"SILENCE AND NO QUESTIONS ASKED" - SOME VALUABLE FREIGHT - THE KIDNAPPERS OF LAWRENCE - STORIES OF WAR-TIME DAYS - A NIGHT OF TERROR - THE NEGRO EXODUS - WHEN COLONEL MOONLIGHT GUARDED THE TOWN - SOLDIERS GUARDED A STEAMBOAT CAPTAIN.
The "underground railroad" in Kansas was not exactly a subway. It did not acquire its name by reason of a subterranean right-of-way, but by virtue of the secretive character of its operations. It had no charter. It was not a "common carrier." The "right of eminent domain" did not attach to it, nor would it have been amenable to the rulings of the Interstate Commerce Commission. It was not even a "paper" railroad. The "underground" was put into being without projection or profile. It was a philanthropic sectional movement, unaffected by discriminating rate wars or disastrous "differentials." Despite its large patronage, it not only paid no dividends, but even continued to operate at a pecuniary loss. The officials of the "Underground" bore no insignia of office to distinguish them from the laity. The "rolling stock" of this peculiar organization consisted often of a rickety covered wagon that crept cautiously along some dark unfrequented highway. Its "passengers" were always a shivering party of wretched refugees, quaking at every unexpected sound, trembling at every ominous halt which seemed, in their benighted fright, to presage recapture, "chains and slavery." The "crew" was composed of two or three outriders who piloted the party and busied themselves in directing the course, eluding pursuit, repelling assault and reassuring the wild fears of their dusky dependents.
The Quakers of the central states were the first successful promoters of this unique form of transportation. There were several stations on the various "branches" of the underground railroad in Wyandotte county and eastern Kansas. A deserted log cabin, twelve feet by fourteen feet in dimensions, situated in Pardee, Atchison county, became famous as a division headquarters. Consequently the first division superintendent in Kansas was Ransom L. Harris, who was left in charge of the cabin. Some of the general officers of the system resided in Wyandotte and Quindaro. Around Pardee was a Quaker colony, many members of which had emigrated from Springdale, Iowa - an important rendezvous of John Brown in his various forays. The operations of the Pardee party came to an untimely end. An early trip had netted a rescue of twelve slaves. Elated with this success, a more ambitious delivery was planned. Situated six miles southeast of Independence. Missouri, was the 1,900-acre plantation of Morgan Walker cultivated by twenty-six slaves. In December of 1860 the Pardee party of four members, under the guidance of Quantrell, alias Hart, whom they had met in Lawrence and who had instigated them to this raid of liberation, were lured into ambush by their perfidious leader and three of their party were killed.
SILENCE AND NO QUESTIONS ASKED.
The holding of slaves in Kansas was not permitted with the consent of the Free State men of the territory, and by common consent the latter freed all slaves who escaped from Missouri or elsewhere and sent them away for protection. This attitude in a measure explains the successful operation of such an amorphous and unofficial organization as the underground railroad. Federal legislation made public organization impossible. But the passions of the times made men of strong sympathies, and everybody avowing Free State principles became, ipso facto, a stockholder in the "underground." Social or political prominence offered no disqualification in this respect. In so marked a degree is this said to be true that when General Lyon, who was sent by General Harney into Kansas to capture Colonel James Montgomery, reached Mound City, Montgomery's home, he used his own horses to assist fugitives on their way to Canada. Those prominently identified with the operation of the "underground" tacitly presumed upon this enthusiasm. The stringency of the fugitive slave law made secrecy absolutely imperative. The working orders of the "underground" were: "Silence and no questions asked." To a few in each locality on the line of underground operation was committed the direction of affairs. Nobody else knew anything. Liability to federal prosecution quenched curiosity. Prudence developed among the "employees" a laconic form of significant speech that could hardly be tortured into incriminating information.
The "underground" in Kansas followed no definitely detailed route of travel. Since the northern people were bound by honor to shelter and assist the parties en route, those highways were selected that best suited the exigency of the time. Slaves reached the "underground" either by forcible delivery or individual escape. After they had reached some station on the "railroad" it was customary to place them out among reliable farmers to await the collection of a sufficient number to justify the hazard of a trip. The size of the parties to be transported naturally depended upon circumstances. Meanwhile the slaves by their labor were self supporting. Preparatory to the departure, the "conductor" assigned to the "run" would solicit contributions for some vague purpose apparently of little interest to his compliant friends.
SIaves in western Missouri living north of the Missouri river generally escaped to Iowa; those south of the river to points in Kansas. The two great termini of the "underground" in Kansas were Lawrence for the Northern division and Mound City for the Southern division. The "general traffic manager" of the Lawrence station was the "Rev." John E. Stewart; the "general manager," Dr. John Doy, who has attained considerable celebrity. It is estimated that at least $100,000 worth of property "cleared" from this station alone. Escape to Lawrene was considered as good as freedom. The prominent officials of the Southern division were: Colonel James Montgomery, well known for his liberating excursions; Colonel C. R. Jennison, the "Red Leg" chieftain, and Captain John Brown, of Harper's Ferry renown.
The "Rev." John E. Stewart, who seems to have acquired little publicity for his services to freedom, had pre-empted a claim near the old poor farm of Douglas county and was engaged in cattle raising. He was an extremely shrewd and adroit man, and his frequent trips into Missouri for young cattle aroused no suspicion to his energetic spying for likely "passengers." A Lawrence man identified with the John Brown cause, in a letter written in 1860 and preserved by the State Historical Society, speaks of the effectual work of this liberating propagandist. He had "brought up three head the other night, making sixty-eight since he commenced. He met with a mishap yesterday," the leter continues. "I went to Lawrence with him in the morning and we had not been there more than an hour before a runner came in with word that his place had been attacked and one man taken and one wounded. We started off as quick as possible, but could only raise four horsemen, and by the time we got our arms they were off a good way. We followed them about six miles, but found that they all had good horses and were so far ahead that we could not overtake them. When last seen they were going it, with the boy on behind one of them. He was calling for assistance and one of them beating him with a club to keep him quiet. He was a free boy that had been here for two years. They were plowing in the field and had revolvers but there were five of the kidnappers. Things look kind of blue and someone will be shot before long. I have posted S - (tewart) - and if they get ahead of him they will have to get up early; he is going to make a haul of about fifteen next week."
Many other Kansans would go down to Missouri for "apples" in the fall, always with the resulting revival of activity in the traffic department of the "underground."
The Lawrence division of the railroad crossed the Kansas river at that point and continued north and west via Oskaloosa to Holton, Kansas, the end of the "first run." The Mound City route went north through Topeka to Holton. This had been selected as the junction point because it was settled by northern `56-ers," who were enthusiastic friends of the "underground," Between Lawrence and Mound City there was a pro-slavery settlement at Franklin. This fact, together with the constant danger of interception by Missourians along the border, accounts for the wide detour of the route from Mound City and for the complete independence of the two branches. The strategic interposition of Lecompton likewise prevented an underground communication between Lawrence and Topeka. From Holton the "line" followed the route of the Iowa immigration established by General Lane and others to circumvent the blockade of the Missouri river. It led north to Nebraska City and, crossing the river at that point, proceeded to Tabor - the Iowa headquarters for Old John Brown and "Jim" Lane in their various activities.
The value of the average fugitive was probably $1,000, since only the ablest slaves had the hardihood to escape. To counteract the labors of the liberating propaganda of Kansas, western Missourians had authorized a standing reward of $200 for every fugitive returned. This lucrative opportunity gave rise to bands of kidnappers that flourished especially in the vicinity of Lawrence, under the leadership of one Jake Hurd, who rallied around him a number of abandoned miscreants leagued together for a rather reprehensible work. There still live in the environs of Lawrence several people who engaged in this remunerative occupation, and so bitterly were they despised at the time that years of later respectability have hardly effaced the odium of their earlier lives.
There were stirring times in old Wyandotte in the border-days immediately preceding and during the Civil war. The population of the village, numbering some one hundred and fifty or two hundred families, was composed, for the most part, of Free State people. They were in constant peril - harassed by day and by night by fears of the visitation of the guerrillas or "border ruffians." And was there not cause for this wrought up condition? The little village, nestling on the rugged hills, with the broad sweep of the Missouri river on the east and the sluggish Kaw flowing on the south, Kansas City, a straggling town, supposedly neutral, but filled with pro-slavery sympathizers, less than three miles away. Beyond were the thickets and ravines, the lair of the bushwhackers and the rendezvous of the raider, within an hour's ride. All these formed an environment such as to produce in the Wyandotte harrowing fears tinctured with the liveliest imagination. Lest these foes swoop down on them without warning, and cause death and destruction, the men of the village stood guard constantly with muskets and rifles and blunderbusses of every make and kind, while the women watched and waited and prayed.
"But there was an odd fascination about it all," said Mrs. Byron Judd, one of the women of Wyandotte who passed through those perilous times. "We were kept in constant terror. There was no settled state. We just lived. But," she added with a sigh, "we had good times. While the men were down town, or out on guard duty watching the ferries and the roads that led to the village, the women would get together in little groups to talk over the situation and indulge in speculations as to what was likely to happen. We had our aid societies - there were no woman's clubs in those days - and in the meetings of those societies the war situation always took precedence over all other questions up for discussion. Every few days or nights there would be an alarm. The old Congregational bell would ring out clear and strong as a signal of danger, calling the people from their beds to the church, which was the appointed assembling place in time of danger, as it was also the hospital for wounded soldiers brought in from the fields of battle where the conquest raged fierce and bloody."
Mrs. Judd described a night of terror in the old village of Wyandotte. It was in 1862, at the time Quantrell and his band were raiding, sacking and burning towns in Kansas. The late Francis House, then a citizen of the place, brought in the news that Quantrell and his men had crossed the Kansas river near the site of the city of Argentine, and were moving up through the woods to the village. Mrs. Judd was then the widow of Don A. Bartlett, a lawyer, and was living with her parents, Judge and Mrs. Jesse Cooper, at what is now Fourth street and Barnett avenue.
"When the word came the people were panic stricken," she said. "We knew what Quantrell was doing and we knew no mercy would be shown the people of Wyandotte, who were Free State men and women. It was night, and pitch dark. I remember we sent father out into the willows near the river, and mother and sister (Mrs. Bodwell) and I watched with fear and trembling the long night through. We packed early everything of value we had into pillow slips, and we did it all in the dark. We were afraid to light a lamp. Once in a while it was necessary to strike a match to find something and then my sister would puff it out. We finally succeeded in getting the pillow slips filled and we hid them in the corn field near where St. Mary's Catholic church now stands. But day dawned and Quantrell did not come. It was a false alarm. We were tired and worn out from the long vigil, and then you should have seen how things looked in the house! And those pillow slips filled with our valuables out in the corn! I really don't know whether we ever found them all or not. But it was a night of terror for the people of old Wyandotte."
THE NEGRO EXODUS.
There was an exodus of negroes from Missouri and Kansas at one time during the war. The negroes came across the Missouri river on the ferry and were landed at the foot of Minnesota avenue in Wyandotte, which to them proved a haven of refuge in that stormy time.
"It was a sight to make one weep, those poor, frightened, half-starved negroes, coming over on the ferry and the people of the village down at the levee to receive them," Mrs. Judd said. I know of but one other picture more distressing. That was when the people were fleeing from their homes in the Kaw valley before the rush of the great flood a few years ago. But those negro refugees - men and women, with little children clinging to them, and carrying all of their earthly possessions in little bags or bundles, sometimes in red bandana handkerchiefs! I recall how they were housed and fed and made comfortable by the good people, and then how they sang and crooned their old songs, forgetful of their misery and their wretchedness of a few hours before. The pastor of the Congregational church, the Rev. R. D. Parker, one of the Andover band that came out to help make Kansas free, was a good man. He held religious services for the negro refugees and organized a Sunday school for them. I was one of the teachers. Only recently a negro woman stopped me on the street and remarked: 'Why, Mis' Judd, I used to be in yo' class in Sunday school.' Then it all came back to me, those days of the war times in Wyandotte."
The finding a few years ago of two cannon balls, in excavating for a new building at Fifth street and Minnesota avenue, where the old Eldridge house stood, called to mind the presence of soldiers in old Wyandotte in war times.
"I have no doubt but that those shells were some that were stored in the basement of the Eldridge house when Colonel Tom Moonlight was in Wyandotte with a company of artillery," said an old citizen. "I think it was in the year of 1864 that Colonel Moonlight was in command of troops that were camped on the hill overlooking the mouth of the Kansas river. You see they were there to head off Price and his raiders who were expected to cross the Kansas and pass through Wyandotte on the way to Fort Leavenworth, which they intended to capture. Price and his raiders, however, took a back track after the battle of the Blue below Westport. But the presence of the soldiers in old Wyandotte, with the cannons ranged along the hills ready to send down a terrific shower of shot and shell on the enemy, was an awe-inspiring sight to the people, and those of us who were boys recall how the blood in our veins tingled with patriotic pride. I remember that after the soldiers left the village several of those cannon balls turned up as souvenirs. I understand the boys who boarded at the old Eldridge house, which was the headquarters for the Leavenworth and Lawrence stage coaches, stored some of them in the hotel cellar."
Steamboating in war-time days had an odd fascination to the officers and crews whose boats carried both Free State and Pro-Slavery men, and it was attended by no little danger. George R. Nelson, who had been captain of steamboats on the Missouri river for several years previous, was at the outbreak of the Civil war in charge on the "Henry Lass." It was his custom to stop over night at his home in Wyandotte, which stood on Armstrong avenue between Fifth and Sixth streets, east of the old city hall. At such times his house was guarded by friendly Union soldiers for his protection. But Mr. Nelson was not aware of this fact until several years after the war ended. Mrs. Nelson, who survived her husband many years, said that at all times the family had a feeling of great insecurity but were never molested by the soldiers. Her husband and son belonged to the state militia and the Union soldiers threw every protection about her family. She remembered distinctly the pontoon bridges across the Missouri river, so arranged that should the enemy approach, the boats could be cut loose from their mooring on the Missouri side and all means of reaching the Kansas side would be cut off.
Mr. Nelson continued to ply his boats on the Missouri river until a few years previous to his death, which occurred in 1884.
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