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

Chapter 4:
Men Lay Out New Town

     A few days after the dissenting members of the Ohio Town Company arrived at the Oregon Trail crossing of the Black Vermillion River in 1854, they were unpacked and ready to lay out their town site. A few argued that because some members of the original company had abandoned the group, the name Ohio Town Company was no longer appropriate. They favored the name Ohio City, which was already used by some when referring to the group of Quakers. However, Albert maintained that it was necessary to keep the name Ohio Town Company because he had unofficially laid out and claimed the forty sections of land under that name. Actually, this location on the Vermillion River in Marshall County would later be known by a number of different names such as Quaker City, Quaker Colony, Ohio Colony and finally, Barrett's Mill.

     The impact of the Kansas-Nebraska Act on the settlement of the Kansas Territory was beginning to be felt. Albert struggled to understand the exact wording of the Act, but because he did not have a printed copy, he was unsure of the overall effect the Act would have on new settlers. The words "popular sovereignty" could mean different things. He brought up the subject during one of the evening sessions with other members of the Company as they relaxed around the fire after a long, hard day of building their cabins.

     "Just what does ‘popular sovereignty’ mean?" he asked the group.

     "What are you talking about?" one of them asked. Some members of the Ohio Town Company did not understand the politics that were involved in the opening of the Kansas-Nebraska Territory for settlement.

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     "Well, the Kansas-Nebraska Act states that the question of slavery in Kansas will be decided by popular sovereignty after the Kansas Territory becomes a state in the Union. Now, what does that mean to you?” Albert questioned the group.

     “Don't know,” was the reply.

     "Why do you want to know?” asked the stonemason, Josh.

     "The question as to whether slavery is going to be permitted in the state will be determined by popular sovereignty after the new state of Kansas is admitted to the Union. I think that means by popular vote, but I am just not sure," Albert replied.

     Due to their strong opposition to slavery, the group was concerned about the Act. Information was scarce and inaccurate. Not knowing the outcome of the Act created a general sense of uneasiness and frustration.

     Albert also sensed that the passage of the Act tended to polarize the Free State parties of the North. The general opinion among Eastern politicians was that Nebraska would be a free state. But the fate of Kansas was still undecided. However, Senator Steven Douglas' Kansas-Nebraska Act was what the pro-slavery advocates wanted. To them, it meant that they could and would control the elections and vote Kansas into the Union as a slave state.

     The influx of slave-state Missouri “Border Ruffians,” as the newly appointed territorial governor, Andrew H. Reeder aptly described them, was disturbing. Their violent actions were causing Albert much worry and apprehension, as he could foresee a violent future for the Ohio Town Company. What was the best course of action? He was opposed to slavery and always had been, but his Quaker upbringing still influenced his thinking. Could there be a peaceful settlement?

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     When pure-hearted theologians and business tycoons in the East heard about the possible rigging of early elections and the roughshod tactics of Missouri Border Ruffians, they reacted. In Massachusetts, Eli Thayer (supported by Amos Lawrence, of enormous wealth) formed the New England Emigrant Aid Society to support those who really came to settle, not just abolitionists who were intent on making Kansas a free state. The Society's purposes were not necessarily altruistic; they were also aimed at managing the economy. The Emigrant Aid Society poured huge sums of money into organizing and moving large numbers of settlers to the Kansas Territory. Their main settlement was at the fledgling town of Lawrence on the Kaw River. Although its primary purpose was to promote business interests, the settlement actually became the unofficial headquarters for the Free State movement. Other groups and organizations were formed and sent representatives to the Kansas Territory to bolster the free-state movement.

     Albert could see nothing but trouble in the future. What was the best way to deal with the forthcoming crisis? How could those who abhorred slavery prevent the Missouri Border Ruffians from taking over? Many nights, Albert lay awake pondering the future of the Kansas Territory. His antislavery stance was becoming a burden, but he vowed to prohibit slavery if possible.

     Meanwhile, he had other important problems, such as the acquisition and ownership of the land. Albert’s understanding of the preemption law was that any adult over twenty-one years and/or the head of a family could claim 160 acres of prairie land and 80 acres of timberland, for a total of 240 acres. The preemption law, which had been hotly debated in Congress but was finally passed, allowed settlers to claim the land of their choice, stake out the corners as best they could, live on the land and make some sort of housing and other improvements, a process sometimes described as "squatter's rights." Settlers had a year to register their claims with the nearest federal land office and make payment of $1.25 per acre.

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     The problem facing the Ohio Town Company members was that since the land had only recently been secured from various Indian tribes, only a few official land surveys had yet been made. In addition, there was no place to register their claims. In the meantime, they would have to protect their claims, by force if necessary, until official land offices were established and claims could be processed and legalized.

     Albert indicated that the Ohio Town Company’s first priority was to more clearly identify the boundaries of their claims and mark them as best they could. Each member participated, and soon the process was under way. The claims were in close proximity to one another. Albert's original plans had called for enough land for each of the sixty original members of the Company to make a claim. With the breakup of the original Company, not all the claims were filled. However, the group decided to identify and mark all the claims in the name of the Ohio Town Company, hoping that more of the Quakers would decide to come out later and claim them.

     The usual method of measuring boundaries with a 100-foot surveyor's chain was a tedious job. When Albert outlined this procedure, he was questioned: "Do you know how long it's going to take to measure all those claims with a chain? All summer, maybe?"

     Albert thought for a moment. "Nope," he said. "Not all that long. We won't use a chain.”

     "How'n thunder you gonna measure the sides, with a yardstick?”

     ”Nope, I have another idea," came Albert's reply.

With his usual ingenuity, Albert took a wheel from the buckboard, measured the length around the rim and then calculated the number of revolutions needed to measure rods and miles. He assigned two men to roll the wheel around the claims’

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proposed boundaries and measure off the square mile sections by counting the revolutions of the buckboard wheel. The group was surprised at the relative ease of this method over chain measurement. One wizened mountaineer observed, “Ole Albert’s sure's got a head on his shoulders.”

     The corners of the claims were then marked with bits of colored cloth on tall stakes and an axe slash on a nearby tree. Each member felt more secure after his claim had been identified, even though he could not yet legally claim the land.

     The next project was to construct basic log cabins from the generous supply of trees in the bottomlands. Albert had chosen a level site near the junction of the little stream called Gould's Branch and the Vermillion River. Because the whole valley was flat, the men realized that flooding could be a problem. With that in mind, they decided to raise the foundations of the log cabins.

     They found an outcropping of limestone just a short distance from the valley floor. Removing the dirt layer, the men exposed a wide area of fine limestone ledges, well suited for foundation blocks. Soon, they had quarried a generous supply of building blocks for the cabin foundations. Using ox teams, they moved the rocks to the cabin sites on wooden sleds called "stoneboats." There were two stonemasons in the group, and they supervised the laying of the stone foundations. They were delighted to find such good stones and visualized using them for building entire houses at some time in the future. Their visions were realized a few years later when they discovered that stone houses were more durable against storms and more comfortable to live in than those built of wood.

     After the stone foundations were put in place, trees were felled and hauled to the cabin sites, and construction of their first homes was under way. Building log cabins was hard, backbreaking work for all the men, but the homes were sturdy and well built.

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     As the building of the cabins neared completion, Albert was anxious to receive and set up the sawmill he’d purchased in Cincinnati over a year ago, using the funds generated by each member’s paying $25 into the sawmill fund. Albert's plans also called for a gristmill to be combined with the sawmill.

     With more than a little impatience, he grumbled, "It's getting so you can't depend on anybody to do what he’s supposed to these days. I sent word over a month ago to those people at the factory to ship our sawmill. Still no word. We need to start sawing some of these big trees to build some permanent homes."

     As summer progressed and the strong south winds blew hot, the sun dried the prairie, and the flow of water in Gould's Branch and in the Vermillion River was reduced substantially. With the reduction of water flow, Albert abandoned the thought of using waterpower for the sawmill. Perhaps it could be used for the gristmill, but not for the sawmill. Having looked at steam engines while in Cincinnati, he was knowledgeable about them and decided to purchase one and have it shipped along with the sawmill.

     As the streams continued to dry up during the summer, Albert wondered if there would be enough water in Gould’s Branch to maintain even a steam engine. The men from Cadiz, Ohio, were learning many things about life on the Great Plains.

     Once he had made the commitment to purchase a steam engine to power the sawmill, Albert began to think seriously about where to locate the mill. After considering many factors, he finally settled on a site on the banks of Gould's Branch, hoping the little stream would continue to provide enough water for his steam engine. As he surveyed the site, he concluded that he could probably tap the Vermillion River if necessary. He planned to set up the sawmill under a big tent until he could saw enough lumber to put up a building to house the sawmill. He was anxious to get his mill started.

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     Some members of the Ohio Town Company who had not finished their cabins found it necessary to patrol their claims, forced nearly every day to defend them from get-rich-quick “claim-jumpers” and con artists. On several occasions claim-jumpers, knowing that the closest law enforcement was 100 miles back down the Trail, had settled on marked claims, hoping to usurp the land for them selves. They were advised, often at gunpoint, to go find another piece of land. Even though the Company settlers were of Quaker faith and shied away from violence, they had come to recognize that Albert’s new philosophy of meeting force with force was the best policy to deal with the lawless bands of ruffians and guerrillas in a lawless land. Several of the work group wore revolvers at all times.

     "I wonder what our brethren back in Cadiz would say about us wearing guns all the time?" joked an old-timer.

     "I think guns add a little authority to our dress," Albert replied.

     It was indeed a strange new world for the Quakers.

     During the summer months, traffic along the Oregon-California Trail continued to increase. Much of the traffic consisted of families headed for Oregon to claim homesteads in the Willamette Valley and of freight wagons filled with merchandise to stock the trading posts along the Trail. Other travelers were trappers, traders, land speculators, missionaries, outlaws, and roving guerrillas. Following rainstorms that brought the Vermillion to flood stage, it was not unusual to find dozens of wagons camped in the campground near the mill, waiting for the water to recede so they could cross the river.

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     Some of the original Ohio Town Company members who earlier had been reluctant to come to the Kansas Territory with Albert began to arrive and settle on some of the vacant claims. Albert's foresight in staking out additional land tracts made it possible for the newcomers to make claims as they arrived at the Ohio Town Company settlement.

     Travel along the Oregon Trail, which began in the 1840s, continued to grow each year. In normal times, streams could be forded with little problem. But crossing unbridged streams at flood stage was one of the most vexing problems wagon trains faced. Only on larger streams were ferries practical and/or profitable, because they were essential for short periods of time during flood stages.

     Francis (Frank) J. Marshall, a native of Weston, Missouri, was a ruthless politician who was already an established settler by the time the Ohio Town Company arrived in 1854. He had established a ferry service across the Big Blue River at Independence Crossing, a few miles northwest of the Ohio Town Company settlement. Although there was a nearby place to ford the river, westward travelers were obliged to use Marshall's ferry when the Big Blue was too high and deep for their wagons to cross. During the summer months of heavy travel along the Oregon-California Trail, Marshall operated his ferry and charged five dollars per wagon to cross, a high price in those days. During the slack months, he retreated to Weston, where he operated his farms.

     Marshall was a Southerner who owned several slaves. As his business increased, he built several log cabins along the river and maintained a blacksmith shop, a country store and sleeping quarters. He brought five slaves to carry on the heavy work. In time, Marshall dominated the political climate in the area and managed to organize his new settlement into a town called Marysville, named after his wife, Mary. He also had the county of Marshall named after him. He became a bitter enemy of Albert Barrett and his group of Quakers.

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     Another early settler was John D. Wells, a Kentucky horse breeder and a fine gentleman. He raised thoroughbred horses and later built a circular racetrack on his nearby claim. In later years he held horse races every Sunday afternoon. Other new settlers to the Ohio Town Company area were Daniel N. Leavitt, Henry Hollenberg, and Isaac Walker, who married Winifred Barrett, Albert's younger sister.  Isaac and Winifred settled a short distance away on the Vermillion River. As the area began to fill with new settlers, Albert felt responsible for making the Ohio Town Company a more comfortable place to live, not an easy task.

     The Kansas-Nebraska Act left many unanswered questions as to rules and regulations governing elections, stating that any "inhabitant" could vote in general elections. The pro-slavery supporters took a liberal view of the wording, and literally hundreds of Missourians from across the Missouri River flocked to Marysville, Kansas, to become “inhabitants” for a day. By a vast majority of fraudulent votes, they elected Frank Marshall as representative to the first Territorial Legislature. The pro-slavery forces loudly proclaimed that they would make the Kansas Territory a slave state, even if they had to “hang every yellow-bellied abolitionist." War clouds were building over the area.

As summer faded into fall, the Company members improved their log cabins to better ward off winter blasts. One of the cabins had been converted into a woodworking shop, and many of the group who were skilled craftsmen spent the long winter months building various kinds of household furniture such as tables, chairs, beds, benches and stools to be used in their homes. They were anxious to bring their families to the settlement but had decided it best to wait for the spring thaws and warmer weather, because most of the river traffic ceased to operate during the winter.

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     Albert fretted about the delay in the shipment of his sawmill and vowed to return to Cincinnati as soon as the weather permitted to have the mill shipped. He would then travel on to Cadiz to bring Mary and his four children back to the settlement. He had built a solid log cabin for them to live in until he could saw enough lumber to build a frame house. During the cold winter months of 1854, he worked with the other members of the Company to develop plans for enlarging the settlement, which he hoped would become a substantial trading center in the new land. That had always been his dream.

     In preparation for the coming winter, hunters for the group had brought in deer, buffalo, and other game to be smoked, dried and prepared for winter use. They had sent the supply wagons back to Leavenworth for staples and refinements for their log cabins. Fireplace hearths had been built into all the cabins for heating and cooking, and out of necessity most of the men had learned the art of open-hearth cooking. However, some could afford cast iron stoves for their cabins. Although these stoves were in short supply, several men realized how they could ease the chores of housekeeping. They also learned that to tame a new land required much more durability and endurance than they had ever thought possible. They were tired and longed for their families. Would the spring ever come?

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