A Closer Look at David Rice Atchison, Part Four

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Parts 1, 2, 3

We left David Rice Atchison’s senate seat empty, as it would remain until 1857, and the man himself fully engaged with Kansas affairs. He won the apparently permanent emnity of Thomas Hart Benton’s wing of the Missouri democracy by orchestrating the senior senator’s involuntary retirement in coalition with the Whigs. Atchison probably considered Kansas the more important matter, and likely a road to finding himself in Washington again someday. He had refused to actively seek reelection. But Bourbon Dave still found time to resent the situation. On December 14, 1855, he wrote that the Missouri legislature lacked

the moral courage to elect me, a majority of them would prefer my election to that of any other person yet they have not the moral courage to do it

Atchison had the votes but failed, somehow, to have the votes. He went on to tell his correspondent that the press would implicate him in the late Wakarusa War. He doesn’t seem to have minded that so much, as a man who led two hundred armed men into Kansas on that occasion might well have. Atchison couldn’t help himself,

but when I do move in earnest here will be a noise louder than thunder or I am mistaken.

And furthermore:

Before the moon shall fill her hours twelve times you shall hear more from me.

More from Atchison, thunderous or not, included a public statement declaring he would not accept any elected office. Bourbon Dave’s papers explained that he withdrew from the Senate race in order to help the Missouri Democracy reunite. But if Atchison wouldn’t answer Missouri’s call, which he probably would not have received anyway, then at least a few in the South would answer his. In the fall of the year, the emissaries that his people had chosen to fan out across the South looking for proslavery settlers. They had some success, if never as much as they dreamed.

Georgia’s governor recommended a Southern convention if Congress failed to accept Kansas as a slave state, a proposal Atchison endorsed. A Southern convention naturally invoked memories of Nashville. Get enough angry southerners together and they might decide to do something drastic, so the nation had best concede the territory. Everyone, except the slaves, would win:

This course on the part of the South will save Kansas to the South-save bloodshed, civil war, and perhaps a dissolution of the Union itself.

In January, Missouri’s former senator followed that letter up with another, repeating the call for immigration:

Let your young men come forth to Missouri and Kansas. Let them come well armed, with money enough to support them for twelve months, and determined to see this thing out. One hundred true men would be an acquisition; the more the better. I do not see how we are to avoid civil war; come it will. Twelve months will not elapse before war-civil war of the fiercest kind-will be upon us. We are arming and preparing for it. Indeed, we of the border counties are prepared. We must have the support of the South. We are fighting the battles of the South. Our institutions are st stake. You far Southern men are now out of the nave of war; but if we fail it will reach your own doors, perhaps your hearths. We want men-armed men. We want money-not for ourselves, but to support our friends when the come from a distance.

Atchison may have intended to follow his own advice. He mentions that he might soon move to Kansas and the Squatter Sovereign reported the news the same month. According to them, he would arrive with two hundred of his closest friends. There his slaves would farm and he would collect the profits. The paper even claimed that Atchison had moved to the territory.

Robert S. Kelley

Parrish looked into the matter, noting that Stringfellow and Kelley kept up that story through 1856. For a Kansan, Atchison did a great deal of living in Missouri. With no family of his own, he kept rooms at a Platte City hotel. He probably also rented rooms in Atchison and may have used them, but Parrish looked deep into the land records and never found evidence that Atchison bought a parcel. In my own research, Atchison always comes over from Missouri rather than down from his namesake town. The Sovereign could claim that the senator had the same basis for residence in both jurisdictions, but it doesn’t look like he lived that way.

Whether Atchison ever had serious plans to make himself a Kansan or not, others did. Late April brought the largest group of southern colonists, Jefferson Buford’s organization, arrived to do their part in saving Kansas for slavery. When Southerners came through, Atchison took an interest in them. South Carolinians particularly drew his eye and he personally housed the children of friends and others who came in their company. Corespondents asked him to advise the young men they sent on “where to settle, how to vote, and if necessary, when to fight.” Atchison the man did as asked, showing new arrivals around Atchison the town. When they came with money for him to use, he let them keep it but stood ready with advice on how to best spend their funds. In turn, the new arrivals admired Atchison well enough to honor him at banquets.

 

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“The prosperity or ruin of the whole South” A Closer Look at David Rice Atchison, Part Three

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Parts 1, 2

Proslavery Missourians and antislavery Kansans had a parallel series of conventions in their respective jurisdictions. We left David Rice Atchison, late senator from Missouri, firmly turning down the effort to turn one into the start of his reelection campaign. Bourbon Dave had given up on Washington, at least in the near term, in favor of saving Kansas for slavery. Through it, he would also save slavery in Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas, and spread it to the other territories.

In the summer of 1855, almost everything turned out to Atchison’s liking. His border ruffians had secured the Kansas legislature for their own men. They ousted Andrew Reeder, who had defied them. Between governors, Daniel Woodson filled in and he had already proven his proslavery bona fides. That Franklin Pierce passed him over to appoint Wilson Shannon did not thrill the Missouri border, but Shannon soon earned the endorsement of Atchison’s Kansas-based organ, the Squatter Sovereign. The fall brought invitations for Atchison to go east and speak for the cause, as he had probably done during the winter. He declined them, citing obligations at home, but answered with a letter that made his case.

We (“the border ruffians”) have the whole power of the Northern states to content with, single-handed and alone, without assistance and almost without sympathy from any quarter; yet we are undismayed. Thus far we have bewen victorious and with the help of God, we will still continue to conquer. … The contest with us is one of life and death, and it will be so with you and your institutions if we fail. Atchison, Stringfellow and the “border ruffians” of Missouri fill a column of each abolition paper published in the North; abuse most foul, and falsehood unblushing is poured out upon us; and yet we have no advocate in the Southern press-and yet we have no assistance from the Southern States. But the time wilol shortly come when that assistance must and will be rendered. The stake the “border ruffians” are playing for is a mighty one. … In a word, the prosperity or ruin of the whole South depends on the Kansas struggle.

Atchison’s biographer added the emphasis, which neatly encapsulate’s the ex-senator’s view of the question. He certainly wrote it to exhort and guilt his fellow southerners into action, but he believed it too. Those who invited him might never have expected Atchison to turn up -such invitations often served more as a way to request a public letter- but even if they did he had work to do and probably didn’t think Kansas could spare him. The rise of the free state movement in the fall proved Atchison right.

Daniel Woodson

To answer that threat, establishment figures in Kansas tired to take a moderate tone with their Law and Order party. They positioned themselves as moderate alternative to Atchison’s hooliganism in November. At the end of the month, Franklin Coleman killed Charles Dow. The ensuing strife put those hopes to rest. Daniel Woodson wrote straightaway to Kelley and Stringfellow at the Squatter Sovereign, who he could depend on to pass word into Missouri and Kansas had a new invasion. The territorial secretary especially asked that his friends bring “the Platte City cannon.” The letter crossed the border and came into Atchison’s hands. He read it to a mass meeting at Platte City, then took two hundred men into Kansas to join the campaign against abolitionism.

Yet Atchison’s rhetorical, and occasionally physical, militancy fell short again. When Wilson Shannon negotiated a settlement with the free state leadership at Lawrence, he and Albert Boone took the governor’s side in talking down the army that Atchison had himself helped gather. His argument then had less to do with principal than public relations. The antislavery side had maneuvered things so that if the proslavery men struck, they would appear as the aggressors. Without Governor Shannon’s blessing, withdrawn thanks to the settlement, turned an irregular militia into a lawless mob that would destroy the Democracy come election time and put “an abolition President” in power.

Horace Greeley

Not that this mattered to Atchison’s Missouri foes. Still a potential senator, they castigated him for plotting the destruction of the Industrial Luminary and voting in Kansas, the latter of which forfeited his Missouri citizenship and disqualified him. Failing reelection, the Missouri Democrat thought Atchison might forge some kind of breakaway proslavery nation. Atchison’s biographer, William Parrish, found no evidence for any of this. In the Democrat’s pages, even the convention where Atchison refused to make the affair into an election event proved his perfidy; the paper recast it as a failed attempt at the same. Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune declared that the Squatter Sovereign’s masthead endorsed Atchison for president on the Know-Nothing ticket. The paper did endorse Atchison for the presidency, until he told them to stop, but always and only as a Democrat.

With all that going on, Missouri’s General Assembly again convened to elect a senator and again failed to manage the feat. Both houses of the legislature agreed that they should hold an election, but could not agree on a time for it. Moments of legislative grace like this did much to explain why these same bodies would eventually vote to strip themselves of the power to choose their senators in ratifying the Seventeenth Amendment. Atchison’s seat in Washington remained empty until 1857.

The Return of Samuel Jones

 

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Dine and dash aside, W.P. Fain had come and gone from Lawrence. Two members of the committee of safety, Topliff and Perry, had their house burgled while they aided him with making his arrest. But no one had died yet that day. The Free State Hotel still stood. The printing presses remained untroubled. If the day kept on like this, then the second campaign against Lawrence might suffer only a single death in excess of the one that the first campaign had seen. Robert S. Kelley would go home cruelly disappointed yet again.

Colonel Topliff carried yet another letter off to I.B. Donaldson, in command of the hostile force, pleading for the security of Lawrence and repeating all the town’s capitulations. If nothing else, Donaldson now had his men. The Marshal could declare victory and go home. Up on Mount Oread, where Fain took his prisoners, some speech making went on. The deputy himself took to the stump and said, according to William Phillips, that he had no further use for his posse

but that Sheriff Jones had some processes to serve, and that they would hold themselves in readiness to go with him.

In the weeks since his shooting, Jones had recovered enough to sit a horse and make himself a menace again. Phillips takes a paragraph to mock Jones’ injury, noting correctly that the proslavery press declared him murdered. The crowd greeted the sheriff “with enthusiastic cheering.” Lawrence had not gotten clear of trouble after all.

Phillips, writing a few months later, castigates the “Safety Valve” for their capitulations. His condemnation goes on for better than a page about their cowardice, their surrender to territorial authority, and all the rest. This, he deemed, worthy of apology on account of “their extreme peril” but impossible to justify. Even if one could muster a justification, he then insisted that the people would never have supported such a ruinous course. To prove the point, he accuses the committee of fraud:

It is proper to state that several of those men whose names are attached to the document declare that it had not their assent. Messrs. Allen, Babcock, Mallory, and Grover, repudiate, and declare they did not sign it; some of these admitting that they signed a paper that forenoon, but know of no part of such a document sustaining or submitting to the territorial laws. I have been informed that Dr. Prentiss was not present when it was drafted.

If Phillips and his informants told the truth, rather than fixing their reputations after the fact, then only Samuel Pomeroy and W.Y. Roberts endorsed Lawrence’s last appeal. It would not stop Samuel Jones. He may have had process to serve, but he surely wanted revenge and had previously taken any pretext to move against Lawrence. Jones had threatened the lives of antislavery Kansans all the way back to the legislative elections more than a year ago. Even if a letter could save Lawrence from I.B. Donaldson, one would not sway Sheriff Jones.

“There was no peace”

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Proslavery movements against Lawrence began again in earnest on May 11, 1856. On that day, US Marshal Donaldson issued a proclamation calling for a large posse to help him serve his process in the town. He wanted one as big as Kansas and Missouri could manage. Proslavery men, including some from Jefferson Buford’s expedition, happily obliged him. As they gathered, harassing people moving about Lawrence and killing two antislavery men, Donaldson remained at Lecompton. There the majority of the force assembled, as he had asked it to, and he and Governor Shannon heard desperate pleas from Lawrence for aid. Much of the free state leadership had fled, leaving the town with a committee of safety caught between internal divisions and a marked lack of realistic options. On the twentieth, his deputy entered Lawrence and had a few conversations. He left unmolested, thus demonstrating how much Donaldson required overwhelming force to carry out his duties.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Not that it mattered. Donaldson had between five and eight hundred men bent on doing something to Lawrence, whatever excuse they could get. They included David Rice Atchison, who had done so much to inaugurate Kansas’ troubles. Atchison’s Senate term had expired the year before, but he still hoped he might get another out of Missouri’s legislature. Divided, they instead left the seat open until 1857. The former Senator came into Kansas in the company of the Platte County Self-Defensives and two field pieces. The Kickapoo Rangers, who had killed Reese Brown, joined in as well. To them, William Phillips added

all the loafers and wild pro-slavery men from Leavenworth and Weston […] General Stringfellow had crossed from Missouri to Atchison, and reinforced by his brother , the doctor (who is the more eminent of the two), and the infamous Bob Kelly, Stringfellow’s law partner Abell, and several other pro-slavery men there, had gone to Lecompton. Colonel Boone, from Westport, with several other pro-slavery leaders from that place, and also from Liberty and Independence, at the head of bodies of armed men, or to take command of companies that had preceded them

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

A separate force had established itself at Franklin, under Buford. Phillips puts United States arms in their hands, given out by “federal appointees of Kansas.” That probably meant Donaldson, though Phillips doesn’t name him. Buford’s men had two cannons of their own.

The Lecompton force broke camp in the predawn hours of May 21, on the move at last. They arrived “shortly after sunrise” and occupied the heights of Mount Oread overlooking Lawrence, near Charles Robinson’s house.

The town was perfectly quiet. Its inhabitants were shaking off their slumbers; those already astir were going quietly about their avocations. No guns were planted upon the embankments. No lines of riflemen were drawn up. The cry was, “Peace! peace! when there was no peace.

“We know our rights and intend to have them” The Return of Pardee Butler, Part Six

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

 

Robert S. Kelley’s lynch mob of South Carolinians did not shoot Pardee Butler, as some had wished. Nor did they hang him, as more had hoped. Their kangaroo court pronounced upon him, for daring come back to his family after having once suffered mob violence, tar, feathers, and thirty-nine lashes of the whip. On further consideration, the court struck out the whipping. This left the minister with the painful ordeal of pine pitch poured over his bare torso. In lieu of feathers, which Atchison had run out of that day, they applied cotton. Then they set Butler on his buggy and saw him on his way, with a promise that if he returned to the town again they would hang him.

The mob let Butler go at the outskirts of town, at which point he got his clothes about him as best he could and rode off into the cold April day. We might expect Butler to drop dead right there, as he had tar poured all over him. We imagine modern paving tar, which heats up to hundreds of degrees. Traditional tar and feathering used pine pitch, which could still give you burns but didn’t ordinarily get heated to the point that you may as well have lain down inside a stove. That doesn’t mean Butler felt no pain at all, but in the main you tarred and feathered someone for the humiliation value. His account doesn’t mention burns or blisters and the minister had no reason to soft pedal his ordeal. Instead he notes that he returned to his loved ones, children included, in that state.

It was a sorrowful meeting after so long a parting, still we were very thankful that, under the favor of good Providence, it had fared no worse with us all.

Butler had escaped worse, no doubt. He made it home to his family without a whipping, hanging, or shooting. But the first time they saw him in months, he came to them the victim of a public shaming and fresh off a near-fatal ordeal. That had to frighten and pain everyone in the house. The minister would not let his readers forget how he and his earned all this:

The head and front of my offending hath this extent, no more: I had spoken among my neighbors favorably to making Kansas a free State, and said in the office of the Squatter Sovereign, “I am a Free-soiler, and intend to vote for Kansas to be a free State.”

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

Of course, Butler knew he did not suffer alone. He linked his prior travail to the rising of the free state movement in Kansas, which back then didn’t even have a formal political party. He and his neighbors had chosen to leave it for the proslavery side to strike first, from religious scruples and probably in light of just how many proslavery men lived in the vicinity. Yet

There are many Free-soilers in this country-brave men-who have no conscientious scruples to hinder them from arming themselves and preparing to repel force with force. The Border Ruffians sought by a system of terrorism so to intimidate the Free-soilers as to prevent them from organizing a Free-soil party, or even discussing the subject of freedom and slavery in Kansas.

Butler respected scruples against arms, but also the choice to bear them. His group “deprecated violence” and preferred “peaceful discussion.” Butler’s calling required no less of him, and made him see it as “most fitting” that such a person

should put to the test of actual experiment whether an American citizen of blameless life could be permitted to enjoy the right of free speech […] such views being uttered without anything of angry, abusive, or insulting language.

That kind of thing “was worth as much as a man’s life” in Atchison. This, to his mind, put the situation well beyond that of ordinary carping. He hadn’t lost a street brawl or some trifle, but suffered attack for exercise of his sacred rights as an American. Thus he told the world that this terrorism would not prevail:

we know our rights and intend to have them.

 

“It was a cold, bleak day.” The Return of Pardee Butler, Part Five

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4

We left Pardee Butler having a bad day. He came back to Atchison, months after his previous near-murder, hoping to make a quick stop and get on to his claim and his family. The mob which had taken him proposed shooting and hanging, the ringleader had other plans. Robert S. Kelley, now on his second proslavery, anti-Butler mob, preferred to humiliate and torture Butler. He had taken the same route previously and Butler believed, reasonably enough, that Kelley preferred to keep his hands clean once things had proceeded to a proper fake trial instead of a spontaneous mobbing. Kelley’s name ran right under John Stringfellow’s on the Squatter Sovereign’s masthead, so attaching it to a murder might complicate the paper’s appeal to slavery’s friends outside the Kansas-Missouri border.

Kelley did not preside over Butler’s show trial, but the man who did recognized his motion

by saying, “It is moved that Butler be tarred and feathered and receive thirty-nine lashes.” A majority said “Aye,” though a number of voices said “No.”

Butler recalled that he wondered “how that sort of thing of thing would work as far north as the latitude of Kansas, which sounds like one of those incongruous thoughts one has in trying times.

The mob consulted amongst themselves, whispering and exhibiting “dark, threatening, and ominous looks.” When their judge came out again, he declared that they would strike the whipping. That made it a less apt punishment for a man who earned Kelley’s wrath in part for refusal to endorse the whipping of another. Butler didn’t know what inspired the change, however welcome. He then had other things to think about, as the court remanded him to the unhappy South Carolinians.

They muttered and growled at this issue of the matter. They said, “If we had known it would come out this way, we would have let —- —- shoot Butler at the first. he would have done it quicker than a flash.” One sharp-visaged, dark-featured South Carolinian, who seemed to be the leader of the gang, was particularly displeased. With bitter curses he said, “I am not come all the way from South Carolina, spending so much money to do things up in such a milk-and-water style as this.”

Cruel disappointment all around. They abided by the rituals the Kansans and Missourians liked in their lynch mobs and got no lynching for their trouble. All the same,

They stripped me naked to my waist, covered my body with tar, and for the want of feathers applied cotton. Having appointed a committee of seven to certainly hang me the next time I should come into Atchison, they tossed my clothes into my buggy, put me therein, accompanied me to the outskirts of the town, and set me naked out upon the prairie. It was a cold, bleak day.

“We will tar and feather you” The Return of Pardee Butler, Part Four

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

Parts 1, 2, 3

We left Pardee Butler, freshly returned to Atchison, in the hands of a mob led by Robert S. Kelley for the second time in less than a year. They hauled him into a saloon and one of the mob tried to convince the minister to try for a duel. Others wanted to hang him then and there. A Virginia-born Missourian slaveholder, Judge Tutt, stood up in Butler’s defense. He argued that simply murdering an enemy would discredit the good name of proslavery. This moved enough hearts and minds to get Butler a trial, of sorts. The mob took him to another building and convened a kangaroo court.

Kelley served as the prosecution, laying out his story of how Butler opposed slavery in Kansas. Butler then rose in his own defense,

but I was jerked to my seat and so roughly handled that I was compelled to desist.

Judge Tutt tried to step in once more, but Kelley would have none of his ruining the fun. He demanded to know if Tutt “belong[ed] to Kansas.” That must have seemed rich, coming from a longtime ally of border ruffians like Kelley. Tutt answered back that he did not hail from Kansas, but meant to settle in Atchison come the fall. By the ordinary proslavery standard for such things, this made Tutt into a perfectly good Kansan. Even if it did not, Tutt argued that Missouri and Kansas had “identical” interests in the case. Atchison natives Chester Lamb and Samuel Dickson, a lawyer and merchant respectively, took up the same line.

While these gentlemen were speaking, I heard my keepers mutter, “—-. If you don’t hush up, we will tar and feather you.” But when Kelley saw how matters stood, he came forward and said he “did not take Butler to have him hung, but only tarred and feathered”

Thus, for the second time, Robert Kelley plays the part of both Butler’s destroyer and savior. Back in August he got up the mob, but allegedly miscounted its votes to spare Butler. Now he would do it all again. Butler didn’t buy it. He told the Herald of Freedom

Yet in the saloon he had said to the mob: “You shall do as you please.” He dared not take the responsibility of taking my life, but when these unfortunate men, whose one-idea-ism on the subject of slavery and Southern rights has become insanity-when these irresponsible South Carolinians, sent out to be bull dogs and blood hounds for Atchison and Stringfellow-when they could be used as tools to take my life, he was ready to do it.

That sounds like the Robert S. Kelley who appears in Butler’s previous travail. Hindsight might have made the sequel especially apparent to Butler, but he can’t have known that he would end up in the same situation months later when he wrote the paper of his original ordeal. Nor does it strain the imagination to think of Kelley as the sort who wants people killed, but prefers others do the killing. No era has suffered any dearth of such people.

“They were going to hang me” The Return of Pardee Butler, Part Three

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

 

Parts 1, 2

At the end of April, 1856, Pardee Butler returned to Kansas. He still had a claim and family in the territory and had promised on the occasion of his near-lynching that he would come back. A brief visit in November had the minister pass through Atchison, the sight of his previous travail, with no difficulty. This time around, a contingent of newly-arrived South Carolinian militants led by Robert S. Kelley seized Butler almost on arrival. They hauled him out of his buggy and into a saloon, demanding his execution. For the second time in less than a year, Butler faced a proslavery mob in Atchison headed by Kelley. Sometimes you just can’t catch a break.

In the saloon, a man quizzed Butler. He wanted to know if the minister had come to Atchison with a gun. Butler had not.

He handed me a pistol and said, “There, take that, and stand off ten steps; and —-, I will blow you through in an instant.”

The Reverend Butler did not consider it any part of his Christian duty to oblige, telling them he had no use for their guns. He reports that this exchange pleased the mob, as it satisfied their sense of honor. His questioner didn’t take it so well

but his companions dissuaded him from shooting me, saying they were going to hang me.

That distinction mattered. Duels took place between equals, so to challenge Butler recognized him as a gentleman. To simply seize and hang the minister instead would show his inferiority as well as his mortality. You hanged criminals and, per the law, living while antislavery in Kansas did constitute something near to a crime all in itself.

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

The mob didn’t need to explain this, to Butler or themselves. They just proceeded with the plan, pinning the minister’s arms behind his back and getting a rope. Then a Missourian, Judge Tutt of St. Joseph, stepped in. He introduced himself as a good southerner and an elder who deserved their attention. From Virginia originally, he had long lived in Missouri and owned slaves there. He wanted Kansas as a slave state. He agreed with the mobs ends completely, but

you will destroy the cause you are seeking to build up. You have taken this man, who was peaceably passing through your streets and along the public highway, and doing no person any harm. We profess to be ‘Law and Order’ men, and ought to be the last to commit violence.

If Butler had broken some law, then the mob should see him tried properly. Otherwise they would discredit their cause and so betray Kansas and Missouri alike. The invocation of law and order didn’t convince anyone to do something crazy like hand Butler over to a sheriff, but it seems to have persuaded some that they had more work to do before fitting the minister with a hemp necklace:

They dragged me into another building, and appointed a moderator, and got up a kind of lynch law trial.

 

“Kill him! Kill him!” The Return of Pardee Butler, Part Two

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

We have the election today, Gentle Readers. I hope you will cast your ballots, however you cast them, untroubled by any forceful echoes of the history we deal with here.

Into the presently brewing Kansas strife returned Pardee Butler. He had followed the news out of Kansas since departing the territory in the fall of 1855, but come April he returned all the same. The minister had a money and time invested in a claim On that claim, Butler had built a house where his wife, their children, and her brother lived in his absence. Samuel Wood slept there the night after he escaped from Jones’ custody.

What befell Pardee Butler next, we have from his Personal Recollections by a circuitous route. Butler wrote it all down in a letter to the Herald of Freedom, just as he had the story of his previous mistreatment. He presents it as the original letter, but Butler’s daughter finished the book and adds a note that the minister had not retained a copy of the letter he sent. Due to events we will soon come to, Butler didn’t get a full copy of that edition of the Herald, but rather “only a mutilated copy of it.” Another paper reprinted the letter in part and Butler reassembled the original from the two.

Butler told the Herald that he had first come back to Kansas in November, where he visited Atchison in the full light of day, declared himself, and went about his business without trouble. Tempers seem to have cooled since his near-lynching in August. Despite the dire news, he seems to have thought he would have the same reception again. On April 30, he crossed the Missouri river and called at Atchison again. This time, Butler didn’t do much to draw notice to himself. He touched base with two businessmen who he had dealt with previously.

Having remained only a few moments, I went to my buggy to resume my journey, when I was assaulted by Robert S. Kelley, co-editor of the Squatter Sovereign, and others, was dragged into a saloon, and there surrounded by a company of South Carolinians, who are reported to have been sent out by a Southern Emigrant Aid Society. In this last mob I recognized only two that were citizens of Atchison or engaged in the former mob.

The speed of Butler’s seizure suggests that Kelley had advance word of his arrival. He doesn’t say it in as many words, but he seems to intend us to understand the man who passed him on the road as carrying the news ahead.

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

Butler stressed the novelty of most of his attackers. The Squatter Sovereign speaks of the same group in other contexts, so we have good reason to believe Butler didn’t change the facts to further dramatize the story or spare himself the enmity of anyone still in Atchison. He understood them as another species of border ruffian, not interested in claims or making new homes for themselves, eschewing legitimate business in favor of proslavery militancy. That also roughly matches the Sovereign’s description.

These worthies

yelled, “Kill him! Kill him! Hang the —- Abolitionist.”

 

The Return of Pardee Butler, Part One

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

According to the Squatter Sovereign, the news of Samuel Jones’ shooting by an antislavery man in Lawrence had set Atchison’s proslavery men to readying their arms. Some new arrivals from South Carolina formed a military company, one of two then extant. The paper itself, believing Jones dead, demanded bloody revenge. One of their own, a trusty, violent proslavery man had caught a bullet. They preferred to reserve that undertaking to their enemies. One might dismiss the violent language as so much bluster, but proslavery men had killed or threatened to kill before for less provocation. Slavery’s partisans in Kansas had even turned the murder of an antislavery man by one of their own into cause for an invasion that came close to ruining Lawrence.

Closer to home, the same community had turned on Pardee Butler when he refused to endorse the whipping of an antislavery man. Robert S. Kelley, the junior editor of the Sovereign, led the mob that seized the minister, hauled him down to the Missouri River, and nearly killed him there. After a “trial” of two hours’ length, the mob put him into the Missouri on a raft with a flag declaring him an abolitionist. They didn’t kill him themselves, but anybody on the river might have seen the flag and tried their aim. Butler left an Atchison quite happy to see the back of him, but when he departed he promised that he would return to see to his claim.

Understandably, Butler didn’t rush right back to Atchison. He spent the winter of 1855-6 in Illinois, following the news out of Kansas. This convinced him that he would best wait before trying to evangelize the territory again. But return he did, first for a brief visit in November and then again, arriving in Atchison on April 30. Butler’s return doesn’t receive a mention in Etcheson’s Bleeding Kansas, as more weighty matters transpire at the same time. I include it here, drawing from his Personal Recollections, because it clarifies a few issues and serves as a more material illustration of Atchison’s present state of discontent.

On the first point, Butler reports

The news of the coming of the South Carolinians had not reached Illinois when I started for Kansas, but when I had reached Western Missouri the country was alive with excitement. Maj. Jefferson Buford had arrived with 350 soldiers, and a part of them were quartered in Atchison.

The records I have of Buford’s movements place their arrival slightly later. Butler did write thirty years after the fact and might have confused things, but with him and the contemporary paper both identifying an existing group of South Carolinians who came with military intentions, I feel less inclined to chalk it up to a mistake. Most likely, some of Buford’s men had gone on ahead. Maybe those in Atchison come from the first “deserters” who had expected Buford to provide for them until they could find and settle claims.

Butler still had friends in Kansas. They told him to stay away, but the minister persisted in his course. His last night in Missouri, a fellow staying at the same hotel chatted Butler up. They didn’t bring up the slavery question, which Butler remarks that everyone else talked about. The next morning, they met again on the road to Atchison. The gentleman rode up beside Butler’s buggy and they talked some more, before he rode on ahead.

Butler told his readers that they would, “recognize this gentleman again in Atchison.”