Pioneer Days in Kansas

Chapter 10

Coming Events Cast Their Shadows Before


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EARLY in the summer of 1863, Rev. Louis Bodwell, Superintendent of Missions for Kansas, was authorized by the American Home Missionary Society to undertake work in Kansas City, Missouri. He had long had this in mind and had been waiting for an opportunity. The movement did not spring mainly from a desire to have a Congregational church in Kansas City, but much more from a desire to have a church in thorough sympathy with the nation and the Union cause. The churches there were non- committal, to say the least, on the great question which then absorbed all others, the question of national existence. I have heard it said by those familiar with the place, that public prayer for the Union cause had never been offered in Kansas City. Soldiers and loyal citizens felt it was time this reproach was removed. It was in


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response to appeals of this kind that Mr. Bodwell undertook page the work. He secured a hall and advertised services for every Sunday morning. For several months the pulpit was supplied by himself and by neighboring pastors by his arrangement.

My connection with the movement was through an exchange with Mr. Bodwell, whereby I supplied the pulpit in Kansas City for three weeks and he supplied my pulpit in Lawrence. We agreed upon the first three Sundays of August- 2d, 9th and 16th. I was particularly pleased with the plan, as it gave me an opportunity to visit my old-time friend and college classmate, Rev. R. D. Parker, pastor of the first church in Wyandotte.

We went down by the stage line about the last day in July. The journey was without special incident until we reached Shawneetown, a little village some eight miles from Kansas City. Here the stage stopped for dinner. I noticed at once the singular appearance of the village. Doors were wide open, windows out, boxes and goods and rubbish scattered about the streets and sidewalks. The people, in little knots, were talking low, and there were groups of women


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and children sitting here and there under trees or awning, with the most wretched and woebegone look. Everything had an air of dreariness and desolation. I inquired the cause, and learned that the village had been sacked the night before by bushwhackers. They had dashed in about midnight, ransacked the town, carried of what they wanted, and destroyed more than they took. They had burned a few houses and killed one or two men. The men of the place were taken prisoners and held during their stay, and then set at liberty. All their arms were taken from them and all the horses that could be found. This was all done in about an hour, when the gang disappeared as they came. Of course the raid was the theme on everybody's tongue. Turn which way we would, we heard nothing else but the terrors of the night just passed. As we sat at dinner we heard the details being narrated by every group at the tables. The terror of the attack, the wild confusion that followed, the horror and the desolation when they were gone, were all pictured out in the vivid speech of those who had seen and felt it all only a few hours before. They all thought that the gang was still in the neighborhood and that they med-


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itated more depredations. They said the burning of farmhouses and the stealing of horses were things of almost nightly occurrence.

After dinner the stage drove up again and we resumed our seats. We did so with some trepidation, for we learned that the stage route ran directly through the bushwhackers' country. As we drove into it we could understand something of the difficulty of pursuing these desperate men. For several miles we passed through a dense forest, or, more properly, a dense jungle of underbrush. The road seemed as if it had been hewn through this thicket with a broad axe, the walls of brush standing on either side, a seemingly impenetrable mass. As we looked up the road it seemed like a line of sky ahead of us between the trees. Our only traveling companions were a couple of military men, a captain and a lieutenant, who had been home on a furlough and were returning to their commands in Kansas City. As they took their seats I noticed that they examined their revolvers with great care, and placed them where they would be "handy." Our first thought was that we should have the protection of these two brave men in case of attack. But on second thought we remembered


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that two prominent Union officers would be a great prize to these rebels, and that they might attack us on this account. After we had gone about three miles our stage suddenly stopped. I could see, through the little window in front, a horse leap from the jungle. I could see no more. Whether it was a single horse or a company we could not tell. Our military friends seized their revolvers and were instantly on the alert. It could have been but a moment, but it seemed a long time before the mystery was explained. A schoolgirl coming down the road had turned aside and crowded her horse into the jungle to let the stage pass. As the stage drove up her horse became startled and plunged back into the middle of the road in front of us. It was this that had brought our lumbering stage, with its driver and four horses, to a standstill, and set us passengers all in a quiver. We were on our way again before we fully realized how simple a thing it was and that there had been no danger whatever. An innocent schoolgirl and her farm horse had caused the whole disturbance. When we learned how little a thing had alarmed us, "then were our fears turned to laughter." But that such a thing should so startle not only us,


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but brave soldiers well armed, may give some idea of the perils of the situation. We all felt, therefore, a wonderful relief when we drove into the open streets of Kansas City an hour later.

As I said, one of the motives in making this exchange with Mr. Bodwell was the opportunity it gave me of visiting my old friend and classmate, Rev. R. D. Parker. We had been classmates in college, chums in the theological seminary, and had come out to Kansas together. Our wives, too, had been friends in their girlhood in Michigan. Mr. Parker was now pastor of the church in Wyandotte. A good portion of the time we made our home at his house. Wyandotte was so near the bushwhacker country that it had been in a state of alarm and peril from the first breaking out of the war. The woods and thickets in which the bushwhackers had their hiding-places came up to the Kansas River, only three miles away. When we retired at night it was with the thought that the enemy might be within an hour's ride. There could be no intermission to the vigilance of defense. The men were organized into military companies, and armed, and held themselves ready to rally at a moment's call. The town was patrolled at night,


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almost as thoroughly as if it had been a military camp.

Mr. Parker was among the foremost in all plans for defense. He was a member of one of the military companies, and held himself subject to call like the rest. His revolver and musket, always loaded and ready for use, were at the head of his bed every night. The first night we were there a call to arms was made about midnight, and as I looked out, I saw the apparition of my friend with a musket on his shoulder and revolver strapped to his side, hurrying to the place of rendezvous. After a while he returned and reported a false alarm. A report had come in that the enemy were crossing the river a few miles away. These false alarms were common, but the peril was so real and so near, that they dared not be thrown off their guard.

Sunday morning, August 2, I sought my new parish. I rode over to Kansas City on Mr. Parker's horse, and he insisted on my carrying his revolver. Kansas City and Wyandotte, which have since become one great city, were then nearly three miles apart. The space from the Kansas River to the bluffs was as lonely a piece of wood as could be found on the continent. It


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has been the scene of many a robbery, and in those turbulent war times was not often chosen for evening walks. In the daytime there was not much danger, but it was one of those spots which one is always glad to get by. There was a wagon road through the woods, and also a foot and bridle path skirting the bank of the Missouri river. This footpath ran along about where the great packing-houses now stand and not far from the site of the Union Depot. Ordinarily no living thing was to be seen all this distance. Travel was very scanty and no one crossed over unless he was obliged to do so. There might have been some houses on the bottom, but they were not visible from the path on which we went. After crossing the bottom the road wound along under the bluff until it came to where Main Street strikes the river. Main Street itself at this point was only a deep cut through the bluffs, with clay banks on either side, fifty feet high. In a peaceful time the ride through the wood along the river bank would have been delightful, but at this time there was just enough of uncertainty about it to make the end of the journey the best part of it.

Our services were held in what was called


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"Long's Hall," a large room on the second floor, on the east side of Main Street. It was a very plain room, smoked and dingy, and was lighted altogether from the street end. It was used for all sorts of shows and entertainments during the week, as it was the principal hall in the place. It would seat probably eight hundred or a thousand. It must have had almost this number of wooden chairs. On Sunday morning the room was put in shape for us. A faded, dilapidated curtain partially hid the tawdry decorations of the stage, while most of the chairs were stacked up on one side of the room to be out of our way. On the other side of the room about a hundred chairs were set in a kind of semicircle for the use of our congregation. A little stand by the wall, facing these chairs, served for a pulpit. We seemed like a lonely lot, sitting in this little section of the great room, with the vacant spaces swallowing our words like pebbles dropped in the sea. Our congregations were small, varying perhaps from thirty-five to seventy-five. A large proportion were men, and many of them officers and soldiers from the camp. They were largely strangers and changed every Sunday. There were a few who stood by and were present at


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every service. Among these was Hon. T. Dwight Thacher, a member of my Lawrence church, who was at that time editor of the Kansas City Journal. We had no organization, but he was a sort of trustee, deacon and chorister, and pretty much everything else in the way of service. It was a wide-awake congregation and very stimulating. The great drawback was the unsettled state of things. Nobody knew what a day would bring forth. Everybody was ready to move at an hour's notice. For this reason all thought of organization was postponed until quieter times. During these three weeks, what was called " Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day " occurred. After the great national victories at Gettysburg, Vicksburg and other points, all occurring about July 4, Lincoln appointed a special day of thanksgiving. He seemed to realize that the tide of battle had turned and the triumph of the Union cause was forecast. The day set apart was the second Thursday in August, the thirteenth. The churches of Kansas City did not notice the proclamation. There was no opposition, but they received it with a "silence that could be heard." "Our people" in Long's Hall determined to


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observe the day and I was asked to conduct the services and preach. I prepared a sermon specially for the occasion. I remember nothing about it except some impressions I had while writing it. I was suffering from a felon on my hand just then, and could not hold a pen. My wife wrote the sermon, therefore, as I lay on the lounge and dictated it between the twinges of pain. Several times my wife hesitated and said, "I would leave that out. It may make you trouble." I replied, " That is just what I should say if at home to-day, and I am going to preach in Kansas City just as I would if I were at home in Lawrence." On Thursday morning I rode over, carrying my lame hand in a sling. I was not expecting much of a congregation at this special week-day service, but to my surprise I found our corner of the hall fairly filled. It was different from the Sunday congregations. There were more soldiers and officers and strangers. I realized that I might be throwing fire among fireworks, but the audience seemed in sympathy with the service and with the theme of my sermon. It seemed to be a very fitting thing that we should observe the day, and we were all glad we had done so.


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The days of our sojourn hastened away. There was nothing in my service of special mark, but the stirring events around us and the thrilling events which followed, have made the occasion ever memorable in my mind. As soon as the days were ended for which I had engaged to supply, we prepared to return to our regular work in Lawrence. On account of the condition of the country through which the stage route passed, we concluded to go by way of Leavenworth. On Tuesday, August 18, we took a steamboat for Leavenworth, and the next day the stage carried us across to Lawrence. We arrived at home Wednesday evening, August 19.

Home never seemed more welcome than it did that Wednesday evening. For three weeks we had been on the border, within an hour's ride of the bushwhackers' home in the jungle. Every night we could see the signs of their work in the glare on the clouds. Alarms were almost nightly. Only constant vigilance would ward off peril. Now we were at home once more,

"And Quantrill forty miles away."

The effect was wonderfully peaceful and soothing. Our little white cottage had just been repainted, and as we approached it in the moon-


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light that evening, it seemed a gem among the trees that were just growing up around it. It was our first home, and like all "first homes " was very dear to us. We took the full enjoyment of it that night, walking about to view it from different points. We had the full comfort of it all the next day.