William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas


[TOC] [part 4] [part 2] [Cutler's History]


The few Free-soilers who settled in Atchison previous to 1857 were, with two or three exceptions, very careful not to express their sentiments. Up to the spring of that year there was no political organization in the county opposed to the principle of slavery. Occasionally, however, very early in the conflict, some one, like Rev. Pardee Butler of the Christian church, reckless of bodily consequences, ventured to uphold his Abolitionist opinions, even upon the corner of the streets. In the month of August, 1855, a negro woman "belonging" to Grafton Thomassen, the saw-mill man, was found drowned in the river. A gentleman from Cincinnati, a lawyer by profession and a Free-soiler in politics, - J. W. B. Kelley - is said to have expressed the opinion that if she had been treated better she would not have committed suicide, and to have thrown in some remarks on the subject of slavery, offensive to the Pro- slavery party. Thomassen was not greatly incensed at the personality of Kelley's remarks but was sufficiently angered to delude himself with the idea that by satisfying his vengeance he would, at the same time, render the Pro- slavery party a service. He therefore inflicted upon Mr. Kelley a thorough bodily chastisement, and really was sustained in his conduct by a large meeting of Atchison's townsmen. Thomassen was a much larger and more powerful man than Kelley, but "the principle of the thing" was that the people looked at, as will be evident from the resolutions which they passed:

Resolved, That one J. W. B. Kelley, hailing from Cincinnati, having upon sundry occasions denounced our institutions, and declared all Pro-slavery men ruffians, we deem it an act of kindness to rid him of such company, and therefore command him to leave the town of Atchison one hour after having been informed of the passage of this resolution, never more to show himself in this vicinity.

Resolved 2d. That in case he fails to obey this reasonable command, we inflict upon him such punishment as the nature of the case and circumstances may require.

Resolved, 3d. That other emissaries of this Abolitionist Society, now in our midst tampering with our slaves, are warned to leave, else they will meet the reward which their nefarious designs so justly merit - hemp.

Resolved, 4d. That we approve and applaud our fellow townsman, Grafton Thomassen, for the castigation administered to said J. W. B. Kelley, whose presence among us is a libel upon our good standing and a disgrace to our community.

Resolved, 5th. That we recommend the good work of purging our town of all resident Abolitionists; and after cleansing our town of such nuisances, shall do the same for the settlers on Walnut and Independence creeks, whose propensities for cattle stealing are well known to many.

Resolved, 6th. That the chairman appoint a committee of three to wait upon said Kelley and acquaint him with the action of this meeting.

Resolved, 7th. That the proceedings of this meeting be published, that the world may know our determination.

It was further agreed that copies of these resolutions be made out and circulated for the signatures of all the townsmen, and all who refused to sign them should be considered and treated as Abolitionists.

Rev. Pardee Butler lived upon his claim, twelve miles west of Atchison. On the 16th of the month, very soon after this large and enthusiastic meeting had been held, he came to town on his way to the East, bound on business - or, as some of his Pro-slavery enemies put it, "arrived in town, with a view of starting for the East, probably for the purpose of getting a fresh supply of Free-soilers from the penitentiaries and pest-holes of the Northern States." Being obliged to wait for a boat until morning, he put up at the National Hotel, and then proceeded to make the rounds of the town, expressing himself freely, as was his wont, upon Free-soiler and Abolitionist doctrines, and being particularly severe upon the actions of the meeting which passed the Thomassen-Kelley resolutions. He declared that there were many persons in Atchison who were Free-soilers at heart, but feared to avow their sentiments. He. however (Butler), would express his views wherever he was. Rev. Mr. Butler, in fact, preached the "foulest Abolitionist heresies," and was considered a dangerous man, to be let alone. In the course of a conversation which he had at the Post-office with Robert S. Kelley, "P. M." and journalist, Mr. Butler informed the latter that he would some time since have become a regular subscriber of his paper, had he not disliked the spirit of violence which characterized it. Mr. Kelley replied, "I look upon all Free-soilers as rogues, and they ought to be treated as such." Mr. Butler responded, "I am a Free-soilers, and expect to vote for Kansas to be a free state." "I do not expect you will be allowed to vote," - was the reply.

The next morning Mr. Kelley called at the hotel with the resolutions which had been adopted by the public meeting, and the signature to which was to be made the test of political faith. Of course, Mr. Butler refused to sign the Pro-slavery document, and walked down the stairs into the street. A crowd was there awaiting him, which increased as they dragged the Abolitionist victim along towards the river, saying they were going to drown him. A vote was taken upon the mode of punishment which ought to be accorded to him, and, to this day, it is probably known to but few persons that a decided verdict of death by hanging was rendered, and, furthermore, that Mr. Kelley, the teller, by making false returns to the excited mob, saved Mr. Butler's life. Mr. Kelley is now a resident of Montana and volunteered this information, several years ago, while stopping in St. Joe, with the former senior editor of the Squatter Sovereign, Dr. J. H. Stringfellow. And at the time that the Pro-slavery party, through Mr. Kelley, decided to send Mr. Butler down the Missouri River on a raft, Dr. Stringfellow was absent as a member of the Territorial Legislature. The particulars of his treatment are thus given by the victim himself:

"When we arrived at the bank, Mr. Kelley painted my face with black paint, marking upon it the letter 'R'. The company had increased to some thirty or forty persons. Without any trial, witness, judge, counsel, or jury, for about two hours I was a sort of target at which were hurled imprecations, curses, arguments, entreaties, accusations and interrogations. They constructed a raft of three cottonwood saw logs, fastened together with inch plank nailed to the logs, upon which they put me and sent me down the Missouri River. The raft was towed out to the middle of the stream with a canoe. Robert S. Kelley held the rope that towed the raft. They gave me neither rudder, oar, nor anything else to manage my raft with. They put up a flag on the raft with the following inscriptions on it: 'Eastern Emigrant Aid Express,' 'The Rev. Pardee Butler again for the underground railroad,' and 'The way they are served in Kansas,' 'For Boston,' 'Cargo insured, unavoidable danger of the Missourians and Missouri River excepted,' 'Let future emissaries from the North beware,' 'Our hemp crop is sufficient to reward all such scoundrels.' They threatened to shoot me if I pulled the flag down. I pulled it down, cut the flag off the flag-staff, made a paddle of the flag-staff, and ultimately got ashore about six miles below."

To these particulars it may be added, merely as indicating the lengths to which the party went to humiliate a man for expressing his honest sentiments, that they placed upon the raft his baggage and a loaf of bread, and that Mr. Butler was escorted down the river for some distance by several citizens, who did not fail to beguile the lonely voyageur with much pleasantry. Mr. Butler landed, as he said, about six miles below - upon the future site of Sumner.

On the 30th of the following April (1856), the Rev. Pardee Butler, having terminated safely his voyage on the raft, again ventured to make his appearance in the pro-slavery town of Atchison, where, as he says, "I spoke to no one in town, save two merchants of the place with whom I had business transactions since my first arrival in the Territory. Having remained only a few minutes, I went to my buggy to resume my journey, when I was assaulted by Robert S. Kelley, junior editor of the Squatter Sovereign, and others; was dragged into a grocery, and there surrounded by a company of South Carolinians, who are reported to have been sent out by a Southern Emigrant Aid Society. After exposing me to every sort of indignity they stripped me to the waist, covered my body with tar, and then for want of feathers applied cotton-wool. Having appointed a committee of three to certainly hang me the next time I should come to Atchison, they tossed my clothes into the buggy, put me therein, accompanied me to the suburbs of the town and sent me naked upon the prairie. I adjusted my attire about me as best I could, and hastened to rejoin my wife and two little ones on the banks of Stranger Creek. It was rather a sorrowful meeting after so long a parting."

The Wakarusa war, and the conclusion of peace in December, 1855, the Free-State elections, and the tumult of the next month, the obvious determination of that party to convene their legislature in March, and the consequent bold attitude assumed by the people of Lawrence, kept alive in the pro-slavery town of Atchison the fires of political feelings, and fed it martial ardor. In March, numbers of South Carolina emigrants arrived by steamer, and they were subsequently formed into a company, commanded by Capt. F. G. Palmer; first lieutenant, Robert De Treville. A home company had already been formed - Captain John H. Stringfellow, First Lieutenant Robert S. Kelley, Second Lieutenant A. J. G. Westbrook, Third Lieutenant John H. Blassingame. The rifles for the above company were shipped from Fort Leavenworth. By the last of April these companies were under arms waiting to be led to the assault on Lawrence. The whole county breathed upon by the spirit of General Atchison and his friends, was afire with warlike feelings. In accordance with Judge Lecompte's charge of May 5, the grand jury of Douglas County recommended the abatement of The Herald of Freedom and the "Free-State Hotel," at Lawrence, as public nuisances - this paper having stirred up rebellion against the territorial authorities, and the hotel having been armed and equipped as a regular fortress of war. It is not necessary to go into details - they will be found elsewhere - but public meetings were held in Lawrence, and communications were addressed to the United States Marshal, declaring Lawrence to be order-loving and law-abiding, and that her enemies were bent upon her destruction, pretending that they wished only to preserve the peace. Not-with-standing which, preparations for the sortie continued, until May 21, the besiegers formed quite an army. The South Carolina Company of Atchison was among the first to commence the assault upon Lawrence, and before the city was fairly subjugated "its flag was planted upon the rifle pit of the enemy." So says the Sovereign, whose editors were two commanders-in- chied. The paper continues: "It was then carried by its brave bearer and stationed upon the Herald of Freedom printing office, and from thence to the large hotel and fortress of the Yankees, where it proudly waved until the artillery commenced battering down the building. Our company was composed mostly of South Carolinians, under command of Capt. Robert De Terville, late of Charleston, S. C., and we venture the prediction that a braver set of men than are found in its ranks never bore arms." The brave troops from Atchison returned proudly to their home, the commander of all the infantry (500) having been one of their fellow townsmen, Col. J. H. Stringfellow, of the Sovereign. The Squatter Sovereign, without dispute the most bitter Pro-slavery organ in the Territory, kept up an everlasting din about avenging "the shooting down of our men without provocation wherever they met them." Its watchword was "Death to all Yankees and traitors in Kansas!" At a mass meeting held in June, 1856, its editor, Robert S. Kelley, was nominated as "commander-in-chief of the forces in town," but his press of other duties and the thought, no doubt, that he was doing more good for the party as editor than he could as commander, induced him to decline the honor, and it was conferred upon Capt. F. G. Palmer, the South Carolinian. At this meeting Senator Atchison, Col. Abell, Capt. De Treville - the hero of Lawrence - and others less noted made speeches. During the summer, the John Brown war and general excitement caused the citizens of Atchison to form another company - the "Atchison Guards" - commanded by John Robertson, and so prominent in the battle of "Hickory Point." By the first days of September, 1856, Gen. Lane and Col. Harvey were well on their way towards Lecompton, to rescue the Free-State prisoners there confined. Because of Gen. Lane's delay in making his appearance, Col. Harvey thought the movement against the territorial capital had been abandoned, and therefore turned his attention to Capt. F. G. Palmer, the Pro-slavery commander of Atchison, who had given the Free-soilers much trouble at Slough Creek, fifteen miles from Lecompton. The forces were returning from Lecompton to Atchison, and had camped for the night. Capt. Palmer's South Carolina troops undoubtedly were thoroughly wearied, for they were sound asleep and had no pickets out, when Col. Harvey arrived and surrounded the camp. Every one of the twenty-two soldiers was taken prisoner, but Capt. Palmer and Lieut. Morrall, who were sleeping a little apart from the rest, escaped. In the slight scrimmage two of the men were wounded. All were taken before they were fairly awake, and surrendered their guns, side arms, twelve horses, four oxen, two wagons, carpet bags, etc. At daylight they were released and arrived at Atchison the same day, rather low spirited, it must be confessed.

But this was not the end of the triumph of Col. Harvey over the chivalry of Atchison. On September 12, Gov. Geary, the newly-appointed Chief Executive of the Territory, issued his proclamation ordering all captains of militia to disband their forces, seeing that such commands were being used as political and party agents, and claiming, furthermore, that he had sufficient United States troops for any probable emergency. Gen. Lane's forces at once disbanded, but Col. Harvey, thinking that he was justified in punishing Capt. H. A. Lowe's band of Pro-slavery men at Hickory Point, proceeded to that locality, where he arrived on the 13th. Capt. Robertson, of Atchison, had in the meantime started with his company for Lecompton. Stopping at Hickory Point he was prevailed upon by Capt. Lowe to remain there and help defend the place from Col. Harvey's proposed assault, news of which had reached him. The Pro-slavery forces defended themselves pluckily for three hours during the first day's battle, which took place on the 13th. They were divided into three parties, entrenched in a blacksmith shop (Capt. Robertson's command) in a hotel and in a store, each about a quarter of a mile apart. The Atchison leader stood the brunt of the affray, as the shop in which he was fortified was an open log building, and he was considered Col. Harvey's most formidable opponent. Sam Dickson, of Capt. Robertson's command, had a narrow escape from death, and C. G. Newall and A. J. G. Westbrook had horses shot from under them. The next day, Sunday, September 14, at 10 a. m., Col. Harvey resumed the attack, having obtained a four-pound cannon. He did such damage that the force of Pro-slavery men capitulated, Mr. Newall being killed. News of this disobeying of orders had already reached Gov. Geary, and on the night of the second day's battle he dispatched a force of dragoons who made Col. Harvey's command prisoners. How they were indicted for the murder of Mr. Newall, tried, sentenced to hard labor, escaped, and were finally pardoned, those that remained, is the story told in its appropriate place.

Returning to strictly home affairs it is found that the reign of terrorism had been so well maintained by the Pro-slavery party that, as stated, up to early in the summer of 1857, there was no organization of Free state men in the county. Several meetings were held in localities outside of Atchison, and a society was formed in the summer of that year at Monrovia, with F. G. Adams as Chairman of the County Committee. The Squatter Sovereign had been turned over to himself, Senator Pomeroy and Robert McBratney, prominent members of the New England Aid Society, which had been rapidly expanding its influence for the three years during which it had been in existence. Senator Pomeroy was the avowed agent of the society, and as the Town Association had made so positive a compromise with the Free-state party, for the business good of Atchison, Mr. Adams naturally supposed that the Pro-slavery men would even take a dose of Gen. James H. Lane. He accordingly invited the powerful leader of the Free-soil men to speak in Atchison on October 19, and circulated notices of the meeting. Whereupon it was given out, and generally understood several days before the appointed time, that Jim Lane couldn't and shouldn't speak in that town. In his turn Mr. Adams invited about a dozen of his strong and reliable Free-soil friends from Leavenworth to come up to Atchison and see fair play. They came, revolvers and all, arriving in the morning, and making their headquarters in and about the office of Adams, Swift & Co., real estate. The building stood on the Otis House corner. While there with his friends, Mr. Adams noticed that a crowd had gathered on C (Commercial) Street, about two squares west. He, with six others, started for the scene of what appeared to be a disturbance. On their way they met Caleb A. Woodworth, Sr., going down the street, bareheaded and apparently in trouble. Mr. Adams turned about, as he had passed them, to make inquiries and was immediately assaulted with a heavy blow on the cheek. He did not turn the other, but drew a small pistol from his pocket and turned upon his assailant. The man who had assaulted him was accompanied by a squad of friends, all armed with guns who seemed bent on mischief, if not blood. A friend knocked down Mr. Adams' hand, and cried "Don't shoot yet!" Out came the revolvers, all aimed at the bold musketeers. This determined action was so unexpected, that the Pro-slavery men withdrew to consider, and the Free-soil men returned to their headquarters. Mr. Adams then proposed to organize an out-door meeting, the Pro-slavery party having joined the Free-soilers again and every moment getting noisier and more desperate. A. J. W. Westbrook of the Atchison Guards rode around among his followers, with his gun cocked, pretending to have a vast amount of blood in his eye for the chairman of the Free-state County Committee. Now and then to give the "blood-curdling" feature to the proceedings the fellow would order the crowd to "get out of the way," as he did not want to shoot the wrong man. It is doubtful whether Mr. Westbrook really intended to do much himself, but his conduct had the effect of stirring up his followers, who swore that Jim Lane should never speak. The Free-soil party, reasoning that it was not a sine qua non to the existence of the cause that Jim Lane should speak, decided postpone the meeting. So George Buell, now Gen. Buell, took Mr. Adams by the arm and led him off home. Some of the Free-soil party met Gen. Lane on his way from Doniphan, where he had spoken the day before, and turned him back.

Some stories have been told that breathe too much unsubstantial perfumes of romance, and therefore they are not woven into the body of the above account. One is that the mob was led by a huge blacksmith, armed with a cleaver or a butcher knife, with which he intended to execute Mr. Adams. Mr. Adams, however, says that he don't remember anything about any such weapon. Another story is that Jim Lane was in Atchison disguised as something or other and remained two or three days, just previous to the advertised meeting. But there is one story which reads like a romance that is true. Mrs. Adams, when she heard that her husband was in danger, with only one pistol in each of two pockets, started down town with the revolver to reinforce him. And the plucky woman did not return without her husband.

In the evening of this day speeches were made by several citizens of various political stripes - Mr. McBratney, Dr. J. H. Stringfellow, and others, - all deprecating the disgraceful proceedings. They were not countenanced by any citizens of standing in the Pro-slavery party. The whole affair was one of those outbreaks of the mob spirit, so common in those days, and has no important place in local history, except as a story of old times, and as being a history of the first attempt to hold a Free-state meeting in Atchison. At this time, the brains of the Pro-slavery party had given up the fight, and the fortunate possessors thereof fraternized with any one who would come in to help build up the town, now striving against other new and flourishing places around it. And this spirit has been remarkably preserved up to the present day - the policy of forgetting political differences when the material prosperity of the city is at stake. That policy, conceived by the Pro-slavery party (as a party) in 1857, has borne the good fruits which its citizens are enjoying to-day.

Previous to this "great epoch" for Atchison, as has already been stated, the town had acquired a reputation for business through the overland freight traffic. By the fall of 1856 Atchison had obtained many advantages, among others the secret of a widely-extended system of advertising. The following circular, which was scattered broadcast, November 22, 1856, indicates what they were in general, as well as in a special sense.

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