Fort Leavenworth.--Departure for Lecompton.--Barricade at Leavenworth City.--Excuse for Border Ruffian outrages.--Terror of James H. Lane.--Hair breadth escapes.--Anecdotes of the times.--Robbery at Alexandria.--A chase and race.--The robbers overtaken.--Arrival at Lecompton.--Letter to the Secretary of State.--Two men shot at Lecompton.
FORT LEAVENWORTH is situated on an elevated piece of land on the west side of the Missouri River, three hundred and ninety-eight miles above its mouth, and thirty-one miles from the mouth of the Kansas. It is just four miles below the town of Weston, Missouri, in lat. 39° 21' 14" N. and long. 94° 44' W. It was established in 1827. The enclosed grounds are spacious and beautiful, and command a delightful view of the surrounding country, of many miles in extent. The buildings, all of which are constructed of brick and stone, are substantial and well arranged, and present quite an imposing appearance. The quarters for the officers and men, are commodious and comfortable. There is a spacious hospital, constructed at a cost of $15,000. The grounds adjacent belong to the government, and comprise a farm, nine square miles in extent, of rich, well improved and highly cultivated lands.
The governor left the fort at about 10 o'clock on the morning of September 10th, for Lecompton, the capital of the territory. He was accompanied by the writer, three friends, and lieutenant Drum of the army, all of whom occupied an ambulance, drawn by four horses. The lieutenant was in command of an escort, consisting of a mounted sergeant of dragoons, and six infantry soldiers, who rode in a covered army wagon.
The road passes a short distance westward of Leavenworth City, which was barricaded by a line of heavy transportation wagons, drawn close together, and extending along the whole western border of the town. These were intended as a protection against an expected assault from Lane; but to a military eye, it was evident that a barricade of pipe-stems would have answered a far more useful purpose. The wagons would have proved more serviceable to the attacking than to the repelling forces.
It is due to the pro-slavery party of Leavenworth to give the reasons they assigned for their atrocities against the free-state people. The former were laboring under a serious apprehension that Lane was about to attack them with a large army, and their fears caused them to regard all free-state men as spies or allies of Lane; hence the determination to drive them from the city, or assassinate them in case of their refusal to depart. The very name of Lane was a terror, and it was only necessary to get up a rumor that he was within a hundred miles, to produce a universal consternation. And when it was reported that he was actually approaching a pro-slavery town, a general panic and stampede was the result. Vaporing generals, colonels, captains and privates, suddenly stopped in the midst of their stories of valiant deeds, and remembering that they had forgotten their needed arms or ammunition, or that the women and children must be carried to a place of safety, off they ran for shelter in the woods or elsewhere, creeks and rivers furnishing no obstacles to their flight. When the dreaded danger was over, or they had discovered the alarm to be unfounded, they would re-assemble, each ready to boast over his bad whiskey, what terrible deeds he would have accomplished, had the cowardly abolitionist dared to make his appearance. It was amusing to hear the many stories of hair-breadth 'scapes these men had made. There was scarcely one among them who did not seem to carry a charmed life; for, almost every day they had been shot at, the balls whizzing past their heads or through their clothing. According to their accounts, their adversaries must have been the worst shots that ever handled fire-arms. The deputy marshals and sheriffs exhibited bullet-holes in their clothing, or through their hats, as evidences of the terrible risks they had run, in the discharge of their hazardous duties. Should one of them, at any time, hear the discharge of a gun within a mile of him, his vivid fancy readily imagined that he could distinctly see the ball strike somewhere near his person. On one occasion, one of these officials was relating a wonderful escape he had just effected. A man, he said, had fired at him in the road several successive shots, and as evidence of the narrowness of his escape, he presented his hat, showing two holes in it, one in front and the other in the back.
"Why," said a listener, "it is strange that the ball should have gone through your hat so low down, without also passing through your head!"
The body, it is scarcely necessary to add, was never found, nor could any traces of blood be discovered.
Many anecdotes were constantly occurring, which, had they been collected, would have made an interesting volume. It was customary for the "Regulators," and others of the slavery party, to go through the streets of Leavenworth, blowing a horn, and ordering free-state men to leave in the next steamer. At one time, two Jews were attracted to the door of their house by this strange proceeding:
"What dosh all dat meansh, Hans?" asked one.
He was like many others, who adopted the slavery side of the question, as a matter of policy, to escape persecution and subserve personal interests.
A Pennsylvanian who had done good service in the Mexican war, and whose testimony can be relied upon, related the following:
"Upon arriving in the territory, I established my residence in Leavenworth City, where I was solicited to take command of a company of the territorial militia, or "law and order" party. The company consisted of twenty mounted border ruffians. One night it became my duty to guard the main entrance to the city, and I took up my position in a prominent place on the road, at about one mile distant. It was a very dark night, and it was difficult to discern objects even close at hand; my men amused each other and myself, relating the daring deeds they had accomplished, and telling what great things they would do, in case of an assault. About midnight, we heard the distant sounds of horses' feet approaching at a rapid rate. A perfect stillness took possession of my men. Not a word was uttered. Nearer and nearer, came on the advancing party. At length, one of my men exclaimed, 'Lane is coming, by G-d !' and instantly, the whole company broke and ran for the town. In vain I ordered a halt. As well might I have attempted to turn back the current of the river, as to arrest their flight. I stood alone to await the approach of the enemy, whom I found to be four scouts of our own party, returning to the city. I immediately resigned my office, feeling assured that no dependence could be placed in the courage of the men I had been chosen to command. They are great braggarts, but they will not fight. They make good assassins, but bad soldiers."
The governor and party crossed the Stranger River, about noon, thirteen miles from Leavenworth, at a place called Alexandria. The town consists of two houses, used as a post-office and stores. These had been robbed about an hour before our arrival. Several whiskey barrels, with their heads broken in, lay in the road. A young man in attendance, gave a deplorable account of the robbery. He said the attack was made by about one hundred and fifty of Lane's men, all mounted, who came with two wagons, which they filled with goods, broke open the post-office box and robbed it of letters and postage stamps, and destroyed such articles as they could not carry away. The proprietor, to save his life, had fled to the hills and hid himself in the bushes, and he was threatened with death if he should give information concerning the robbery. The governor, who had been accustomed to examine "moccasin tracks," made a careful investigation of the premises, and at once assured Lieutenant Drum that the statements of his informant were false. He pointed out distinctly the fact that the traces upon the ground indicated the late presence of certainly not over a dozen horsemen. He then ordered the young man to take a seat in the ambulance, to point out the direction taken by the robbers, and hastened in pursuit of them. Along the road were exhibited fearful evidences of ruffian violence. Almost every house had been destroyed, and the sites they had occupied were marked only by solitary chimneys standing in the midst of heaps of ashes. The first dwelling approached was about three miles from Alexandria, where the governor halted and inquired of the settler if he had seen a large body of men pass during the morning. He was promptly answered that only six horsemen had passed that way, about half an hour previous. The governor then asked the man in company why he had attempted to mislead him with a lying statement. The fellow had nothing to reply, and, after a severe rebuke. was permitted to return to Alexandria. As a reward for having told the truth, the settler's house was attacked a day or two after, and burned to the ground; his wife and half dozen children being turned out upon the open prairie, and his crop of corn destroyed.
The governor increased his speed, and having travelled two miles further, upon reaching an elevated piece of ground, saw six horsemen crossing the prairie at the distance of about half a mile. Upon observing the carriage, they turned toward it, putting their horses to a gallop, with the evident intention to attack and rob it. As they came within a few hundred yards, and preparations were being made to give them a warm reception, the covered wagon ascended the hill, thus exhibiting the character and strength of the governor's party, when the intended assailants instantly turned and fled in the opposite direction. They were pursued by the sergeant, the only mounted man in the company, and a more interesting chase was never witnessed. The horses were put to their utmost speed, their tails standing straight out, and making time rarely equalled on a race-course. Four of them succeeded in reaching a wooded ravine, but the other two, whose horses were not equal to that rode by the sergeant, were overtaken and commanded to halt. Upon being questioned, they represented themselves as free-state men who had been driven from their homes by a party of border ruffians. The sergeant, however, recognised them as two of a party of six men whom he had that morning seen leave Leavenworth City. It was subsequently ascertained that the leader of the party was a citizen of Missouri; a prominent member of the Legislative Assembly of Kansas, and the alleged author of most of the odious election and test laws passed by that body during its session of 1855. This person has boasted that he "pressed" from free-state men several valuable horses, which he had carried for safe keeping into Lexington, Missouri.
Upon reaching the Kansas River, ferriage was difficult, in consequence of the low stage of the water, and it was some hours before the governor reached the opposite shore. An armed and mounted sentinel guarded the Lecompton landing, and demanded to know who the new-comers were. The only hotel in the place was reached at about eleven o'clock, where the governor was introduced to Secretary Woodson, Ex-Judge Elmore and other prominent citizens. The town was in a great state of excitement, produced by a recent visit of Lane, at the head of five hundred men, who had come to demand the release of the free-state prisoners, but who had already been discharged, by Judge Lecompte, on bail, after hearing of Lane's approach.
Previous to his departure from Fort Leavenworth, the governor addressed the following communication to Secretary Marcy, in which he clearly expresses his opinions concerning the condition of the territory at that time:--
On the 10th of September, an altercation took place at Lecompton between two South Carolinians. They were personal friends, but had been drinking too freely. One of them, incensed at some remark of the other, drew his pistol and fired, and was about to repeat the shot, when his companion, after warning him, discharged into his body the contents of a gun loaded with buckshot. The wounded man lingered three or four days, in great agony, the other watching and waiting upon him during his sufferings. He was never tried for the murder, but set at liberty at an examination before one of the justices.
Two or three days later, another serious shooting affair occurred in the same town. A free-state man living in the vicinity, brought in a load of beef for sale. He proceeded to one of the stores, where, meeting a number of the citizens, he got into conversation, during which he denounced the institution of slavery, an offence unpardonable in Lecompton. A quarrel and fight ensued, when the free-state man ran for his life. He was pursued to a cluster of woods on the edge of the town, his pursuers firing at him a number of times, he turning to fire back. He at length dodged behind a tree, whence he fired a few more shots. Some of his assailants had run for guns, and succeeded in shooting him three times, as he attempted to make his escape, the balls having entered his back, abdomen, and side. He was laid, dangerously, though not mortally wounded, upon the beef on his wagon, and brought into town with his ox-team. Here his wounds were dressed. These occurrences had become so common that they attracted but little attention. Whilst this man was writhing apparently in the agonies of death on one side of the street, the groggeries opposite were filled with loungers too unconcerned to take any special notice of the circumstance.