Six Months in Kansas by Hannah Anderson Ropes



DEAR MOTHER OF MINE,--I yesterday closed a long package for you, sending it by private conveyance. But I should now feel as much lost without a letter begun to you, as I should be without knitting-work; and, as I invariably weave the stitches of a new stocking prospectively upon the needles from which one has just been completed, so I now turn to the table where are the papers, from which I have withdrawn all addressed to you, with the feeling that I must.

To-day has been as warm and pleasant as summer. The door stands open; cabin housekeeping has had a thorough overhauling; the broom has thrust itself into every chink and corner, most unceremoniously; pies are baking in the oven; and loaves of bread, just drawn from it, stand bottom up upon the board covering the flour-barrel. The "New York Journal of Commerce" performs the office of screening them from the dust-broom. Mr. ____, who has been away up the Territory, comes in upon me just as I have not finished; the litter being marshalled in the doorway, where he must step over it. I am so glad to see him! he has been so kind a friend. He comes to say, he is going home to Philadelphia at once. Does not look well, and fears sickness. He will return in the spring, with his wife. The tea-kettle sings upon the stove while we talk. I have smuggled the tea-pot, with fresh tea, and a portion of that noisy, singing tea-kettle, applied inwardly, alongside of it; coals are drawn out, the haunch of venison lifted down from the wall, slices broiled quickly, laid upon a hot plate, and placed before my pale, tired-looking friend, before he is aware of it. The tender meat and tea refresh him. We part at the door, he to go to his home, I to busy myself with the unsightly surface of things, underneath which home has made a grave, from which there can be no resurrection!

Well, here is the expected General, safe and sound, from the enemy's camp, and from the presence of Gov. Shannon! looking, indeed, as though he might have ridden fifty miles in six hours, and passed the intervening time of his absence without rest or sleep. But he was successful in his mission, the Governor promises to be here to-morrow.

And now comes another sorrowful item of intelligence. You know I wrote you about the faithful guardsmen who watch our little town while we sleep. Yesterday, one of them who lives upon a claim about six miles distant, mounted his horse, wholly unarmed, and started towards his home, which he had not visited for several days. Out over the wide prairie he sped his way, to gladden the hearts of his parents and dear wife; when he was met by some five or six Missourians, who commanded him to go with them. He answered that he was wholly unarmed, and on his route home to see his family; and putting spurs to his horse he kept on. Poor fellow! he little understood the cruel, heartless, dishonorable men with whom he had to deal. They aimed at the defenceless and wholly unconscious young man, and shot him in the back. He fell instantly from his horse. The released animal kept on his way, and trotted into the door-yard of the murdered man's friends. They, supposing he had got loose from his fastening in town, did not suffer at all from anxiety; but, fearing his gentle, timid wife, whose tears had hardly ceased to flow during the young soldier's absence, might put another construction upon this event, wisely kept it from her.*

*This statement I received from a lady with whom Mrs. Barbour remained a few days after her husband's murder. I have since learned, that two friends were near him when he was shot; that they did not know the ball reached him, until he had ridden some rods, when he uttered the cry, "My God! I am a murdered man!" and immediately slid from his horse to the ground; never spoke again, and breathed a few moments only.

Young Barbour's body was brought into town as soon as discovered, and laid away in one of the rooms of the new hotel, stretched out upon a seat, with his usual clothes upon him. He looked like one asleep; for the wound, though bleeding most profusely, did not disfigure him; it drew the color from his cheeks, that was all. His look of repose was even beautiful. He died, performing his duty.

The wife seemed wholly conscious that he was murdered, all the morning before the news was conveyed to his friends, though she lives six miles or more from here. How to bring her in with safety, was a matter of considerable importance, as enemies on horseback were supposed to be out in every direction. As the safest expedient, her husband's brothers, I think, dressed up in female apparel and accompanied her--women being allowed to pass without much question. It is quite impossible to describe the agony of this wife. She is a delicate, slight-built person, wholly devoted to this man; in fact, it seems to have been a perfect idolatry. Having no children, she centered her all of happiness upon him. The soldiers, who were witnesses to her distress, mingled their tears with her shrieks, while their blood stirred, naturally enough, for vengeance upon the murderers.

Gov. Shannon rides across the prairie with his suite and an escort sent out by Gen. Robinson. He occupies the back seat of a somewhat venerable-looking, two-horse buggy; and with the fine-looking horsemen in front and rear, makes a very respectable appearance. The upper chambers of the hotel are used as headquarters of our Kansas new-made officers. The windows are open; Gen. Robinson is preparing the somewhat restless body of soldiery, occupying the ground in front of the hotel, for the reception of Gov. Shannon. He points to the moving cavalcade in the distance, and says, it is in the hope of a speedy settlement, without more bloodshed, that this interview is proposed. It is not palatable to these men; for there is but a wall between them and their sleeping, murdered comrade. But they honor Gen. Robinson, and he curbs their justly indignant blood, by the power of his own magnanimity. The cavalcade passes through the opening crowd, to the hall of the hotel. Gen. Robinson comes down to the open door, to receive the Governor, and together they pass through the rudely-finished hall, by the murdered man, up the staircase, into a temporary council-chamber. In another chamber, a few rods distant, sits the the new-made widow, weeping unconsciously; refusing food with such gentle violence as makes one feel as though they must gather her into their arm, hush her to a sleep of total forgetfulness; for the multitude and noise without, added to her utter desolation within, have quite bewildered her.

Again the crowd open for the men of power to pass out. There is a call for cheers for Gov. Shannon. The cheering is more like a muffled drum, or the toll of bells, than a spontaneous outburst from a satisfied people.

Saturday is this eventful day. When will Saturday be the door-keeper of a Sabbath to us? Shall the Sabbath never immigrate? and the Commandments too?

The Sabbath-sun has set, and we have gathered round our cabin-fire, preparatory to a quiet evening of reading; when our good Doctor and his wife come in to see us. They are always welcome; but now they come, only to entice me out to the hotel, where people are to be introduced to the Governor, that he may judge for himself what kind of settlers Lawrence is honored with; and, for they have a double object, to make some arrangements for a peace party to be holden in that building on Monday evening. My first reply was in the negative. Public places are an aversion to me. The book, here by the tallow candle, on the quaint old table, is very much more to my taste. I offered to bake any amount of nicknacks for the party; but as for this introduction, what do I care for seeing a man for whom I can not reasonably entertain any respect.

No one could resist the quiet pleading of our Doctor's wife. So, in half an hour, we were all ushered into the council chamber of the third story. The room was quite filled with ladies. At the farther end stood Gov. Shannon. When he shook hands with me, he said, "What part of the country are you from?" I replied, somewhat proudly, "From that proscribed State, Massachusetts." He drew a chair for me, and seated himself by my side. He talked very well, rather too compromisingly. Occasionally he turned his head suddenly towards the window, reminding me (I suppose it was wicked) of that class of persons of whom it is written, they "flee when no man pursueth;" for it was evident he feared something. At last he gave expression to his thoughts and fears. A rumor had reached him that the people at the Missourian camp were so indignant towards him for coming up to Lawrence, that they would make an attack to-night, and lynch him, as well as destroy the town; he had, therefore, as a means of safety, sanctioned the commissions of Gen. Robinson and his staff, authorizing him to prepare for defence. I could not help replying, "You should have come to live among your own people, and then this trouble might never have come upon us," at the same time assuring him there was no man or woman here who would not feel bound in honor to protect him from every threatened danger. Indeed, I felt at the moment as though I could shoulder a rifle or point a pistol in his defence, if need be; not because of the man, but because he was the invited guest of Lawrence. Gov. Shannon is a tall, well-built person, past fifty years of age, hair very gray and stiff, coarse features, pleasant eyes, and a benevolent crown to his forehead. But, to speak phrenologically, he has no firmness nor self-esteem; so that, when the baser portion of his nature does not rule over his more kindly and elevated powers, other people, no matter of what party or principle,--just whom he happens to be thrown in with,--sway him to their purposes. Like those gutta percha heads which the children used to have for playthings, twisting their features into every possible shape. Gov. Shannon has a set of features, purposes, and actions which are but the exponents of those who rule over him pro tem.

Nowithstanding the night passed off without alarm, the Governor did not choose to remain to the party. He gave sanction to our officers, and then turned his face towards the twelve hundred men who were encamped near Franklin, in order to command them to disperse. General Robinson and others accompanied him, having his promise that the prisoners, among whom was General Pomeroy, should be not only released, but placed beyond the reach of the mob. On their arrival, General Robinson, with his usual magnanimity, addressed the people, endeavoring to show that much of this trouble had grown out of misunderstanding and misrepresentation; that the people on both sides, if they would but take the trouble to see and become acquainted with each other, would find a better state of things existing. He closed his remarks with an invitation for any who chose to take the trouble, to come to "the party,"--a party of peace and rejoicing that there was to be no more blood-shed.

Monday, 12o'clock at night.--All the morning has been used up in various culinary preparations for the peace gathering. There are men here from every portion of the Territory; and the army is not to be disbanded till this offering of gratitude is over. L____ came home for his supper rather earlier than usual, bringing with him two gentlemen, one the Mr. Jones who holds the office of sheriff under Gov. Shannon; the name of the other gentleman I do not remember. It has not been as often sounded in my ears as that of "Sheriff Jones." Both, however, were welcome to our cabin and to our stereotype supper of tea, corn-cake, and venison broiled upon the hot coals of black-walnut wood. As soon as serving was over, and my visitors were started off to the party, the "cook" took off her apron, slipped herself out of the warm folds of a woollen sack, --answering in a measure instead of plastered walls, to keep off the cold,--and, in less than half an hour, was introduced into the famous third-story council chamber, now cheerfully lighted and agreeably warmed. Ladies and gentlemen had already begun to assemble; indeed, the whole building seemed alive with the hum of human voices. The illuminated windows sent forth a most unusual light across the night-shadows of the prairie. Sheriff Jones and his friend were in these upper rooms, being introduced to the ladies. They are both fine-looking men and of more than ordinary good breeding. Gen. Robinson, too, was showing them the attention they deserved at his hand, as invited guests. The General looked pale and more disturbed than I thought possible for one of such remarkable self-control and courage. It seemed that some of the hotel crowd were not ready to give up the war spirit, and accept with grace the peace-offering of social intercourse offered by our great-hearted General to those who had arrayed themselves so cruelly against us. And, although Sheriff Jones was nothing more nor less than an officer, acting under his oath of office, he became an apple of discord, because he was the only representative of Missouri. I have to confess to a feeling of mortification, that everybody could not at once bridge over the rapid current sweeping between these two contending parties, and let "by-gones be by-gones." But perhaps this feeling came to the surface because I had not entered into the atmosphere of bloodshed, and had not made the creation of awful "cartridges" the occupation of my leisure hours. Col. Lane's voice could be heard in different rooms, detailing to eager listeners the most painful circumstances of poor Barbour's death, and, with wonderful ingeniousness, keeping up the wicked spirit of vengeance among those over whom he exercised any power. What on earth he was driving at by such a course, it seemed to my stupid self quite impossible to understand; while, at the same time, I knew very well that he aimed at something he could not otherwise attain so well. Any reader of human faces can never study his without a sensation very much like that with which one stands at the edge of a slimy, sedgy, uncertain morass. If there is any good in him, I never, with all my industry in culling something pleasant from the most unpropitious characters, have been able to make the discovery. And he has not, in lieu of anything better, that agreeable fascination of manner which so often gives currency in society to men as hollow-hearted as he. Gen. Robinson stood like an aggrieved king. He not only stemmed the tide, but rolled back the surging emotions of the crowd; and the meeting closed much more like a gathering of peace than at one time seemed likely. I should like very much to have you see Gen. Robinson. He is honest in expression, simple and unaffected in manner, and brave as a lion. I have somewhere seen a fine engraving of John Knox, standing with uplifted finger and solemn, earnest rebuke in his countenance, in the presence of Queen Mary. The head, profile, and general outline of figure are very much that of Gen. Robinson.

I believe I have forgotten to tell you that the funeral of Mr. Barbour was deferred, on account of the important business this week to be attended to. Another week has closed, and the Sabbath calls all people out to pay the last tribute of respect to poor Barbour's memory. A December day, but clear, cloudless, dreadfully bright, and windy. The mud is deep as one's boots; goes up over rubbers without any apparent doubts as to the propriety of such an innovation. Yet, the whole neighborhood seems astir with people, picking their way to one centre--the hotel, where not as last Monday evening, for rejoicing, they come together; but to mourn with the sufferers of a great sorrow: a widow, made so by violence wholly unprovoked; brothers, bereaved in a manner never to be forgotten--never to be thought of in years to come but with the smartest twinges of pain. The room we enter is a long dining-hall. The walls are of limestone, rough and unplastered. Seats of plank stretch in rows, closely packed, through the whole length, with the exception of a narrow space for the clergyman. The seats are all filled. The atmosphere of the assembly is of the truest sympathy. Each soul seems personally aggrieved and afflicted. Silence is the only, and most emphatic, expression given to this grief. The first break upon that silence is the tread of many feet and a smothered, broken sob, that will not be wholly choked down. Working his way through the crowd, appears a tall man, with white hair, large blue eyes, and a very benevolent countenance. You see at once that he is a Methodist. He has clinging to his arm a small, veiled figure,--everybody knows 'tis the widow; "a widow indeed."

There comes another smothered sob as she is borne along to the far end of the hall. The man of white hair stoops over her tenderly and whispers words of peace to her. I do not hear them; she does not. Now she sinks into a seat. A hymn is read, and the crowd sing the tune of "Martin Luther," so familiar to everybody, and stretching back over the whole length of oldest life present. What a relief it is! how it gathers up and rolls away the pent-up emotions of the multitude! Now the white-head sinks down over bended knees, to the floor, and his voice utters its prayers and supplications, while the tears course down the cheeks of the speaker and his audience. The sobs of that broken heart grow fainter. Does she find a relief through the channel of other hearts? I believe so. Then follow short speeches from Col. Lane and Gen. Robinson, and a sad sermon from the white-head. All the exercises are remarkably good of the kind. Even Col. Lane did well.

The services are over; and the people form a procession. Men with arms reversed take the lead; then the body and its friends; then the whole crowd, mounted in carts drawn by oxen, wagons led by mules, and carriages of every pattern, form into a solemn line stretching far along the open country. Up over Mount Pleasant curves the road to the ground appropriated for a burial place, two miles away. What a sight it is! One like it could hardly be got up anywhere else, or under any other circumstances. This grand old country, venerable with its lofty trees, its smoothly terraced hills, its serene repose,--where the moccasin only has trod as at home, and crept away in by-places to take the sleep of death! The tread of the white man is fresh and new; but to-day the grand old prairie witnesses the burial of its second martyr! Now the soldiers make a wall on either side, with lifted hats, for the mourners to pass through. Gently the coffin is lowered to its last rest, while the words, "Dust to dust," "I am the Resurrection and the Life," are broken by the wailing wind, and lost to the ears of the audience by the fast-coming sobs of that forlorn, childless, earth-stricken widow! The soldiers now approach; the audience and friends fall back, giving place to them; while, standing about the grave, at the signal of their commander, "Uncle Jeff," one division after another bury the contents of their rifles in the last resting place of their much-loved and honored comrade.

Wednesday.--The people from different portions of the Territory have departed from Lawrence, and we fall back again into the usual routine of a new settlement. In the early part of the month almost everybody was busy, trying to make their places of abode more suitable for the coming winter. When destruction threatened the town, of course all personal thrift and comfort were lost sight of in the general danger. Now winter seems to hurry in upon us with unusual severity; and so great has been the tax upon the strength of us all for the last three weeks of sleepless anxiety, that all effort, just now, seems quite impossible.

I cannot rid myself of the impression, that more danger lies ahead. I do not forget the long distance stretching between us and our friends; the frozen rivers, cutting off the usual means of intercourse; and the falling snow, making our way trackless in any direction. North, south, or west, there can be seen no help for us in an emergency. Our eyes overleap all points but the East; and, alas! between us and our East, there looms up a fearful Ogre, in the shape of the State of Missouri! Perhaps a class of immigrants of so high an order in cultivation, natural ability, or energetic foresight and calculation, never before planted themselves as the nucleus of a new State, as are these exiles from home in Kansas. Ultraism, naturally or by education, is not the order of mind prevailing among them. Old and early habits of conservative obedience to the "powers that be"--the Laws under which they grew up and found both liberty and protection-still cling to them; and it would be strange if the experience of the past few weeks did not make these habits more clear and honored than ever before.

The man who by his acts destroys our faith in him, robs us of an inheritance wider than the circumference of any one man, be he ever so great, because he undermines the foundation of our trust in others.

How we, at the North, have always believed implicitly in the chivalry of the South, and the wide-hearted generosity of the West. It is not till we arrive in Kansas, away from everything dear and familiar, away from all the ordinary comforts of older countries, that the truth really dawns upon us. Mother, there is no indignity to be mentioned which has not been heaped upon us. But I feel myself robbed of a large estate-my faith in human nature. I cannot understand at all the ground of our offense. If we are poor, should not that be a reason why our neighbors' sympathy and cordial aid should be poured in upon us? Why don't they call and see these poor, benighted "Yankees;" and out of their abundance, give us help? Surely this vast region furnishes room for all! Missouri is larger than New England, and sparsely populated. I am not wise enough to understand why, but it seems as though land had been a bone of contention ever since the earth was created. Just now it is all a "muddle" to me; and as I do not know how to moralize, or you care to hear me, I will subscribe myself,

Your most affectionate daughter,

                  H. A. R.

Previous     Next     Table of Contents