established at previous Missourian invasions: local groups would travel together and only collect once within Kansas. The free state editor also claimed that Wilson Shannon had enrolled the lot in the militia, as he had done back during the Wakarusa War. Shannon might well have repeated himself, particularly as the leaders of the proslavery force then proved amenable to calming their men and seeing them off to home when enrolled. Rumors also held that Shannon wanted to bring in the United States Army to handle any arrests, as had happened when Jones tried to take Wood from Lawrence, “but the other officials swear this shall not be.”

With so much of the present crisis looking like a repeat of the previous, one can’t fault Brown for expecting everything to continue.

Then Brown opted to dramatize the real fear that many in Lawrence must have felt, himself included:

The Reign of Terror has commenced. The bowie knife and revolver, the hatchet and hempen rope, are the instruments brought into requisition to awe, intimidate, and crush out the liberty-loving portion of our fellow citizens. Stealthy assassins roam over the country, under cover of night, dogging the footsteps of unsuspecting citizens, and watching the opportune moment to strike the cowardly blow. Men known of men to be murderers, walk unabashed, unwhipped of Justice, in the very presence of the shameless officers of misnamed Law, boldly and boastingly proclaiming their complicity in crime. No man’s life is safe from one day to another, if he has declared, never so mildly, his opposition to the aggressions of Slavery.

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Whether you think Brown a bit purple here or not, you can’t argue with his facts. Proslavery Kansans and their Missourian allies had bragged of their hooliganism. Samuel Jones started his career in Kansas by pulling a gun on the judges of election at Bloomington and telling them they had five minutes to let anyone vote or he would kill them. The bogus legislature made him a sheriff. Knives, revolvers, and hatchets all feature into violent clashes -some of which happened at night- as well as more mundane intimidation.

A Dark and Stormy Night: The Escape of Andrew Reeder, Part Four

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, 3

Reeder’s diary.

Andrew Reeder had a new problem. He had made it to a steamboat and gone down the Missouri river nigh unto St. Louis, but his proslavery bedmate may have seen through his ax-wielding disguise. Said nocturnal companion, a man named Ross, left the boat before St. Louis despite having paid all the way through. Reeder saw him go straight to the train station and put two and two together: Ross aimed to catch a train and get to St. Louis ahead of him. Then he could meet Reeder with a warrant in hand and the fugitive governor-turned-delegate would end up back in Kansas, possibly killed before a treason trial could sentence him to hang.

Reeder conspired with the captain of the boat, first to transfer him to another vessel, then to find a guide to take him of to Illinois by land. At this point, the Mr. Fogg that Reeder had spent the past few days avoiding enters into the story. Fogg knew Reeder by sight and the ex-governor suspected that his disguise did nothing to change that. Reeder went to him and so finally tells the reader Fogg’s deal. For once, Reeder had ducked an ally rather than a proslavery man:

Saw Fogg, who says two young men from Lawrence are upstairs, who will go with me. Captain could get no guide, but had the route described.

If Reeder couldn’t get a guide, at least he could get a few bodyguards. Arrangements made, he went out and waited on the deck. With the boat crowded, Reeder “Had great difficulty” getting to where he could change. Even with Ross gone and Fogg an ally, he had other men giving him the hairy eyeball. Finally, Reeder tried feigning sleep and that convinced two of his watchers to call it a night.

I thought all had turned in, and was thinking of soon slipping out, having arranged with the captain that the steward should be on the watch if anyone got up to follow me, when, to my great chagrin, the captain came noisily along the cabin, and up to my berth, and nudged me to get up. I was vexed, as I was sure this would attract the attention I had taken so much care to elude.

With no helping it, Reeder pretended to go looking for another spot to sack out and then slipped upstairs. There he found the promised guard absent. Andrew Reeder just could not catch a break. Making the best of it, he went to the cabin of his guards, Bassett and Brackett.

To add to the chance of detection, the captain followed me there.

Of course he did.

Reeder changed his clothes and got the news from his new companions that a pair of men on the deck stood guard.  He had had quite enough and resolved to go anyway, “and if followed to fight it out.” His guards had no weapons, but Kansas’ first governor had a pair of revolvers and a knife that he shared around.

A violent thunder storm came up, and in it, toward the close, we put out the lights and started. The woods being close to the share we stopped in them to see if we were followed. Waited a short time; no one came off the boat, and we struck through the woods; lost the road twice; traveled on, and finally, at 8 o’ clock A.M., struck the Mississippi river fifteen miles above Alton. Got a man to take us across in a skiff.



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.

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.

Two Axemen in Missouri: The Escape of Andrew Reeder, Part One

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.

Andrew Reeder left Kansas Territory ahead of an order for his arrest, on the plausible grounds that had he gone quietly he would have soon gone to join the Choir Invisible. Proslavery men had killed Reese Brown after arresting him; they looked set to wipe the free state movement out entirely. As the one man among them who had any national name recognition, Reeder would have given the cause a martyr but also deprived it of its most effective advocate. He spent more than a week closeted in a hotel room in Kansas City, before finally getting clear just as it seemed a mob had come to seize and destroy his hotel. May 22, 1856 found him or the first time enjoying a moment outdoors at a house some miles from Kansas City, out near the edge of the woods.

His relief proved short. On the twenty-third, Reeder ended up shut inside “a stifling room.” Proximity to Kansas City, the urgency of his mission to alert the nation and solicit help for the antislavery cause, and probably his comfort pushed Kansas’ free state delegate on. He hatched a plan to get “a small skiff” and start down the river ahead of a boat coming down. Somewhere downstream he would meet up with that boat and take passage, still using his Irishman disguise. Nine that night, Reeder and a companion set out “each with an ax.” Those axes would provide a handy alibi as well as helping the disguise, aside their obvious use in self-defense if it came to that.

Reeder and his friend, Adams, had trouble finding his other friends with the skiff. While they cast about, someone saw them in the distance. Reeder’s friend went over and chatted the man up, but nothing came of it. Soon after the stranger departed, the skiff arrived. The two men “floated quietly down the river to Randolph landing.” Neither of them knew the place, so they had trouble finding it at night. They ended up about a half mile beyond the landing, where the put in and slept in the woods until morning.

May 24 saw Reeder and Adams take up their bundles and axes for the walk to Randolph, a metropolis of a few houses. Landings like Randolph served mainly to feed the riverboat trade with both fuel and passengers. Steamboats burned through wood at a prodigious rate, making steady work for woodchoppers. Naturally, someone there saw two men with axes and guessed their trade. Adams confirmed that he and Reeder considered their axes more than a fashion statement.

Had we got a job engaged? I whispered to Adams to say “Yes,” but it was too late. He said “No.” The man then walked out into the road and offered us a job.

Adams had stepped in it. I don’t know if Reeder could have chopped a cord of wood or not, but he didn’t have the time for the attempt. To refuse a man who knew they had no work would only raise suspicion. But Reeder had the quick thinking to ask the wage and then insist that they had heard they could do considerably better elsewhere. If they had heard wrong, they might come back and oblige.

Reeder and Adams found a place out of sight of the road and waited, as Reeder had waited back in Kansas City, for a boat to come. It should have passed about ten, but they waited until noon before it did put on an appearance. The boat for Kansas City blew its whistle then, but not any going the other way. Half an hour passed. The two men split their provisions and agreed on a cover story, then got to a hill where they could see the river for a few miles out.

Saw the boat coming, but could not make out her name till she was so near that we had to run down the road. She hauled up to the landing full of passengers, and as the plank was run out I went on board panting with heat, fatigue, and thirst. Passed back among the deck passengers, where, according to my dress, I belonged

Reeder paid for his ticket and spent the afternoon suffering; he didn’t get a drink until evening. When the delegate refreshed himself, he learned that some of the men on the boat with him had come fresh from the sack of Lawrence. A few of the ringleaders had taken deck passage with their rank and file, putting them in close proximity to Reeder.

Among them I saw Henry L. Rout, a lawyer of Liberty, Mo., who picked up my pipe which i had dropped in the berth, and made some jocular remark to me. I was confident that he knew me, and was very uneasy, especially as we were to lay that night at Lexington.

Lexington had captured Charles Robinson. If Rout knew Reeder, then he could raise a mob there and add another antislavery man to the town’s collection.

“I lit my pipe and walked boldly” The Hunt for Andrew Reeder, Part Twelve

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

Reeder’s diary.

The proslavery mob had yet to come for Andrew Reeder, but he expected them on May 22, 1856. He had hidden in Kansas City for eleven days, been seen at least once, and closeted in the same hotel for long enough that anyone hanging about might have noticed something off. With the free state hotel in Lawrence ruined, the Missourians aimed to come back and finish the job. Reeder and his friends thought that, whether they knew of him or not, the proslavery men would probably ransack his hotel on general principles. Consequently, they planned to get him to a private residence that night. Kansas first governor shaved his whiskers, dirtied his face, and dressed as an Irish laborer for his escape.

Then he had to wait for the evening to slowly pass. A bit before six, Kansas City threw a mass meeting. The mayor ran the show, where

It was ascertained that not more than 60 men could be raised to defend the house, and arms for not more than 25 or 30; and the Mayor informs Edward Eldridge that he cannot undertake to defend it, unless he can show the papers to prove that it does not belong to the Emigrant Aid Company.

The hotel might not have belonged to the Aid Company, but Colonel Eldridge (not Edward) handled all its business and he had the paperwork with him at Lawrence. On top of that news, Reeder got another scare when a man carrying water came into his room. The free state delegate had thought the door locked and could only pretend to sleep while the man did his work.

Reeder’s time came before the mob. At eight thirty his accomplices told him that they had all in readiness, including his new host, Brown, ready to take him home. Reeder opted out of going in his company. He doesn’t say why, only that he determined to join Brown somewhere on the road. His friends left him and Reeder made his exit:

I lit my pipe and walked boldly down the front stairs, through the office, which was crowded with people. Elbowing through them, I passed into the bar-room and out on the steps. Dozens of people were sitting and standing about the door and on the sidewalk, many of them the most obnoxious men, and who were well acquainted with me.  I stood quite unconcerned on the steps until I saw a vacant chair, and went to it and sat down.

Maybe Reeder discovered some ice water in his veins at just that moment, but earlier in the day he seems almost manic with despair. I suspect he polished his manly bravery while recalling the moment, but he could just have had that good of a disguise. He shaved his whiskers, and the governor had a conspicuous set. As a bearded person myself, I can tell you that I look different without mine. Those who knew Reeder might not have recognized him just on that account, let alone his dressing down and dirtying his face.

Still, the delegate didn’t leave it all to his disguise and the press of humanity. He had arranged for his friends to single out the “nearest and most dangerous” of the crowd, who they should chat up and distract. It worked. Reeder sat in his chair for a few minutes, then

walked deliberately up the road, unmolested and unrecognized, with a great sense of relief.

Reeder met up with Brown and they walked to his house up on the edge of the woods, some ways from town. There, for the first time in more than a week, Andrew Reeder

Sat out of doors and enjoyed the freedom and fresh air.


“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.