The murder of Buffum.--Warrant for the arrest of the murderer.--Partial conduct of the marshals.--Reward offered.-- Indignation of free-state citizens.--Arrest of Charles Hays.
WHEN the army from Missouri was disbanded on the morning of the 15th September, the great body of it returned at once to that state, by the Westport road, committing every atrocity in their power as they passed along. They burned the saw-mill at Franklin, stole a number of horses, and drove off all the cattle they could find.
A detachment, calling themselves the "Kickapoo Rangers," numbering about two hundred and fifty or three hundred men, under command of Col. Clarkson, took the road for Lecompton, where they forded the river early in the afternoon, on their way to the northern part of the territory. This party was mounted and well armed, and looked like as desperate a set of ruffians as ever were gathered together. They still carried the black flag, and their cannon, guns, swords and carriages were yet decorated with the black emblems of their murderous intentions.
Six men of this detachment, when within a few miles of Lecompton, halted by a field where a poor inoffensive lame man, named David C. Buffum, was at work. They entered the field, and after robbing him of his horses, one of them shot him in the abdomen, from which wound he soon after died. The murderer also carried away a pony, belonging to a young girl, the daughter of a Mr. Thom, residing in the neighborhood.
Almost immediately after the commission of this wanton crime, Governor Geary, accompanied by Judge Cato, arrived upon the spot, and found the wounded man weltering in his blood. Although suffering the most intense agony, he was sensible of his condition, and perfectly mindful of the circumstances that had transpired. Judge Cato, by direction of the governor, took an affidavit of the unfortunate man's dying declarations. Writhing in agony, the cold sweat-drops standing upon his forehead, with his expiring breath he exclaimed, "Oh, this was a most unprovoked and horrid murder! They asked me for my horses, and I plead with them not to take them. I told them that I was a cripple--a poor lame man-- that I had an aged father, a deaf-and-dumb brother, and two sisters, all depending upon me for a living, and my horses were all I had with which to procure it. One of them said I was a God d---d abolitionist, and seizing me by the shoulder with one hand, he shot me with a pistol that he held in the other. I am dying; but my blood will cry to Heaven for vengeance, and this horrible deed will not go unpunished. I die a martyr to the cause of freedom, and my death will do much to aid that cause." The governor was affected to tears. He had been on many a battle-field, and been familiar with suffering and death; but, says he, "I never witnessed a scene that filled my mind with so much horror. There was a peculiar significance in the looks and words of that poor dying man that I never can forget; for they seemed to tell me that I could have no rest until I brought his murderer to justice. And I resolved that no means in my power should be spared to discover, arrest, and punish the author of that most villanous butchery."
On his arrival at Lecompton, the governor immediately had a warrant drawn and placed in the hands of the United States marshal, for the arrest of the murderer, for the execution of which warrant the whole of the United States force was at his disposal. Several days elapsed, and no return was made, nor had any disposition been discovered to effect the governor's wishes in the matter.
In the mean time the marshal and his deputies were extremely active in obtaining and executing warrants against free-state men, some of them upon the most trivial and unwarrantable charges. To accomplish this object, requisitions were daily made upon the governor for troops, until it became so annoying to himself, and evidenced so clearly a spirit of persecution on the part of the officials, that he was compelled to refuse compliance with these requisitions. Charges for offences alleged to have been committed months before, were trumped up, and the accused were hunted down, and thrust into prison, and there held until released by the intercession of the governor, or upon an examination being demanded, no accuser or witness appeared. Mr. C. W. Babcock, postmaster at Lawrence, and several other respectable gentlemen, were arrested at Topeka, and brought to Lecompton as prisoners. As their names did not appear in the warrant held by the deputy-marshal who made the arrests, inquiry was instituted in regard to his conduct, when it appeared they were seized under the general appellation of "others," the warrant demanding the arrest of certain parties named, "and others." They were free-state men, or abolitionists, and that fact was sufficient to justify the outrage.
Whilst these proceedings were being conducted with surprising and admirable industry and activity, and additions were almost every hour being made to the swelling crowd of free- state prisoners, not one arrest had yet been made of a pro- slavery man. The murderer of Barber ran at large, and was daily in conversation with the marshal, and drinking whiskey with the sheriff. Buffum's murderer, though known, was unsought. John H. Stringfellow, Ira Morris, James A. Headley, William Martin, Captain Parker, William Simmons, and many others, all pro-slavery men, and charged with serious crimes, were at liberty, though warrants against them were in the marshal's hands, and the governor had given him requisitions upon General Smith and Col. Cook for a sufficient number of troops to secure their persons.
Justly indignant at the one-sided policy that was clearly being pursued by the territorial officers, the governor addressed the following note to Marshal Donalson:--
The reply to this note showed that, while the deputy-marshals were extremely active in executing warrants against free-state men, some of whom had committed no offence, they had no time to devote to such scoundrels as the assassins of Buffum. The marshal says:--
"I have to report, that upon making inquiry of my deputy, Samuel Cramer, he informed me, that when the militia from the north side of the river were passing through this place on Monday last (returning to their homes), he made diligent inquiry, and used all the means in his power to ascertain who the murderer or murderers of said Buffum were, with a view to their arrest; but from the vagueness of the affidavit on which the warrant was procured, in which no names are mentioned, nor any particular description of their persons, or any other thing about them, except "six men" in the rear or behind a company, he failed to identify or arrest the murderer or murderers."
This reply fully satisfied the governor that every attempt to secure the murderer by means of the warrant issued, must prove futile. To put such a warrant in the hands of Samuel Cramer, whose prejudices against the free-state and in favor of the slavery party were unsurpassed in bitterness by those of any other man in Kansas, was equivalent to giving him an order for the criminal's escape. Hence other measures were pursued to accomplish the ends of justice. The governor employed secret agents to visit Atchison county, the residence of the Kickapoo Rangers, and by making careful and diligent inquiries, to obtain some clue to the perpetrators of the deed in question.
He also issued a proclamation, offering "a reward of five hundred dollars for the arrest and conviction of the murderer or murderers of David C. Buffum, of Douglas county, to be paid immediately upon the conviction of the author of this great outrage."
The consequence was, that the peace, which by his prompt, fearless, and energetic action, the governor had promoted, was again threatened and in danger. The free-state people were justly incensed at the wrongs they were suffering, and for which they saw no means for redress. Their relatives and friends were being torn from them, without cause, and incarcerated in a filthy prison, without proper food or clothing, or accommodations fitted for dogs, for weeks and months, without a conviction for crime, or even a trial, whilst well-known robbers and murderers of the opposite party were permitted to come to their very prison doors and insult them with oaths and jeers. Murmurs of discontent arose on every hand, and, like the distant hum of the ocean, or the far-off muttering of thunder, rolled into the executive office. Many who had placed implicit confidence in the governor, and who looked patiently to him for protection and redress, began to question his integrity and impartiality, and suspect him of having a secret complicity with the other federal and territorial officers, who, without an exception, were their enemies and persecutors. Even his expressed determination to secure the assassin of Buffum, and his proclamation to that effect, they began to regard as intended only to blind and, deceive. The free-state people thought they saw no hope for themselves save in God and their own right hands, and they began to take down from their resting places, and make ready, their arms. They preferred to fall defending their lives and property with these, than suffer and die like slaves. Nor were they hasty or unreasonable. The wretched prison-house was crammed with their associates, many of them innocent of any offence save that of being opposed to slavery; whilst, if one of the ruffians was arrested by mistake or compulsion, he was instantly released by the judges upon what was known to be worthless bail.
At length, early in November, reliable information was received, that the murderer of Buffum was a man named Charles Hays, a member of the band of Kickapoo Rangers, and living in Atchison county. A new warrant was accordingly issued for his arrest, the marshal ordered to execute it without delay, and in a few days Hays was brought a prisoner to Lecompton. A grand jury, composed entirely of pro-slavery men, on hearing the positive and overwhelming testimony against him, found a true bill, and committed him for trial, on the charge of murder in the first degree. Whilst the governor was congratulating himself upon the certainty of bringing this murderer to punishment, and thus vindicating himself from the charge of complicity with the other officers in screening from justice all pro-slavery offenders, as well as restoring the failing confidence in his impartiality, there were parties busily at work to thwart him in his just determination , and embarrass still more than ever his administration.