Personal Reminiscences and Kansas Emigration, 1855



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Personal Reminiscences and Kansas Emigration, 1855

(A paper before the meeting of the State historical Society by Prof. Isaac T. Goodnow at the annual meeting, January 17, 1888.)


The Missouri Compromise of 1820 limited slavery to the south of the line of 36º 30’ north, a little south of the southern line of Kansas. A repeal of this by the Kansas and Nebraska act of 1854 opened a vast territory to the introduction of slavery, and left its introduction or exclusion, to actual settlers. They could “vote it up” or “vote it down”! The design of the South was to make Kansas a slave State. The great problem for its emigrants. The State of Missouri was the natural gateway through which the tide of emigration, both slave and free, swept.

The populous, wealthy counties of western Missouri were slavery’s stronghold, and gave it a great advantage. First, they could close this gateway at their discretion. Second, under the leadership of David Atchison, Vice President of the United States, they formed the Blue Lodges of Missouri, containing thousands of members, sworn to obey their leaders, and to establish slavery in Kansas. At election-times, armed with shot-guns and rifles, bowie-knives and revolvers, with the inevitable barrel of whisky, they would pour over the borders; take possession of the various places of voting and “vote up” slavery.

To promote Free-State emigration the New England Emigrant Aid Company was founded. It organized emigration; friends and neighbors went together, and had each other’s society in the new county; the fare was greatly reduced, on the railroads, and at the hotels on the route, and much care and anxiety was saved by sending with each company a superintendent, who “knew the ropes” and could render assistance in any emergency. Great central points were selected by the company, hotels erected, steam mills provided, and town companies organized. Pamphlets and newspapers were scattered broadcast over the free North. The best lecturers, the most gifted orators sounded the tocsin of alarm. IN vivid colors they pictured the dangers of Kansas, with the beauty and value of the Territory for settlement. Their trains left Boston at regular intervals with 25 to 200 emigrants, with recruits added by the way. The route was by Albany, Cleveland, Chicago, Alton, and thence by steamer 18 miles to St. Louis, whence passage was taken by steamer up the Missouri to Kansas City, Leavenworth, and Atchison. The Hannibal & St. Jo. And the Missouri Pacific railroads were not then built. This was the route from the East till the crowds were so great that the slaveholders in alarm closed the gate and turned back the crowd. After this the main current of emigration set in overland, by Iowa and a corner of Nebraska, by what is called “Lane’s route.”

The Crusade found me in the beautiful town of East Greenwich, R. I., on Narragansett Bay, teaching in a Methodist institution. I had been an Anti-Slavery voter ever since 1840, and was one of the 7,000 who first voted for James G. Birney in the hard-cider and long-cabin campaign, which resulted in the election of General Harrison. Fully believing that the rule of Slavery or of Freedom in the nation would be settled on the prairies of Kansas, I felt impelled to throw myself into the scale on the side of Freedom. I corresponded with Dr. Jos. Denison, then preaching in Boston. We met in the city of Providence, in December, 1854, and listened to a rousing lecture by Eli Thayer, the founder of the New England Emigrant Aid Company. With him, after the lecture we discussed the pros and cons of the enterprise till near midnight. The decision was for emigration.

My professorship was immediately resigned, and three months were spent in private correspondence, writing for the newspapers, with considerable talking and travel to help on the cause. The time set for our company of some 200 to leave Boston was March 13, 1855. After consultation with Eli Thayer, J.M.S. Williams and Dr. Robinson—now Gov. Robinson—it was thought best for me to leave on the 6th of March, one week ahead of the main company, in order to select a town-site with good farm claims around, to be ready at their coming, and thus save the unpleasantness of waiting. ON this train I met for the first time Rev. C.H. Lovejoy of New Hampshire, who with others, as he said, had started for Kansas from a letter of mine in a Boston paper. His wife was an intellectual woman, skilled in polemics, and amused us greatly by the way she handled and silenced some of the skeptics who made themselves prominent in loud expressions of unbelief. We found Chicago then, as I first hear the expression—“a right smart chance of a place”—muddy streets, miserable depots and poor hotels. We were glad to get out of it. On the Chicago & Alton Railroad we first witnessed a prairie fire; beautiful and grand we then thought, but a mere rush-light compared to what we can get up in Kansas! St. Louis we thought a respectable city.

Our trip up the Missouri of eight days on the Kate Swinney, Captain Choteau, was a remarkably pleasant one. We had 120 emigrants, with about 100 U.S. cavalry with a fine band of music. For a wonder, almost everybody was a Free-State­, and we had our own way in about everything. Luke P. Lincoln, our superintendent, was a fine singer, and organized a glee club which sang the songs of Liberty, “the homes of the brave and the land of the frees,” to be wrought out on the prairies of Kansas. Never was a company more popular with the officers of the boat or with the soldiers. The military band interspersed their music with ours, and “all went merry as a marriage bell.” At one of the wood-landings I was much surprised to meet and old pupil, Francis B. Smith—though I ought not to have been, as I had had 5,000 of them, and they were scattered everywhere. He was bound for Kansas on the boat ahead of us, and had run down from a landing just above. We reached Kansas City March 18th, a cold, clear Sabbath morning.

On Monday our people were busy purchasing oxen and horses and wagons for the trip into Kansas. Here for the first time I met General Pomeroy; he had just returned with his horse and buggy from a trip up the Smokey Hill, 100 miles about Fort Riley, exploring the country entirely alone. We set up the night till 2 o’clock, settling the question as to where our company should go. With remarkable accuracy he described the country at the junction of the Republican and Smoky Hill, where Junction City now is, and at the junction of the Big Blue and Kansas rivers, where Manhattan now is. With singular foresight he foretold that the Government Bridge at Juniata would soon be washed away and the travel would eventually go over the Blue near its mouth, and Juniata become extinct – a prophecy which speedily came to pass. The next day with a committee of seven, with a good two-horse team we started west, passing through Westport, and traveled seventeen miles to the cabin of a Shawnee Indian by the name of Ham, who gave us the privilege of occupying his cabin at 25 cents a head. We could sit up by a fire in a large open fire-place, or lie down on the floor in our own blankets. It was a puncheon floor with cracks large enough to put your hands through, and it was cold and the draft was lively! I got a cold that lasted me six weeks, and I shall never forget Ham.

The second day we reached Lawrence, a rude town of some forty or fifty log and rough board cabins with a “caravansary” for immigrants, built of sod walls and cloth roof, with prairie hay for a carpet, and furnished with a cooking stove. I slept that night upon the floor of the Herald of Freedom printing office as a special favor from the editor, Geo. W. Brown, and was grateful for the privilege.

On the third day we reached Topeka, stopping at a log hotel, situated on the bottom near where the old steam saw mill stood so long, and near where now stands the cracker factory. ON this flat were half a dozen cabins, log and shake cabins. A shake cabin was covered with clapboards, split from logs usually oak. Here for the first time I met Col. Holliday, the founder of the Capitol City, a scholarly gentleman of fine conversational powers and with high hopes; yet I very much doubt whether they reached to the height he has since attained! With him I was delighted to find Lucius C. Wilmarth, another pupil of mine, who had cast in his lot with the Colonel to found a city.

The fourth day we passed a number of loaded teams, Pennsylvanians bound for Pawnee, Gov. Reeder’s town, soon after wiped out by an order from Jeff Davis, then Secretary of War, because on the Fort Riley reserve. Leavenworth, situated on a Government reserve, was allowed to remain – because it was Pro-Slavery, while Reeder’s town was Free-State; it was a flourishing settlement with 500 inhabitants—as monuments two stone buildings left. We found the Catholic Mission at St. Mary’s, established in 1835, in successful operation, and with its numerous Pottawatomie cabins clustered around it, and very convenient for obtaining necessary supplies for man or beast. At night we camped on Graymore’s floor, seven miles west of the Mission, on Lost creek. He was a retired Californian who had married a “likely” Pottawatomie squaw and a fine farm with her! At 1 o’clock we were awakened by the arrival of the U.S. mail for Fort Riley. The carrier emptied his bag upon the floor, and found a valuable book, directed to someone beyond. He says, “I will take that—the fellow don’t need it!”

The fifth day, on the Government road, five miles above where Manhattan is now situated, on the Big Blue, we struck Juniata, a little Pro-Slavery town, close by a Government bridge, built at an expense of $10,000. The principal man was an old “six-foot” Virginian by the name of Dyer, of the Methodist Church South. His cabin as described by an exploring missionary was “one story high and three stories long!” His wife excused him to the same missionary for not saying grace at the table, by saying, “My old man, since coming o the new country has lost his manners.” They kept a sort of free hotel and a small store. It was a preaching place for all denominations. And it was customary after the sermon to invite everybody to dinner. They were a noble, generous-hearted old couple, but their free table and dishonest clerks soon got away with most of their property. The destruction of the bridge, the following winter, and the changing of the Government road, with the rivalry of Manhattan, which followed, effectually wiped out the town. In Kansas no Pro-Slavery town could live by the side of a Free-State town!

One mile west of Juniata we found Rev. Charles E. Blood, a missionary of the Congregational church, to whom I had letters of introduction. With him for a guide we walked some three miles and ascended from the north what is now called Bluemont Hill. Taking position upon the top of an Indian mound, Saturday evening, March 24th, 1855, just as the sun was resting on the western hills, we first looked upon the most beautiful town-site that we had ever be held. With the old Grecian philosopher when he had discovered the law of specific gravity, I felt like exclaiming Eureka! Eureka!! I have found it! I HAVE FOUND IT! Our expectations were more than met. The decision of the committee was to look no farther, and to summon the remaining company to hurry up as soon as possible to be ready for the election on the 30th and to secure the town-site. We soon learned that the fall of 1854 Geo. S. Park had located a town-site on the Kansas River, at the southwestern part of the present site, and had named it Poliska. He had built a log cabin upon it for a blacksmith shop, and a big Virginian, one of the Juniata outfit, had jumped his claim by breaking into the cabin,



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one placed on each quarter-section, with someone to occupy and hold it as a claim till we could preempt with a “float.” This was an Indian land warrant for 640 acres of land, and was transferable by purchase.

We were soon reinforced by quite a number from Dr. Denison’s company, which left Boston one week later than ours. He was detained in Kansas City by the loss of a child, and was down with a fever himself for several weeks. Not half of his company ever reached us. It was too far out! They stopped by the way, or became discouraged, from the hardships and returned, not having counted the costs to begin with. Even of those who reached us, probably one-half left us the first season. It required special effort to drive off homesickness. I told them I had come to Kansas to help make it a Free State, and should remain till that was accomplished, if they all left. About the last of May, John Pipher and Andrew J. Mead, in the steamer Hartford, with some seventy-five settlers, arrived from Cincinnati. They had on board ten houses, ready framed for putting up and were bound for the site where Junction City now is. We told them if they would join us and help build the town we would give the half the town-site; the offer was accepted, and they remained and business became lively. The name of the town was changed from Boston to Manhattan, as a clause in the constitution of the Cincinnati and Kansas Land Company required that the town where they settled should be called Manhattan. This steamer on its return ran aground a short distance below Manhattan, and was burned up by a prairie fire which swept over it. The bell, a fine-toned one, was saved, and given the Methodist Church, it being the first one built. It has called the people together ever since, and may last several hundred years longer.

The union of the two companies, of the East and of the West, produced a grand practical combination, the best kind of business compound to make the right kind of a town to live in and to educate our children for citizenship and the responsibilities of life. Judge Pipher with his military airs, prompt action and commanding voice was just the man for our first Mayor, having been unanimously elected to this office. In our entire contest with town jumpers and border-ruffians, he had the tact to come out ahead without any bloodshed. I shall never forget his grand charge on horseback, his hat off, his cloak flying far in advance of a line of thirty men on a run to lynch or drive off Isaac S. Haskell, one of the jumpers. The fellow had said that he would never leave, but would lay his bones there; but when he saw that body of determined men, swiftly approaching, his courage failed, and he ran at the top of his speed. The Mayor was all too glad to see him go, and to hasten him on, rode one, Jehu-like, and coming up to him, with stentorian voice cried out, “Run, run for your life, for I cannot answer for what my men may do!” And with the loss of one shoe, Haskell disappeared over Bluemont range. Really, we did not know then how we could have got along without the Judge. It is a singular fact in our Territorial history, that in all parts of Kansas we have had leaders raised up according to our necessities. I never could see how we could have succeeded in 1855-6-7, without Charles Robinson, Samuel C. Pomeroy, and James H. Lane.

One of our settlers came the overland route with his team and family. For years he was noted for his long hair and whiskers. He had made a vow that they never should cut till Kansas was a free State. He was like an old Whig whom we met in Dallas, Texas, in our Kansas editorial excursion to the Gulf in 1875. In the campaign of 1844 he had made a vow that he would neither shave nor use the shears till Henry Clay was elected President. He kept his vow.

The first child born in the city was Irwin Lovejoy, now an honored graduate from Baker University and the Theological Department of Boston University. His parents, Rev. Mr. and Mrs. C. H. Lovejoy occupied a log cabin near the Blue. I recollect dining there one day from a big fish. A line had been set the night before. A small fish of some five pounds had taken the hook, when this big fish of thirty pounds weight swallowed the little one, and both were hauled ashore. Mrs. Lovejoy was a good cook was well as a good controversialist, and our dinner was delicious. The first death was G. W. Barnes, a promising young man, son of Charles Barnes. Our first corn crop, planted on the 18th of June, sold at home for the Fort Riley market at $1.25 per bushel, and eggs 62 ½ cents per dozen.

On the 4th of July we had pumpkin pies, but never have had them so early since! On the town-site of Manhattan I could tie the prairie grass, bluestem, over my head while sitting upon my pony.

At first our supplies came from the river, 120 miles away. It required a journey of one or two weeks with horses or oxen. The first winter some of our settlers dried their corn in the oven and ground it in coffee mills; it made the best kind of bread. The arrival of the Emigrant Aid mill from Lawrence, drawn by twenty yoke of oxen, was a greater event to us than that of the Union Pacific Railroad eight years later. Wild turkeys, prairie chickens, quails, with rabbis, ‘coons, and possums, a few deer and wild-cats, and wolves now and then thrown in for a change, furnished a good variety of game. For winter meat a trip of 100 miles was taken out onto the plans for buffalo, which was all very good business so long as we kept clear of the warlike Cheyenne’s. The Kaw and Pottawatomie Indians, always ready for war in their hunting expeditions usually kept the hostile Indians at a distance.

In all Kansas Free-State conventions Manhattan was well represented, and her influence was felt in the right direction. At the first Free-State Convention at Lawrence, Aug. 14th and 15th, 1855, Manhattan was represented by Dr. Amory Hunting, Rev. Joseph Denison, F.B. Neely, Wm. E Goodnow, and Isaac T. Goodnow. P.C.Schuyler presided with distinguished ability, and gave universal satisfaction. In the large business committee, composed of some sixteen or twenty members, there was an unfortunate personal difficulty between Martin F. Conway and G. W. Smith, which for a time threatened disaster to the Free-State cause. Finally, wise counsel prevailed, a personal explanation succeeded, and past differences were buried, and the meeting of two days proceeded with perfect unanimity of feeling and measures. It was at this meeting that “Colonel” Lane, as he was then called, first made his debut. As a supporter of the Kansas-Nebraska bill in Congress, he was looked upon with suspicion by the members of the convention. Charles Foster, a young and eloquent lawyer from Boston, in a speech took special pains to rehearse his past history, not all complimentary to Col. Lane. At its conclusion everybody expected a reply. But the Colonel not appearing, the chairman Judge Schuyler, cried out with a strong voice which out to have been heard a block away, “Where is the redoubtable Colonel?” Still no “Colonel” appeared! It was not long, however, before he offered a set of apt, pointed resolutions, which every member of the convention could not help voting for. From this to the end of the convention he was an efficient worker, and soon after represented Lawrence in the Big Springs Convention, where he reported the first platform of Free-State principles for Kansas. But at no period in his subsequent career was his remarkable tact shown to greater advantage than at the Lawrence convention. At this time, also, General Pomeroy came before the convention, in a neat, well-prepared speech, interspersed with some beautiful, appropriate quotations of poetry, and which was delivered in a very agreeable manner.

The New England Emigrant Aid Company undoubtedly saved Kansas from slavery. It organized emigration and furnished leaders of skill and courage that enabled the settlers to cope with the myrmidons of slavery. Lawrence was a creation of this company, and furnished a rallying-point from the various and widely scattered settlements. First and last it was the object of Border- Ruffian hate and attack. And she suffered more than all other towns put together. From each burning it, Phoenix-like, rose from its ashes stronger, and more beautiful than ever. While we admit that Pennsylvanian, New York and the West furnished a majority of the Free-State element, yet without Lawrence and such leaders as Gov. Robinson and General Pomeroy, brought here by the New England Emigrant Aid Company, what stand could have been made against the hordes of Georgians, South Carolinians, and the Blue Lodges of Missouri? It furnished the cohesive power that bound all in a mass, irresistible to the wiles and fierce attacks of the slave power.



Never was a State settled from purer, nobler motives. In a private letter received not long since Eli Thayer writes: “I feel a kinship nearer than that of blood for the heroic Kansas pioneers who responded to my call for volunteers for Kansas. They made the first self-sacrificing emigration in the world’s history. All other emigrations have been either compulsory or…

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