CHAPTER 3

FIRST EXPERIENCES AND IMPRESSIONS

THE day I entered Lawrence I found the town very full of people. They jostled each other on the street, and stood in knots on the corners. At the hotel, where I went for dinner, the corridors were all crowded, and it was an hour before I could get a chance at the table. I began to think Lawrence a pretty lively place. But I soon learned that a great Free State Convention was in session. I had not seen a newspaper since leaving Jefferson City, two weeks before, and events had moved on apace since then. The "Free State" men had secured the control of the Territorial Legislature in the October election, and thought the contest for freedom to Kansas was settled. But now the administration at Washington proposed to force on them the hated Lecompton Constitution. This would undo all they had done. This convention was called to consult as to what they should do in the new ------------------------------------------------------------

page 56 situation which had been forced upon them. It was the great convention of December 2d, famous in all the annals of the Free State contest. It was one of many such conventions held by the Free State men, to consult as to the wisest course to pursue in the difficult and delicate situations in which they so often found themselves. This was the largest and ablest of them all, and great interest centered in it. There were one hundred and thirty members, and every part of the Territory was represented. All the Free State leaders were there, and it gave me a fine opportunity to see and hear the men whose names had been like household words to me for many months. As I sat and watched them all the afternoon, I listened for each name as if they were calling the roll of the heroes of the revolution. The spirit of the convention was very earnest, and many of the speeches were very eloquent and high-toned. One could almost fancy he had been carried back to the sessions of the Continental Congress, and was listening to Patrick Henry or Hancock or Adams. There was not much they could do beyond making speeches and passing resolutions. The Lecompton Constitution was before Congress, and ------------------------------------------------------------

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beyond their reach. But they had learned that resolutions which came from the people had their effect even in halls of legislation. They therefore passed some forcible resolutions, protesting against the outrage of having a constitution imposed upon them which had never been submitted to their vote. "Appealing to the God of Justice, and to humanity, we do solemnly enter into league and covenant with each other, that we will never, under any circumstances, permit the said constitution to become the organic law of the State of Kansas; and we do pledge our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor, to ceaseless opposition to the same."

The convention was all the more interesting to me because it was held in the unfinished Congregational church. The room was crowded to the door, and it was not easy to find more than standing-room. In the crowd in the church I found my old friend, Bodwell, who was one of the members of the convention, and Mr. Lum, my predecessor in the Lawrence church, who was a deeply interested spectator. After meeting them, the mists began to clear away, and I understood something of the situation into which I had been so suddenly thrown. During the afternoon I met ------------------------------------------------------------

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some of our church people, and Lawrence began to seem like a part of the same world I had lived in all the rest of my life.

After this convention adjourned I had an opportunity to look over the town itself. It seemed to shrivel after the strangers went away, and its importance declined as it returned to its own normal condition. The town seemed smaller than I had expected to find it, and had a more unfinished look. There were not only no sidewalks, but no streets, except in name and on the map. The roads ran here and there, across lots and between houses, as each driver took a fancy. This gave a scattered appearance to the town, and the houses seemed to be straggling around on the prairie as if they had lost their way. There were scarcely any fences or dooryards, and gardens were almost unknown. There had been hardly a tree or bush planted on the town site. There was an exaggeration of that "all out-of-doors" sort of a look which is characteristic of new prairie towns. All this was strange to me and gave a lonesome, desolate impression. That I had no home, and had to wait three weeks before I could have a room of my own, no doubt added to the sense of loneliness.

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But this first impression soon wore off as the inner life of the place began to reveal itself. The first thought was that there could not be more than a thousand people in the town, while the reports had said that there were three or four thousand. But I soon found that the Eastern method of computing population by the number of houses would not apply to one of these Western towns. Everything was full beyond all computation. As I said, I was not able to secure a room for three weeks, until one was prepared for me. An officer of the church kindly took me in for these three weeks. He was living In the kitchen of his unfinished house. A cot in the open garret served me for a bed, and some sort of a stand in the unfinished parlor, where three carpenters were at work, had to serve me for a study table. My first sermon was prepared with three carpenters pounding away in the same room. But this was only a specimen of the whole town, except that this house was much better than most. Every tenement and shanty, every sod cabin and tent fairly swarmed with occupants. There would be two or three families in such a house, and each family keeping boarders. I do not know what the actual population was,

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but there were not far from three thousand people sojourning in the town that winter. Many of them left in the spring, and more left as the season advanced. But strangers were coming and going all the while, so that the activity of the place was sustained.

And these were not tho traditional roughs of the frontier. They were people of culture and character who had come to make Kansas a free state. They had come in many cases without any definite idea as to what they were to do or how they were to make a living. That was entirely a secondary consideration. They were ready to do anything that offered, their main purpose being to take part in settling the great question of freedom for Kansas. It was no uncommon thing to find a college graduate driving an ox-team through the street, or chopping wood by the river, or living in some "shake shanty "far out upon the prairie. For it is worth while to note that this class of people was not confined to the town. The people living on claims, all over the prairie, were of the same quality. You might call at the loneliest cabin in the most out-of-the-way place, and find a man who could talk with you intelligently on the latest scientific theory,

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or discuss the latest novel. You would find on the table the best Eastern papers, and the brightest magazines. The table might be only a dry-goods boX, but the papers would be there just the same. These people bad not come as adventurers to see how they would like it. They had come to stay and see the thing done. Whether they made a farm or not, and whether they made a living or not, they proposed to make Kansas free. They came possessed of the idea and intended to make that idea effective.

Beside these solid men of solid purpose, the country was full of the curious who came to see what was going on ; of adventurers who came to join in the fray; of speculators who came to profit by the occasion. The eyes of the whole country were upon Kansas, and people from the whole country were here. For three years there had been a condition bordering on civil war. There had been a conflict of authority, and a conflict of law, and each party had marshaled its forces. There had been marchings to and fro of opposing bands; stray shots here and there murders by the wayside and outrages on lonely farms and public thoroughfares ; tho sacking of villages and plundering of cabins. In a small way

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there had been encounters and skirmishes and battles between the opposing forces. That there had been nothing more disastrous, was due to the skill and patience of the Free State leaders. Lawrence herself had been three times assaulted, and twice had been sacked. In 1855 she had been in a state of siege for more than a week, and had been threatened daily with destruction. May 21, 1856, she was entered by a gang of ruffians under legal orders, and her hotels and printing offices and several other buildings burned.

All this confusion and insecurity were maintained largely to keep away northern men from . Kansas, and to drive away those already here. At one time the Missourians went so far as to blockade the Missouri River, and take Free State men off from the steamboats and send them back home. But instead of stopping the stream of northern immigration these things only increased it. They came faster than ever, and each new outrage brought a new instalment of people. When the river route was closed, large bands of men came round by Iowa and Nebraska and entered Kansas from the north. When it was no longer safe for small companies to come, three or four hundred came in a body and defied opposi

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tion. The spirit of the North was aroused and the old-time heroism reappeared. They did not come simply to vote and go back, but they came to build a great state after the New England pattern, and they did not propose to be thwarted by any threats or any peril. Whittier, the poet of liberty, gave voice to their spirit in his well-known poem, "The Kansas Emigrant ": "They crossed the prairie, as of old The fathers crossed the sea, To make the west, as they the East The homestead of the free. They came to rear a wall of men On freedom's northern line, and plant beside the cotton tree The rugged northern pine. They came to plant the common school On distant prairie swells and give the Sabbaths of the wild The music of her bells," All this made lively times for Kansas. Some of the time the situation was serious, and a mistake might have plunged the whole country into war. But after Geary became governor in the autumn of 1856, and insisted on fairness to all parties, the danger was over, and the question was practically settled. Give the Free State men protection, and it was simply a question of

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time when they would control the territory in spite of violence or fraud or technical advantage. The centering of all these interests and the coming of all these classes, made a time of "unexampled prosperity."People were coming continually by every available route. The highways were thronged with travel; the hotels were crowded with guests; every available tenement, log cabin, shake shanty, or sod hut was occupied to its utmost capacity. The newcomers all brought money. Some of them came to make money. As a rule they failed in this. But they all had to spend money. Most of them wanted to "invest" as they were pleased to call it. They wanted to own at least a little of the "sacred soil" of Kansas. It made little difference what they bought, so long as they could "invest." And in the final outcome it did not make much difference, as pretty nearly everything fared alike. Prices of land advanced beyond all reason. Bare prairie rated as high as cultivated farms have since. Town lots, which only the surveyor could find, rated as high as lots in cities of ten thousand people. To supply the demand for town lots, "cities "were laid out in all directions. There were beautifully lithographed

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maps of towns which showed no visible sign on the prairie. A land dealer would often double his money in a month.Everybody ran wild with the 'craze for land and speculation. Money loaned as high as three, and five, and even ten per cent. a month.

This was the condition of things in 1856, but more especially in the early part of 1857. In the autumn of 1857, when I arrived, there was a lull in affairs. The season's immigration had ceased and the land market was dull. But everybody thought it was only a temporary suspension. The season was over, they said, but everything would start up again in the spring. Spring immigration would set things afloat once more. They reasoned that if there had been such a rush for Kansas when affairs were so unsettled, the rush would be many fold greater so "that everything was quiet and peaceful. But in this they were mistaken. When the conflict was over the interest was over. So when spring came there was no immigrant. Land agents sat in their offices with their diagrams and maps, but no one came to inquire the price of lots. The expected immigrant did not come. Property was still high but there were no buyers. Money

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was still held at enormous rates, but nobody wanted to borrow. There were people all about who were rich in city lots and country lands, but had not money to pay their board. Business was dull, and money was scarce, and everything moved heavily. The people did not realize the change, as they never do. "It was only a panic that would soon pass over - a temporary loss of confidence that would soon be restored." On the sea beach after a great wave has receded, the little fishes are seen lying on the sand and in the when this great wave of speculation had receded there were both gudgeons and land-sharks in all directions, waiting for the next wave to float them off. But the waters did not rise again, and the beach became very dry. The three years that followed were very dull years. All growth had ceased, all business was depressed, and times were quiet enough for a hermit.