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Conditions in Kansas

From John Sherman, Recollections of Forty Years in the House, Senate and Cabinet, An Autobiography, Volume I, The Werner Company, 1895

Page 126

We arrived by the Steamer at a place called Westport Landing near the mouth of the Kansas River. [The inhabitants'] usual dress was a broad brimmed felt hat, a flannel shirt, home-spun trousers, without suspenders, and heavy cowhide boots outside their trousers, with a knife or pistols, or both, in their belts or boots. They were properly classed as border ruffians, and as a rule were whisky soaked.

Page 127

The committee proceeded immediately to take testimony. Governor Reader acted in behalf of the Free State side, and General Whitfield in behalf of the pro-slavery side, this being the conceded line of demarcation between the opposing factions. The town was in embryo, nothing finished, and my wife and I were glad to have a cot in a room in the unfinished and unoccupied "Free State Hotel," soon after burned to the ground by Jones, the marshal of Kansas, or his deputies. There was no difficulty in obtaining witnesses or testimony, but as a rule, the witness on one side would only testify in Lawrence, and those on the other in Lecompton or Leavenworth. They were like soldiers in hostile armies, careful to keep outside the enemy's camp.

Page 129

We were frequently threatened through anonymous letters. On one occasion, upon going in the morning to the committee room, I found tacked on the door a notice to the "Black Republican Committee" to leave Kansas "upon penalty of Death." I cut it from the door and called upon a bystander to testify to the contents and the place from which it was taken.

Page 130

Two years afterwards I met John Brown in Chicago, and asked him about the murder of the pro-slavery men at Osawatomie; he replied with spirit that they were not murdered, but that they had been arrested, tried by a jury, convicted and executed. The arrest, trial and execution must have been done during one night. He did not disclose the names of the executioners, but his cool statement was a striking picture of the scenes then enacted in Kansas by both sides; both appealed to the law of force and crime, and crime was justified by crime.

Page 131, Discussion of a July 31, 1856, conversation with Alexander H. Stevens of Georgia

The worst evil [that could] befall our country is civil war, but the outrages in Kansas cannot be continued much longer without producing it. To our southern brethren I especially appeal. In the name of southern rights, crimes have been committed, and are being committed, which I cannot and do not approve. These have excited a feeling in the northern states [that the] threat is deepening and strengthening daily. It may produce acts of retaliation. You are in a minority and, from the nature of your institutions; your relative power is yearly decreasing. In excusing this invasion from--Missouri in attempting to hold on to an advantage obtained by force and fraud-you are setting an example, which, in the ultimate consequences, may trample your rights under foot. Until these wrongs are righted, you must expect northern men to unite to redress them. It may not be this year, but, as sure as there is a God in heaven, such a union will be effected; and you will gain nothing by sustaining northern agitators in violating the compromise of your fathers.

Notes: John Sherman was the brother of William T. Sherman and a congressman from Ohio. His fact-finding mission and investigation into the Kansas election and the conflict between border ruffians and free states men was authorized by congress.

Notes and excerpts courtesy of Kevin Dier-Zimmel.