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Border Troubles in Leavenworth

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Governor Wilson ShannonIn October, 1855, a Constitutional Convention was held in Topeka by Free-Staters seeking to subvert the official pro-slavery territorial legislature. The "official" territorial legislature, called the "Bogus Legislature," had been elected in March, 1855 and suffered widely from electoral fraud. At the Topeka Constitutional Convention, the Free-Staters developed the first Kansas constitution, which was approved by Free-State voters in Kansas on December 15, 1855. This document banned slavery in in the state.

 

However, there were a number of pro-slavery advocates who had settled in Leavenworth and just a week after the Constitutional Convention at Topeka had adjourned, a large pro-slavery meeting was held in the city on November 14, 1855. It was made the occasion for Governor Wilson Shannon's first visit to Leavenworth.

 

Shannon, who served as the second governor of Kansas Territory, had been appointed to the office by President Franklin Pierce and became governor on September 7, 1855. Shannon was known for his Southern sympathies, so much so, that he was described by a contemporary as "an extreme Southern man in politics, of the "border ruffian type."

 

When Govenor Shannon arrived he was met by a committee of Leavenworth citizens before being escorted to the meeting, held in Alexander's stone building, at the southwest corner of Main and Shawnee Streets. The group elected the governor as the chairman of the meeting, who opened the meeting by denouncing the Topeka Constitution and the Free-State movement generally. Others also made speeches including General John Calhoun, Surveyor General of Kansas and Nebraska Territories, who talked long and bitterly against the Free-Soilers. The only Free-State speaker who asked to be heard was a man named Marc Parrott whose speech could not be heard over the hoots, hollers, and jests of the crowd.

 

A week later, the Free-Staters of Leavenworth held their own meeting and politics in the town were boiling. In the Wakarusa River Valley near Lawrence, Kansas, a confrontation known as the Wakarusa War erupted between the two factions. On December 1, 1855,

 

Brigadier General Lucian J. Eastin, of the Second Brigade of Kansas Militia and editor of the Kansas Herald in Leavenworth, ordered his troops to  concentrate in the city "to march at once to the scene of the rebellion" and to put down the 1,000 outlaws of Douglas County. Easily, this might have made Leavenworth a portentous seat of war. However, only about 100 men assembled in Leavenworth, with about 30 more enlisting. However, many of the potential invading army was from Missouri. The invasion; however, was stalled when Govenor Shannon ordered the troops disbanded.

 

At a State Convention held in Lawrence on December 22, 1855, two Free-State men from Leavenworth were chosen for high positions. Mark W. Delahay was chosen as the Congressional nominee, and H. Miles Moore as the candidate for Attorney General. The election was scheduled to be held on January 15, 1856, but the pro-slavery element was so strong In Leavenworth that the more timid of the Free-State citizens hesitated about holding the election for State and county officers. In fact, several days before the election was to take place, a few weak hearts met and resolved that one should not be held. In the meantime, the Free-State Mayor Thomas T. Slocum, resigned on January 8, 1856, causing considerable excitement and some indignation. George Russell also resigned as Councilman, and the seat of J. H. McCelland became vacant because he persistently absented himself. They were all Free-State men, and found their duties too difficult in these pro-slavery times. The day before the election, J. H. Day, President of the City Council, issued a municipal order forbidding it to take place. No polls were opened; however, an old stocking was presented to Free-State voters. In the end, the election did take place, though not in any normal fashion. The newly elected mayor was a strong pro-slavery man named William E. Murphy.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, Leavenworth wasn't the only city in Leavenworth County that was having struggles between slavery advocates and abolitionists. At nearby Easton, some ten miles to the northwest, an attack was made upon the polls, which were so vigorously defended by Free-State voters, commanded by Stephen Sparks, of Alexandria Township, that a pro-slavery man named Mr. Cook was mortally wounded. Several fights occurred, in which the pro-slavery men were generally put down.

 

pro-slavery men from Missouri crossed the stateline to stuff the Kansas ballot boxesAmong the Leavenworth people who attended the election at Easton, to see that the voting was fairly conducted, and who assisted in defending the polls, were Captain R. P. Brown, member-elect of the Legislature, Henry J. Adams, senator-elect, J. C. Green, Joseph H. Byrd, and two or three others. The next morning, as they were returning in a wagon to Leavenworth, they were met by a company of Kickapoo Rangers about half way to their destination. Led by pro-slavery Captain Martin, some 50 troops were on their way from Leavenworth to Easton to avenge the treatment of their pro-slavery friends and the death of Mr. Cook.

 

The Free-Staters from Leavenworth party were made prisoners, turned back to Easton, and confined in a store, where they were guarded a noisy, drunken crowd of pro-slavery soldiers. The troops' spite was particularly concentrated on Captain R.P. Brown, many of them having known him and learned to fear him in Leavenworth.

 

Finally, the drunken soldiers managed to get him into an adjoining building, and organized a court for his trial. Though pro-slavery Captain Martin tried to control the men, he was unable to. However, he did allow all but Captain R.P. Brown to escape. While Brown was being questioned in the mock trial, many of the drunken soldiers became impatient and broke up the "court," and took Captain Brown out of the building, pummeling him along the way. After striking Brown on the head with a hatchet, the nearly dead man was taken to his home in a wagon. Before Brown died, he could only say to his wife, "I am murdered by a set of cowards." He was buried on Pilot Knob the next day.

 

Thomas A. Minard, of Easton, at whose house the election was held, narrowly escaped injury at the hands of a mob a few days later. However, he barricaded his doors, and lived to be elected Speaker of the Free-State Assembly which convened on the March 4, 1856 in Topeka, Kansas. Also occurring during this meeting of the Free-State legislature, Charles L. Robinson was elected as territorial governor, which enraged President Franklin Pierce, who called the Free-State Legislature unlawful and called for the arrest of its leaders. Douglas County Sheriff, Samuel J. Jones, recorded the names of each and every member of the Free-State government, and many assumed they would soon be arrested for treason. This would happen later during and immediately following the Sacking of Lawrence.

 

James H. LaneIn the meantime, the Topeka government sent James H. Lane to Washington with a petition to the U.S. Congress asking for the admission of Kansas into the Union as a Free-State. There were many irregularities in the documents, and the debate in congress was heated. Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas attacked the petition as fraudulent. Senator William Seward argued in support of admitting Kansas as a Free-State. The debate was so virulent that James Lane went so far to challenge Senator Douglas to a duel. Douglas refused to accept the challenge.

 

With the support of the president behind him, General David Rice Atchison and other pro-slavery leaders determined that "Free-soilism" should be swept away at any and all costs and the President sent additional Federal troops to Fort Leavenworth to enforce his demands.

 

Hordes of men from Missouri began to march through the Territory of Kansas to Topeka, sweeping away from their path every vestige of "Free-soilism," and relentlessly persecuting Free-State men. In April, the main target was Charles L. Robinson, who soon escaped to Missouri.

 

He was arrested at Lexington, Missouri in May, on the pretext that he was "fleeing from an indictment," though the indictment for treason had not yet been found against him. He was brought to Leavenworth on May 24th, and the indictment was completed. He was held at  McCarty's Hotel, as rumors ran rampant that he might be rescued by Free-State friends or hanged by a pro-slavery mob at any time. However, though avid opponents, pro-slavery officials who had him in charge considered that their honor was staked upon his safety. Much of the time, therefore, General William Richardson, Commander of the Kansas Militia, stayed in the same room with him, while Judge Samuel Lecompte guarded his door.

 

Henry Miles MooreUpon orders from Governor Shannon, Robinson was removed to Lecompton, the Territorial capital, on June 1st. Though the ex-governor was in Lecompton, his attorney, Henry Miles Moore, a resident of Leavenworth, soon became a target for much of the bitter and dangerous feelings of the pro-slavery advocates. In late May, his office was invaded by a squad of Kickapoo Rangers. Though no violence occurred, they warned Moore that he was making himself too prominent for his own safety. The next day; Moore and his partner Marc Parrott were arrested and marched to the warehouse of Russell, Major & Waddell. Other men were also arrested including the clerk of the Investigating Committee, a Lawrence mail contractor, and Free-State Captain Robert Riddel. As all were confined a huge crowd gathered outside, demanding that the prisoners should be hanged. The pro-slavery fanatics considered Moore to be the worst of them, as he had formerly been a slave owner. The next day, March 29th, all but Moore were released, promising that they would leave the territory. A rush was then made to hang Henry Miles Moore, but it was halted by Colonel Clarkson, the commander of the city militia.

 

Although no further personal demonstrations were made against Moore or the investigating committee, Mayor William Murphy deemed it advisable to call a meeting on May 31, 1856. All citizens were called who were in favor of "sustaining and enforcing the laws of the Territory of Kansas and the Constitution and Union of the United States, and of restoring peace and quiet in the community." At the meeting a vigilance committee was appointed, and a very bitter spirit evinced toward the investigating committee. The gathering was dissolved in confusion, however, by the temerity of Reverend H. P. Johnson, who dared to offer a resolution that "we believe there are a good many Free-State men in the Territory who are good, true and law-abiding men, and would aid in enforcing the laws of the Territory."

 

 

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