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


[TOC] [part 39] [part 37] [Cutler's History]


The Free-State Legislature at the March session adjourned to July 4, 1856. As the time for meeting drew near, circulars were sent to the different districts, calling a mass convention, to be held in Topeka on the 3d, and also proposing that a delegate convention should assemble in the same town as early as the 2d to arrange business and perfect plans for the ensuing meetings. Although there was no necessary connection between this popular mass meeting and the more formal one which was to follow, it was generally believed that the safety of the city (if the Legislature assembled) demanded the presence of a body of men who would not be easily intimidated in case the Missourians should attempt to put in execution their threat of sacking and destroying it, if that was the only way to bring the rebellious people to terms.

Whatever fears of 'border ruffian' violence might have been entertained by the citizens, were allayed as the days went by, but they found their prospect of peaceably assembling on the 4th menaced by a more serious danger - the danger of arraying themselves in open hostility to Federal authority.

While the citizens were deliberating in mass convention, United States troops were quietly taking up their stations around the city. Col. Sumner, with his dragoons from Fort Leavenworth, on the prairie to the south, and Col. Cooke, with troops from Fort Riley, to the north, on the banks of the Kansas.

The Free-State men assembled at Topeka had much to discourage them. Their leaders were dispersed - Gov. Robinson a prisoner: Gen. Lane and Lieut. Gov. Roberts, absent from the Territory; Mr. Minard, Speaker of the House, not present, their more prominent presses destroyed and the operations of the others cramped and crippled for lack of paper. Furthermore, there was a strong military force concentrated around the city, and at headquarters were assembled many bitter and influential enemies of the Free-State party, some who had shown themselves unscrupulous in their methods and weapons of hostility.


A meeting of delegates was held on the morning and evening of the 2d, committees appointed and business arranged for the ensuing day. Among the committees appointed was one "to confer with Col. Sumner from time to time as occasion may require."

The mass convention assembled on the morning of the 3d, and, after electing a committee on permanent organization, adjourned until afternoon.

The afternoon session was chiefly occupied in the discussion of the following resolution, which was offered by Mr. William Hutchinson, of Lawrence:

Resolved, That it is the imperative duty of the Kansas Legislature to meet according to adjournment on the 4th instant, and proceed at once to the work of their office, and persevere on until our State Code is complete, ever recognizing the eminent danger of putting in force any statute that will produce a collision with the Federal authorities, and that no sacrifice less than life itself, should deter them from this duty, for which they will ever be held responsible by their constituents.

Public sentiment was greatly at variance in regard to the proper and wise course to be pursued. The extreme radicals urged that the town should be placed in an attitude of defense, and that Col. Sumner should be resisted in any attempt he might make to disperse the Legislature; the very conservative urged the propriety of an adjournment, to avoid any possibility of collision with United States troops and authority, while a third and larger class were resolutely determined to meet according to adjournment on the 4th, and, without arraying themselves in any hostile attitude, unless threatened by a mob, be dispersed only by United States troops, under actual orders from the Federal Government. The following letter from Col. Sumner was presented to the meeting through the committee appointed to confer with him:


Gentleman--In relation to the assembling of the Topeka Legislature, (the subject of our conversation last night), the more I reflect on it, the more I am convinced that the peace of the country will be greatly endangered by your persistence in this measure. Under these circumstances I would ask you and your friends to take the matter into grave consideration. It will certainly be much better that you should act voluntarily in this matter, from a sense of prudence and patriotism at this moment of high excitement throughout the country, than that the authority of the General Government should be compelled to use coercive measures to prevent the assembling of that Legislature.

I am, gentlemen, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Colonel First Cavalry Commanding.

The convention was addressed during the afternoon by Judge Schuyler, who deprecated any extreme measures, saying: "We are not ready to fire on the troops of the United States; no! no! the time has not come for this; do not let any act of rashness mark us at this crisis."

Mr. John Hutchinson thought the Legislature should meet on the 4th and transact its appropriate business, irrespective of existing circumstances. He would resist Col. Sumner's authority to the last, unless he acts under express orders from President Pierce to arrest the Legislature - if he has such orders he would submit.

Col. Holliday believed the Legislature should have regard to existing circumstances, and await action of Congress on the several propositions in regard to Kansas affairs already before that body. He deemed Mr. Hutchinson's resolution unwise. The Republican party should take no step that would interfere with their success in the coming Fremont campaign.

Mr. Allen, of Lawrence, would go on with business until driven out of the hall by the United States Dragoons, but would not advise 500 men to throw themselves on to United States bayonets.

The convention adjourned until the morning of the 4th, without coming to any agreement in regard to the proper course to be pursued on that day.

On the morning of the 4th, the citizens and strangers assembled in Topeka were reminded of an older time and an older struggle than their own, by the booming of the guns to the south of the city. Although it was uncertain what the 'day might bring forth,' there was probably little fear that any serious collision would occur between the troops of an officer acting under the authority of the United States and the Free-State citizens of Kansas. So the city put on its gala day attire, and the streets were filled with ladies and children, awaiting the progress of events in apparently gay and happy unconcern. Flags were floating from the public buildings, military companies were parading, patriotic mottoes and emblems were conspicuously displayed, and the "People's Convention" assembled round the 'Topeka House' was in the midst of business, when United States Marshal Donaldson, accompanied by Judge Elmore, arrived in town, and it was announced to the convention that the Marshal had proclamations which must there be read.

On motion of Judge Schuyler, business was suspended, while the two gentlemen took the stand, and Judge Elmore read for Donaldson the proclamation of President Pierce, bearing date February 11, Gov. Shannon's of June 4 and Acting Governor Woodson's of July 4, ending with the reading of a note from Col. Sumner. Secretary Woodson's proclamation read thus:

WHEREAS, We have been reliably informed that a number of persons claiming legislative power are about to assemble in the town of Topeka, for the purpose of adopting a code of laws, or of executing other legislative functions in violation of the act of Congress organizing the Territory, and of the laws adopted in pursuance thereof, and it appears that a military organization exists in this Territory for the purpose of sustaining this unlawful legislative movement, and thus, in effect, to subvert by violence all present constitutional and legal authority; and

WHEREAS, The President of the United States has, by proclamation bearing date eleventh February, 1856, declared that any such plan for the determination of the future institutions of the Territory, if carried into action, will constitute insurrection, and therein commanded all persons engaged in such unlawful combinations against the constituted authority of the Territory of Kansas, or of the united States, to disperse and retire to their respective places of abode; and

WHEREAS, Satisfactory evidence exists that said proclamation of the President has been, and is about to be disregarded: Now, therefore,

I Daniel Woodson, Acting Governor of the Territory of Kansas, by virtue of the authority vested in me by law, and in pursuance of the aforesaid proclamation of the President of the United States, and to the end of upholding the legal and constituted authorities of the Territory, and of preserving the peace and public tranquillity, do issue this my proclamation, forbidding all persons claiming legislative power and authority as aforesaid, from assembling, organizing or attempting to organize, or acting in any legislative capacity whatever, under the penalties attached to all unlawful violation of the law of the land and disturbers of the peace and tranquillity of the country.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto subscribed my hand, and caused to be affixed the seal of the Territory, this 4th day of July, 1856 and of the Independence of the United States the eightieth.

[seal.] Daniel Woodson, Acting Governor of Kansas Territory.

Col. Sumner's appended note was as follows:

The proclamation of the President, and the orders under it require me to sustain the Executive of the Territory in executing the laws and preserving the peace. I, therefore, hereby announce that I shall maintain the proclamation at all hazards. E. V. SUMNER,
Colonel First Cavalry Commanding.

After the reading of the proclamation, business of the convention was resumed and continued until the approach of the United States troops. Mr. Butler then moved that the convention express their determination not to resist the United States troops, which motion was carried and a committee appointed to acquaint Col. Sumner of the vote. It was just about mid-day, with the hot July sun pouring down upon the excited multitude when Col. Sumner, with his dragoons and artillery appeared in sight. A description of the scene given by an eye-witness,* is copied from Mrs. Robinson's "Kansas":

* Col. Wm. A. Phillips, then correspondent for the New York Tribune.

At the moment of his approach the two Topeka companies F and G were drawn up before the legislative hall building. They had just marched up the street preceded by martial music, and had formed in front of the State House+ to receive a banner the ladies had made for Company G. The street was filled with a crowd, among whom were many ladies and children, when Col. Sumner appeared with his forces rapidly debouching into Kansas avenue. With great rapidity and considerable military skill he threw his men forward, and by rapid orders shouted in a stern, shrill voice, formed his companies into the strongest form they

+ Constitution Hall, on Kansas Avenue.

could occupy for their service. Perhaps many hearts beat faster when they thought that a scene of carnage might in the next few minutes blot out the startling and brilliant panorama. On the one hand the armed and uniformed dragoons with flashing sabres; on the other only two Topeka companies, with their two banners, one of them just received, bearing the inscription "Our lives for our rights." Nobly they stood. While the dragoons approached the band was playing, but the drummers continued to drum until the drum-sticks nearly touched the noses of the advancing horses, of the dragoons, and only stopped when Sumner requested them. One little boy was beating the kettle-drum, and rattled it manfully, never turning to look at the dragoons. In the rapid movements of the dragoons in forming into position, they pressed on the Topeka companies, but those men kept their position, and only stepped out of their ranks when the horses were ridden up to them, and only then far enough not to be trampled on. The sharp, shrill voice of Sumner rang through Kansas avenue, and all around the State House, as he gave orders, and the dragoons wheeled into form. The two pieces of artillery were planted about a hundred yards up the street. They were said to be loaded with grape. The slow match was lighted. After the dragoons were placed so as to suit Col. Sumner's taste, he dismounted, and walked toward the Assembly rooms. Both Senate and House stood adjourned to meet at 12 o'clock; a fact of which Col. Sumner appeared to be aware. The Lower House was just assembling when Col. Sumner appeared in the hall where the Legislature met. Mr. S. J. Tappen, Clerk (the Speaker, Mr. Minard being absent), called the Legislature to order by rapping with the gavel on the Speaker's desk. He then called the roll and there not being a quorum, sent the Sergeant-at-arms after the absentees. When Sumner had first entered and had been invited forward, and offered a chair at the desk, he jocularly asked if they wanted to make him Speaker. This was received by a hearty shout and laughter. The rooms were crowded by the citizens to witness the spectacle, and some ladies got into the room. The roll was again called by Mr. C. S. Pratt, recording Clerk, and the absentees marked, when Col. Sumner rose and said:

"Gentlemen, I am called upon this day to perform the most painful duty of my whole life. Under the authority of the President's proclamation, I am here to disperse the Legislature, and therefore inform you that you can not meet. I therefore order you to disperse. God knows that I have no party feeling in this matter, and will hold none so long as I occupy my present position in Kansas. I have just returned from the borders where I have been sending home companies of Missourians, and now I am ordered here to disperse you. Such are my orders, and you must disperse. I now command you to disperse. I repeat that it is the most painful duty of my whole life."

Judge Schuyler asked "Col. Sumner, are we to understand that the Legislature is driven out at the point of the bayonet?"

Col. Sumner: "I shall use all the forces in my command to carry out my orders."

The Assembly dispersed. Some of the members in town did not appear at the hall; but he immortal number who responded to their names occupy a proud position. Some pleasant interchange of civilities occurred between Col. Sumner and persons in the hall - members and others. He left the hall and mounted his horse when he was reminded that he had not dispersed the Senate. He dismounted and returned to the Senate chamber, Marshal Donaldson going with him; Donaldson having also been present at the dispersion of the House. The Senate had not yet been convened, as it was but little past the appointed hour; but Col. Sumner, addressing them in their collective capacity, proceeded to disperse them in terms somewhat similar to those used in the hall below. When he concluded, there was a pause, the Senators standing in a circle silently, but respectfully. No one was in the hall but the Senators, the Senate officials, Col. Sumner, Donaldson and your correspondent. Col. Sumner broke the pause by asking if they intended to disperse. With calmness and dignity, Mr. Thornton, President of the Senate, replied that the Senate had not yet convened, and could not make any reply. He asked Col. Sumner if he could convene the Senate so that they could make a reply to him. Col. Sumner replied that his orders were to prevent them from meeting, and that they could not convene, but must disperse.

Here Donaldson stepped forward, and made the outrageous demand that the Senators should promise not to assemble again or he would arrest every member. Monstrous usurping villainy for a Federal officer. If he had writs from a court to serve on either of these officers it was his duty to serve them independent of any contingency; if he had none he had no right to arrest or molest a man, and as little to insult popular representatives thus assembled. Several Senators told Col. Sumner that when thus dispersed by him, they would of course disperse. Mr. Pillsbury said that they were in no condition to resist the United States troops, and must of course disperse. Thus was the Senate dispersed.

When Col. Sumner first entered the town, a committee from the mass convention immediately waited on him to ask if he intended to disperse the convention, or disband the military companies on parade. He replied that he did not; he merely intended to disperse the Legislature. While the dragoons were thus drawn up, and while Col. Sumner made this reply, three cheers were given for Col. Sumner. Mr. Redpath cried, "Three cheers for Gov. Robinson!" which were given very heartily, and then three cheers for liberty. After Col. Sumner had dispersed both branches of the Assembly, and just as he proceeded to march off with his forces, in order to show that they respected him for his gentlemanly conduct, and did not hold him responsible for the grievous outrage, three cheers were given for Col. Sumner, again three cheers for the national flag, three cheers for Fremont, followed by three cheers for the Topeka convention and the State Legislature, and three groans for President Pierce, and the dragoons rode away.

With the dispersion of the Topeka Legislature the victory of the Law and Order party was apparently complete and its supremacy throughout the Territory established. The leading Free-State men were still prisoners or absent from the Territory; Lane's Army of the North had not appeared, as expected, to defend the Legislature, and fears of its coming abated, or gave place to doubts as to its existence; the Free-state guerrillas, believing that Col. Sumner's troops having expelled the Missourians, would hold them at bay, had disbanded and the peace which follows subjugation and exhaustion seemed assured. Appearances were never more delusive. It was but the calm which preceded the coming storm. The congratulations of the victorious party were not ended before fresh troubles arose to disturb the serenity.

The forcible dispersion of the Legislature by the order of Acting Governor Woodson exasperated into fresh activity the more impulsive and uncompromising Free-State spirits; furthermore, the inconveniences of the Missouri blockade were beginning to be felt in a way not calculated to produce quiet or contented acquiescence in the situation. The Free-State guerrillas began again to put in their work, making reprisals on the Pro-slavery settlers for provisions and other comforts, of which they were short, owing to the blockade. There was at first a sort of rude justice in this new phase of predatory warfare. Supplies and shipments of every sort, if directed to Lawrence or Topeka, were stopped on the border or confiscated entirely. Thus the merchants of the two towns saw their stores depleted of goods and their Free-State customers, depending on them for supplies, in a state of actual privation. At the same time they saw the shipments to the Pro-slavery merchants of Tecumseh, Lecompton, Franklin and other favored points, passing the outposts and moving without hindrance to their various places of destination. It was the evident intention of their enemies, not only to subjugate them, but if possible to starve them out of the Territory. It was not within the natural bonds of human forbearance to quietly submit to these forced privations, while their enemies near by were well supplied. So predatory parties began the work of reprisal. They took, where practicable, from Pro-slavery merchants and Pro-slavery settlers, whatever they wanted, deeming it lawful plunder. Protests against the robbery or demands for payment for goods taken, brought no further satisfaction than bogus receipts from bogus committees, or orders on the 'Political Quarantine Department' of Missouri. Emboldened by the pervading lawlessness, unscrupulous men saw a favorable field for lucrative employment, and, as champions for either cause, as individual cases might demand, robbed indiscriminately. South of the Kansas, where the Free-State settlers were most numerous, the Pro-slavery men suffered heavily; indeed, many of them were completely impoverished by the oft-repeated visits of their hungry and rapacious neighbors.

To insure the safety of Pro-slavery settlers, as well as for retaliatory purposes, small squads of armed men come in from Missouri and fortified themselves at various points, where they could defend their outraged friends, and, at the same time, harass the Free-State settlers and threaten their towns. These points became bases of supplies, depositories for plunder, and were chosen as strategic points, in case of another invasion, the plans of which were then matured, the removal of Col. Sumner from command at Fort Leavenworth having again opened the way into the Territory for the Missouri invaders.*

By August 1, these semi-military post had been so generally established, as to turn the tide of depredation again in favor of the Law and Order party. The most important strongholds thus established were as follows: Near Osawatomie was a camp of Georgians, menacing the town, and preying on the Free-State inhabitants for subsistence and plunder; on Washington Creek, on the claim of J. P. Saunders,+ some twelve miles southwesterly from Lawrence, was a large fortified camp, know as Fort Saunders; at Franklin, five miles east of Lawrence, the block-house, which had stood the night siege of the Lawrence Stubbs early in June, was the fortified citadel, while the town was a general depository for the ammunition, supplies and plunder of the marauders, who made that town their headquarters; and near Lecompton (about two miles west of the town), Col. H. T. Titus had fortified his house and made it the headquarters of quite a force. His place was known as Fort Titus.^

About this time (August 1), Lane's Army of the North entered the Territory. It consisted of a part of the company that had been turned back on the Star of the West, and the Massachusetts Company that had been similarly treated on the Sultan, a few days later. When driven back, they had been sent up the Mississippi River as far as Iowa City, where they established a rendezvous for the Army of the North. Joined by many emigrants, who were glad to avail themselves of the protection thus afforded, the trains which constituted the first division of the 'grand army' moved through Iowa and Nebraska in July, and reached the northern border of Kansas Territory as early as the 5th of August. It opened what was known as the Iowa route. The party consisted of several hundred bona fide settlers, men, women and children, besides some 125 single men, partially armed, who might properly be considered Lane's men, as thirty of them were of the Chicago party, and, under his inspiration, had come into the Territory after being once forcibly turned back, with a confirmed determination to fight, if needs be, under his leadership, for the cause of freedom. Lane had accompanied them well on their way through Iowa and into Nebraska, and then, with six companions, left the slow-moving train and entered the Territory in disguised several days in advance of it. When the main body crossed the northern border, Lane, with his Northern army of half a dozen men, was in Lawrence.@ The emigrants, many of them, took up claims, as the train advanced through the northern counties; some came through and settled in, and in the vicinity of, Topeka and Lawrence. The armed force joined strength with those who had waited their coming, and continued with renewed energy the now less unequal struggle. Lane remained incognito for some days after his arrival, took no immediate command, and was known to all except his intimate friends as Capt. Joe Cook, a recently arrived friend of the Free-State cause, and a fighting man of military experience.$

* Col. Sumner was superseded in his command by the arrival of Gen. Peraifer F. Smith at Fort Leavenworth, July 18, Smith outranking him. The known sympathy of Col. Sumner for the Free-State men was believed to be the cause of his removal from command. Col. Sumner remained at Fort Leavenworth in a subordinate position for some time after his supersedure. He was a Major General of Volunteers during the first two years of the rebellion, and served with distinction in several important battles of those years. He died at Syracuse, N. Y., early in 1863. He was a true friend to Kansas, and as such may his memory be cherished by all who on either side took part in the struggles of hose troublous years.

Gen. Smith was an invalid, confined to his quarters most of the time while in command. His sentiments were Pro-slavery, but he took no leading part in affairs.

+ Fort Saunders was in the northeast corner of what is now the town of Marion - northwest quarter of Section 12, Township 14 Range 16.

^ F. G. Adams, Secretary of the Kansas Historical Society, the most thoroughly informed man concerning the details of Kansas history now living, in common with many other early Free-State settlers, states that the strongholds above enumerated were established before the troubles of the early summer began, and had not been evacuated or broken up by Sumner's troops or from any other cause, but had been held continuously by a larger or smaller number of Pro-slavery incursionists during the whole summer.

The presence of the dragoons, had, during July, however, so lessened their depredations as to lead to the prevalent belief that all, save the house of Col. Titus, had ceased to be occupied for defensive or offensive purposes.

@ It is stated in Redpath's life of Capt. John Brown, page 145, that Lane, 'with a few friends' among them Capt. Brown - reached Topeka on the night of the 210th of August, - and that without delay he went on to Lawrence.

The main body of armed men under Harvey, Cutler and Shombre, reached Topeka on the 13th, with the emigrant train.

$ The report of S. G. Howe and Thaddeus Hyatt to the National Committee of aid of Kansas, dated August 11, 1856, gives an elaborate account of this first band of emigrants over the Nebraska route. It can be found in the "Webb Scrap Books," Vol. XVI, now in the Kansas Historical Collections. From it the following is gleaned:

The committee deemed it unfortunate that "the party was joined in Iowa by the men raised by Col. Lane, for though his immediate followers were only a fourth of the whole number, yet, as he was a man of some notoriety'as he had made his preparations with considerable flourish - as he was moreover very active and zealous, and is considered a brave and skillful military leader - he naturally obtained considerable influence over the whole, and the congregated party came to be known to the country as Lane's Expedition. This placed it in a false position in the North, where men were not prepared for armed and organized emigration, and gave to its enemies a pretext for calling it a military or filibustering expedition."

The report further states that fears were entertained that if Lane continued to remain with the party, that some armed posse of Missourians with a United States Marshal, might attempt Lane's arrest on the route for treason, and at the same time break up the whole party; that Lane was earnestly solicited for this reason to remain behind in the States, and finally reluctantly consented to leave the party, and the emigrants entered Nebraska under the guidance of Mr. Dickey, of Topeka, who had been chosen leader by general consent. This perhaps shows a reason for Lane's mysterious departure from the train, and his entrance into the Territory apart from it.

The different parties making up the train were, according to the report, as follows:


On the 5th of August, a party of Free-State men made a feint to attack the Osawatomic fort, whereupon the Georgians evacuated in haste, leaving some arms and provisions behind. The fort was destroyed, and the recent garrison retreated to Fort Saunders, on Washington Creek.

On August 12, Maj. D. S Hoyt, an esteemed citizen of Lawrence, volunteered, against the protests of his friends, to visit Fort Saunders and confer with Col. Treadwell, who commanded the encampment, as to the adoption of some means whereby peace might be restored and the general pillage on both sides be stopped. He went without arms into the camp, where he was cordially received. On his return he was accompanied by two men, who, on reaching a piece of woods not far from the camp, murdered him in cold blood. They fired two balls into his body and shot him through the head after he had fallen. They put some corrosive substance on his face to disfigure him, and, leaving his body half buried by the wayside, returned with his horse and effects to the camp. This brutal murder so exasperated the Free-State men, that a party of the more impetuous determined to take summary and quick vengeance by attacking the strongholds of the Pro-slavery bands that infested the county, and destroy or drive them out.

[TOC] [part 39] [part 37] [Cutler's History]