KanColl: The Kansas Historical Quarterlies

Notes on the Proslavery March
Against Lawrence

February, 1942 (Vol. XI, No. 1), pages 45-64
Transcription & HTML composition by Name withheld upon request;
digitized with permission of The Kansas State Historical Society.
NOTE: The numbers in brackets refer to endnotes for this text.


THE siege of Lawrence, stronghold of the Free-State party in Kansas, began about May 11, 1856, and culminated ten days later in the looting and destruction of a considerable part of the city. This attack by Proslavery forces received nation-wide publicity and resulted at once in a greatly increased flow of money, weapons and supplies from Eastern sympathizers to the hard-pressed foes of slavery in Kansas.

     A "Proclamation to the People of Kansas Territory" issued May 11, 1856, over the signature of the United States marshal, I. B. Donalson, was the Proslavery call to arms for the march on Lawrence:

WHEREAS, Certain judicial arrests have been directed to me by the First District Court of the United States, etc., to be executed within the county of Douglas, and whereas an attempt to execute them by the United States Deputy Marshal was evidently resisted by a large number of the people of Lawrence, and as there is every reason to believe that any attempt to execute these writs will be resisted by a large body of armed men; now, therefore, the law-abiding citizens of the Territory are commanded to be and appear at Lecompton, as soon as practicable, and in numbers sufficient for the execution of the law. . . .

     The response to the proclamation showed unquestionably, as Free State men charged, that it was "the consummation of a well-planned conspiracy. . . . The van of the army appeared in the vicinity of Lawrence two days before the proclamation was dated, and commenced hostile demonstrations. . . ." [1]

     Among the hot-blooded Proslaveryites answering the invitation to beard the Yankee Abolitionists in their den was an unidentified humorist who joined a Leavenworth company as a recruit on May 11, 1856, and kept a quasi-factual diary of his adventures. Editor Lucian J. Eastin, of Leavenworth, who published the narrative in his Proslavery Kansas Weekly Herald beginning July 12 and ending August 23, 1856, introduced the series with this commentary: "We stumbled upon the following memoranda of incidents and accidents upon overhauling the kit of a fourth Sergeant of the Kansas Militia, who has left the Territory, we suppose more in anger than sorrow."

     The memoranda, entitled "Notes To and From the Siege of Lawrence," end abruptly with the entry of May 21, and although the last installment carried a "To Be Continued" at the end, no further "Notes" appeared in the Herald. Perhaps Eastin felt that the time for humor had passed. His editorial of August 30,1856, "The Crisis at Hand," expressed his realization of the "serious and critical position" in which Kansas found itself.

A crisis is at hand which involves the greatest question which can be addressed to any people-the right to enjoy the acquisitions of their common blood and treasure, and peaceably to spread their institutions and civilization. Our Territory is invaded by a foreign foe, swollen with the spoils of repeated aggression, devoted to the one idea of crushing us of the South as a people, and extinguishing in Kansas the new born hope of Southern equality.

     . . . We are now embarked in a struggle for life; . . . let us turn from any peace offered us by the Abolitionists, and seek that peace only which comes of our rights. . . . This method will alone save us and our country from ruin and destruction.

     The account is reprinted here not for its modicum of factual content but for its general interest. It is a rare specimen of humor from a Proslavery pen, written at a time when humor was a scant commodity on either side in Kansas.

II. THE JOURNAL -- MAY 11-21, 1856

     May 11. -- To day arrived in Leavenworth City anxious for glory and a boardinghouse, saw some other patriots on the Levee, inquiries made of me as to my soundness on that remarkable bird the Goose. [2] Patriots satisfied with my soundness, borrowed all my money from me, felt dubious as to who the goose was; struck peculiarly with the pugnacious qualities of some of the citizens of Leavenworth, great anxiety manifested on all sides to meet Abolitionists. Conspiracy rife in our midst, arrests made, and the most salutary methods to check the onward stride of Abolitionism adopted; hanging to be a minor punishment; however no convictions, nor no executions. -- Feel hungry toward the evening, look out anxiously for patriots who so kindly borrowed my money from me, but look in vain. Mem nature abhors a vacuum, so do I, felt how poor a panacea for hunger was. Night approaches, mount guard four hours, arrest an intoxicated man who to all my enquiries for the countersign, begs me to treat; call Sergeant of the Guard, Sergeant of the Guard calls me a fool, feel resentment, but stifle the same; superior officer. Sleep at last, and think with pleasure how many more imbeciles there are around me besides myself.

     May 12. -- Wake at daylight, most intense excitement, soldiers getting tight all around, feel inclined to pitch in myself; conquer myself, remember the holiness of the cause, and resolve not to allow myself to get fuddled. Ten o'clock, gallant Captain assembles the boys for a grand parade, shoulder my musket and attend, are informed that the eyes of the country are upon us, that great deeds and Abolitionists are awaiting us, are advised not to be too precipitate, but rush on boldly and be killed; felt the glory of the suggestion, but cavilled inwardly at the humanity of it. Orders to be ready for the road at one, but on account of unavoidable circumstances, and probably the proximity of groggeries, did not leave until five P.M. A cortege small but determined wends its way slowly to the westward, composed of all sizes of men, and clad in any kind of uniform, with the ever ponderous musket. Wonder to see so few of the most gaseous citizens in the crowd, understand they stay behind to make arrangements. Conclude making arrangements is their forte. Our cavalcade rendered most imposing by our oxen, whom every one of the company appear to be driving. Oxen pause often to reflect, and when they have ascertained the voice of the majority, plod on steadily. Ladies gaze fondly on us thus marching forward to meet the enemy. Nothing occurs to detract from the sublimity of the scene, but an unsuccessful attempt on the part of one of the company to kick a young urchin, who kept continually gyrating his fingers at the end of his nose, thereby reflecting upon the military appearance of the company. At length one whole mile from town and completely in view of the same, a halt is made, with all the pomp and circumstance of war; and our grounds posted, have myself an unenviable post in a swamp, where two refractory steers keep continually passing the out-post; am kept very busy remonstrating with them on their conduct; felt peculiarly how uncertain life is on the tented field; hailed upon one occasion when returning to my post after an unexciting chase after the aforesaid steers, by the sentinel immediately above and within a few paces of me, demanded of me the countersign; asked him jocularly if he was gassing? He replied by clicking his musket, when I, in a stentorian voice accommodated him with the countersign, and thus saved my life. Kept whistling the balance of the night to keep from being shot. Observed two individuals approaching me, asked in a gentlemanly manner who they were, answered officers of the guard; told them to pitch in, and received a severe reprimand for my courtesy and was told how for the future to hail persons advancing; felt that taking into consideration how seldom I had acted in a military capacity, that this was piling on the agony too thick. Mysteriously relieved by two gentlemen to whom I whispered the talismanic countersign, which was, whiskey, and went to bed i. e. to grow relieved in more senses than one.

     May 13. -- Awake at a very early hour, after a very unrefreshing sleep full of hideous dreams, and wondered how I could have dreamed so much in so short a space of time. Once dreamed I was a soldier under Napoleon, exposed to a galling fire from some enemy, then with Scott in Mexico, now being hung for desertion, or undergoing some other beautiful principle of military tactics: I found that while I had not made any impression on my bed from its hardness, it had made considerable impression upon me; found all hands very busy about breakfast, the post of chief cook assigned to a Wagoner, said Wagoner succeeds admirably with the water, boils it to perfection, tries his hand at the bread, but alas, fatally, bread intended to be light, is of the consistency of a brick and something of the color of a quadroon. Wagoner returns from the post of cook receiving the curses of a lot of very hungry and rather profane young men. Another attempts the arduous task of making rolls, succeeds as far as the shape is concerned, but fails again, rolls prove to be soft as mush, and he retreats from the scene of action with a consciousness that his forte is not cooking; all hands resolve to be their own cook, and each promiscuously attacks his ham and eat it like cannibals. Coffee is made and drank in something the same manner that one will take a nauseous dose of physic, that is by shutting the eyes during the operation. After breakfast, all hands turn out to help to gear the oxen, which is done after an immensity of trouble; oxen proving the most infernal obstinate animals in the whole creation, shall henceforth regard a mule as a perfect gentleman compared to them. At last we are all right, pots and kettles stored away, and resume our line of march for Lawrence or eternity. Take a casual survey of the company to see more fully what manner of men there are amongst us. Result of my observations are that there are four Doctors, a sprinkling of Lawyers, some business men and mechanics, altogether it would be hard to find a more varied group. Felt pleased to see that soundness of the Goose was a question calculated to awaken interest in so many different minds. Find a prisoner amongst us who was taken the night previous, understand that our gallant Major has gone to Head-Quarters to ascertain what disposition to make of him. Men mysteriously hint at roasting or hanging -- hope they are not serious; but am satisfied that if they attempt to make a roast they will lamentably fail, as from the signs at the breakfast this morning, there is no culinary art among us. Prisoner does not seem to feel at all the awfulness of his situation, but travels on very quietly -- am at a loss to know whether it is resignation at his fate, or satisfaction that he will be set free. Gallant Major come along and on reaching us, informs prisoner that he is at liberty, bids us adieu, and puts spurs for Leavenworth. -- Felt as if I would not much care if I were the prisoner. Keep travelling on without anything to disturb the even tenor of our way until midnight; when from the perverseness of the oxen we are in contact with an enormous stump; now ensues a scene of confusion, take a seat upon another stump and wait philosophically for our trials and wagon to get over. Drivers halloo at the top of their voices, amateurs follow suit, curses loud and deep rend the air, but the oxen feel no disposition to be rash. I determined to wait until the hubbub subsides, and our party exhaust their whole vocabulary of anathemas, and give themselves up to grim despair; coming to the conclusion that they are stumped. An unassuming old man steps into the arena and attempts his skill on the perverse brutes; he adopts quite a different style of tactics, and succeeds by fair words and gentle innuendoes in getting us out of our dilemma. Feel satisfied that this man whom all call General, is a wonderful ox-driver, as he never curses them, and thinks persuasion is better than force.

     At noon, halt for dinner; oxen let run to eat theirs. Wish for the time that I was a gramnivorous animal instead of a carnivorous one, that I might satisfy my appetite with grass a la Nebuchadnezzar. A committee of three sent to a house in view, where, from the signs hanging on the clothes lines, lovely and useful women were living, to request they would cook us dinner from our stock of raw material. Impatiently wait the action of committee, and fill up the interim by discussing politics; hear an interesting lecture from a certain Doctor, on military tactics generally, and duties of private soldiers in particular. A jug of whiskey, found in some of the recesses of our capacious wagons, is introduced, and, like an old acquaintance, is hailed with delight and cordially embraced by all. Retract my wish that I was gramnivorous, made a short time before, in view of the whiskey, and take a hearty pull at it. Feel much better. The day wearing apace, and committee on dinner not coming. Hitch up again, and proceed on our travels. Get but a short distance from our resting place, when committee on dinner appear in sight, apparently heavily laden. A halt is ordered, and on the approach of the dinner, men take advantageous positions to surround the basket. The basket arrives full of bread and meat, and after having been regularly divided, contrary to the hopes of some individuals, we find that each man has enough to swear by. Out of the necessity of the case, we rise from our meal, in accordance with Franklin's suggestion, with an appetite. Again on the road; come at last to the creek called Stranger. Wish all the creeks were strangers to me, and would remain so. After a series of heartrending trials at this creek, arrive, very wet and with more mud on my clothes than I ever owned in real estate, on the other side. Got to our camping place and prepared to camp for the night. Here we have the pleasure of getting our food cooked by ladies; but for myself, feeling too sick and disgusted, I went to bed, where, after the fuss had subsided, consequent to the mounting of guard, I slid gradually into the land of nod; not long there, however, ere an alarm is given of an attack; all hands turn out, rings from every mouth. Satisfied that my hour was come, and after all, I would die by an Abolitionist's hand, yet I, in despair, rushed to the scene of action, and found to my horror, that in my confusion I had rushed out with a tin pannikin, nor would I ever have discovered my error but from my attempt to cock it; felt obliged to Providence for the darkness of the night, as it prevented my confusion and pannikin from being seen by fellow soldiers. Succeeded in getting a loaded musket at last, and detailed to scout with some other gentlemen. Our scouting party fired at something several times, and I think really hit it, as there were several dead trees observed next morning there and thereabouts. After tramping with some vigor through the woods and hailing all the cattle in the neighborhood, came to the righteous conclusion that there was nobody around. Kept up the balance of the night until morning, as to sleep was impossible. Inquiries made as to who made the alarm during the night, fastened it upon a certain Doctor, and fired sixteen or seventeen buckshot in an enormous stump, the result of his well directed aim. Another Doctor receives a rather severe shock at his own hand, having put three or four cartridges in his musket and fired off the same; the result can better be imagined than described. Musket and Doctor parted company, and the latter lay senseless for a time; while another Doctor made a star of sticking plaster on his cheek, which brought him to. Then to breakfast, and the road once more.

     May 14th. . . . -- Flattered myself a halt would have been ordered, but no, the cry is, onward, still onward. Learn that a very important appointment has been made by the officer in command during the previous evening. That the little doctor, in view of his having become the Surgeon of the company, (though how he became so no one knows), is also appointed commissariat of the company. -- Understand he accepts the same with the spirit of a martyr. The men, evil minded of course, think the two jars of whiskey, property of the company, tend greatly to his resignation toward the duties of his appointment, as by it, he has entire control of all the whiskey, which is a consummation devoutly to be wished for by all. But now the road and the road only claims our attention. To cross the flats from Stranger to the opposite heights requires much skill and energy, less excitability and nervousness than our band of raw recruits possess. The oxen geared properly with the best intentions in the world, start on their mission; but before they are one-half of the way through the flats, they cave. Now occurs a scene of fierce invectives. Our general, for the once, is out generalled, and the oxen, with probably a juster appreciation of the soil than we have ourselves, refuse, in spite of kind or ferocious treatment, to exert themselves. In vain do we assail them with words of endearment. In vain is woo or gee reiterated. They are insensible to our exertions, and are as stoical as brutes can be. After making more than ordinary efforts, I retire from the field in disgust, and sit at some distance on a stump to ruminate on my prospects as far as glory is concerned, in the never-to-be- forgotten campaign. Find myself in such a state from mud and filth that no one would take me for a white man, and am only satisfied at seeing that at least there is no one better off in this respect than myself; indeed, did we exchange or swap clothing the one with the other, all parties swapping would have been cheated. After a great deal of trouble and much profanity, it was agreed to take a circumambulatory route to cross this slough of Despond, and some hardy individuals, not having the fear of rheumatism in their eyes, tracking out a road through the same swamp. The oxen followed and arrived on the other side of the same, decidedly broken down. To gain the heights was now the object; to do which and relieve the oxen from a dilemma they had inserted themselves into by sticking and remaining so stuck in the mud, all hands were ordered to turn out and help unload the wagons.

     Found in one wagon a certain doctor as passive as a side of bacon, with the original star of sticking plaster on his cheek, who, in excuse for his position there, informed us that his extraordinary exertion the day before, and the extraordinary discharge of his musket, rendered it impossible for him to be in any other condition than that of an invalid. Evil minded men in the company suggested that whiskey had an effect on his present position. Think not, however. After much trouble and tribulation found ourselves on the other side of the flat, and on the heights beyond Stranger. Again in motion, we arrived at the house of a Dutchman, who, although with free soil proclivities, had whiskey. With one or two others constituted an advance guard, and assailed the house of said Dutchman for whiskey. After considerable parleying, whiskey produced, and I take the liberty of stating that it was as good as any whiskey I ever tasted in the Territory, either from pro-slavery men or others. All hands drink here ad libitum, but no one made drunk come. From here, still onward, and marched without anything of interest occurring until we arrived at Butler's, and here nothing happened very interesting save our dinner. To me, this was especially interesting. Here met with the gallant Colonel of our company, who had the best brandy with him. I had seen since I left Leavenworth City. Endeavored to get as thick with him as I could in consideration of his own spirited qualities and that of his flask.

     After a hearty dinner at Butler's we are once more on the road. Am rather disgusted at our officers in command, or at least some of them, who for reasons best known to themselves, go on a different and more pleasant route to our intended camping place, and on horseback too, while we poor fellows of the line tramp over one hill then another; hoping that one will meet the main road which we contrived to do at last, after an immensity of exertion and more curses than would fill Webster's last dictionary. At last at night we reached our halting place, and the usual scene occurs of mounting guard, &c. Our halting ground is near a creek more famous for the filthiness of its water than anything else. -- Here supper is had, and any fastidiousness that might be extant amongst us, is swallowed by our inordinate appetites. After a very hasty consideration of the supper, we are turned out to drill; drilling is a perfect humbug in my opinion; all are straightened out in a line. A fat, good natured Orderly Sergeant drills us, twenty-five of us, green as gourds on the subject of military tactics. -- Shoulder arms! Present arms! and Order arms! are strangely comingled in our brains, and the order to do one of the foregoing is responded to by attempts to do a little of all we know. Our marching, and countermarching is painful, as we all form a sincere wish to do right, tread on the heels of the person in front, and are cursed accordingly, regretting seriously our incapacity to be Napoleons. Our Orderly Sergeant dismisses us amongst the acclamations of the company, and we all make a rash attempt to sleep, but alas our attempts prove futile; hardly do we compose ourselves so that Morpheus may embrace us, when we are rather roughly informed that we must turn out to fight the enemy. All turn out with their muskets, in most murderous attitudes. -- One-half of our force sent toward the creek to reconnoitre; the balance, amongst whom I was, remain in camp to guard the same. After a few minutes of absence; first half returned, and informed the company in general, and the officers in charge in particular, that some two individuals had passed, and had told the gentleman on guard near the road, that he might if he found it convenient, proceed to Pandemonium; a decided reflection on our company, but said reflection was responded to in a manner calculated to strike terror into unbelievers, and such who could not prove unmistakably their soundness on the Goose. But the firing of all the pistols in the direction that they who had insulted us had gone, quiet was once more restored. Felt relieved that we had not been attacked by Abolitionists. Heard officers expressing resignation, and satisfaction that they had made their wills and were willing to die. Thought seriously about making my own will, but remembered that I had nothing to leave, so thought I would defer it. Between two and five a.m., went on guard receiving particular instructions to beware of Abolitionists, walked backward and forward after the most approved form all night, did not see an Abolitionist once, but kept a keen look out for the person on the post below, who once had nearly shot me. Determined not to be taken unawares again. Mislead several times by the oxen, whom I in my fertile imagination thought Abolitionists. Beg their pardon for the error, as I do not wish to reflect upon them, Think upon the whole that it is a very bad thing to alarm falsely soldiers upon such an expedition as ours, as they might in a moment of excitability, kill a first rate working steer instead of an Abolitionist; a mistake which would be very serious. Daylight, relieved once more, now comes my breakfast, then the road.

     May 15. -- Having been up all night, am consequently up very early in the morning, and proceed to the breakfast ground, anxious to eat something. Find that a bottle of whiskey was going its rounds with unusual vigor; take my station that it might find me in its circle of acquaintances. Whiskey being all drank, the more important matter of breakfast claims our attention, and each has some office to do in this respect. Grinding coffee requiring less culinary talent than anything else, the job is assigned to me. All are very jolly and dirty, and the conversation very lively: some form plans for the future, based upon the eminent glory that may ensue to them in this campaign; others more moderate wish they were at Ki's or Charley's drinking a mint julep; for myself I only wish I had another shirt, as then I would have two, which number would enable me to present a more human appearance. Breakfast at last being ready, all hands attack it; observe that the longer we are out the less polite towards each other do we become. This is peculiarly apparent at our meals; our maxim is now first come, first served.

     After breakfast, good natured Orderly Sergeant gets us into as near a straight line as he can, and proceeds to drill us again, with, if possible, less success than the previous evening. At the command Right wheel! most of us wheel the wrong way; and the nearest approach to a hollow square that we can attain to is an imperfect oval. Our muskets are seldom, if ever, in their proper position, and prove for an inanimate subject very hard to manage.

     After coursing up and down the prairie to our disgust, and to the acceleration of our digestion, we are dismissed with the melancholy conviction that we are but poorly drilled, although we feel awfully bored. At last we are under way, and from our proximity to the enemy are cautious in our movements. Careful of a surprise, with muskets on our shoulders, we surround the wagons in the most advantageous positions. Am a rear guard myself, and keep my eye on one of the hind wheels. But Providence or the enemy spares us for Buck creek, which we are fast approaching and which threatens to be more fatal to us than a number of engagements.

     Nothing occurs to distract us from our monotonous snail's pace, or attracts our attention save two dogs who join us more from interest than glory. At last Buck creek appears; we think how gladly would we "pass" the Buck as at "Poker," but we are not playing that game now, although before getting through we got to "all fours." Buck creek is a succession of ugly hills and gloomy hollows. We get down the hills and cross the creek, but to ascend the other side requires a little more exertion. We had not gone far when we succeed in sticking admirably. By common consent, we all sit down to ruminate. Few men could have blamed the oxen, as they seldom did probabilities, and of course would not attempt impossibilities. Providence at this juncture turns on what superfluous water there was immediately above us, so as to render it still more impressive. -- Instead of solid earth, we have now to cope with pure mud, and we stand grimly looking on, wishing that Buck creek was on the confines of the bottomless pit -- for if it was, few of our crowd would go to the same pit if it was necessary to cross the creek to get there. Thunder peals over our heads, and is turned to a masterly account "by a gallant Colonel, who assures us the fight is now raging at Lawrence, and what we suppose to be thunder is the distant booming of cannon. This assurance, coupled with the timely application of the elixir of life from a well known stone jar, restores our saturated energies and drooping spirits, and we attack our difficulties to conquer them or die.

     All the oxen are hitched to the wagon that is mired, and all the company turn out, each one selecting a beast to "pour into" and to receive his unmitigated attention. The word is given and the oxen get Jessie, nor do we cease, until overcome with our exertions we give up the useless job. Some sanguine individuals seize axes and attempt to cut down some trees, and several are cut down that were originally no hindrance to us. At last comes the order to unload, which was effected; unloading flour, muskets, sugar, ham &c., in such mud and such weather has a rather deleterious effect upon my enthusiasm. Once unloaded, the oxen get along to the top of the other hill with the inward conviction that Buck creek is "one of 'em," sure. The same operation, and some effect is produced on the other wagon -- but here our difficulties are but commenced -- to get all our freight up to the wagons is now the task.

     This is done by the use of certain vehicles, constructed more for use than ornament, called "skids," upon which we stow all we can safely, and with our oxen get along pretty well. -- Mud being about one foot deep, men fall in it with perfect impunity; seldom going far with a load before they are immersed. That day there were but few of us but deserved the euphonious title of "stuck- in-the- muds." While stuck in the mud we are met by several gentlemen, who read to us Marshal Donaldson's Proclamation, calling upon us to aid in support of the laws, &c. [3] The Proclamation is received with great glee, and our throats give signal of our hearts' joy. Retire to a little distance to do some shouting on my own hook, and sit immediately behind a horse to gratify my exhilaration. The horse rather unceremoniously kicks me in the midst of a most glorious yell, and on a portion of my frame that for several days after rendered it a matter of impossibility for me to take a seat. Limping from the scene of my disgraceful kicking, and breathing curses against all horses in general, and this individual in particular, I wend my way slowly to the top of the hill. On my way thither meet a Chief Justice proceeding homeward; Chief Justice greets us kindly, and after we assist him to catch a runaway steer, he bids us adieu, thinking that we are a very irregular looking portion of the regular militia.

     After a variety of ludicrous circumstances we arrive at the top of the hill, bag and baggage, very much relieved indeed. Considering what we had overcome, and come over, speeches are volunteered by several, and are received with universal applause. After a little our wagons are re-loaded and we start onward, after having been seven hours getting over Buck creek -- and only one mile of road accomplished in that time.

     May 15. -- Awfully exhausted and prostrated by our herculean efforts at Buck creek, a halt is soon ordered and joyfully responded to by the crowd. Buck creek has certainly taken the starch out of us, and a more deplorable dead-beaten crowd never assembled around a camp fire as do to-night. Hunger again assumes its supremacy, and as our stomachs are vacant, save the necessary furniture, and perhaps a little brown sugar, furtively grasped from the stores, we all turn in to eat something. Slapjacks form our bill of fare. Succeed in purchasing an interest in several at an exorbitant price, and satisfy myself with them. -- Guard is again posted as we are getting nearer and nearer the Philistines. Manage to get into a wagon and sleep placidly until awakened in the night by a report of a musket; understand somebody is shot, but postpone further enquiries until morning.

Kansas Territorial Governor Wilson Shannon


Territorial governor of Kansas before whom the company from Leavenworth paraded at Lecompton, May 18, 1856. The troops were disgruntled because he neglected to threat them to whisky. Governor Shannon was born in Ohio in 1802. He served as governor of Ohio in 1839-1840 and 1843-1844; minister to Mexico, 1844-1845; representative from Ohio, 1853-1855, and governor of Kansas, 1855-1856. He died at Lawrence in 1877.

1855 scene of Kansas (Kaw) River in Lecompton


The author of the accompanying notes possibly had this picture in mind when he first saw the town in May, 1856.

     May 16. -- Understand this morning that a Court-Martial has been ordered in relation to the shooting affair of the previous evening. Find that one of the guard shot one of the dogs, having taken the unfortunate animal in the darkness of the night, for one of the enemy. After hailing him according to dogs generally, he was shot instantly. A melancholy victim of misplaced confidence, and an evidence of the indefatigable watchfulness of the guard! The guard, having made his statement, was rightfully acquitted of any crime, but being a humane man he felt ashamed to look at the other dog (companion of the deceased) in the face, who followed the unfortunate individual very doggedly. After a few appropriate remarks upon the uncertainty of life from several serious individuals, we hastily breakfast and resume our way to Lawrence.

     Understand we will reach Kaw river to-day, where we are informed other forces await us. Up hill and down hollow we pursue our path, and at last come to a creek which requires some ability to ford, or get to, the other side. A log, about fifteen feet high being our bridge, and not having been brought up to the tight rope business, I endeavored to coon it, but on account of my kick of the day before am compelled to relinquish a process, which, while ludicrous, has the merit of safety. Am at last packed across on a horse, like a sack of meal. All are safely over, and now we strike a prairie; have to wade knee deep for about a mile through the same -- think it a great country for ducks. At last we approach Kaw river, and as we near it, our Captain comes boomingly along in a buggy, and very thoughtfully distributed some whiskey amongst us. We are informed that our greatest wish (i. e., a fight) will soon be gratified. Many cheer the announcement vigorously, but never having loved fighting myself for its sake, do not cheer, but am content to be quietly grateful for the benefits we may receive in that line.

     At last we arrive at Kaw river, where we have a rest. Opposite Lecompton, find to my regret that the beautiful bridge so ostensible on the chart of this city is not visible; and that the railroad can hardly be deemed completed, as it is an air line only existing in the brain of a few enthusiasts. Lecompton is on a pretty site, has the merit of not being densely crowded, judging from my view of it from this side. Find here other men, citizens, soldiers, all of whom welcome us most cordially. After unhitching our oxen, and getting out our cooking utensils, we are instructed to form in messes. Think that each man is in a mess enough as he is, without any consolidation. Am put in a mess with some others, who from some fiendish motive elect me cook, a position to me more than horrible. I go to my duties with a vague idea of what they are as cheerfully as the circumstances will admit -- as is the case with all amateurs. I make errors fatal to my achievement of any fame as a cook.

     After dinner proceed to make my toilet and change my linen, which change is effected by turning it inside out. After a good bath and the resumption of my old clothes in all their pristine mud, I lay myself down, to reflect upon the mutability of human affairs. Am awakened from my meditations by the news of a capture; find we have caught a live Yankee, as no earthly inducement can make him mention cow. The man asserts he is a good Pro-slavery man; we all think he is -- in a horn. -- Yankee displays a great amount of coolness, and evidently takes notes for a leader for the [New York] Tribune. After mature deliberation we agree to let him slide, treating him with all the courtesy imaginable. He retires thanking us for our humanity, but will write for old Greeley's paper, I presume, at the first opportunity an account of the barbarous treatment of a Free State man by the Pro-slavery party. Many of the boys go over to the Capitol, and return in amazingly good spirits, and bring some over with them too. As cook I again officiate, and a supper, a facsimile of our dinner in point of material, with the adjunct of coffee, graces our board.

     After supper, in a few short and appropriate remarks, (as the newspapers say) I tender my resignation, which I hope they will receive, for if they will not I intend they shall. After some argument wasted on their side, I am ex-cook, and resign with pleasure all the pots, &c., to my successor in office. No guard to-night, as we are here at least safe from any attacks. Making an admirable bed out of some barrel staves, and using a couple of one inch planks for coverlids, I sleep like a top until morning.

     May 17. -- Awake early, and turn out accordingly. After breakfast all hands turn out to drill. Now ensues the usual awkwardness, and we severely try the patience of our officers. -- While our drilling does not present the concert of action so highly prized by commanders in their men, it always has the merit of variety; and I think that a company attacking us would be at a loss to know how to approach us. -- After two mortal hours at this refreshing exercise, we are dismissed and improve our time by firing off our firearms, to the great annoyance of the squirrels in the vicinity. After a day spent in masterly inactivity, as they say in the Crimea, succeeds a night long to be remembered. Our mess has a sort of tent, to keep up a military appearance, I suppose, for it does not keep out the rain. This institution deceives us, trusting to its firmness of position, and blows down on us, the rain pattering at an awful rate. After recovering from our surprise and finding how matters are, we all crawl under a tree, the rain following us up all the time, where, convinced that the fates have conspired against us, sit it out rather discontentedly all night.

     May 18. -- A good fire being made this morning, we all dry up, and breakfast rather poorly. To-day we are to cross the Kaw river, and to get to Lecompton. An enormous flat boat, seemingly large enough for another Noah's Ark, receives us on board, bag and baggage. The baggage being all packed on board upon our shoulders, we are further convinced, to use rather a stale phrase, that "Jordan is a hard road to travel." To get to the other side is now the difficulty. We all work our passage, hauling ourselves along by an old rope and making about a half a mile an hour. After keeping up this process until we are far above the Capitol, we strike out, and at the imminent risk of several of our men strike terra firma. We are received with raptures of applause by the inhabitants of Lecompton. Men disperse in various quarters to refresh themselves -- so do I. After exploring the whole of the city, I return to the landing and help to unload the baggage; learn with delight that here we will leave the greater part of it. At this point one of our company leaves us, unable to proceed farther, being, like another Achilles, wounded in the heel. Receiving an honorable discharge he takes leave of us, carrying away with him a large consignment of compliments to disperse amongst the friends of the company in Leavenworth.

     Once more are we formed into military position, and march to our intense disgust into the heart of the town. Here we have the honor of seeing his Excellency the Governor, [4] and he also has the honor of seeing us. Think he looks on us rather apathetically; think also that he should at least stand a treat when we meet him, but no we are doomed to disappointment -- not so much for the liquor, but it would be a pleasant recognition of us as the bulwark of the law and order party. [5] After marching and countermarching through this burg until it was thoroughly daguerreotyped in our memory, we march out of Lecompton to go somewhere else to camp. We have a small wagon with us; meet on our exit the triumphal entry of some of our party with a prisoner. Going on slowly we come at last to a hill that proves a fatal one to us, for we are upset, our goods and chattles [sic] dispersed to various points of the compass, and our wagon made an unmitigated wreck. After the usual amount of cursing and speculation as to the probable cause of our mishap, we proceed to get ourselves out of the difficulty, and being relieved of some of our load by another wagon, and at last our own being tinkered up, we resume our march, setting this accident to the debit side of the Abolitionists account, to be wiped off if we ever get a showing at them.

     May 18. -- Through mud and mire, tired, hungry and discontented, we keep on our line of march. Understood that our camping ground would be but two miles from the Capital, but before night feel convinced that the miles are remarkably long ones. About 10 P. M. we strike Benicia [6] and Benicia strikes us as being a very primitive town, but may be a metropolis one of these days, when the wars are all over, and the goose shall be allowed to slumber peacefully upon the land, as she has a natural right to do.

     Our company arrives here in much disorder, tired out, hungry, and cross generally; and in a ripe state for a fight, and would do great execution upon the enemy, if they had an opportunity. No commissariat to be found; men prowling about like hungry lions, seeking what they may devour; ham becomes common property, and is eaten with bread and avidity -- every man being his own cook.

     After our hunger is compromised with, all are summoned into line for review, with a very ill grace. The call is responded to, the muster roll is called, and some are found missing, the flesh pots of Lecompton having probably detained them. After a short speech from a gallant Captain, who now has charge of us, we are apportioned into a guard for the night. Hugging myself inwardly at my exemption from this duty for the night at least, and feeling about seventy-five per cent below par, I hie me to bed in a large frame building, intending to devote all my talents and attention to sleeping out the balance of the night.

     Am just asleep when a friend awakens me, informing me that the gallant Captain desires an audience with me outside. Proceed half asleep outside and find the Captain surrounded by about eight of our men. Captain advances towards me, and hands me a small flask to lubricate my ideas with. The lubrication having been effected, he proceeds to inform me, that out of kindness to me, and a sincere wish to further me in this campaign, and for other causes too numerous to mention, he has resolved that I shall be one of a chosen band to intercept and capture, vi et armis, a small band of Abolitionists (only eighteen) armed to the teeth, who have a boat a few miles from where we are, on the river, plying to Lawrence, and conveying aid and comfort to the enemy.

     For my further gratification he informs me that a severe engagement may be expected, and that if I fail I may be expected to be interred with all the military honors. Not being particularly struck with the immense benefit that this enterprise might confer upon me, and having rather a vague idea of what military honors were, I hardly grasped at the chance of distinction, as enthusiastically as I ought to have; but thought that really men had honors thrust upon them some times. I however calmly acceded to the project, and with a faint attempt at a smile, jocularly alluded to the disparity of our numbers.

     After a little we are in motion. I selected a fat man to be my shield, and through the woods wended our way in painful silence. After a short review of my past life in my own mind, I come to the conclusion that after all I should feel thankful; that if I were to die, I had no very enormous crimes to answer for. At last we approach the point; our guns are cocked; and the boat is seen. We enter on board, and find that the birds have flown. We capture, however, two or three prisoners, take some arms, and proceed homeward to camp.

     Arrive in camp, and congratulate ourselves upon the success of our mission. Our prisoners are seated comfortably around the fires, evince a confidence in our magnanimity, which I am proud to say was never misplaced. After a little the lubricating system is indulged in quite freely, and our ideas are getting brighter, and our thoughts livelier. Songs are sung with great glee. Some pour forth with a great deal of effect amorous ditties; others vociferously roar out war songs, and so on ad infinitum, until the clear gray of the morning appears, when we turn in to sleep a few hours -- before proceeding upon the arduous duties of another day.

     May 19. -- All get up very early to answer to muster roll; after which we proceed to elect a Commissariat. This being done, we resume our former messes, and commence to cook our breakfast. Rumors are flying amongst us of a lot of Sharpe's rifles in the possession of the enemy, and after breakfast a company is formed for the purpose of entering into negotiations with the owners of the same for their possession.

     March in single file to the place where the supposed rifles are, which locality is a saw- mill. Find the saw-mill in active operation, and men about at work. The Captain politely asks the information we require from the apparent owner of the mill, who evinces an unaccountable ignorance of every thing. After a vain endeavor to elicit facts or rifles, we proceed to examine around, and find several Sharpe's rifles stored securely away. -- Think upon a cursory examination of one of them, that they are rather a ticklish weapon; but think also a good old shot gun has its merits. How soon will the Yankees invent a rifle to fire at Border Ruffians from Boston, and thus carry on a war? I think for them this would be a consummation most devoutly to be wished for, as the tendency of their improvements in firearms seems based upon the fact that distance lends enchantment to the scene.

     After scouring the vicinity we muster several rifles, and are constrained to make prisoners of two dangerous Abolitionists, who proclaim openly their hostility to law and order, and are satisfied completely with Beecher's higher-lawism. After completing our mission, with our prisoners in our midst, we form a line for camp. Our Captain, first delivering a lecture to the individuals in whose possession the Sharpe's rifles were found, that ought to effectually quell any symptoms of higher-lawism that may exist amongst them -- the word is given, and we march to our camping place. Our prisoners and rifles disposed of, we consume our time until drill in the afternoon the best way we can.

     After drilling with our usual ability, an election for non-commissioned officers occurs. The candidates are numerous, but the platforms unanimous. I find to my horror that I figure myself as a candidate, some sanguine individual having proposed me as a suitable person to fill the high and important position of Fourth Sergeant. Being a modest man, I excused myself, and desire to withdraw; find it is of no use, and at the desire of "many friends" (as all candidates in the political world say) consent to run. The result, which is a unanimous election, and a vote of thanks upon my acceptance of the position, almost prove too much for my equilibrium. Impressed with the dignity of my station, I endeavor to look and act authoritatively with the men, but upon being informed that it would not be healthy for me to "put on airs," I sink myself into my original mildness of deportment. It now being nearly night, our supper is proceeded with, and after an amicable discussion of it, guards are posted around, as usual. My guard not occurring until morning, I go to bed, hoping that I may have the felicity of enjoying a night's rest without any more attempts at military distinction.

     May 20. -- Am up with the sun, having watched the same tardily rising while on my morning watch. All hands having been thoroughly aroused, we proceed to receive our portion of whisky, which the U. S. Marshal has in his kindness made one of the emoluments of our position. -- Said liquor has the credit of being very old, but is decidedly diminutive for its age; and when in our tin pannikins, a fly can with little danger ford from one side to the other of said pannikin. It having been all discussed, the only comments made on it being in regard to its scarcity, we proceed to our breakfast, and hastily consume it. After the consumption of which the men moodily resolved themselves into knots, and deprecate the tardiness of our proceedings -- being but a few miles from Lawrence. Feel indeed that we are in a state of inglorious inactivity, and our commanders come in for their share of heartfelt condemnation. At this stage of the proceedings, and while mutiny in its most insidious form is spreading itself amongst us, good news arrives, and by good authority we are informed, that but a few circumstances prevent our meeting the Abolitionists -- the greatest circumstance being, in my humble opinion, the fact that they studiously avoid us. -- We are also informed that we soon will have the opportunity of testing ourselves, and them as well, at the gates of Lawrence. This announcement gives us a good deal of satisfaction, and confident that all will be right we resign ourselves to our predicament, and play poker generally until night, when we mount guard as usual.

     May 21. -- To-day the joyful tidings came that we must march onward. We immediately make our arrangements to proceed, and about the middle of the afternoon start for Coon Point. Our wagon has in it a miscellaneous assortment of dry goods, groceries and hardware, and perched upon the summit is an invalid with rheumatism of the direst nature. -- This wagon with its valuable contents is entrusted to an amateur ox driver, who to casual inquiries in regard to his abilities assures us that he can drive "to h--l in about a minute." He succeeds in convincing us of the aptness of his remark, by upsetting in the creek, the first on our road. The rheumatic individual displays more agility than he had credit for, and in his choice of a landing place evinces considerable ingenuity -- think an upset a great remedy for any disease affecting the limbs.

     Dry goods, groceries, and hardwares, find themselves in the creek; sugar, flour &c., at a discount. Altogether we come to the conclusion that we are the most unfortunate set of individuals that circumstances ever got together. Not feeling a great amount of interest in the wagon, and coming to the conclusion not to wait for it -- being uncertain whether I should get a ride if I did -- I with others, make for Coon Point, which at last we reach. -- Am particularly struck with the military appearance of this place, and the vast amount of red shirts. Report ourselves as the Leavenworth detachment, and receive cordial invitations to sup with the gentlemen composing the camp. Remembering the situation of our groceries, and their distance from us, we joyfully accept. Toward night our wagon comes along with the balance of our men, hungry and tired, who, after appeasing their appetites, turn in, breathing a few curses audibly against things and individuals generally.


     1. A. T. Andreas and W. G. Cutler, History of the State of Kansas (Chicago, 1883), p. 128.

     2. "Bound on the Goose. -- A phrase originating in the Kansas troubles, and signifying true to the cause of slavery." -- John Russell Bartlett, Dictionary of Americanisms . . . (Boston, Little, Brown, and Co., 1877), p. 680.

     3. This is evidence of considerable interest since it supports the implication of Andreas Cutler, cited in the introduction, that Donalson's proclamation was the excuse rather than the reason for the attack on Lawrence and was actually not known to the attacking force from Leavenworth until three days after they had begun their march.

     4. Gov. Wilson Shannon.

     5. This was the self-bestowed title of the Proslavery party in Kansas, presumably to emphasize the contrast with what they considered the illegal and disorderly Free-State party.

     6. The village of Benicia, Douglas county, was located on the south bank of the Kansas river in NW1/4 sec. 8, T. 12 S., R. 19 E., about three miles southeast of Lecompton and five and one-half miles northwest of Lawrence. It was incorporated in 1856 and in 1857 had a population of twenty. It is now extinct.

Go to previous article     Go to next article     Go to cover page for this issue     Go to KHQ main page