1918 KANSAS AND KANSANS Chapter 34 Part 2

The prisoners were tried in October. Most of them were acquitted, but others were convicted of various degrees of manslaughter. Those convicted were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment, and to wear the "ball and chain." Sheriff Jones had hoped that he should have the pleasure of hanging all of them, but not being gratified in this, made requisition upon the Governor for the balls and chains with which to manacle them. The Governor did not furnish them; for this he was denounced by Jones, Stringfellow, "Candle-box" Calhoun, and other bright and shining lights of the Law and Order party. In the following March these prisoners were pardoned by Governor Geary, as was supposed, but the fury of the Ruffians and their expressed intention to assassinate him caused him to flee from the Territory in such haste that he did not issue the pardon.3

The Ruffians were in the meantime assembling in great force for the purpose of destroying Lawrence and the other Free-State towns. On the 14th of September the Governor again visited Lawrence with United States troops. These he stationed in a way to prevent the Missourians from entering the town. The conditions existing there are thus described:

About three hundred persons were found in arms, determined to sell their lives at the dearest price to their ruffian enemies. Among these were many women, and children of both sexes, armed with guns and otherwise accoutred for battle. They had been goaded to this by the courage of despair. Lawrence was to have been their Thermopylae, and every other Free-State town would have proved a Saragossa. When men determine to die for the right, a hecatomb of victims grace their immolation; but when women and children betake themselves to the battle-field, ready to fight and die with their husbands and fathers, heroism becomes the animating principle of every heart, and a giant's strength invigorates every arm. Each drop of blood lost by such warriors becomes a dragon's tooth, which will spring from the earth, in all the armor of truth and justice, to exact a fearful retribution.

On the 15th, early in the morning, the Governor having stationed the United States troops for the protection of Lawrence, sought the camp of the Ruffians. He met the advance guard out a distance from Franklin, "marching to 'wipe out' Lawrence and every abolitionist in the country." These men were with difficulty turned from their purpose. Arriving at the camp he found twenty-seven hundred men under arms, animated with the sentiments of the advance guard. They had artillery and whisky, and black flags of extermination were flying from many places, indicating that neither age nor sex should escape in the contemplated slaughter of the Lawrence people and those of other Free-State towns. The sight of the Governor infuriated the Ruffians, and he was treated to threats and assassination as he passed among them to the quarters of the commanders.

The General in command was John W. Reid, at the time a member of the Missouri Legislature. As subordinate commanders he had Senator Atchison, Stringfellow, MacLean, Whitfield, Clarke (the murderer of Barber), Heiskell, and other Ruffians who had won their honors in the murder, rapine and pillage committed or instigated by them on the Free-State settlers of Kansas Territory. One of them, Stringfellow, declared that he could never be happy until he had killed an abolitionist. "If," said he, "I can't kill a man, I'll kill a woman; and if I can't kill a woman, I'll kill a child!" The commissary was one MacLean, chief clerk in the office of Calhoun, the Surveyor-General. He afterwards told the Governor how he provisioned the Ruffians. It is told in the following quotation from Dr. Gihon's book:

Maclean: I was lying in my tent, one night, on the broad of my back, smoking my pipe, and enjoying myself over a bottle of good whisky, when Generals Reid and Strickler, and several other officers, entered, apparently in great distress. They said they had over a thousand men to feed, and not a d-d ounce of rations for the next day. After much talk, I consented to act as commissary. They wanted me to get up and go to work, but I kept my place as though utterly unconcerned, and continued to whiff away at my pipe; telling them that the rations would all be ready at an appointed hour in the morning. They didn't know what to make of my coolness - thought I was either drunk or crazy, and went off somewhat disappointed and evidently vexed.

Gov. Geary: Well, were the rations ready?

Maclean: Yes [with an oath]! Ready that morning, and every other, so long as we were in camp, about two weeks.

Governor: But how did you manage it?

Maclean: That was d-d easy. I was up before daylight; got out a number of wagons, and started parties in every direction, with orders to go to stores and dwellings, get all the provisions they could find, and drive in all the cattle; and they returned with a pretty generous supply.

Governor: How did you raise the funds to pay for all this?

Maclean: Funds! [with a number of choice oaths] we didn't pay a cent. We "pressed" it all. In these expeditions, which were continued every day, we got some useful information, too. We seized the mails going to and from Osawatomie, and more than a half-bushel of letters fell into my hands, in examining which, I found many of them directed to, and others written by, some of the most wealthy and influential citizens of Boston and other parts of the Northern and Eastern States.

The Governor convened this hopeful gang of cut-throats and addressed them on the subject of their infamous and atrocious conduct, reprehensible and diabolical from every point of view. He was particularly severe in his remarks to Atchison. He called attention to his proclamation ordering all armed bands to disperse. He ended by ordering them to disband and return home.

Here was a turn in affairs and a display of courage never contemplated by the Missourians. Twice before had Lawrence been snatched from the jaws of these same ravening Ruffians by the Executive, but in each instance he had made his interposition effective more by wheedling and helpless pleading than by the assertion of authority. Here was an Executive of a different stamp. He assembled them, recounted their unlawful actions, and ended by ordering them to disband. They encountered here unexpectedly a man with firm convictions of right and duty, and the courage to stand for them in the face of threats of assassination which he had every reason to believe would be carried out. There was nothing to do but submit. But some excuse must be found for letting so favorable an opportunity to "wipe out" Lawrence slip through their fingers. They called a meeting of their chief Ruffians to devise such an instrument. The Governor's assurance that all should be protected in their rights, whoever they were, was made the basis of their apology for disbanding. Some of the commanders had been misled, and were anxious to disband their men and send them home. But others were not of the same mood, and submitted with much smothered growling. Clarke was the most rabid; he was for fighting the United States troops if that were a necessary prelude to the gratification of their yearnings to "wipe out" Lawrence. Jones vapored about, and was for "wiping out" Lawrence first, and then all the other Free-State towns. These cursed the Governor deeply and loudly. But there was no other way than to obey, and return to Missouri and there scatter the copies of their apology, which they had misgivings would be poorly received. So they sullenly took their way out of the Territory, but as a terrible protest to being foiled of their prey, left murdered citizens, burning dwellings, plundered communities, the wailings of the widow and the cries of the orphan in the wake of their retreat to Missouri.

This was the last organized effort of the Missourians to subjugate Kansas by force of arms. The Law and Order party gradually abandoned this idea, and turned to the constitutional field as one affording facilities for their manner of waging warfare upon free institutions in the Territory. They formed their plans carefully, and worked them out under Governor Walker's administration, after taking the preliminary steps in the Legislature over Governor Geary's veto. As to the Governor, it was the intention to make his position intolerable. This began in an incident in the retreat of the Ruffians from the Territory.

The greater number of the "Kansas Militia" returned to Missouri by the way of Westport. The band known as the "Kickapoo rangers" came to Lecompton and forded the Kansas River at that point. They still carried their black flags of extermination, and were as desperate and villainous a band as ever congregated at the call of the leaders of the Law and Order party. When six miles west of Lawrence, on their road to Atchison, six of this band left the main body for the purpose of murder and robbery. They found a lame man named David C. Buffum plowing in a field. They robbed him of his horse, and when he protested, one of them, Charles Hays, shot him, inflicting a mortal wound. They then stole a pony belonging to a little girl and rejoined the main body of marauders. Governor Geary and Judge Cato soon passed by, and discovered Buffum weltering in his blood. At the direction of the Governor the Judge took the dying man's statement of the murder. The Governor caused a warrant to be issued for the arrest of the murderer, whose name was then unknown. Finding it impossible to get the officers to execute this warrant, or even make an effort to do so, the Governor sent secret agents to Atchison to learn the murderer's identity, and at the same time offered a reward for his apprehension and conviction. This resulted in the disclosure of the dastard, and his arrest. A grand jury composed of his partisans found a true bill against him for murder in the first degree. Judge Lecompte immediately admitted him to bail, accepting as his bondsman the redoubtable Sheriff Jones, a man notoriously bankrupt. The Governor caused Hays to be re-arrested, but Lecompte immediately released him the second time. Harvey's command of one hundred and one men could not be admitted to bail when it was well known that almost all of them had not committed any crime beyond self-defense, but here was a man of the Judge's party with innocent blood on his hands and with the presumption of his guilt so great that even a jury of his partisans dare not ignore it, set at liberty in violation and defiance of all law and precedent, and this, too, by the Chief Justice of the Territory! The incident revealed to the Governor his true position. In the administration of justice in the Territory he stood alone. The condition was even worse: arrayed on the side of lawlessness, murder, robbery, anarchy, stood those intrusted with the construction and the administration of the laws!

Having cleared the Territory of armed bands, the Governor now turned his attention to the partisan, prejudiced, and inefficient judiciary. Judge Cato had been found by the Governor bearing arms in the noble army of invasion, and shortly afterwards, while engaged in the appropriation of the arms of the Free-State prisoners, was shot in the ankle by a revolver in the hands of a worthless, drunken fellow named Hull. The shooting was accidental, Hull being engaged in the same reprehensible appropriation as the Judge. Cato was the constant companion and associate of Clarke, MacLean and Jones, and was the mess-mate and bed-fellow of the latter and one Bennett, the editor of the Lecompton Union. He was accused of writing the scurrilous articles which appeared in that disreputable sheet. Of the law he had little knowledge; of the sense of justice he was entirely destitute.

Judge Burrell devoted no time at all to his duties beyond that required in the collection of his salary.

Chief Justice Lecompte was a political jackleg from Maryland, and spent his time in the accumulation of property, of which he possessed a goodly share at the time. He was a better lawyer than Cato, which is saying little in his favor, but it is all that can be said. It was said that he adjourned the spring term of his court to plant his potatoes; the summer term had to stand adjourned to allow him to hoe his potatoes; the necessity for digging his potatoes disposed of the fall term; and in the winter he could not hold court because he had to remain at home to sell his potatoes. Crimes were constantly committed by members of the Law and Order party, but they were never, or were very seldom, made the subject of judicial inquiry. Burrell died, and the other two judges spent much of their time attending the councils of the Law and Order party, planning to force slavery on Kansas. Crowds of persons daily besieged the Governor crying for justice at the hands of the courts, while the judges were closeted with Calhoun, Jones, MacLean, and others, in the concoction of schemes for the oppression of the settlers of the Territory.

The Governor called the judges before him and reviewed the situation with them. He suggested that they devote some time to their duties, to which they consented; but no improvement being visible the Governor addressed each of them a note, asking them to report to him what had been accomplished during the terms, respectively, of their offices. In any other condition of society than that which prevailed under the rule of ruffianism, this sharp reprimand would have produced beneficial results. But here it fell upon heedless ears. Beyond arousing the Chief Justice to some indignation and a wordy defense of his own course and the beauties of slavery, it accomplished nothing. Any semblance of justice in the courts of the Territory disappeared, and partisanship, prejudice and partiality were contemptuously flaunted in the faces of outraged citizens, and boasted of. The Governor himself did not escape from it, as he found to his sorrow in the case of the murderer of Buffum.

A committee of Free-State men called upon the Governor to protest against the prejudicial action of the courts towards them, and the utter neglect of their business. This was November 10th. The Governor cited the case of Hays as evidence of his good intentions towards all citizens of the Territory. But to his dismay, while still dwelling upon this matter a gentleman entered the room and made known that Judge Lecompte had just released Hays upon the surety of Jones. His argument was gone. He could only assure the committee of his good intentions towards them as towards all the inhabitants of the Territory, denounce the action of the Chief Justice, and dismiss his petitioners. They departed convinced of the Governor's just intentions, and also fully convinced that he was powerless to help them. They expressed the belief that their only recourse lay in the exercise of physical force in the defence of their rights.

Towards the close of September rumors again troubled the Missourians. It was said that Lane had raised another Northern army, with which he was advancing through Nebraska to visit retribution upon the Ruffians. Nothing more disquieting could have reached Ruffian ears. Dr. Gihon says that "the very name of Lane was a terror, and it was only necessary to get up a rumor that he was within a hundred miles, to produce universal consternation. And when it was reported that he was actually approaching a pro-slavery town, a general panic and stampede was the result. Vaporing generals, colonels, captains and privates suddenly stopped in the midst of their stories of valiant deeds, and remembering that they had forgotten their needed arms or ammunition, or that the women and children must be carried to a place of safety, off they ran for shelter in the woods or elsewhere, creeks and rivers furnishing no obstacles to their flight. When the dreaded danger was over, or they had discovered the alarm to be unfounded, they would reassemble, each ready to boast over his bad whisky what terrible deeds he would have accomplished had the cowardly abolitionist dared to make his appearance."

Dr. Gihon relates another incident which a Pennsylvanian experienced while in command of a band of Ruffians.

Upon arriving in the Territory, I established my residence in Leavenworth City, where I was solicited to take command of a company of Territorial militia, or "Law and Order" party. The company consisted of twenty mounted Border-Ruffians. One dark night it became my duty to guard the main entrance to the city, and I took up my position in a prominent place on the road, at about one mile distant. It was a very dark night, and it was difficult to discern objects even close at hand; my men amused each other and myself, relating the daring deeds they had accomplished, and telling what great things they would do in case of an assault. About midnight we heard the distant sounds of horses' feet approaching me at a rapid rate. A perfect stillness took possession of my men. Not a word was uttered. Nearer and nearer came the advancing party. At length, one of my men exclaimed, "Lane is coming, by G-d!" and instantly the whole company broke and ran for the town. In vain I ordered a halt. As well might I have attempted to turn back the current of the river, as to arrest their flight.

Governor Geary sent troops to the Nebraska line to prevent the entrance of armed bands. They arrested James Redpath, who had one hundred and thirty men under him, whom they found entering the Territory. They were taken to Lecompton, where they convinced the Governor that they were seeking homes, and bore arms only in self-defense and self-protection, and thereupon they were discharged.

But when Lane's name was associated with rumors of invasion the mind of the Border-Ruffian was not easily reassured. They besieged the Governor and clamored for further protection. They protested that Lane was about to enter the Territory with the main body of his army. The Governor again dispatched troops to intercept Lane's army. A large company of emigrants now approached the border under the leadership of Colonel Eldridge, General Pomeroy, and others. They were peaceable and lawabiding citizens, coming to seek homes. They sent a committee to assure the Governor of their intentions, and to disclaim all thought of fighting except in self-defense. Notwithstanding this frank statement and avowal of their purposes the troops arrested the entire company, ransacked their baggage for concealed arms, destroyed some of it, and led the captives to Topeka. Here they were met by the Governor, who addressed them, and ordered them to disband. They willingly did this, and in all probability would have been disbanded and dispersed long before but for the detention under arrest.

This was the last interference with emigrants coming into Kansas.

On October 6, 1856, an election was held to select a Delegate to Congress, elect a Territorial Legislature, and vote upon the question of a convention to form a constitution. While the Free-State men refrained from voting on the ground that to do so would be a recognition of the bogus Legislature, the Missourians came over and voted as usual. The Law and Order party were thus, enabled to elect everything; and the proposition to form a State constitution was carried.

Governor Geary set out upon a journey of observation on the 17th of October. He passed over the southern and western parts of the Territory. He was gone twenty days, and found the people hopeful and anxious to be allowed to proceed with the work of establishing homes. He addressed many assemblies of citizens, and was assured of their cooperation in his efforts to establish order. This journey was productive of much good.

The Topeka Legislature met on the 6th of January, 1857. Neither Governor Robinson nor Lieutenant-Governor Roberts was present. No quorum appearing, an informal meeting was held, and a recess taken to June 9th. Sheriff Jones had spent weeks in planning a course to be pursued in relation to this meeting, which he was confident would result, in the renewal of the strife and bloodshed now much diminished and disappearing. He even hoped that an invasion from Missouri might arise from his deep-laid plans. His sturdy henchman, Judge Cato, was his assistant and abettor in this attempt to again deluge the land in blood. Jones had procured from the Judge warrants for the members of the Legislature. These were intrusted to a deputy marshal for execution, but Jones was present to see that no mistake was made. He had confidently expected that the writs would be resisted. In fact, all his hopes of trouble were based upon this expectation. When resistance was offered, then he could call for troops; the Ruffians would rush to his assistance and he would be again in his glory. But the members quietly submitted, much to his disgust. He immediately left the town, drove home, and never mentioned his ignominious failure to stir up trouble at Topeka. The conclusion is reasonable that he received a blow here from which he never recovered. He saw no more opportunity for such trouble as he loved. Times were changed. He resigned his office in a few days.

The Territorial Legislature met on January 12th, 1857, at Lecompton. This proved one of the most debased bodies that ever assembled for any purpose at any time or place. It resolved to unanimously oppose anything and everything the Governor proposed; and this course was carried out. One of its first acts was to pass a bill admitting to bail any criminal, no matter how desperate. It read as follows: "The District Court, or any judge thereof in vacation, shall have power and authority to admit to bail any prisoner on charge or under indictment for any crime or offense, of any character whatever, whether such crime or offense shall have heretofore been bailable or not." This was supposed to be a vindication of Lecompte's action in admitting Hays to bail. The Governor vetoed it, but it was passed over his veto.

Map of Douglas County, Kansas Territory, in the Era of Bleeding Kansas

The Law and Order party changed its name to the National Democratic party of Kansas on the same day that the Legislature met. It was now the purpose of the Slavery party to try to fasten the institution of slavery permanently on the Territory by a constitution upon which the Territory was to be admitted as a State. A census was provided for, and no one was to be allowed to vote unless he was a resident of the State prior to the 15th of March, 1857. The election was to be held in June to elect delegates to this constitutional convention. In taking the census the books were taken to Missouri and the Ruffians registered, while in whole counties in the Territory a census-taker never appeared; this was true of those counties where Free-State people were in the majority. The bill was carefully prepared to allow just that thing to be done. The Governor vetoed it, but it was passed over his veto. There were a few good men in this Legislature, but so few that their influence counted for nothing, and the verdict that it was the most debased body of men that ever assembled in Kansas must stand.

We shall notice one more incident in the administration of Governor Geary. We have seen that when the Legislature assembled it immediately placed itself in opposition to the Governor. It spent a great part of its time in abuse of him. The Board of Supervisors of Douglas County had accepted the resignation of Sheriff Jones, and appointed in his place a drunken, quarrelsome, worthless Ruffian, named William T. Sherrard. The Governor did not at once issue a commission to him, on account of the absence of the Secretary. Sherrard undertook to force the Governor to commission him, visiting the Executive office and threatening violence. In the meantime the members of the board which had appointed him visited the Governor and requested that no commission be given him, and made known their intention to revoke his appointment. Other citizens called upon the Governor to protest against the issuance of a commission.

When the Legislature assembled, one of its first acts was to send a communication to the Governor demanding his reasons for withholding the commission of Sherrard. The Governor did not recognize the right of the Legislature to make such an inquiry, but replied to the note of inquiry by stating the facts. The Legislature exhausted the vocabulary of epithets in abusing the Governor. The House immediately appointed Sherrard Sheriff of Douglas County, but the Council refused to concur, and the appointment was not made. The incident was supposed to be a sufficient cause for the assassination of the Governor, and arrangements were made accordingly. The prime mover in the execution of this conclusion was Surveyor-General Calhoun. His office was the rendezvous from which the dastardly act was to be consummated. At the designated time Sherrard waylaid the Governor at the appointed place and spat in his face, hoping to cause indignation which the Governor would resent, and give him a pretext which Calhoun and his clerks, who were peeping from a door of the Surveyor's office, would immediately transform into an assault and ample cause for Sherrard's killing him in self-defense. But the Governor walked quietly away without saying or doing anything, and even Sherrard could not bring himself to kill him at that time without any cause.

The people of the Territory were aroused by the actions of Sherrard. The House refused to censure him. A meeting was called to condemn his action, and Sherrard and his friends attended for the purpose of causing a riot. In this they succeeded, and in it Sherrard lost his life.

Governor Geary held his office until March. The Legislature opposed his every act. His crime lay in his restoration of some semblance of order to Kansas. He wearied of holding so dangerous and thankless a position. He was repeatedly urged by his friends to take heed of the many threats to assassinate him. The Governor left the Territory at night, to avoid assassination at the hands of those of his own party. He arrived in Washington March 21, 1857. He was the third Democratic Governor that had fled from assassination at the hands of the Democratic party in Kansas.

Governor Geary returned to Pennsylvania. He was a brave and distinguished soldier in the War of the Rebellion. He raised the Twenty-eighth Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, and was its commander. He was promoted for bravery to the rank of Major-General. In 1866 he was elected Governor of Pennsylvania, and proved a wise, able, and devoted public servant. He died respected and sincerely mourned by the people of his State.

Governor Geary's administration was the first to make an impression in Kansas Territory in favor of justice to all. He accomplished little more in his field than did Reeder, but his efforts were enabled by the increasing Free-State emigration to bear fruit at a later day. The disorders never again assumed such proportions after his summary disbandment of the Ruffians at Franklin.


3 This follows Wilder's Annals. Dr. Gihon states positively that the persons were pardoned by Governor Geary, on March 2d. If so, they were then released.

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A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans , written and compiled by William E. Connelley, transcribed by Carolyn Ward, 2000.

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