From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.
Virginian Who Came to This Vicinity in 1856 Tells Of Skirmishes With John Brown and Jim Lane Near Lawrence.
The following letter was loaned to The Times by colonel Cary I. Crockett of Fort Leavenworth, whose family was a friend of the recipient of the letter. The letter, written in 1886, The Times believes, gives an interesting account of early days when Kansas territory was being settled, and particularly of the famous John Brown and Jim Lane. Thomas H. Rosser, writer of the letter, was a Virginian who came to this territory in 1856 in an attempt to settle. He was the brother of the Rev. Leo Rosser, D. D., of Virginia, a well known minister of his day. Thomas Rosser states in a postscript of the letter that he believes his grandfather was a brother of the famous General Thomas L. Rosser.
To the Hon. J. Marshall McCue.
Fisherville, Augusta Co.,
In answer to you letter requesting an accurate account of my journey to Kansas territory, I have written you the following reply, which may be relied upon as an accurate account of the events that took place.
In the summer of 1856, Col. H. Clay Pate and a friend, direct from Kansas, visited Petersburg, Va., who, by public address, gave most flowing descriptions of the territory, its climate, soil, and productions, and its vast importance to the south as a territory and prospective state. Our people in Virginia, and this was the case generally throughout the south, were aroused to action; and especially in Virginia, much interest was manifest in order to induce immigration, that a colony might be established in that, when, almost New World, around which as a nucleus, emigrants might rally.
Our purpose, and that of local organizations gotten up to induce emigration, was thoroughly peaceful and entirely apart from belligerent intentions. The late Hon. R. Kidder Meade was at the head of the organization in Petersburg, and under the auspices of that organization, my company was formed. I was selected as the agent of the contemplated Virginia colony, with full power to induce emigration and conduct the party to Kansas territory, and there, select a suitable locality for the settlement of my party, and those who might follow us as their pioneers.
I worked faithfully to secure the objects of our plan, and soon enrolled about one hundred men and a few women and children, families of the men, who indicated their willingness to emigrate under my leadership. We knew but little of John Brown, only as the leader, assisted by the notorious Jim Lane of the Republican party of Kansas, and had no intention whatever by the force of arms, of whipping him out of the territory.
Early in the month of July, our party consisting of men, women and children, with our shotguns in hand, and ammunition consisting of powder, and bird shot, and taking with us a setter dog, we took rail for the far west. We passed through Washington City, and thence through the states on the line to Missouri. As we were southern emigrants, we received the jeers and insults of miscreants, which were stoutly resented by our boys, but we arrived without actual battle safely at St. Louis.
At this place we purchased tents and a full supply of provisions, believing that we would be under the necessity of "camping out" upon arriving in the territory. We reached Kansas City, Mo., in safety. This point at the time, was only the landing for Westport, and the entire ground, which now comprise that magnificent city, could have been purchased by us for a few hundred dollars.
We are now in view of the "Promised Land" and without delay, we determined to reach it; but upon arriving at Westport, only a distance of four miles and immediately up to the line of the territory, we found that to do so we had to cross a "Red Sea"--a sea of blood, for the conflict of arms between the me of the north and south had already commenced.
On the outer edge of this place, in McGee's grove, we pitched our tents and went into camp, learning that we could not, being southern men, though peaceful emigrants, enter the territory in safety. Others had attempted it, but had been "ambushed" and scattered, of had been ruthlessly murdered in the effort to protect their lives, principles, and property. With this information, which I believed at the time to be highly colored, I determined to enter the territory at all hazards and see for myself. To do this, I left my companions in camp, hired a hack and taking Mr. Lewellen, on of my party, formerly of Richmond and brother of the late Col. Richard Lewellen who has recently, I learn, died in your state, and my son, Henry, then a boy of only twelve years, and penetrated into the territory some sixty miles, as fas a Lecompton, then the capital of the territory.
Here, I met Governor Geary, since governor of Pennsylvania, and other leading citizens from whom I learned, as well as from all evidences of civil war which met my view on every side, that it would be utter folly to attempt a settlement in any part of the territory under existing circumstances.
We returned to safety, men were kept in camp on Missouri soil, and consequently could not have been and were not "ambushed by John Brown" or John anybody else. (The writer was angry because of a report his party had been massacred by John Brown. Ed.) In a short time after my return, two regiments were organized, composed of southern men and Missourians living generally on the border, numbering some 1,500 men. I was not present with the officers in that organization, but had the honor to be elected colonel of one of the regiments, and Colonel Ben Brown, subsequently president of the Missouri senate, was elected to command of the other. (Poor fellow, he fell mortally wounded near my side at the battle of Springfield, Mo., in our late unpleasantness, and in our "Fight for Missouri."
Our command was known as "The Army of Law and Order." Our brigade commander was General John Reed of Lexington, Mo.; and commander-in-chief, General David R. Atchison, formerly U. S. senator from Missouri.
The opposing army, composed of almost every nationality, and the terror to western Missourians and murderers of southern men, sent to Kansas by Henry Ward Beecher and Co., with Sharp's rifle in one hand and the Bible in the other, was known as the "Army of Jayhawkers" and was commanded by the notorious John Brown, of whom your letter makes mention and the equally notorious Jim Lane of Kansas.
The former was hanged in Virginia, and the latter blew out his own brains some time later.
Our organization completed, we marched in the direction of Osawatomie, where we found John Brown and command in readiness to receive us. We gave battle and soon dispersed the whole party. One of Brown's sons was certainly killed upon opening of the fight, and we were informed by Indians who witnessed the engagement and who knew Brown well, that they saw him fall and supposed him to be dead.
He certainly did not put in an appearance in the territory, unless it was "incog.," and we all believed him to be dead, and his "body destroyed by wild beasts," until we learned that he was attempting in Virginia, what he had failed of accomplishment in Missouri and Kansas.
One of Brown's sons, an interesting and intelligent little fellow of about 12 summers, was captured during this engagement and brought to me. If he still lives, he doubtless will recollect that I treated him with especial kindness.
Late in the afternoon of the same day of this battle, we were met at Bull Creek by Jim Lane's wing of the army. We made the necessary disposition for fight, but as night was almost upon us, no engagement ensued. Our army was kept in readiness during the night and every necessary arrangement was made by us to give battle early the next day, but to our chagrin and great disappointment, at dawn of the following day, "the bird had flown."
Our march was then taken in the direction of Lawrence, then the headquarters of Republicanism, but upon reaching a small town only a few miles this side, we were met by Governor Geary with a detachment of U. S. troops. The governor gave us the assurance that Lane had certainly left the territory and that his command had scattered and were no longer in arms against us.
With this assurance, our command was immediately disbanded, and every organization returned to Missouri. My companions, who came with me from Petersburg, and the counties surrounding that city, to the best of my recollection, were not officered as a company. A list of their names, 30 years having elapsed, I deeply regret, I cannot give or recall to memory, as my papers of every description were destroyed by federal troops at my home immediately upon the line of Kansas after I left with General Sterling Price on the opening of our Confederate war.
Some who accompanied me from Virginia, how many I do not now recollect, certainly returned home as soon as they learned that southern men could not possibly settle in the territory. Others, and a large majority of them, nobly determined to fight it out, remained with me, and claimed the right to settle on lands which belonged in common and equally, to the people of the entire nation.
It was almost certain death, however, to any of our party, or any southern man, to settle in Kansas upon our arrival there or immediately after the withdrawal of our troops.
We, however, in the course of events, did accomplish that which was so much desired by our southern friends. The "LeCompton Constitution," with the slav(sic) clause attached, was framed, and triumphantly, and honestly passed, every member of my party remaining, voted for its adoption. It was done openly, and in strict conformity with the requirements of law, and we were made, notwithstanding the difficulties which environed us, greatly to rejoice upon our signal success and the certainty, as we believed, of having added another star to the southern galaxy.
This constitution was sent to Washington for the approval of the senate, but rejected by that body, and my information was that, in violation of all law and all precedent, the instrument subsequently enacted by a strict party vote of the Republicans, known as the "Topeka Constitution," was accepted in its stead, and thus, Kansas became a state. The above is as succinct a history as can now be given, and you may rely upon every statement as being strictly true.
THOS. H. ROSSER.