The Fifth District, Part Three

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The Fifth District, part 1, 2

Having delved into the Pottawatomie, Big Sugar, and Little Sugar precincts we come at last to Bull Creek. The Howard Committee received testimony on events there from Dr. B.C. Westfall, who began by telling them that he had no legitimate business at the election of March 30, 1855 as he did not move to Kansas until January of 1856. He did, however, come extremely close:

I had resided for three years previous at New Santa Fe, Jackson county, immediately on the Missouri line, within ten feet of it.

Westfall went off to the election in Kansas all the same, coming to Bull Creek at the request of his neighbors and in a company of thirty or so. They made their camp with other Jackson county men, many of whom Westfall knew from his ten previous years living in the Missouri hinterlands.

The evening we arrived there Mr. Park, from Kentucky, and Mr. Payne, from Missouri, claiming to be two judges appointed by Governor Reeder, came to me and told me that the third judge the governor had appointed would not be at the election, and requested me to act as judge with them, as they had the appointment of judge in the absence of the other. I told them I would serve.

Andrew Reeder named John J. Parks, J.J. Clark, and Stephen Wright judges of the election for the Bull Creek precinct. Given Westfall worked from memory, he probably misremembered Parks’ surname. One can hardly confuse a Payne for a Clark or a Wright, though. Whoever came up to him with Parks lied about his credentials.

The night passed and some of the Missourians left Bull Creek for Pottawatomie, on the grounds that they lacked sufficient men then to steal the precinct away, but sixty went off to remedy that and in due course morning came. With it came the question of what the three judges would do about all these Missourians who came to vote, and how that would square with their oath as judges? Parks and Payne resolved the dilemma by refraining from swearing themselves or Westfall to any such oaths.

Someone else did swear on their behalf, though. After the polls closed, the judges went about preparing the returns.

the magistrate, or one who called himself a magistrate, certified to the governor that he had sworn the judges

That makes the score here one person lying about having an appointment from Andrew Reeder as election judge and one more claiming to be a magistrate, who in turned lied and said that the three judges had taken Reeder’s oath. Let’s add another really obvious lie to the list:

One gentleman by the name of Samuel wade, near New Santa Fe,. called out his name and we took it down. Shortly after he voted he came back and called out Jim Wade’s name, and I am pretty confident that was taken down. Jim Wade was a son of the old gentleman, some nine or ten years old at that time. I asked Mr. Wade afterwards why he had called out Jimmy’s name as a voter, and he said he had made him a claim on Bull creek, adjoining his own, and he expected Jemmy would become a resident of the Territory and a voter.

This races past blatancy almost to the point of parody. Jim Wade would not, under the Kansas-Nebraska Act’s provisions, have any right to vote in Kansas until 1865 at the earliest.

They did have some consciousness of the need to make things look good, though. Westfall found

upon the poll books some memoranda under the names of several persons- “Rejected, refusing to swear.” This was all got up for effect, as some free State men were looking on. It was all understood between the voters and the judges. When one of them would come to the window and the judge would say, “I think you live in Missouri, do you not?” To which the man would reply, “I have a claim in the Territory.” The judge would ask them if they would be sworn that they were residents of the Territory, at which they would pretend to get angry and threaten to whip the judges, and refused to be sworn. The matter, however, was all arranged beforehand. No one was sworn that day.

Westfall also commented on the candidates the Missourians preferred. He recognized the name of Henry Younger:

Henry Younger is a man of considerable wealth and has much land and many slaves in Jackson county, Missouri. I have known him since the fall of 1847, and he resided near Independence at that time. I do not know that he had moved into the Territory, and I do not think he has ever changed his residence since I knew him.

At least Westfall had no violence to report. They staged a show. They lied freely. But these particular Missourians didn’t shoot at anybody. They had no need with matters so well in hand.

The Fifth District, Part Two

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The Fifth District, part 1

We left William Chesnut objecting to fradulent voters out of Missouri coming to the polls at Pottowatomie Creek. The two judges appointed by the mob of Missourian border ruffians promptly testified that they knew each voter had a right to vote, end of story. At the end of the polling that evening, the three judges counted those votes and passed around the list to sign off. Chesnut refused.

The house was immediately filled with as many armed men as could stand on the floor. Until then they had all kept outside. General Coffee, candidate for councilman, was among the crowd

Coffee took a moment to speak to the mob and

he admitted that it was very aggravating for a public officer to refuse to do his evident duty, but still hoped there would be no bloodshed, nor personal violence used, on that occasion.

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Then he went over and told Chesnut he’d best just sign off. That might keep the crowd from getting ideas about, say, the bloodshed that Coffee just brought up. Chesnut refused, knowing full well that they could do whatever they wanted to him then and there, promising that he would not sign if they kept him all night. The other judges opted to send along the returns without his signature and called it good.


then got up and came out of the house. On my way home, when I had got about fifty or sixty rods from Mr. Sherman’s house, a party of armed strangers, who stood a distance of probably fifty rods from me, discharged a number of rifles. They called names, and hooted and yelled as long as we remained in sight or hearing.

A rod measures sixteen and a half feet, for a distance of between 825 to 990 feet. I have the impression that accuracy at that range asked more than guns of the time could offer. That said, your pacifist author knows slightly less about late antebellum rifles then he does about gun-type nuclear weapons. I thus leave it to the reader to let me know if the Missourians had a reasonable expectation of hitting Chesnut at that range or if they did it entirely to frighten him. They did not pursue Chesnut so it appears that if they did want to kill him, they didn’t want to do so very badly.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Aside his inconvenient scruples, the Missourians may have had one more grip with Chesnut. They feared the pauper armies of the Emigrant Aid Societies, coming to take their Kansas out from under them. Chesnut testified that he didn’t

know positively of any who came out under the auspices of any aid society except myself; and I came out under the auspices of the New York society, called the Kansas League. I paid my own expenses, and derived no service from the society, except information about the best modes of getting here and the country here. They asked me no questions about my politics.

All of that made him a very far cry from the fevered imaginings of the Benjamin Franklin Stringfellows and David Rice Atchisons of the Missouri frontier, convinced that they must save Kansas for slavery or lose Missouri to freedom. Chesnut paid his own way, rather than coming as a pauper. The aid society didn’t ask him about slavery. He received from them only information. However much he failed to live up to expectations, Chesnut had the basic fact of his association with the Kansas League to cast him as the villain of the day. But all that said, they don’t seem to have treated him any worse than any other person who got in the way of stealing the election.

Creating a Kansas

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

If one hopes to seize Kansas for slavery or for freedom, or just one’s personal profit, one must first create a Kansas. The land already existed, of course, and some whites had settled there illegally back in 1853, shamelessly electing a delegate to go off and lobby Congress for statehood from land that the Non-Intercourse Act explicitly forbade them to dwell upon. In this, they scrupulously observed white America’s traditional means of respecting the rights of Indians to land reserved to them. Still more had come across from Missouri in more recent months, whether the KansasNebraska Act bore Franklin Pierce’s signature to authorize them or not. But making a state meant making a government and for that, they really did have to wait on the infamous law.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act may have driven a truck through thirty years of tradition in tearing down the Missouri Compromise, but otherwise it ran in fairly conventional ways. As no government yet existed, it had to frame a means to set one up piece by piece. That all began with the governor and a few other officers appointed by the national government and sent out to get the ball rolling. Knowing the potentially explosive situation, one which he had tried to avoid and been forced into, one would expect Franklin Pierce to appoint some kind of experienced hand. Perhaps he could dig out a superannuated elder statesman or someone helpfully out of the country for the past few years who could appear an honest broker to both sides.

Pierce naturally treated the governorship as a patronage position and gave it to Andrew Horatio Reeder of Easton, Pennsylvania. Reeder had never held office before, but the Postmaster-General thought that appointing a favorite son would help the Democracy in that quarter of the Keystone State. The Kansas-Nebraska Act passed into law at the end of May, 1854. Pierce announced his decision for Reeder on June 29. Reeder took his oath on July 7, but did not arrive in Kansas until October 7. That left a great deal of time for things to go wrong in Kansas, but Reeder traveled by the same means as everyone else.

Once Reeder arrived, the Kansas-Nebraska Act gave him broad powers to use in building Kansas’ government. In his inexperienced hands lay the power to conduct a census, establish a capital, set up electoral districts, and call for the initial elections to the territorial legislature. These powers would expire once that legislature first sat, but with them Reeder had the power to decide the time and manner in which that would happen. He could delay elections long enough for free soil settlers funded by the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society and other such groups to arrive. He could hurry them up and hand the territory over to the Missouri slaveholders and their allies who had the geographic advantage. To establish his impartiality to concerned Southerners, Reeder told the Washington Union that he would buy a slave as easily as a horse. It transpired, however, that he lacked the cash to buy that slave and take it with him to Kansas.

That might have reassured some of the David Rice Atchisons of the world, but did little to calm the nerves of the Horace Greeleys, William Sewards, and Eli Thayers.