LEGENDS OF KANSAS

 

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Lecompton - Capitol of Kansas Territory

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Early Lecompton, KansasLocated on the Kansas River in northwest Douglas County, about 12 miles from Lawrence, Lecompton has a long and rich history, beginning with its being the pro-slavery capitol of Kansas Territory.

 

When Kansas Territory was opened for settlement in 1854, some of the first pioneers in the area were A.W. and A.G. Glenn, father and son; G. W. Zinn, David Martin, M.S. Winter and William Shirley. The small settlement that formed was originally called "Bald Eagle," but soon changed to Lecompton in honor of Samuel D. Lecompte, the chief justice of the Territorial Supreme Court.

 

The Lecompton Town Company was organized at the Potawatomie Agency in 1855 and consisted of pro-slavery men, Samuel D. Lacompte, John A. Halderman, Daniel Woodson, George W. Clarke, Chauncey B. Donaldson and William R. Simmons. In the spring of 1855, the town company held its first meetings in Westport, Missouri and by May, the town site, consisting of 600 acres, was surveyed and platted. It was designed with the expectation of making Lecompton, not only the capitol of the territory, but also to make it a large city. The first house was built of logs by W.R. Simmons in the fall of 1854.

 

1855 was a busy year for the new settlement as workers began to construct a new capitol building in the east part of the town on a picturesque site overlooking the Kansas River Valley. Ten acres of land was donated by the town company for the capitol grounds. It was to have been a large stone building, and had it been completed, would have cost half a million of dollars, provided Congress could have been influenced to continue appropriations. The $50,000 initially provided was quickly spent by the time the basement was completed and the walls up nearly to the height of one story. Work upon it was then discontinued, and the structure as it stood was utilized as a fort.

 

In the meantime, while the new building was under construction, the Territorial Government, desiring to move from the Shawnee Mission to Lecompton, engaged William M. Nace to erect a suitable building in which to hold their sessions. Nace began the structure which stood on the site of where the post office would later stand. Subsequently, the Legislature assembled in a two-story frame building, which stood across Elmore Street east from where the Rowena Hotel would later be built. The first post office was established in September, 1855 and Dr. Aristides Roderigue, the town’s first physician was the postmaster.

 

Authority to establish a ferry across the Kansas River at Lecompton was granted by the Legislature, also in 1855. The same Legislature also incorporated the Lecompton Bridge Company, though no bridge was ever built. That same year, Lecompton was incorporated and designated as the county seat of Douglas County. The same Legislature also incorporated and permanently established the Kansas Medical College, at Lecompton, and appointed a board of fourteen Trustees. However, the college was never established.

 

The first store was opened by John K. Shepherdson in the spring of 1856, but he soon sold out to a man named William Leamer. A second store was established by James G. Bailey about the same time. A large frame hotel called the American Hotel was also built in the spring of 1856, and in the fall, the National Hotel was erected. That same year, the Catholics organized and began building a church and parsonage in the east part of the town. Both were to be of stone, but neither was completed, the partially built walls continuing to stand for the next decade.

 

In May, 1856, the Lecompton Union newspaper was established by A.W. Jones and C.A. Faris. A strong pro-slavery paper. The following paragraph appears in this newspaper, in reference to the Sacking of Lawrence, May 21, 1856, under the following head lines:

 

"Lawrence Taken! - Glorious Triumph of the Law-and-Order over Fanaticism in Kansas! - Full Particulars."

"On Tuesday, the 20th, a large force of the Law-and-Order men having gathered in and around Lecompton, the Marshal ordered the different camps to concentrate about two miles this side of Lawrence, so as to be ready for the execution of his immediate demands upon the people of Lawrence. At this order, we left our sanctum and proceeded to the encampment, equipped for the occasion."

 

 

 

By the summer of 1856, the political climate of the territory had shifted and Free-State sympathizers were outnumbering the pro-slavery advocates. A number of skirmishes took place in what has become as Bleeding Kansas.  

 

Fort Titus todayOne of the main pro-slavery advocates was a man named Colonel Henry T. Titus, who built a fortified log house about two miles south of Lecompton. After Free-State men had destroyed another slavery stronghold called Fort Saunders on August 15, 1856, the Jayhawkers turned their attention to Fort Titus the following day. At dawn, some 400 Free-Staters, divided into two parties, surrounded Fort Titus and a cannon was pointed directly at the fortified cabin. In the battle that ensued, the Free-State men killed one man and wounded six others, including Colonel Titus.

 

When the pro-slavery advocates finally surrendered, the Jayhawkers captured some 400 muskets, a large number of knives and pistols, 13 horses, several wagons, supplies and provisions, $10,000 in gold and bank drafts, and 34 prisoners. However, the Jayhawkers also suffered in the battle, with six men wounded and one killed.

 

The victors then burned Fort Titus to the ground and the prisoners were taken to Lawrence where they were "exchanged" on August 18th under a treaty made between Governor Wilson Shannon and the Free-State leaders. Today, the Titus cabin has been rebuilt by the Lecompton Historical Society, and sits about 100 yards southeast of the Territorial Capitol Museum.

 

The following year, in 1857, the large three-story stone Rowena Hotel was built as well as a Southern Methodist Church of stone. The next year, the first school in Lecompton would be taught in this building. The Presbyterians also built a church in 1858.

 

The city was the site of the Lecompton Constitutional Convention on September 7, 1857 but adjourned to meet again in October. However, when the politicians reassembled at Constitution Hall on October 11th, they found several hundred Free-State men barring their entrance. They returned; however, eight days later with some 200 soldiers. The legislatures then drafted yet another constitution that included slavery, but it would not be accepted by the U.S. government.

 

Lecompton, at the height of its prosperity, in 1857-58, was quite a flourishing town. By 1858, it had a number of large hotels, four church organizations, the United States Court, and the U.S. land office. It was also headquarters for stage lines to Kansas City, Leavenworth and St. Joseph, Missouri and was called home to more than 1000 people. During these years 1856-1858, between 700-1000 U.S. cavalrymen and territorial militiamen were also stationed in the Lecompton area.   

 

 

Continued Next Page

Constitution Hall in Lecompton, Kansas 1908

In 1908, the old Constitution Hall had become an  Undertaker's building.

 

Constitution Hall in Lecompton, Kansas

Today, the old Constitution Hall is a Kansas state historic site, Kathy Weiser, April, 2011.

Image available for photo prints & editorial downloads HERE.

 

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