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


[TOC] [part 48] [part 46] [Cutler's History]


The first month of Gov. Geary's administration brought a gratifying change in affairs, although local complaints of disorder, robbery and theft were still numerous, and the courts and other means of satisfying justice remained in a disordered and unsatisfactory state. The open war between opposing factions had ceased, the invasion was at an end, and life and conditions, the Governor could turn his attention somewhat to the minor matters pertaining to the good government of the Territory, indispensable to the complete establishment of peace and prosperity within its borders. To gain a personal knowledge of the actual condition, wants and grievances of the people, he made an extended tour through the Territory during the latter part of October. He was escorted by a squadron of United States dragoons, under the command of Maj. H. H. Sibley, and accompanied by his staff. From the notes of his Private Secretary, Mr. John H. Gihon, the following account of his journey is drawn:

The party left Lecompton early on the morning of the 17th of October, visited several families on the way to Lawrence, where they arrived in the afternoon, and encamped. Here he was entertained by the citizens, and reviewed the new company of Territorial militia recently enrolled, of which Samuel Walker had been commissioned Captain by the Governor. The following day the escort passed through the Wakarusa Valley, via Blanton's bridge, to Hickory Point (Douglas County); the Governor with his Orderly going round by way of Franklin, where he had recently disbanded the Missouri forces, and where he had been informed bad feeling still existed. After making a speech to the people at Franklin, the Governor joined the troops at Hickory Point, and proceeded, via Prairie City, to Ottawa Creek, where he visited Ottawa Jones, at his residence, and the Baptist Mission, and thence crossing the Marais des Cygnes River, reached Osawatomie on the 20th. The Secretary states that many of the inhabitants were driven from the town at this time in consequence of the troubles of the year, and that those who remained were fearful and anxious, and welcomed the Governor's arrival as a guarantee of safety. He alludes particularly to the case of one family, living near Osawatomie, consisting of man, wife and five children, all sick in bed, while their oldest son and sole support had been forced to fly from the Territory, in consequence of the threats of Pro-slavery agitators.

Leaving Osawatomie, the party again crossed the Marais des Cygnes and Bull's Creek, and encamped at Paola, the Government seat of Lykins (Miami) County, which is described as consisting of thirteen houses and a good hotel - the latter on the land of Baptiste Peoria. Here the Governor made a speech which was favorably received, and afterward commissioned a Justice of the Peace and other officers. After leaving Paoli, the party returned to Osawatomie, passed up the valley of Pottawatomie Creek to the scene of the Pottawatomie murders, and on to Little Sugar Creek, three miles south of Sugar Mound, where news was received of outrages committed on the neighborhood the previous night (24th), and measures were taken by the Governor to bring the perpetrators to justice. At this point the party turned toward Fort Riley, the western limit of the route. Encamping at Centropolis, at the head-waters of the Wakarusa and the Neosho, they crossed the Kansas River on the 28th, at Riley City, then containing eight houses, and arrived the same evening at Fort Riley, where they remained until the 31st, the visit being enlivened by a ball, review of the troops, etc. Pawnee City - the first Territorial seat of Government contained at this time two houses. On his return trip to Lecompton, Gov. Geary encamped Sunday, November 2, on the south bank of the Kansas opposite Manhattan. The citizens of that town had assembled to hear preaching by Rev. Charles E. Blood, who, on learning that the Governor was in the neighborhood, adjourned the meeting, and crossing the river with several other gentlemen in a small boat, visited his camp, and prevailed upon him to speak to the congregation on the exciting topics of the time. Manhattan is described as "located in a valley of great fertility, and containing about one hundred and fifty inhabitants, generally moral, intelligent and industrious, and who took no part in the recent disturbances." It contained a steam saw and grist mill, three stores, and a hotel. The party remained in camp opposite Manhattan until the 4th - a snow-storm occurring on the 3d, with cold and windy weather. They reached the Baptist Mission in the Pottawatomie Reserve, then under a superintendence of Mr. Fox, on the 5th, and the following day - the 6th of November, 1856 - Gov. Geary issued the following Thanksgiving proclamation, the first issued by a Governor in the Territory.



Having reached this point, after an extended tour of observation through this Territory, and being now satisfied that the benign influences of peace reign throughout all its borders, in consonance with general custom and my own feelings, I have specially set apart the 20th day of November, instant to be observed by all the good citizens of the Territory as a day of general thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God for the blessings vouchsafed to us as a people.

The Governor passed through Topeka where "eighty new buildings were being erected; business was in a healthy condition, and all the citizens were attending to their proper avocations;" thence through Tecumseh and Big Springs to Lecompton, where he arrived on the evening of the 6th, having been absent twenty days. He sums up the results of his observations in a letter to Secretary Marcy, dated November 7, thus:

During this tour I have obtained much valuable information relative to affairs in Kansas, and made myself familiar with the wants and grievances of the people, which will enable me to make such representations to the next Legislature and the Government at Washington, as will be most conducive to the public interests.

The general peace of the Territory remains unimpaired; confidence is being gradually and surely restored; business is resuming its ordinary channels; citizens are preparing for winter, and there is a readiness among the good people of all parties to sustain my administration.

The close of the year saw the end of all attempts by organized force or systematic intimidation to force slavery into the Territory. In spite of the continued prevalence of lawlessness, discontent, intense political excitement, occasional disorderly outbreaks, and serious disturbances in some sections of the Territory, during subsequent time, never after was the Territory given over to anarchy. The efforts of Geary to establish order, unopposed, if not at first cordially sustained, by the better portion of the inhabitants irrespective of party, together with the large accession of Free-State immigrants during the last four months of the year, had convinced the Pro-slavery zealots that further efforts to fasten slavery upon the Territory by force, would prove futile, and henceforth they sought the attainment of their ends through the less demonstrative, if not less reprehensible, means of political management, legislative craft and low cunning. The reign of violence was over. On the last day of the year Gov. Geary wrote Secretary Marcy as follows:

In reviewing on this, the last evening of the year, the events of the past four months and contrasting the disturbed condition of affairs upon my advent with the present tranquil and happy state of things, which has held its sway for the past three months, I must congratulate the administration and the country upon the auspicious result. Crime, so rife and daring at the period of my arrival, is almost banished. I can truthfully assure you that in proportion to her population and extent, less crime is now being committed in Kansas than in any other portion of the United States.

Although it is a matter of serious doubt whether the Governor's hopeful view would have found a full response from all the inhabitants of the Territory, it is sure that at no previous time had peace and order prevailed in such great measure, nor could such bright hopes be cherished for a happy new year.


ON January 6, the day appointed for the convening of the Topeka Legislature, a few of its members met. Both Gov. Robinson and Lieut. Gov. Roberts were absent. There was no quorum present. The minority adjourned to the following day when, a quorum being present, an organization was effected, and a committee appointed to draw up a memorial to Congress. On the adjournment, Deputy Marshal Pardee served writs of arrest upon about a dozen of the prominent members, including the presiding officers of each house. The arrests were effected without resistance, and the prisoners carried to Tecumseh for examination. The following morning, a quorum not being present in either house, and the officers being prisoners, no further business could be transacted. A recess was accordingly taken to June 9.

The arrests were made at the instance of Sheriff Jones and with the connivance of Judge Cato, who had, on the oath of Jones, issued the writs. Jones was present to see them served. His expectation was that resistance would be made to the arrests, and a conflict be precipitated between the Free-State men and the officers of the law, which should force the Governor into a position of positive antagonism with them, and give a new pretext for renewing hostilities. The scheme was not known to Gov. Geary, who, assured by the Free-State leaders that no action should be taken at the proposed session in conflict with his authority or inconsistent with the organic law of the Territory, had taken no official notice of the assemblage further than to have trustworthy men present to observe and report to him the proceedings. The whole scheme was frustrated by the non-resistance of the prisoners, who, on the day following their arrest, were liberated by Judge Cato on bail, in the sum of $500 each, taking their personal recognizance. The District Attorney subsequently entered nolle prosequies, and Jones; last plot thus dissolved into thin air.

The absence of Robinson and Roberts was, until explanations were made, the subject of severe animadversions (sic) in the part of such as were uninformed as to the cause of their apparent abandonment, and fears were entertained and quite openly expressed that Robinson, then in Washington, had sold out and abandoned the cause.

A letter from Gov. Robinson fully explaining his course soon appeared which resulted in his full restoration to the confidence and esteem of his friends and co-laborers. It appeared that Gov. Robinson, having become convinced that under the new Territorial Governor the free-State men were to have fair play, and that home necessity for a State organization for defense was at an end, and believing that, with the large influx of Free-State emigrants, the first free and honest vote would place them in control, felt that his influence in the further promotion of the cause he had at heart, would best be exerted where the the (sic) danger still lurked - at Washington. There the final decision was to be made as to the adoption of the Topeka constitution, and it was desirable that it should be adopted, if possible, before another could be framed by the opposing faction, and be presented to Congress, where a prolonged and bitter contest, long delay, and perhaps ultimate defeat might ensue. That no suspicion of personal interest or ambition might detract from his influence, he chose to appear simply as a Free-State citizen of Kansas, unprejudiced by any official connection with the constitution, the adoption of which he so earnestly desired. He accordingly placed his letter of resignation as Governor, in the hands of Lieut. Gov. Roberts, with the understanding that it should be presented to the Legislature when assembled, with such explanations as his friend Roberts might see fit to make. Through the failure of the latter gentleman to appear, for reasons afterward satisfactorily explained, the letter of resignation was not presented, Robinson continued the provisional Governor, and for a time was subject to the distrust and censure of many of his friends. The following extract from an address of ex-Gov. Robinson, delivered January 18, 1881, on retiring from the Presidency of the Kansas Historical Society, is of historic value in this connection:

Gov. Geary called to his aid several companies of bona fide residents of the Territory, one of them commanded by Capt. Samuel Walker, and the war of extermination came to an end, but not so the contest for a slave or a free State. The scene only was changed, and it was now a game of politics rather than arms. The Slave-State men had in view a constitution of their own that should establish slavery forever in the new State, while the Free-State men, shut out from all fair elections under Territorial auspices, adhered to the Topeka constitution. The vital question was, which constitution shall be recognized by Congress and made a law of the land? Gov. Geary was satisfied the Free-State men were largely in the majority, and was desirous that the majority should rule. That an end might be put to this conflict, he sent to the Governor under the Topeka constitution, and desired an interview at his office. The interview was held in the attic of the log cabin now standing, with its stone addition, on the bank of the river, near the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe station at Lecompton. At that interview Gov. Geary was ready to favor the admission under the Topeka constitution, and was ready to use his influence with the President and his party in Congress. It was thought, if there could be a vacancy in the position of Governor, that he or some other Democrat might be elected to fill it, the Administration would more readily indorse (sic) it. Accordingly, the Topeka Governor resigned, and went to Washington for the purpose of procuring admission into the Union. He soon found that the Democratic party at Washington had no sympathy for any such movement or for Gov. Geary.


On the 12th of January, 1857, a Pro-slavery convention was held at Lecompton, when the Law and Order party rechristened itself ; resolving "henceforth to be known as the National Democracy of Kansas." The principles of the National Democracy, "as enunciated in the Cincinnati Convention" were adopted, and it was resolved to "conduct their deliberations, and base their party actions on high national, conservative and patriotic grounds."

On the same day, and at the same place, the Territorial Legislature assembled.

In which the Second Territorial Legislature met, January 12, 1857.

The Senate organized under the following officers: Thomas Johnson, President; Richard R. Rees, President, pro tem.; Thomas C. Hughes, Chief Clerk; C. H. Grover, Assistant Clerk; D. Scott Boyle, Engrossing Clerk. The House organized by electing William G. Mathias, Speaker; W. H. Webbs, Speaker, pro tem.; and Robert C. Bishop, Chief Clerk.

Following the organization, the Governor's message was read and ordered to be printed. There was nothing notable in its utterances or recommendations, as coming from a fair-minded Executive, honestly laboring for the public good. It reviewed the history of his administration, the dispersion of all armed bands of either faction, and was congratulatory on the restoration of peace. It pointed out many defects in the Territorial statutes which called for amendment, among which were the manner of appointing jurymen, probate judges and county officers by the Legislature or officers appointed by it, instead of allowing the people a voice; the test oaths prescribed as prerequisites to the right of suffrage, etc. It dwelt on the evils arising from the fact that there was not a single officer in the Territory amenable to the people or the Governor, all having been appointed by the Legislature, and holding their offices until 1857.

In regard to the "peculiar institution," he said:

The Territorial government should abstain from the exercise of authority not clearly delegated to it, and should permit all doubtful questions to remain in abeyance until the formation of a State constitution. * * * Justice to the country, and the dictates of sound policy, require that the Legislature should confine itself to such subjects as will preserve the basis of entire equality; and when a sufficient population is here, and they choose to adopt a State Government, that they shall be "perfectly free," without let or hindrance, to form all their domestic institutions "in their own way," and to dictate that form of government which, in their deliberate judgment, may be deemed proper.

* * * * * * *

Chapter 151, relating to slaves, attacks the equality which underlies the theory of our Territorial government, and destroys the freedom of speech and the press, and the privileges of public discussion, so essential to uncloak error and enable the people properly to mold their institutions in their own way. The freedom of speech and the press, and the right of public discussion upon all matters affecting the interests of the people, are the great constitutional safeguards of popular rights, liberty and happiness.

The message was not well received by the Legislature, and none of its wise recommendations received legislative indorsement (sic) during the session. On the contrary, from first to last, that body stood as a unit against Gov. Geary and his policy. In caucus, its members pledged themselves to pass all laws over his veto; and in session, passed, as one of its first legislative acts, a bill authorizing the Judges of the District Courts to admit persons to bail in all cases, either in court or vacation, and for any "crime or offense whatever, whether such crime or offense shall have been heretofore bailable or not." It was returned with the Governor's veto - the act, in the words of his message, making it "comparatively easy for the most notorious criminal to escape the punishment his crimes may have merited. * * Were the bill passed for the express purpose of tampering with and corrupting the Judiciary, it could not have been more effectual." This bill, which was adopted over the Governor's veto, passed the Council by a vote of ten to one - Mr. Thomas Johnson voting against the bill - and the House, twenty-eight to one.

The bill was intended as an indorsement (sic) of Lecompte's discharge of the murderer Hays, and was further calculated to act as an amnesty act for the many Pro-slavery men at large, against whom writs were reissued but unserved. It also placed the Legislature, unequivocally, on the side of the Judge, in the serious difference which had arisen between him and the Governor.

On the last day of January, George W. Clark, charged with the murder of Barber, appeared, with others against whom unserved warrants were in the hands of the Marshal, before Judge Cato, all of whom were discharged on giving bail. Sheriff Jones and Dr. Wood gave security for Clark in the sum of $10,000, ex-Governor Shannon and D. J. Johnson appearing as his counsel.

On the 19th of February, an act was passed providing for the taking of a census and an election of delegates to form a State Constitution. The provisions of the act required that a census of the whole number of inhabitants, and of the qualified voters, should be taken by the Sheriffs of the several counties, between the 1st day of March and the 1st day of April, 1857, the returns to be made to the office of the Probate Court, and inspected and corrected under the supervision of the Probate Judge for the district; the Governor to make an apportionment of delegates as soon as the corrected lists were returned to him. The time of election to be the third Monday in June; number of delegates, sixty. No person except a a resident of the county ninety days, and registered as such, to be allowed to vote.

The delegates elected were to assemble in convention at Lecompton, on the first Monday in September, 1857, and "proceed to form a Constitution and State government, which shall be republican in its form, for admission into the Union on an equal footing with the original States in all respects whatever, by the name of the State of Kansas."

The Governor, on learning the provisions of the proposed bill, had an interview with the chairman of the committees of the two Houses, Gen. Coffey of the Council and Col. Anderson of the House, and sought to have such amendments to the bill before it was reported as would obviate his objections and insure (sic) his signature to the bill when passed. He pointed out the evident unfairness of the provisions which debarred all citizens from voting who were not in the Territory on or before the 15th of March, as it prevented the incoming spring emigrants from taking any part in the election, while it held out strong inducements for the Pro-slavery men from the Missouri border to come over to be registered, and thus become legal voters at the election to be held three months later. He offered, however, to waive all minor objections if they would have inserted a clause providing for a submission of the Constitution when framed, to the people, and regarded the absence of this provision a fatal defect. The chairman replied that this had already been considered, and decided upon adversely "as it would defeat the only object of the act, which was to secure, beyond any possibility of failure, the Territory of Kansas to the South as a Slave State." The bill was passed without the desired modifications, vetoed by the Governor on the ground of the objections previously urged upon the chairman of the committee, and on its return passed, his veto notwithstanding.

The attempts of Gov. Geary to do justice to the whole people, estranged him completely from the unscrupulous Pro-slavery managers who had hitherto controlled and directed the political affairs of the Territory. Judge Lecompte was his open and avowed enemy, and studiously sought every opportunity to thwart him. His example was followed by all the inferior officials. The Legislature was, as a body, solidly arrayed against him. Letters were sent to Washington making charges seriously reflecting on his integrity, and calculated to cast doubt upon his fealty to his party and his faithfulness to the administration. It became the sole object of his enemies to render his position which, at the best, was beset with the sternest difficulties, intolerable.

Soon after the arrest of the Topeka legislators, Samuel J. Jones resigned his office as Sheriff of Douglas County, and the county tribunal appointed in his place one William T. Sherrard, on the recommendation of the retiring Sheriff. He was a man totally unfit for the position, illiterate, debauched, and otherwise incompetent. His only recommendation to offset his many disqualifications was that he was a blatant bully of the most brutal Pro-slavery type. The Governor delayed granting him his commission, whereupon he insolently demanded it with oaths and threats which only prolonged the delay. Meantime, his violent temper and the frequent brawls in which he was daily engaged had so established the fact of his unfitness for the position that the members of the County Board who had appointed him severally visited the Governor and requested him to withhold the commission until such time as they could hold a meeting for revoking the appointment. In compliance with their request and that of many reputable citizens of both parties, and influenced by the scandalous behavior of Sherrard himself, Geary was still holding the appointment in abeyance at the time the Legislature convened, to whom Sherrard preferred his complaint. On January 19, the House passed a resolution, inquiring of the Governor his reasons for withholding the commission. His reply was that he regarded the matter as a subject of inquiry only from the Territorial Courts; that he had been informed and believed Sherrard, from his habits and passions, to be entirely unfit for the performance of the duties of the office, and cited as proof of his unfitness his several recent fights and brawls in which he had shot at several persons with pistols, and threatened others. The Governor also stated that he wished it distinctly understood that he should appoint no person to office who was in his judgment unfit for the position, or who might endanger the peace of the Territory. The House immediately espoused Sherrard's cause, and after furious harangues by several members, both abusive and insulting to the Governor, passed a resolution appointing Sherrard as Sheriff of Douglas County, and legalizing his acts. To the credit of the Council, it refused to concur in the resolution. This failure of the Council to concur rendered Sherrard more furious than ever. He assaulted the Governor's Clerk and threatened the Governor's life, often and publicly. Soon after this, Sherrard met Mr. Geary at the Capitol building. The ruffian was thoroughly armed and attempted to provoke a quarrel by spitting in the Governor's face, and showering upon him the most vulgar and opprobrious epithets.

Mr. Geary passed on without resenting the insult, and doubtless, thus saved his own life. The House, on having the matter brought to their attention, refused to entertain a mild resolution condemnatory of the outrage. Judge Cato reluctantly issued a writ for Sherrard's arrest, but no officer could be found to serve it. The Governor sent to Gen. Smith, then in command at Fort Leavenworth, a letter stating the provocation, the insult, and his belief that Sherrard had made up his mind to assassinate him, and asking that two additional companies of dragoons be sent to him immediately to insure (sic) his protection and keep the peace, which he stated, he was convinced there was a conspiracy on foot to disturb. He was very coolly (sic) informed by Gen. Smith, in reply, that "insults and probable breaches of the peace did not authorize the employment of troops." He further informed him that all the forces at Fort Leavenworth had been recently designated by the Secretary of War for more distant service, and that the companies then near him would have to be recalled. He declined to furnish any troops except by the order of the President. It is needless to follow the continued correspondence, which only confirmed the disheartening fact that Gov. Geary had no longer the support of the powers at Washington, and stood absolutely alone.

Although thus abandoned by his party friends to whom he had looked for support, the popular sympathies of the order-loving people of the Territory became warmly enlisted in his favor. Mass meetings were held at various points, at which the course of Gov. Geary was warmly approved, and that of his enemies as strongly condemned. The assault by Sherrard was the subject of universal execration outside the extreme Pro-slavery politicians of the Territory. On Wednesday afternoon, February 18, in answer to a citizen's call, an indignation meeting was held at Lecompton at which a strong set of resolutions were offered condemning Sherrard and all who upheld him, and offering sympathy and support to Gov. Geary. The reading of the resolutions exasperated Sherrard, who was present, to madness. He interrupted the proceedings, and in a loud voice declared any man who should indorse (sic) the resolutions, "a liar, a scoundrel, and a coward." One Sheppard took exceptions, whereupon Sherrard commenced firing his pistol at him, emptying six balls in quick succession. Sheppard returned the shots without effect, but was himself seriously wounded in the affray. The two combatants being separated, Sherrard, now furious with rage, advanced toward John A. W. Jones, the Secretary of the Governor, whom he had previously assaulted, with his finger on the trigger of his pistol. Jones was prepared, as were some of his friends. Several shots were fired simultaneously, and Sherrard fell mortally wounded, one shot having entered his forehead. There was a general feeling of relief in the community at his death, but his immediate friends and abettors would not be comforted. They held a public meeting on Saturday, February 21, at which the excellence of his character were thus portrayed:

Resolved, That we, to whom he has endeared himself by the exhibition and universal display of all those ennobling traits that induce us to esteem and love our fellow-man, do hereby express our heartfelt sorrow at his untimely death, and that we now extend to the friends and relations he has left behind, our heartfelt sympathy.

Resolved, That we but faintly express the appreciation of his character when we pronounce him to have been a good citizen, a noble patriot, a true friend, and a man "without fear and without reproach."

Among the prominent participators in this affectionate tribute to departed worth appear the names of Samuel J. Cramer, Capt. John Donaldson, Samuel J. Jones, J. C. Thompson, Gen. F. Marshall, L. A. Maclean, and Robert H. Bennett.

[TOC] [part 48] [part 46] [Cutler's History]