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


[TOC] [part 15] [part 13] [Cutler's History]


The time that Gov. Reeder set aside a part of the fraudulent elections, and ordered the new election to fill vacancies, marks the date when the reign of anarchy began in Kansas. It was plain to every resident of the Territory that, between the Executive, appointed by the President, and the Legislature, elected by Missouri, there was no accord, and that a gulf was fixed, which made any legislation having the approval of both branches of the prescribed Government impossible. The slavery question was surely the cause of the trouble, but it struck questions of vastly more importance to the actual settlers. There was never a true man who did not deem his homestead and his family of more worth to him than all the salves who ever suffered in Kansas - else he was no true man.

The hundreds who had come in to secure homes saw no immediate prospect of securing them through any of the agencies thus far developed. The slavery question had forced itself between the settlers and their homes, and made the prejudices on that question an element in securing them. Thus it came to pass that every brawl or quarrel, whether it eventuated in eviction from the premises or in murder, had a slavery or anti-slavery background. The partisans on either side were not slow to magnify the reports of the outrages, always ignoring the true cause of the quarrel, and attributing it to a contest for principle, when only a contest for a valid land title was involved. With no law which the whole community acknowledged, it naturally came to pass that, in nearly all personal disagreements, the parties to it either fought it out single-handed, or called on the Squatters' Court or their immediate neighbors to help them through.

On April 30, at a meeting of the "Delaware Squatters' Association," held at Leavenworth, to perfect their rules and regulations, one McCrea, not a squatter on the Delaware trust lands, interfered with the proceedings, on the ground that they were running the association in such manner as to preclude Free-state squatters from their rights. Malcolm Clark, a Pro-slavery man, one of the proprietors of Leavenworth, was the Moderator of the meeting. He was a man of violent temper, and, exasperated at McCrea's interruption, he gave him the lie and approached him in a threatening manner, whereupon McCrea shot him dead, as he claimed in self-defense, and then barely escaped from the infuriated mob with his life .(For fuller account of the affair, see history of Leavenworth.) At the inquest, one witness testified that William Phillips, a young lawyer who had already made himself obnoxious to the Pro-slavery party by giving his affidavit to the protest against the Leavenworth election, had given McCrea the pistol with which he had committed the murder. The testimony was undoubtedly false, but it found full credence with his Pro-slavery enemies. He was accordingly waited upon by a committee and ordered to leave the Territory. Not leaving promptly, he was seized in Leavenworth, carried over to Weston, Mo., there stripped, half shaved, tarred and feathered, ridden on a rail, and sold by auction to a negro.

Out of this murder, the result of a purely personal quarrel and the false testimony of a witness at the Coroner's inquest, began the manufacture of slavery and anti-slavery versions of every disorder that occurred, calculated to raise the temper of those ignorant of the facts to a frenzy of rage, and render the anarchy complete. Below are given some contemporaneous accounts of the affair, not as history, but as showing the difficulties of ascertaining the truth where passion and interest magnified and distorted every occurrence until the facts ceased to be discernible. The following is from the Leavenworth Herald, May 4, 1855:



It becomes our sad and painful duty to record the death of one of our most respected citizens, Malcolm Clark, who was killed on Monday last by the vile and infamous scoundrel known as McCrea, the leader and mouthpiece of the Abolitionists. The facts of this fatal tragedy, as far as we have been able to learn them, are as follows: During a meeting held on Monday last, in pursuance to a call made through our columns, for the purpose of considering the propriety of extending the time to all squatters holding claims on Delaware lands, the order of the meeting was frequently disturbed and the speakers insulted and arrested in the course of their remarks by certain vulgar and impertinent outbursts from this same despicable villain, McCrea. For his obtrusion and ungentlemanly conduct at a meeting in which he was no way concerned, he was reprimanded, as he should have been, by Malcolm Clark, and respectfully requested either to leave the meeting or desist in his unjust interference with its proceedings. This he would not do, but continued in this same course, regardless of all advice and admonition, until a resolution had been declared carried (some fifteen minutes after the reprimand) by the vote of the meeting, which the perfidious villain pronounced to have been effected by gross fraud, although not affecting him or his interest. To this assertion, Malcolm gave the "d___d lie," which was followed up by McCrea in the most violent and abusive language. At this stage of the controversy, Malcolm Clark became exasperated, and offered to strike McCrea, when he received a fatal shot from the villainous hands of the dastardly Abolitionist. After the perpetration of the bloody deed, the cowardly assassin took flight, during which he wheeled about and fired indiscriminately in the crowd that was in hot pursuit after him, as we saw through the window of our office. He was soon captured and brought back, when he feigned for a short time the most poignant sorrow, no doubt with the view of exciting some commiseration in his behalf, and thereby preserving his life from the hands of an excited crowd. The deceased exercised, we are told, the utmost forbearance with this vagabond of abolitionism, and evinced no disposition to demean himself by aggravating a quarrel with him.

We were not present at the meeting, and consequently did not witness this sad and horrible occurrence, but when we heard the report of pistols and saw the rapid flight of the murderer, we hastened to the spot, and never shall we forget the scene there presented. Our very heart sickens, our very blood chills in our veins, when we recall the scene to our memory. We think we see before us the body of the dying man struggling and writhing in the agonies of death. We think we hear his dying cry ringing in our ears. We think we behold the ruthless monster McCrea standing up confronting us with that same hideous and malignant scowl which his countenance bore after the perpetration of this hellish deed. The murderer is now incarcerated at Fort Leavenworth, and God grant that the fiend whose murderous hands committed the foul and atrocious crime - the wretch whose hands are steeped in blood - be made to suffer condign retribution. The vile monster McCrea shall meet the just penalty of the law. He shall be hung by a rope of HEMP. This shall be his reward; but no, we leave his fate unpredicted, for it needs no sibyl's prescience to divine that it must be, and will be, as dark as his foul crime.

The malignant ingenuity with which it is attempted to connect the murder and the murderer with his "abolitionism" is apparent.

The Herald of Freedom (Lawrence) gives the following mild account of the same affair:

We mentioned last week the rumor of a shooting affair at Leavenworth, and that great excitement had grown out of the transaction. It appears that on the 30th ult., a dispute arose between Malcolm Clark and Mr. McCrea, during which the former felt himself insulted, when he assaulted the latter and gave him a severe blow over the head with a club. Mr. McCrea, feeling that his life was endangered, drew a revolver and shot Clark dead upon the spot. In a country where law and order predominate, no court or jury could be found which would not decide that it was a case of justifiable homicide, and McCrea would be liberated at once; but, as matters are in Kansas, we presume it will be magnified into a great outrage, and every means will be resorted to to convict him of murder.

It will thus be seen that readers on either side might find an account to suit their tastes.

The murder was followed by a meeting of the indignant Pro-slavery citizens, who made it a pretext for expelling or putting under surveillance such citizens as were suspected of abolition.


Immediately following the murder of Clark, his friends, who, in number, comprised a large majority of the citizens of Leavenworth, and were to a man violently pro-slavery in sentiment, held a meeting of "the citizens." The accounts of this and subsequent meetings growing out of the murder are taken from the Leavenworth Herald. The first meeting is reported by that paper as follows:

At a meeting of the citizens of Leavenworth and vicinity, held on the evening of the 30th of April, for the purpose of taking some action in regard to one William Phillips, who is reported to have been accessory to the murder of Malcolm Clark, D. J. Johnson was called to the chair, and Joseph L. McAleer chosen Secretary.

On motion, the following preamble and resolutions were unanimously adopted:

WHEREAS, By the facts elicited on the Coroner's inquest, held over the body of Malcolm Clark, as well as from other circumstances that have come to our knowledge, it appears that William Phillips was accessory to the murder of one of our most respected citizens; and, whereas, the conduct of said Phillips heretofore* has fully demonstrated his unworthiness, as a citizens or a gentlemen; therefore,

Resolved, That in accordance with the expressed desire of the indignation meeting tonight, William Phillips of Leavenworth, be ordered to leave this Territory by 2 o'clock Thursday evening next; and that a committee of ten be appointed to notify him instanter of the requisition of this meeting.

Resolved, That the notice be written and signed by the committee, who shall proceed immediately after adjournment to the residence of William Phillips and deliver it to himself in person.

Resolved, That the course to be pursued in regard to other Abolitionists, and to the other matters of importance be left to the decision of the meeting of citizens to be held next Thursday.

* Phillips had "heretofore" been an outspoken Free-state man, and had had the courage to protest against the election at Leavenworth. This was his offense. The testimony before the Coroner's jury was of the weakest, and was only a pretext for lynching or otherwise getting rid of him.

The committee appointed to wait on Mr. Phillips were Jarrett Todd, John C. Posey, N. B. Brooks, William C. Berry, Thomas C. Hughes, H. Rives Pollard, Joseph L. McAleer, John H. McBride, James M. Lyle and A. Payne.

The meeting adjourned to Thursday, May 3. The proceedings were signed by D. J. Johnson, Chairman, and James M. Lyle, Secretary.

The notice was forthwith served on Mr. Phillips, signed by every member of the committee above names. It read as follows:

LEAVENWORTH, April 30, 1855.


Sir - At a meeting of the citizens of Leavenworth and vicinity, we, the undersigned were appointed a committee to inform you that they have unanimously determined that you must leave the Territory by 2 o'clock Thursday next. Take due notice thereof and act accordingly. (Signed by the Committee.)

The adjourned meeting was held as appointed, at which a more elaborate set of resolutions were adopted, which fairly inaugurated lynch law in the vicinity of Leavenworth. The resolves adopted were as follows:

(1) Resolved, That we regret the death of our esteemed fellow-citizen, Malcolm Clark, and most bitterly condemn the cowardly act by which he was murdered; but we would deprecate any violation of the laws of the land by way of revenge, and stand ready to defend the laws from any violation by mob violence; that we do not deem the time has arrived when it is necessary for men to maintain their inalienable rights, by setting at defiance the constituted authorities of the country.

(2) Resolved, That we deeply and sincerely sympathize with the family of Malcolm Clark, deceased, in their sad and irreparable bereavement, which has deprived them of an affectionate and doting father, and the community of one of her most useful, enterprising and esteemed citizens.

(3) Resolved, That the interests of our young and lovely Territory have lost in the person of Mr. Clark an energetic and praiseworthy friend; one who was ever ready to put forward his best energies to advance the public weal, and whose sentiments were liberal and at all times expressed with a bold and fearless defiance of the errors of the day.

(4) Resolved, That no man has a right to go into any community and disturb its peace and quiet by doing incendiary acts or circulating incendiary sentiments; we, therefore, advise such as are unwilling to submit to the institutions of this country, to leave for some climate more congenial to their feelings, as abolition sentiments cannot, nor will not be tolerated here; and while we do not say what may be the consequences, for the peace and quiet of the community we urge all entertaining and expressing such sentiments, to leave immediately, claiming the right to expel such as persist in such a course.

(5) Resolved, that in the present state of public excitement, there is no such thing as controlling the ebullition of feeling while material remains in the country on which to give it vent. To the peculiar friends of Northern fanatics we say: "This is not your country; go home and vent your treason where you may find sympathy."

(6) Resolved, That we invite the inhabitants of every State, North, South, East and West, to come among us, and to cultivate the beautiful prairie lands of our Territory, but leave behind you the fanaticisms of higher law and all kindred doctrines; come only to maintain the laws as they exist, and not to preach your higher duties of setting them at naught; for we warn you in advance, that our institutions are sacred to us, and must and shall be respected.

(7) Resolved, That the institution of slavery is known and recognized in this Territory, that we repel the doctrine that it is a moral or political evil, and we hurl back with scorn upon its slanderous authors the charge of inhumanity, and we warn all persons not to come to our peaceful firesides to slander us and sow the seeds of discord between master and servant, for, much as we may deprecate the necessity to which we may be driven, we cannot be responsible for the consequences.

(8) Resolved, That we recognize the right of every man to entertain his own sentiments on all questions, and to act them out so long as they interfere with neither public nor private rights; but when the acts of men strike at the peace of our social relations, and tend to subvert the known and recognized rights of others, such acts are in violation of morals, of natural law, and systems of jurisprudence, to which we are accustomed to submit.

(9) Resolved, That a vigilance committee, consisting of thirty members, shall now be appointed, who shall observe and report all such persons as shall openly act in violation of law and order, and by the expression of abolition sentiments, produce disturbance to the quiet of citizens, or danger of their domestic relations, and all such persons so offending shall be notified and made to leave the Territory.

The Vigilance Committee appointed consisted of the following gentlemen:

Hiram Rich, A. Payne, S. D. Pitcher, A. J. Scott, Thomas C. Hughes, William W. Corum, Jarrett Todd, R. E. Stallard, G. D. Todd, M. P. Rively, H. Rives Pollard, James M. Lyle, James Surrett, Joel Hiatt, John C. Posey, G. W. Walker, D. Scott Boyle, E. A. Long, W. G. Mathias, H. D. McMeekin, John Miller, Alexander Russel, Lewis N. Rees, W. L. Blair, D. J. Johnson, L. P. Styles, Nathanael Henderson, Samuel Burgess, H. Long, C. C. Harrison.

The report of the above meeting in the Leavenworth Herald of May 4 says: "The meeting was ably and eloquently addressed by Judge Lecompte, Col. J. N. Burnes, of Weston, and D. J. Johnson."

This statement conveyed the idea that the above-named gentlemen were in accord with the sentiment of the meeting as expressed in the resolutions, which, in the case of Judge Lecompte, was false. Nevertheless, taking advantage of the blunder of the reporter, over-zealous to identify the Chief Justice with the reprehensible proceedings, the anti-slavery press, except the Lawrence Herald of Freedom, which doubted and denied it, took up the lie and circulated it without contradiction, until it came to be so established as a historic fact that it has been recorded as such in histories of the Territory written long years after the occurrence. (NOTE: Tuttle's History of Kansas, p. 163, says: "The Chief Justice of the Territory was one of the most eloquent speakers in the meeting that made the appointment in question (the vigilance committee), and no other fact need be mentioned to prove the utter demoralization of all parties engaged in that shameful procedure.")

Holloway's History of Kansas, p. 157, says: "The meeting was eloquently addressed by the Chief Justice of the Territory."

Whatever opinion may be entertained as to the extreme Southern prejudice which characterized the early judicial career of Judge Lecompte, it is certain that his presence at and participation in the proceedings of the meeting were in no wise derogatory to the high position he held, but were prompted by motives of humanity and patriotism. Seventeen years after the occurrence, H. Miles Moore, of Leavenworth, published in a local paper an account of the meeting, which, although considerately refraining form calling his name, left unchanged the prevailing impression concerning the Judge's connection with the affair. An open letter from Judge Lecompte to Mr. Moore was written at that time, and the following extracts from it are given in vindication of the truth of history. The letter was dated Leavenworth, July 21, 1873. It commences by allusion to the fact that Mr. Moore had kindly omitted the mention of his name among the list of speakers at the meeting, and follows with the following ingenuous statement:

The facts are simply these. I was residing at the time with my family at the Shawnee Mission, with Gov. Reeder and other officials of the Territory. A short time before the coming along of the stage to Fort Leavenworth, on the 2d, I was informed of the intended indignation meeting, to be held at Leavenworth the next day, the leading object of which was to inflame the popular mind to taking into its own control the vindication of the law and then to promptly vindicate it by the summary execution of the alleged culprit.

Short as was the notice, I determined to come up to Leavenworth, and resist, to the utmost, and stop, at all risks, any such movement.

Accordingly, I came up to the Fort, remained there over night, and was at Leavenworth, at an early hour next morning, and saw and conversed with, as far as practicable, every man supposed to be influential in fomenting or suppressing a spirit of misrule, and, by the time the meeting was called, had succeeded, as I believed, in thwarting the purpose of those inclined to a course of violence.

When the meeting was assembled, I mounted, I think an old wagon, and made the most earnest speech within my capacity, in favor of the resolution deprecating "any violation of the laws of the land," defending "the laws from any violation from mob violence." A most violent effort was made, in opposition, to defeat the resolution, but, as I then believed, and now think, it was mainly through my exertion triumphantly carried. I spoke to no other point, and do not recollect that I heard of any other subject of discussion, and most assuredly had no more to do with any other part of the proceedings at the meeting than yourself or any other absent person. * * * * * *

This explanation I had occasion to make, and did make through the St. Louis Republican, when my name was afterward published by the Congressional Committee sent out to inquire into the disturbances in Kansas.

That committee, seeing the same report (Leavenworth Herald), very naturally presumed from it that I had advocated the rancorous resolutions of the second meeting, and denounced such conduct as utterly unworthy of one in my then position.

Such denunciations I most heartily indorse, upon the note of facts as they regarded it. I should have felt myself unfit to exercise the slightest functions of a judicial position, had I participated in any such proceedings. * * * * * * *

(Signed), yours truly,


It is sufficient to state that, with the murder of Clark, the establishment of the code of lynch law by the Leavenworth meeting, the consequent lynching of Phillips, and the many other reprehensive acts done by this committee, together with the insane state of the public mind on both sides of the question, which rendered every story of the simplest occurrence but an exaggerated and one-sided statement, entitled to no credence by any except those whose prejudices rendered them credulous, the reign of anarchy in Kansas was fairly begun.


On April 17, the day succeeding his decision on the elections and his proclamation convening the Territorial Legislature at Pawnee, Gov. Reeder left the Territory for a short respite from the local troubles and labors that beset him. The reasons given by himself for the visit were "for the purpose of taking out my family, and attending to private business, as well as for the purpose of consulting with the President in regard to the state of things in the Territory."

The Governor, in his testimony, did not state the full facts in the case, although what he did state was strictly true.

Ever since his refusal to order an election of Territorial officers in the fall, before a census could be taken, the Pro-slavery faction, headed by Atchison, had been clamoring for his removal.

They early discovered that he was not in accord with them in forcing slavery into the Territory by irregular or illegal means. Their machinations for his removal were begun as early as December, 1854, and had resulted in an entire lack of confidence in him on the part of the Pro-slavery junta at Washington, who had been diligently seeking a pretext for his removal ever since. It could not be found so long as he kept himself strictly within the purview of the organic law in his official acts, except some extraneous and non-official conduct could be proven as inconsistent with his official position and derogatory thereto.

The Governor, unfortunately, had become vulnerable to the shafts of his enemies by becoming interested, like many other citizens, in the lots of various embryo cities. He owned lots in Leavenworth, in Lawrence, in Tecumseh, in Topeka, in Pawnee, and many other paper cities of the Territory. He had got them at cheaper rates than possible except in consideration of his official position. The proprietors of those various towns had each hopes that their town might be selected as the seat of Government. Of the many towns in which the Governor owned lots, but one could be designated by him as the place of meeting of the Legislature. Pawnee was the place selected. As early as December, 1854, or January, 1855, he communicated to the Pawnee Town Association his intention to convene the Legislature at that place, provided they would erect a suitable building for its accommodation. His decision became known before his proclamation to that effect was issued, and many of the members elect requested that they should be assembled at Shawnee Mission instead. He refused this request, inasmuch as the Pawnee Town Association (in which he had certainly an occult interest at the time) had already expended considerable money in the erection of a building for the use of the Legislature, and, moreover, because he did not consider the Shawnee Mission, lying near the Missouri border and subject to the incursions of a Missouri mob at any time, a proper or safe place. They declared their intention to adjourn the Legislature to Shawnee Mission, and authorized Mr. Thomas Johnson to prepare for them by the purchase of bedding, etc.

All these matters were known in Washington, and had been pressed by Atchison as cause for Reeder's removal. It is not a matter of record that Mr. Reeder ever paid much money for the various land interest he acquired. Although there is no proof that he did anything which would have been deemed out of the ordinary business course of an honest private citizen, yet, as a Governor, subject to removal, he should have been more careful if he cared to retain his official position. The fact that his largest landed interests were at Pawnee, and that there they were erecting buildings for a Legislature to be convened by him, contrary to the protest of the members elect, gave his enemies the long-sought-for pretext for pressing his removal without reference to the true reason, found in his determined opposition to the lawless outrages they had perpetrated, and to which they had tried in vain to obtain his official sanction. The scheme was to remove Andrew J. Reeder, the official land-speculator, and thus be rid of an honest Governor, whom neither threats could intimidate nor bribes induce to countenance the outrages on law and decency which they committed.

So Gov. Reeder went East to justify himself as an honest official, against the secret and unscrupulous representations of those who were plotting, not only for his removal, but for his disgrace and ruin. He did not return until the last week in June. The result of his visit will be detailed hereafter.

[TOC] [part 15] [part 13] [Cutler's History]