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

Chapter 5:
Barrett Families Arrive

     Early in the spring of 1855, Albert and nearly all of the other Ohio Town Company members embarked from Leavenworth, headed for Cadiz to bring their families to their new homes in the Kansas Territory. They were now ready to abandon their homes in the mountains of Ohio and move to the wide-open spaces on the Great Plains. Their pioneering spirits were running high as they imagined what their futures could, and hopefully would, be. A few without families had stayed at the settlement.

     Albert, still fretting about getting his sawmill shipped, installed and running, stopped off in Cincinnati to determine the reason for the delay. He found that the sawmill was ready to ship, but the steam engine was still being assembled. Because Albert wanted them both shipped together, it would be some time before they were both ready. The shipment of the mill and the steam engine to Leavenworth presented no great problem, but moving that heavy equipment from Leavenworth to the settlement on the Vermillion River was a major challenge. The sawmill was not particularly heavy and could be disassembled for transporting. The steam engine was to be fitted with a large, heavy brass flywheel that could be detached for shipment. However, this heavy equipment would be difficult to transport across the prairie by wagons and ox teams. Though Albert was puzzled about how to move the new equipment to the settlement, he was confident there was a way.

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     The manufacturing company indicated it would be another month, possibly two, before both the mill and the engine could be shipped. Albert urged the company to hasten the shipment as much as possible.

     The families of the pioneers in Cadiz, including the Barretts, were overjoyed at the return of the menfolk. Because there was so much to talk about, it was decided that another picnic would be in order. One was planned for the second Sunday after the return of the group. It was to be held directly following the Quaker church service in the Brushy Fork Grove near Cadiz. All who were interested were invited to attend. Although Albert had long since been stricken from the church roll for "marrying out of order" to Mary McKeever, he had for years attended regular Sunday services with Mary. However, after the breakup of the Ohio Town Company over the slavery question, he had not attended any church services, and they did not attend Sunday services that day.

     After much fun and food at the picnic, several pioneers shared their impressions of the Ohio Town Company settlement, then known as "Ohio City," in the Kansas Territory. For the past year, their families had been planning the move to their new homes. Several more members of the original Ohio Town Company had indicated they would join the new adventure and now came forth to talk with Albert about joining the move west. He assured them there was land to be claimed at the settlement. Several other original members had long since left Ohio to go to California to settle where slavery was not a question.

     To move to the Kansas Territory required a number of major decisions. Most all the settlers had property in Ohio to dispose of and needed to decide what and how

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many personal items and mementos they wished to take with them. They all would need substantial amounts of cash for transportation and travel expenses. Albert sold the construction business that he had operated for several years, as well as other property and housing. However, he retained a comfortable house for his mother, Winifred, and his invalid sister, Ruth, who would not be joining him in the Kansas Territory.

     Following the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska bill, there was a general exodus from the Midwestern states to the Territory in the 1850s. Overland travel was arduous and difficult. Although several railroads were pushing their rail lines to the Missouri River as rapidly as possible to shorten the distance to the western territories, none of the rail lines extended beyond St. Louis at that time.

     After several weeks of preparation, the group boarded a downstream boat for their return journey. The flow of pioneers and home-seekers moving down the Ohio River was staggering, and the sheer number of travelers overwhelmed the fleet of riverboats operating along the Ohio River. Passage by riverboat was difficult to obtain. Cabin space was allotted to those who could pay the high price to sleep inside. Many brought their own bedding and slept on the steamer decks. Albert used his acquaintance with a riverboat captain he had traveled with before to secure passage to Cairo for the group. Food was basic and ill-prepared, often unpalatable and repulsive. The trip to Cairo was the shortest but most difficult leg of the journey.

     From Cairo to St. Louis, the trip was upstream, against the current of the mighty Mississippi. Riverboat traffic to St. Louis had been operating for many years and was therefore well established. The boats were large and well equipped, so the group

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obtained inside sleeping accommodations with reasonably decent food. Bucking the current of the river, however, made the trip to St. Louis slow and tedious.

     St. Louis was the terminus for rail lines from the North and East. Hundreds of travelers who were headed for the free lands in the Louisiana Territory arrived daily. The traffic jam from already-established overland trading routes from St. Louis west to the Rocky Mountains and California created a madhouse of humanity. The mountain people from Ohio had never seen such crowds and congestion and were overwhelmed by the crush of people, most going the same direction -- west.

     The group noticed another difference in St. Louis. The attitude of the people was changing. Rumors of the battle over slavery in Kansas were heard everywhere. Whether Kansas would become a slave state or a free state was on the minds of nearly everyone. Missourians were the loudest in their denunciation of the "lily-livered abolitionists" who would deny Missouri residents their age-old practice of owning slaves. They vowed to show those "imported hirelings from the East" who ruled this land and what would be done with it. Vitriolic newspaper editors screamed in the headlines about the forthcoming showdown over the slavery question in the Kansas Territory. Albert warned his group not to engage in arguments with anyone. Loud-mouthed orators appeared on nearly every street corner, spouting rhetoric on different sides of the question. It was indeed a very explosive situation. The group from Cadiz made reservations to leave St. Louis for Westport as soon as possible.

     The riverboat up the Missouri River from St. Louis was also grossly overcrowded, and cabin space was not available for the Ohio group, which numbered some 20 persons, including several children. They had brought blankets and bedrolls and bedded

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down on the afterdecks. There was literally no space under cover, and frequent rain showers left them wet and miserable. Meals were not regularly scheduled; nor were they appetizing.

     Some passengers paced the decks, engaging anyone who would listen to their version of the slavery question in the Kansas Territory. Two men from Massachusetts, members of the New England Emigrant Aid Society, were quite vocal and engaged in heated discussions at every opportunity. On several occasions, their discussions threatened to end in brawls. The riverboat made an unscheduled stop in Lexington, Missouri, where the captain forced the two abolitionists to leave the boat. He announced he would not tolerate any more debates on the subject of slavery for the rest of the trip to Westport. Everyone was relieved, as they had feared the debates would likely get out of hand and result in violence and bloodshed.

     Arrival at Westport was a welcome relief for the party. Although the little settlement at the junction of the Kaw and Missouri Rivers had not achieved the status of Leavenworth, Atchison or "St. Joe," it was the origin of both the Santa Fe and the Oregon-California Trails. Traders, merchants and outfitters for pioneers were doing a booming business supplying wagon trains. Droves of oxen, mules and horses driven in from the surrounding territory were in big demand. While many of the wagon trains were organized in Independence, Missouri, Westport was the supply station for getting across the vast prairies. At Westport the group boarded another riverboat for Leavenworth, the end of their river travel.

     Once in Leavenworth and tired from their long journey, the women began to take inventory of what supplies they would need to set up housekeeping at their new homes.

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The menfolk were busy locating and purchasing wagons, oxen and horses. Albert relied on the good judgment of his men to gather the needed supplies and tools. Three days later, the members of the Ohio Town Company rolled out of Leavenworth on the Military Road, continuing until they came to the Oregon Trail. Here, they traveled north until they reached the Vermillion Valley, their new home for the next one hundred years.

     As the group unpacked and settled in, the process of establishing new homes began. As the men had discovered earlier, there were many adjustments to make and many things to learn about life on the Plains. Winter was only a few months away. Survival of severe Kansas winters was much different than surviving in the mountains of Ohio. A mistake or failure in reading weather conditions here could result in the loss of life due to exposure.

     It was a whole new world for the pioneers. The log cabins were crude but livable. Food supplies were adequate, but the preparations were primitive and difficult. The women, who normally performed the household duties, had to rely on the men, who had had a year's experience in existing on the Plains, for guidance in food preparation and preservation. They were well supplied with basic staples such as flour, cornmeal, sugar and some dried fruit. But their source of meat was now mostly wild game instead of hogs, cattle, chickens and other domestic animals. The butchering, cooking and preparation of game was new to some of the women. But these pioneers had expected such changes and were learning to cope.

     Aside from the hardships of primitive living conditions, there were other problems that seriously disturbed Albert. He had heard reports of the atrocities and wanton killings that were occurring in the Kansas Territory.

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     Runaway slaves came to the Kansas Territory from Missouri towns along the Missouri River. The Underground Railroad, although supposedly secret, was present and operative. An escape to Canada along the Underground Railroad took at least three weeks of clandestine travel. Although he did not actively participate in he Underground Railroad, Albert kept a supply of blankets, food and water in the loft of his barn for those who needed it. Albert also allowed runaway slaves to remain, sleeping in the barn and working at the mill. Quite often Mary had Negro women in her home helping with the housework.

     The newly elected Kansas Territorial Legislature, composed mostly of pro-slavery men, met first at Pawnee, later at Shawnee Mission and finally at Lecompton. They enacted a series of laws to insure that slavery would be protected and practiced. These new pro-slavery laws, which were stricter and carried greater penalties than those in any other state, were enforced by renegade Border Ruffians. Eastern newspapers and politicians called for declaration of outright war and rebellion against the laws permitting slavery in the Kansas Territory.

     Albert was dismayed as the war clouds gathered. His Quaker heritage still influenced his thinking, although he was quick to defend the principle of universal freedom for all mankind. He would do whatever was required to insure that slavery be abolished once and for all nationwide, but especially in Kansas.

     Word finally came from Leavenworth that the sawmill and steam engine had arrived and were ready to be claimed. Albert gathered several men and they hurried to Leavenworth. As a supply depot for westward travelers, Leavenworth provided an active market for oxen, horses, mules, wagons and supplies. Albert knew he would need additional teams and wagons to operate the sawmill. Collectively, the men purchased one team of draft horses, a covered wagon, six span of oxen, two large freighting wagons and other supplies. The sawmill and the steam engine were in shipping crates, sitting on the river dock. Albert secured the help of several roustabouts to help load the sawmill onto one large freight wagon and the steam engine onto the other. Three spans of oxen were hitched to each freight wagon, and the men loaded their gear and other new purchases into the covered wagon.

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     The weather was warm and sunny the first day out of Leavenworth. The freight wagon carrying the steam engine was very heavily loaded and required frequent stops to rest the oxen. Mid-afternoon on the third day, a strong thunderstorm blew in, and torrents of rain made the trail muddy and slippery. The wagon wheels cut deep into the mud and at times it was necessary to transfer one span of oxen from the sawmill wagon to the steam engine wagon to navigate the hills and ravines. The going was slow, requiring eight days of hard travel from Leavenworth to reach their settlement, Ohio City. But the mill was on hand and Albert was a happy man.

     The mill was placed on a ready-made, temporary platform, and a large tent covered both the mill and the steam engine. Huge logs were snaked to the mill by ox teams, and the sawing began. In just a few days, enough structural lumber was ready for the men to start construction of the mill building, which was to be a two-story affair with the sawmill on the first floor and the yet-to-arrive gristmill on the second.

     Word quickly spread that the sawmill was in operation, and almost daily settlers came to ask how soon they could purchase lumber to build their houses. Some were hauling logs from as far away as Blue Rapids to be sawn into usable lumber. The Quaker settlement of Ohio City soon became known as Barrett's Mill, a rest stop on the Oregon Trail and the hub of activity for the new settlers.

Barrett Saw Mill     Barrett Grist Mill


     Throughout the winter of 1856-57, the colony grew and flourished, and 1857 brought new activities and achievements. Dan Leavitt built a log cabin that housed his family as well as a general store on the west bank of the Vermillion, across from the mill. Later a post office was added, with Enoch Pugh as postmaster, although it was

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necessary to ford the river to obtain mail. Prior mail service had been spotty and unreliable, with the closest post office in St. Mary's Mission, forty miles to the south.

Barrett post office


     Close to the mill was a flat, open space in a large grove of trees that, once cleared of brush and stones, became a camping spot for travelers along the Trail. This area was part of the mill property and served as a gathering place for weary travelers along the Trail and they often camped there to rest from their journey.

     In the fall it was common practice to butcher one or more domestic animals, usually hogs or beef. Butchering and curing the meets was a cooperative effort and several days were set aside for that purpose. Small game was available and hunting parties supplied fun and meat for the men folks. The pioneers were usually well fed.

     A little farther away from the mill was another flat open space in a large grove of trees that became a park. This park became the center for outside social functions and activities. It served as a gathering place for meetings and public gatherings and a playground for the children. With the 4th of July approaching, various members expressed the need for some diversionary activity and determined that Independence Day called for a celebration. On July 3rd a calf and a fat hog were butchered and prepared for barbecuing. Late in the evening the fires were lighted and

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the celebration began. Several dignitaries gathered around a huge campfire and offered speeches. The following day, the 4th of July, a large gathering of settlers from far and near came to celebrate, rejoice, and give thanks for their many blessings. The first July 4th in Marshall County was a great success.

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