Kansas Collection Books: The Abolitionist, by George W. Schiller

Chapter 3:
Barrett Men Go West to Kansas

          Albert and a few of the other original Ohio Town Company Friends met several times during the winter months in 1853, preparing for the trip to the Kansas-Nebraska Territory the following spring. Some of the men would go ahead to the site and build shelter for their families. Once shelter was available, they would return and bring out their women and children.

     As the group analyzed the numerous items required to move to the primitive area, they realized how unprepared they had been a few months before. They gathered together often to discuss the proposed trip and continued to review the plans and add items they felt they would need. There were so many details to consider that some of the group were almost overcome with the requirements of their move.

     The first consideration of the would-be pioneers was food supplies at the river ports. They could purchase there staples such as flour, sugar, beans, bacon, cornmeal, coffee, salt, dried fruit, condiments, hams, and dried meats. Albert reminded them that there was an ample supply of small game as well as an abundance of deer and some buffalo and antelope. The men should take their rifles, shotguns and some handguns, both for game and protection.

     Albert's Quaker brethren questioned the inclusion of handguns. However, Albert's position on Quaker philosophical pacifism had recently changed. His previous exposure to the Western ways of life during his trip had caused him to replace his earlier concept of the Quaker peaceful coexistence. Albert knew that the new territories

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would not always be peaceful. He created a positive attitude about survival on the frontier. He fully intended to be a survivor of whatever events that transpired and he wanted to be prepared to deal with them.

     Because only the men would be going on the initial trip and their knowledge of cooking utensils and equipment was limited, the group pressed Mary and the other wives into compiling a list of necessary items to be taken along for preparing their meals. The women insisted on also including several medicinal items such as iodine, calomel, quinine salts, and turpentine.

     The matter of adequate shelter was discussed at length. Albert was in favor of a large canvas tent for their first shelter. The men could all use the tent for sleeping purposes until they could build their own log cabins. Considering the vast supply of virgin timber available, Albert favored log cabins over sod houses or dugouts. The building of shelters would be a cooperative effort, the group working together to raise the cabins.

     David Barrett (a nephew of Albert's), Micayah Johnson, Abraham Holmes and A. Heberling were newcomers to the group. Some of these men had worked with Albert on his earlier construction projects. They were craftsmen, skilled and knowledgeable in carpentry, stone masonry, blacksmithing and general construction. Several members of the extended Barrett family expressed interest in joining Albert but were not ready to make a definite commitment. Albert referred to them as "the timid ones."

     Albert's brother William was a frequent visitor. William, the eldest son of David and Winifred (Kirby) Barrett, was an innkeeper in Cadiz who, over the years, had operated several inns and hotels and was known as a competent and genial host to

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weary travelers, providing the most gracious and luxurious living space available in the area. (He often greeted his guests dressed in a top hat and Prince Albert cutaway coat.) When he learned that Albert was planning to move to the Kansas-Nebraska Territory, William was eager to be involved. He could easily imagine the critical need for traveling accommodations in the new territory.

     The two brothers had a special relationship and were close in several respects. Albert considered William as his mentor and confidant. But perhaps the strongest link between the two was the marital connection. William had married a young widow named Phoebe Bushfield McKeever, who had been previously married to William McKeever from Pennsylvania. While Phoebe and McKeever were residing in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, McKeever died from malaria. Phoebe, with her young daughter Mary, returned to Cadiz where she took a job working for her brother, a hatter. In time she met and married William Barrett. Several years later, Albert met, wooed, and married the daughter, Mary. Thus, the Barrett brothers married mother and daughter. Over time their relationship grew stronger. The two brothers spent many evenings by the fireside discussing the potentials and pitfalls of the adventure to the West, while Phoebe and her daughter chatted "girl talk." William wished to migrate to the territory, but he was reluctant to make the move until Congress had passed legislation that officially opened the frontier for settlement. His inn in Cadiz was doing a substantial business, and he hesitated to dispose of it until he could move to the territory and open another one. Such a move would first require Albert to get his saw mill in operation and build a new inn. William intended to move, but not yet. The pioneers who would make a major move to a

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foreign territory were recalling the move their parents and grandparents made when they moved from Virginia to Ohio years before.

     Albert encouraged each of the men who were committed to accompanying him to gather the tools they would need for building a new town site. He suggested that each build a large toolbox to hold his favorite tools and other items the group would need, cautioning that there would be a limited supply on the frontier. Albert was confident that he would have a knowledgeable group of artisans supporting him in the new settlement on the prairie.

     Discussion about the role of slavery in states west of the Mississippi River kept nearly everyone's attention, especially Albert's. He attempted to broaden his knowledge of the Kansas-Nebraska legislation that was currently under consideration in Congress. News of Congress from Washington was delayed and sometimes inaccurate. While following the developments of the western territories, Albert compiled a written journal for himself and his group to help keep the record straight.

     In the 1850s, as territories and states were being formed from the newly acquired western territory, the Louisiana Purchase, there was keen rivalry between the congressmen from free and slave states. In the House of Representatives, the Free Staters controlled the votes by 105 to 81. In the Senate the votes were usually even, and statehood admissions were finally determined there. The practice of admitting a slave state for every free state had become accepted procedure, but senior statesmen Clay, Calhoun, Webster and Jefferson gave strong advice against the continuation of the practice of trade-off statehood admissions.

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     In 1820, when Maine was ready to be admitted as a free state, Missouri was also seeking statehood but would be a slave state to maintain the balance between free- and slave-state votes. However, to the bill that would admit Missouri, Senator Henry Clay added a compromise amendment. The bill was amended to require that in the future, slavery would be prohibited in all new states developed from the Louisiana Territory north of the 36° 30" parallel. This bill then became known as the "Missouri Compromise of 1820." Slavery would be permitted in Missouri but prohibited in any new states north of the parallel 36° 30".

     It was opposition from the slave-state bloc in the 1850s that held up passage of Senator Stephen Douglas's bill to admit the Nebraska Territory. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was a thorn in the side of the slave-state voters. Douglas, a shrewd politician from Illinois, was determined to create new territories as rapidly as possible. Congress had decreed previously that before they would consider granting railroads the rights-of-way to build transcontinental rail lines across the West, the territories must be officially established and have territorial governments in place.

     Douglas, supported by a railroad group from his hometown of Chicago, advocated that the first railroad west should originate in Chicago. On December 13, 1853, he offered a bill to admit what was referred to as the Nebraska Territory, an area lying between the 37th and the 43rd parallel and west from the Missouri River to the Continental Divide. This large area included the valley of the Platte River. Slavery in this area would be prohibited under the Missouri Compromise. Naturally, the slave-state bloc objected.

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     The aged Jefferson and other seniors in Congress predicted civil strife and perhaps warfare if the bill passed. Thus, the controversy raged on in Congress.

     On January 4, 1854, Douglas's original Nebraska bill was reported to be out of the Senate to Congress for consideration. This action fanned the flames of disagreement.

     On January 10, amendments were added to satisfy the demands of the slave states. The wording was changed to divide the Nebraska Territory at the 40th parallel, naming the northern part "Nebraska" and the southern part, between the 37th and the 40th parallels, "Kansas". Slavery would be prohibited in Nebraska, but the slavery question would not be decided in Kansas until after it had become a state and then by popular sovereignty. This amendment would also nullify the Missouri Compromise of 1820.

     On January 23, the bill was redrafted to clarify the amendment. After several days of heated debate, from February 6 to 15, the amended bill passed the Senate.

     On May 22, the House of Representatives, also after prolonged debate, passed the bill. It was recorded and President Franklin Pierce signed the bill into law on May 30, 1854.

     Douglas had succeeded in laying the groundwork, and with the help of Alexander Stephens in the House, he had guided the bill through Congress. Historians recorded the event as one of great importance to the nation. It satisfied the demands of Congress for a government in the new territories, so settlement could proceed and the building of transcontinental rail lines could begin. The Act also satisfied the slave-state bloc who had chafed at the restrictive Missouri Compromise. Newspapers reporting the event

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described Douglas as a responsible party leader who operated on the principle that politics was the art of compromise. After nearly a decade of effort, he could now promote a railroad from Chicago to the Pacific Coast.

     Politicians predicted that the Kansas-Nebraska Bill would insure that proslavery advocates along the Missouri River would be out in force to vote the Kansas Territory into the Union as a slave state. Open warfare loomed on the horizon.

     Government and politics in early Kansas was an ever-changing scene. The reputation "Bleeding Kansas" was hard earned and costly. Albert was at times shaken by the instability of the situation and the prospect of violence.

     The travel plans for the Ohio group was reviewed again and again to be sure all conditions were covered and planned in detail. The undertaking was a major one and every detail was important. The first week in May came with spring storms and substantial rainfall. Crocus, daffodils, dogwood and redbuds put forth their colorful arrays and shook the winter doldrums from the little band of Ohioans filled with aspirations. The creeks ran bank-full and emptied into the mighty Ohio River. The water level rose and riverboat travel was resumed at a fever pitch. There was a certain amount of apprehension, disguised by animated chatter, as they made their final plans.

     The trip Albert planned was over eight hundred miles. Depending on river conditions and weather, the travel time could be fifteen days, possibly longer. Albert had chosen Fort Leavenworth as their overland debarking point for several reasons. He was familiar with the location, but more important, the Military Trail from Fort Leavenworth westward was well traveled and most of the streams were bridged. The Military Trail connected with the Oregon Trail close to their final destination. Also, Fort Leavenworth

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was a staging point for much of the westbound overland travel. Albert knew from his past visit that adequate supplies and equipment were available at the fort.

     Their arrival in Leavenworth was a welcome relief from the long riverboat journey, and they were glad to be ashore again. Many of the group had disposed of some property in Cadiz to finance their adventure. They now pooled their funds to purchase equipment and tools. Two spans of oxen with necessary yokes and trace lines along with two teams of draft horses and one team of lighter horses to double for riding were needed. Three covered freight wagons and a buckboard were also bargained for. The wagons and teams were fully equipped and in good condition. The lists of supplies compiled earlier were filled, and the group was ready to move on to their final destination during the first warm days of summer.

     The plodding ox teams moved slowly across a prairie that had been saturated with spring rains, restricting the teams to a daily rate of about ten miles. The crossing of the old Military Trail with the Oregon Trail occurred four days out. After turning northwest on the Oregon Trail and traveling two more days, the group arrived at the Black Vermillion crossing. In a sense, they were home.

     As they made camp on the banks of the Vermillion River that evening, Albert called them all together and each gave a short prayer of thankfulness for the safe journey. As their new challenges commenced, they asked for guidance and strength to achieve their final goals. A new life had begun and they were prepared to deal with whatever the future would bring.

     However, these mountain people were somewhat awed by the immensity of the Great Plains. The miles upon miles of waving grass covering the rolling hills were a vast

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change from the mountainous land they had left. It was hard for them to visualize that these hills and plains stretched westward for another four hundred miles to the Rocky Mountains. For the most part they were thankful for the safe journey but unsure about their future. It was Albert, their leader and guide, who reassured them that their move was a wise one.

     It soon became apparent that the resting spot Albert had occupied earlier was a favorite spot for the westbound wagon trains. The grove of huge oak and walnut beside the little stream gave the travelers shade and protection from the sun and storms. Although the little stream that became known as Gould's branch ran freely and was normally clear, it became muddy and silty after rainstorms. Needing a good source of clean water, the Ohio Town group promptly dug a well on a high spot close to the campground. They pitched the large tent there, and it became the temporary headquarters for the group.

     Travel along the Oregon Trail continued to increase as the weather warmed. The men soon adapted to the outdoor living conditions and began the tasks required to develop a new settlement. The changes from mountaineer living to the Great Plains way of life were challenging and often frustrating. In addition to the new surroundings, different climate and a very primitive lifestyle, the Ohio Town group had, for all practical purposes, abandoned their long-established Quaker religion. There were nagging thoughts in the minds of some that they should build a new church and revive their Christian services. However, Albert did not lend his support to the movement and nothing was done. The Quaker faith was in limbo for some time. These members of the

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Ohio Town Company had just opened a new chapter in their lives, and the new scene was awesome to some of them.

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