Michael J. Malone
Douglas County Law Library

Judicial and Law Enforcement Center
111 East 11th Street
Lawrence, Kansas 66044
Phone: (785) 838-2477
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This Month in Legal History Archive


This page contains archived entries from the "This Month in Legal History" column published in 2009 in the Michael J. Malone Douglas County Law Library E-Mail Newsletter and on the Home page of this website. Each month, the column features a different event from the history of law and jurisprudence of Douglas County, Kansas, that occurred during the month.

January 16, 1858 - Mrs. Canfield is under suspicion of poisoning her husband - The January 16, 1858, edition of the Herald of Freedom newspaper reported that Erastus D. Ladd, Esquire, a well-known and highly respected attorney in Lawrence, Kansas Territory, had been conducting an examination into the death of a Mr. Canfield. Ladd was a justice of the peace, "…holding justice court in that little white frame house near the Eldridge House…." He was presumably conducting the inquiry into Mr. Canfield's death in his capacity as justice of the peace. Canfield had been a resident of Lawrence at the time of his death two weeks earlier. Prior to his death, Canfield had exhibited all the symptoms of having been poisoned with arsenic. A post-mortem examination had taken place and, "though a through analysis of the stomach has not yet taken place, yet the physicians are of the opinion that his death was occasioned by arsenic." Canfield's widow, referred to only as Mrs. Canfield, was suspected of having administered the poison to her husband, "whether justly or unjustly we shall not undertake to decide; but it must be conceded that the interest increases as the investigation progresses, and fears are entertained by many that the deceased has been foully dealt with by somebody." The outcome of the analysis and the fate of Mrs. Canfield are not known. (From: Murders Occurring in the City of Lawrence, Douglas County, Kansas, from 1854 to 1859, by Margaret Dandurand, Unpublished manuscript, 2002; Erastus D. Ladd's Description of the Lawrence Massacre, by Burton J. Williams, Kansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 2 (Summer 1963), pages 113 to 121, as contained on the Kansas Collection website; Letter, John F. King to Tho. Ewing Jr., July 1, 1858 - Thomas Ewing, Jr. Collection, #341, Correspondence, Box #3, Kansas State Historical Society - On the Territorial Kansas Online website; and, The Secret Danites, Kansas' First Jayhawkers, by Todd Mildfelt, Todd Mildfelt Publishing, Richmond, KS, 2003, p. 30. Published 1/09. Revised 2/09.)  Back to top of page

February, 28, 1880 - The STLL&W files suit against the AT&SF - On July 20, 1865, the Saint Louis, Lawrence, and Denver Railroad Company was incorporated under the general laws of the State of Kansas. Over the next seven and a half years, the railroad consolidated with the Lawrence and Pleasant Hill Railway Company, the Pleasant Hill and Lawrence Branch of the Pacific Railroad Company, and the Lawrence and Carbondale Railroad Company. On February 26, 1874, the railroad changed its name to the St. Louis, Lawrence, and Western Railroad Company (STLL&W). Two years later, the STLL&W was foreclosed on, and sold to a Frank Morrison on February 29, 1876. At the time of the sale, the railroad owned a road between Lawrence, Kansas, and Pleasant Hill, Missouri. Morrison later sold a portion of this road to the Kansas City, Topeka & Western Railroad, which was currently under lease to the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway (AT&SF). On February 28, 1880, the STLL&W commenced an action in ejectment* in the Douglas County, Kansas, District Court against the AT&SF. The suit also called for an accounting of the receipts and profits of the AT&SF derived from its use of the road between Lawrence and Pleasant Hill. The reported reason behind the suit was that the STLL&W claimed the original sale of the road was illegal and void, so the AT&SF did not have a right of possession to the road or the profits gained from possessing it. The Court found for the defendant, the AT&SF, on April 10, 1882. No records have been found to indicate that the STLL&W appealed the decision. (From: The New York Times, Feb. 29, 1880, The New York Times Archive online; the Corporate History - Kansas City, Fort Scott & Memphis Railroad Company web page; Encyclopedia Americana, The Encyclopedia Americana Corporation, 1918, p. 489 - Google Book Search; and Douglas County District Court, Civil Appearance Docket, vol. H, p. 536. Published 2/09.)  Back to top of page

March 1872 - Dr. Medlicott is freed - Around 8:00 AM on the morning of Thursday, April 27, 1871, Isaac M. Ruth was found dead in his bed at his residence in Lawrence, Kansas. He had spent part of the previous evening at home, playing chess with his friend John J. Medlicott, a physician and surgeon who served as the Ruth family doctor. Ruth's wife was absent, and there was no one else in the house that night except the children of Mrs. Ruth by a previous marriage. Along with Ruth's body, a letter from Ruth to his wife was found. The letter stated that Medlicott had given him quinine powder, which he had taken at about 10:30 PM, and that by 11:00 PM he was becoming numb and blind, that he felt terrible, and that Medlicott had poisoned him. At 10:00 AM on the same morning that the body was discovered, Dr. W. Saunders was called in and performed a preliminary examination of the body. Then, at 2:30 PM, Dr. Saunders began a post mortem examination of Ruth's body, assisted by a Dr. A. Fuller. They determined that Ruth had ingested morphine and atropine, a drug extracted from deadly nightshade and other similar plants, and had indeed died of poison. A coroner's jury was subsequently convened and it returned a verdict that Ruth had died from the effects of poison administered to him by his friend, Dr. Medlicott. Sometime during the investigation, the authorities directed that the body of Dr. Medlicott's wife, who had died six months earlier with what were supposedly the same symptoms as had Mr. Ruth, be exhumed and tested for poison. Morphine and atropine were identified in her body as well, but in smaller amounts than that supposedly present in Ruth's body. Medlicott was arrested on a charge of murdering Ruth, and was jailed, awaiting trial during the next term of the district court of Douglas County, Kansas. Medlicott filed a petition for a change of venue, citing bias and prejudice against him by the citizens of Douglas County. The court granted a change of venue and ordered that the case be moved to Anderson County, Kansas, for trial. The eighteen-day trial began on October 9, 1871, with jury selection taking two days. The prosecution team included John Hutchings, County Attorney of Douglas County, and the defense team included Judge Solon O. Thacher, who had once been a District Court Judge in Douglas County. Many leading newspapers in the country, including the New York Times, sent reporters to cover the proceedings. The trial became a sensation as accounts were published each day as the trial progressed. Many eminent scientific witnesses were called to testify. Prominent among them was Dr. Theodore G. Wormley, professor of chemistry and toxicology at the Sterling Medical College, Columbus, Ohio, and author of Wormley on the Micro-Chemistry of Poisons, the first book on poisons published in America. One of the witnesses called by the state was a man named Henry Johnson, who was under indictment for burglary. He testified to having had several conversations with Medlicott while Medlicott and he were in jail together, in which Medlicott had confessed to the crime. The defense held that Johnson's testimony was false, and that it had been induced by the prosecuting attorney's promise to drop charges against Johnson in exchange for his testimony. In his own defense, Medlicott testified that before he left Ruth's house the night Ruth died, his friend had complained that he was ill. Medlicott testified that he had prescribed quinine for his friend, and, that when he left Ruth's house at about half past ten that night, Ruth had not yet taken the medication. The case went to the jury on October 26th, and the next morning, the jury returned a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree. The court sentenced Medlicott to be executed by hanging by the neck until dead. The defense appealed the case to the Kansas Supreme Court. The Court heard the case in January 1872 and reversed the judgment of the district court, granting Medlicott a new trial. The Supreme Court found that that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of Ruth's final letter to his wife because it did not fall within the hearsay exception for a dying declaration. Although the letter had been composed prior to death, it had not been written when Ruth was at the point of death, so it was inadmissible. In addition, the Court found that the circumstances of the letter were rather suspicious, beings as there was evidence that Ruth could have called for help, but did not. During the trial, a neighbor of Ruth's had testified that on the night Ruth died, he had heard groans coming from an open window in the Ruth house, but had not investigated. The Court felt that had Ruth called for help, the neighbor would have heard and would have come to his assistance. Because the letter from Ruth to his wife was all the evidence that connect Medlicott with Ruth's death, the County Attorney of Douglas County appeared during the March 1872 term of the Anderson County District Court and entered a nolle prosequi in the case, in effect, dropping the charges against Medlicott. After the case was dropped, Medlicott was released from jail and immediately left the State. Apparently, no action was ever taken concerning Mrs. Medlicott's death. The whole truth about how Mrs. Medlicott and Mr. Ruth actually met their deaths remains unknown. (From: The History of Anderson County, From Its First Settlement to the Fourth of July, 1876, by W. A. Johnson, Chairman of Historical Committee, Published by Kauffman & Iler, Garnett Plaindealer, 1877, transcribed on-line at rootsweb.com; The State of Kansas v. John J. Medlicott, January Term 1872. 9 Kan. 257; 1872 Kan. LEXIS 113; The Ruth-Medlicott Poisoning Case, by W. Saunders, M.D., North American Journal of Homoeopathy, v. 21, New Series, v. 3, 1873, pp. 15-24 - Google Book Search; and, The Antagonistic Action of Atropia to Morphia, by P. B. Rose, M.D., ibid, pp. 24-32 - Google Book Search. Published 3/09.)  Back to top of page

April 6, 1856 - The bones of a Border Ruffian are found - On Sunday, April 6, 1856, the bones of a man were found in the woods along the Wakarusa River four miles south of Lawrence, Kansas Territory. They were discovered on land for which a man named John Morehead held a claim. The discovery of the bones was reported in an article in the April 12, 1856, edition of the Herald of Freedom newspaper. The article speculated on a link between the discovery and events that had take place the previous Fall. In late November and early December 1855, a large group of pro-slavery men, know to the locals as Border Ruffians, had been camped near Morehead's land in the Wakarusa Bottoms during the so-called Wakarusa War. The "War" was a time of heightened tensions during the Bleeding Kansas era in which at least 1,500 well-armed pro-slavery men had laid siege to Lawrence, the headquarters of the Free State movement in the Territory. The citizens of the town were also well armed, many with Sharp's Rifles, and had erected a number of defensive fortifications. They also had a cannon that had been smuggled into town from Kansas City. The siege continued for about a week with neither side initiating any fighting. It was eventually lifted when a peace treaty was signed by the leaders of both sides. Most of the besieging pro-slavery men packed up and went back to Missouri, from whence they had come. With these events fresh in the minds of its readers, the article in the newspaper of April 12th began by reporting on the circumstances surrounding the discovery of the bones. It noted that the bones had not been without flesh for long, the estimate being two to three months at the most. A belt and an empty knife sheath had also been found near the remains. A week or so prior to the discovery of the bones, a large bowie knife had been found in the vicinity. The knife was shiny bright on one side and somewhat rusted on the other, indicating it had not been out in the weather for long. When the bowie knife was tried in the sheath, it was found to fit, indicating it probably had belonged to the deceased. The article went on to describe the pro-slavery men who had been besieging Lawrence the previous December as "…drunken, quarrelsome, and riotous…." The article ended with a speculation on the identity and fate of the man whose bones had been found the Sunday before. That, "…doubtless, in some of their nocturnal reveling, [they] fell to killing oneanother [sic]…. As there is no Free State man missing, there can be no doubt the murdered man was a Border Ruffian--murdered by his own fellows, and by them thrown in the bushes for the wolves and vultures to devour." It will probably never be know if the author of the newspaper article was correct, but the logic and reasoning behind it seems to be on the right track. More than one killing during the Bleeding Kansas era went unreported, and there is every likelihood that unknown gravesites from that time are still out there in the lands of eastern Kansas and western Missouri. (From: Herald of Freedom, v. 2, no. 10, April 12, 1856, p. 2; and, Wakarusa War, in Kansas: a Cyclopedia of State History, Volume II. Standard Publishing Company, Chicago, 1912. Transcribed in July 2002 by Carolyn Ward, KsGenWeb website. Published 4/09.)  Back to top of page

May 15, 1861 - The Mayor and the Marshal save a secessionist from a lynching - Mr. E. Flagler and Mr. J. W. Thompson arrived in Lawrence, Kansas, on May 15, 1861, having come on the stagecoach from Kansas City. The two men registered at the Eldridge House, giving their home as Kansas City, and then went about their business. Flagler was seen to be walking around town, eventually making his way to the jail where he asked some questions of the guards. Thompson's activities during the day were not reported, and by evening, the two men were back at their hotel. During a conversation that evening, Thompson stated that he was a secessionist, a supporter of the southern states seceding from the Union. Word quickly spread that there were secessionists in the Eldridge House. The building stood on the site of the Free State Hotel, which had been burned to the ground by a large group of pro-slavery men on May 21, 1856. Lawrence had been the center of Free State activity during territorial days, and had been sacked and burned on that day in May 1856. This history, combined with the fact that rebels had fired upon Fort Sumter only 33 days earlier, made the prospect of having pro-slavery rebel sympathizers in their midst more than the good citizens of Lawrence could tolerate. An angry crowd assembled outside the hotel and then forced its way into the building, accompanied by shouts of "death to traitors." Either from something Thompson had said, or from the similarity of names, it was understood that he was the brother of M. Jeff Thompson, a colonel in the Missouri state militia. At the time, Colonel Thompson, who later became know as the "Swamp Fox of the Confederacy," was leading his pro-Confederate command in attacks on the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, whose construction he had helped supervise in the 1850s. No one related to Colonel Thompson would have been welcomed in Lawrence, and the possibility that one of the secessionists in the Eldridge House was his brother would have further inflamed the crowd. When news of the crowd's actions reached Mayor Alonzo Fuller and City Marshal Joseph Cracklin, the two quickly made their way to the hotel. Seeing the mood of the crowd, and undoubtedly fearing that a lynching was imminent, they took custody of the two men and began making plans to get them out of town. The two officials soon decided that it would be better to take the two men to the jail, and several companies of troops stationed in town were called in to help move the prisoners. Upon arrival, the troops formed up three deep around the prisoners and marched them to the jail without serious incident. When Thompson left the hotel, "…he was so disguised that only those nearest to him knew exactly where to look for him, which caused considerable confusion in the ranks of the excited ones, and saved much trouble." The German citizens in town were particularly incensed by secessionists, due to reports that had reached town concerning ill treatment of Germans in Missouri.¹ It was noted that, "Our German citizens were particularly excited against the prisoners…though many Americans joined in the cry for blood. The scene was one of the wildest Lawrence has witnessed for many a day." The military guard at the jail was doubled and the crowd gradually dispersed. After reaching the jail, Flagler was questioned by the authorities. He was asked, "Are you a Free State man?" and he replied, "I am that." He went on to say other things that were not reported. This convinced the citizenry that he was an innocent man who had been found in bad company, and he was released. Thompson, who was described as being "well dressed, and quite cool considering his position," spent the night in jail. On the following morning, Thompson was put aboard the Kansas City stagecoach. He was reluctant to leave in that way until two respected citizens volunteered to accompany him out of town. The two boarded the stage and escorted Mr. Thompson to safety. The Kansas State Journal observed, "Mayor Fuller and Marshall Cracklin are deserving of praise for the energy and good judgment they exhibited throughout. ... We are proud to be able to announce that our city came out of this excitement without any disgrace. … The next traitor caught in Lawrence will be lucky indeed, if he escapes with so whole a skin." (From: Kansas State Journal, v. 1, no. 13 (May 16, 1861), p. 3; ibid, v. 1, no. 14 (May 23, 1861), p. 3; and, M. Jeff Thompson on Wikipedia.org. Published 5/09.)

¹In one report coming from St. Louis, a gang of secessionists had hunted down and killed up to nine innocent German men. This was supposedly in retaliation for Federal troops of German extraction having shot and killed a number of St. Louis civilians during an attack by a mob. A detachment of Missouri State troops had surrendered to the Federal troops on May 10, 1861. As the prisoners were being marched out of camp, a mob began attacking the Federal troops with stones, clubs, and pistols. The Federal troops held their fire until the prisoners broke ranks and tried to escape. The escaping prisoners ran into the crowd of civilians and at the same time began attacking the Federal troops. The civilians were killed when the Federal troops fought back to defend themselves and recapture their prisoners.
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June 3, 1858 - Gaius Jenkins is gunned down by General Lane - Gaius Jenkins brought his wife and children to Lawrence, Kansas Territory, around the time that the town was founded in October of 1854. He began working to have Kansas admitted to the Union as a Free State, a state that did not allow slavery, eventually becoming a colonel in the Free State Militia. In the fall of 1855, he moved into a house on land adjacent to the Robitaille Float¹. The Robitaille Float was land that had been claimed by Robert Robitaille, a prominent member of the Wyandot Indian Tribe². Many other settlers also claimed plots on the Robitaille Float, clearing land and building houses on them. Gaius Jenkins was one of these men, and had claimed a part of the Float near his residence. There was a well on this parcel, from which Jenkins and his family got their water. Jenkins had supposedly built a fence separating the parcel with the well from the plot where his house stood, and had installed a gate where the path from his house to the well passed through the fence. In addition to the well, there was also a house on the parcel. The house had previously been occupied by several different men when James Henry Lane moved in there in the spring of 1858. Lane was a lawyer and politician who had come to Kansas in 1855. He had allied himself with the Free-State movement, unusual for a Democrat at the time, and was appointed a general in the Free-State Militia. Lane supposedly had a fiery temper, and became known as "The Grim Chieftain." He was also associated with the Danites, a secret society that worked behind the scenes for the Free-State cause. By 1858, a number of his supporters were campaigning to get Lane nominated as a candidate for the 1860 presidential election. When Lane moved into the house on the Robitaille Float, he claimed that he had title to that part of the Float, not Jenkins, and so he owned the well Jenkins was using as his water supply. He ordered Jenkins to stop getting water from "his" well. In spite of Lane's objections, Jenkins continued to get water from the well, claiming that he had been getting water from the well for several years and had a right to continue to do so. Though both Jenkins and Lane were Free-state men, they belonged to different factions of the movement, and there was much internal conflict between the factions. This added to the hard feelings that were developing between the two men over the land dispute. When Jenkins continued to draw water from the well, Lane put a locked cover over the well and nailed shut the gate in the fence. Jenkins' family supposedly tried getting water from a nearby creek, but all became ill because the water was bad. Around midday on June 3, 1858, Jenkins sent a hired man to go get water from the well on the disputed land. Lane ran him off, and he went back to report this to Jenkins. Jenkins, determined to get water, went off toward the well, accompanied by the hired man and two of Jenkins' nephews. Jenkins brought an ax with him and the other men carried firearms. When they arrived at the barred gate, Jenkins used the ax to break open the gate that he himself had built. Lane was outside his house and told the men to clear off or he would shoot. He turned and went inside the house, returning with his shotgun. The four men entered the yard and Jenkins advanced toward the well. Lane again threatened to shoot Jenkins if he continued. Jenkins was reported to have said something like "Lane, you know your duty." Jenkins continued to walk toward the well. There were reports that one of Jenkins' men attempted to fire a pistol, thought if he did it misfired. Lane fired his shotgun at Jenkins, hitting him in the chest. Jenkins fell mortally wounded, and two of his men fired back at Lane, one of them hitting him in the knee. Lane retreated into his house, and Jenkins' men picked up his body and carried it home to his grieving wife and four children. The post-mortem on Jenkins found ninety-eight shotgun pellets in his chest. Justice of the Peace Erastus D. Ladd began an inquiry into the shooting, with the proceedings dragging on for nearly a month. The major question was whether the shooting was justified. Lane's attorney argued that since one of Jenkins' men had attempted to fire a pistol before Jenkins was shot, the shooting of Jenkins was justified. After hearing testimony from a number of witnesses, Ladd decided that Lane would not be brought to trial. He accepted the argument that one man having attempted to fire a pistol justified the killing of another man who had not done so. There was an outcry from many in the community. When Lane had purchased shot for his shotgun a few days before the shooting, he was heard to say that it was for Jenkins if he came on his land again. This prompted many in the community to believe the shooting was premeditated. They believed that Lane should be brought to trial in open court. The feeling was that Lane had used his political influence to get away with murder. That Lane had political influence, there can be no doubt. Even thought his short-lived campaign to be nominated for election as President was cut short by the shooting of Jenkins, he went on to be elected Kansas' first United States Senator in 1861. There is also the possibility that Erastus Ladd may not have been as impartial as he should have been in his decision not to have Lane stand trial for the shooting of Jenkins. Ladd was for a time the roommate of Charles Leonhardt, another member of the secret Danites with whom Lane was associated. Perhaps there was unseen pressure from the society on one of its members to free "The Grim Chieftain." Whatever the reasons, Lane was never tried for the death of Jenkins. During the Civil War, Lane was appointed brigadier general of volunteers, becoming notorious in Missouri for raiding and burning towns in the state. He was supposedly the main target of Quantrill's men when they raided Lawrence in 1863, but was able to avoid the fate that befell so many of his fellow townspeople and escaped unharmed. However, on July 1, 1866, amid charges of financial irregularities and concerns that he had become demented, Lane shot himself in the head while in Leavenworth, Kansas. He lingered for ten days, finally succumbing to his wound on July 11, 1866.

¹ Pronounced (Row-bi-tal).

² The Wyandot had come to what is now Kansas in 1843 after they were granted land there to compensate them for being forced to leave their homes and farms in Ohio. This land was to be part of their reservation, but it was not the usual Indian reservation. Instead of all their land having to be in one place, pieces could be widely dispersed. Prominent members of the tribe were each granted the right to 640 acres of this "floating" reservation that could be located anywhere east of Missouri on land not previously claimed. Each of these separate pieces of the floating reservation were called "floats," hence the Robitaille Float. When Robert Robitaille heard that the town of Lawrence was being established, he made his claim on land that the founders were preparing to make part of the town. His claim was eventually rejected.

From: Herald of Freedom, v. 3:43 (June 5, 1858), p. 3; ibid, v. 3:44 (June 12, 1858), pp. 2-3; ibid, v. 3:45 (June 19, 1858), p. 3 ibid, v. 3:46 (June 26, 1858), p. 3; ibid, v. 3:47 (July 3, 1858), p. 2; Brief for Application in the Matter of the Wyandott Robitaille Float, by William Weer, [1856?]; The Secret Danites, Kansas' First Jayhawkers, by Todd Mildfelt, Todd Mildfelt Publishing, Richmond, KS, 2003; Lane, James Henry, (1814 - 1866), Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774 - Present; and, Thomas Ewing Jr.: Frontier Lawyer and Civil War General, by Ronald D. Smith, University of Missouri Press, Columbia, MO, 2008. Published 6/09.
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July 1865 - Raiders attack black citizens in Lawrence, Kansas - On Wednesday, July 19, 1865, George McGee, a black resident of Lawrence, Kansas, was at home in his house on Winthrop Street in the eastern part of town when a gang of armed men showed up. The gang smashed in a window and used it to gain entrance into the house. One of the raiders held a cocked pistol to Mr. McGee's head while the rest of the eight or ten men proceeded to ransack the house for whatever they could carry off. The raiders smashed dishes, furniture, and the stove before they finally left. In a newspaper article published in the Kansas Daily Tribune two days following the raid, a Major Thompson, apparently commander of the military post in Lawrence, was reported as having arrested some of the raiders. Following the raid on the McGee home, it was reported that threats had been made against all the black families living on the east side of town, and that "Learning this, the colored men determined to protect themselves and families, to the utmost of their ability." Then, between 11:00 PM and midnight on July 21st, a gang of approximately 20 white men descended on the boarding house that a Mrs. Baker ran for blacks in the southeastern part of Lawrence. The gang kicked in the door and demanded that all of the weapons in the house be turned over to them. They said that they were the Provost Guard, a military police detachment, and "had orders to take all the arms from the colored people." One of the male residents refused, saying, "I'll see you in Hell first." He grabbed his gun, jumped through an open window, and ran off to alarm the neighbors. Meanwhile, the men of the bogus Provost Guard forced their way into the boarding house. The man who had escaped through the window quickly returned with thirteen of his black friends, and a "rough-and-tumble" fight broke out. One of the raiders was hit with a musket and severely injured. The raiders retreated, and as they did, several of the defenders shot at them as they went. There were no reports of anyone being hit by the fire. One of the raiders was arrested and jailed on the morning of the 22nd. In reporting on the incident, the newspaper observed that, "The colored men of the city are united and resolute, and we are of the opinion that if another assault like this is made upon them, the ruffians will not fare so well." (From: Kansas Daily Tribune, v. 2:194 (July 21, 1865), p. 3; and, ibid, v. 2:196 (July 23, 1865), p. 3. Published 7/09.)  Back to top of page

August 7, 1865 - Major Thompson protects "the damn Abolition town" from the Fourteenth Kansas - At about nine o'clock in the morning of Monday, August 7, 1865, two troopers from the Fourteenth Kansas Cavalry were walking along a sidewalk on Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence, Kansas. The cavalry unit was camped north of Lawrence on the far side of the Kansas River, and, since the Civil War was over and a large military force was no longer needed, was in the process of mustering out the troops and disbanding the unit. As a result, one of the troopers walking down the street that day was in civilian clothes while the other was still wearing his uniform. As the two were passing Haseltine's bakery, they encountered a black man. The trooper in civilian clothes drew his revolver from its holster and swung it at the black man, trying to hit him with it. He missed, but in doing so, he nearly hit a woman who was passing by. She screamed and ran into the bakery. The attacker's companion tried to take the pistol away from him and a struggle ensued between the two. Edward Monroe, an officer of the city police, came up and tried to separate the men. As he was trying to persuade them to stop, another trooper saw the scuffle, ran across the street, and joined in the action against Monroe. In no time, twenty or thirty troopers had assembled. One of them drew his pistol, but Monroe caught it with one hand and defended himself with the other. Mr. Prentice, deputy city marshal, arrived, and, as the Kansas Daily Tribune reported, "immediately went in to restore peace, which he did in so prompt and efficacious a manner that the row was over in a very short time." Three or four of the troopers "received pretty hard knocks, which caused a considerable amount of bloodshed." The Provost Guard, a military police detachment, came in and arrested several of the men involved in the disturbance. The rest of the troopers left the scene, "uttering loud maledictions and swearing vengeance against Lawrence - 'the damned Abolition town'." Before the Civil War, Lawrence had been the center of the movement to make Kansas a Free State, and its reputation was as an abolitionist stronghold and supporter of the rights of black men and women. A town where you could not just hit a black man with your pistol any time you felt like it. The angry troopers went back to their camp north of the river, crossing over the Kansas River bridge on their way. Rumors quickly spread that they intended to come back and attack the city. Major Thompson, commander of the military post in Lawrence who, "sick or well is always ready for emergencies," quickly organized a defense. Although at the time he was so ill that he could not stand without assistance, he mounted his horse and set up a mounted patrol, an infantry guard, and a piece of artillery at the head of the bridge to ward off any attack. No attack materialized. In commenting on the incident, the newspaper noted that the preliminary mustering out of the Fourteenth Kansas had left their officers without full authority over their men. The mustering officer had made a speech, informing the men that they were no longer soldiers and that their officers could not exercise control over them. "A view," noted the newspaper, "in which we do not concur, but which, being accepted as a fact by officers and men, has been the probable cause of trouble. Many of the men of that regiment are desiring of preserving order and assisting their officer, but in the absence of positive authority are unable to do so." (From: Kansas Daily Tribune, v. 2:208 (August 8, 1865), p. 3. Published 8/09.)  Back to top of page

September 15, 1856 - Taylor Stephens' liquor is stolen by General Reid's men - In the second week of September, 1856, several thousand men under the command of John W. Reid, a veteran of the Mexican War and member of the Missouri state legislature, camped along the Wakarusa River about a mile and a half from the town of Franklin, Douglas County, Kansas Territory. "General" Reid and several hundred men had sacked and burned Osawatomie, a Free-State town supporting Kansas being admitted to the Union as a state that did not allow slavery, on August 30th. Now, this much larger force, comprised of Missourians who supported Kansas being admitted to the Union as slave state, claimed that they were the Kansas territorial militia under orders of the territorial governor. They were in the field to attack Lawrence, Kansas, headquarters of the Free-State movement. Lawrence was about four miles northwest of Franklin. On September 15, 1856, several hundred of Reid's men marched into Franklin and occupied the town. They raided several businesses and burned a house and a sawmill. One of the businesses they visited was that of Taylor Stephens. They "…forcibly entered the store and drank and carried away and destroyed a large quantity of liquors and other articles of great value…." John Geary, the newly appointed territorial governor, arrived on the scene that same day and informed Reid that he was revoking any orders the previous governor had given to attack Lawrence. Reid and his men were to withdraw from the area and leave the town in peace. After some negotiations, Reid complied, and the armed force withdrew on the 16th, the men taking with them whatever they had acquired in Franklin. Franklin was a pro-slavery settlement, and had already been attacked twice that year by Free-State militias, once in June and again in August, so to be raided by men who were supposedly on their side of the slavery issue must have left the citizens of the town feeling not a little dispirited. On November 20, 1857, H. G. Tolle, Justice of the Peace in Douglas County, Kansas Territory, took sworn and signed testimony from Stephens as part of Stephens' official claim for reimbursement for losses to Reid's men totaling $1,275.62. Tolle also took testimony from two witnesses in support of Stephens' claim. Stephens' claim was included as part of an investigation being conducted by Hiram J. Strickler, adjutant general of the territory. Strickler had begun investigating and auditing claims by citizens for losses resulting from violence in the territory. He intended to submit the claims to the territorial government for reimbursement, but realized that it had no money to pay the claims. He then complied and submitted a report to the federal government, whose policies and legislation he blamed for instigating political conflict in the territory. Many of the claims were eventually approved for payment, but no funds were ever appropriated or distributed. Stephens apparently never received compensation for his losses. (From: Claims of the citizens of the territory of Kansas: Report of H.J. Strickler, commissioner to audit, under the laws of the territorial legislature of Kansas, the claims of the citizens of that territory for losses sustained in carrying into effect the laws of the territory, or growing out of any difficulties in the territory, by H.J Strickler, [Washington]: House of Representatives, 1859, pp. 287-289; John William Reid; H.J. Strickler; and, Geary and Kansas: Governor Geary's administration in Kansas: with a complete history of the territory until June 1857: embracing a full account of its discovery, …: all fully authenticated, by John H. Gihon, Charles C. Rhodes, Philadelphia, 1857, Chapter 24. Produced by Connie Snyder for the Kansas Collection website. Published 9/09.)  Back to top of page

October 1857 - Samuel N. Wood presides over the first court session held in Lawrence, Kansas - An article in the October 31, 1857, issue of the Herald of Freedom newspaper reported that what was believed to be the first trial ever held in Lawrence, Kansas, was then in session. S. N. Wood, Justice of the Peace for Lecompton Township, was hearing the preliminary examination of some horse thieves. Samuel Newitt Wood was born in Ohio in 1825 into a family of Quakers, and grew up being a strong opponent of slavery. During a political campaign in 1852, he was challenged to a public discussion of slavery by a well know lawyer. Wood accepted the challenge, but the lawyer declined to participate, refusing to discuss such weighty issues with a farmer. Soon after, Wood entered a law office to study the law, and was admitted to the local bar in early1854. Within a week of the May 30, 1854, signing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the law that opened up the territory of Kansas to settlement and made it possible that the territory could be brought into the Union as a state that allowed slavery, he and his family left Ohio to come to Kansas to ensure that it would not be a slave state. He settled on a claim approximately four miles west of Lawrence, the headquarters of the Free-State movement in the territory. Wood began working on the Underground Railroad, and is reputed to have assisted the first fugitive slave to escape through Lawrence. In so doing, Wood was in violation of the terms of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, and would have been prosecuted under Federal law had he been caught. When fellow Free-State supporter Jacob Branson was arrested by Samuel Jones, the pro-slavery sheriff of Douglas County, on what were seen as trumped-up charges, Wood joined with other supporters to free Branson from the Sheriff. In the early morning of November 27, 1855, the rescuers confronted a group of men holding Branson. Wood identified himself as Branson's attorney, and told Branson to come over and join his rescuers. One of the Sheriff's men threatened to shoot, and Wood responded, "Come on, let them shoot if they want to. If you shoot, not a man of you will leave alive." Although several attempts were made to arrest him for his participation in the Branson rescue, he was free to sit as Justice of the Peace for the trial of the horse thieves in 1857. In 1858, he was a delegate to the Leavenworth Constitutional Convention that wrote an unsuccessful Free-State constitution. Wood sponsored an amendment to the section on voter enfranchisement in which he wanted the word "male" to be removed everywhere it occurred in the section. Had this passed and the constitution been adopted, women would have had full voting rights in the new state. He left Douglas County in 1859, and eventually settled in Morris County, Kansas. He joined the Union Army during the Civil War, and after the war was elected to the Kansas Legislature. In 1888, he was involved in a dispute over whether Hugoton or Woodsdale would become the county seat of Stevens County, Kansas. The dispute erupted into open warfare. In 1891, while answering a summons to appear in court, Wood was gunned down in the Methodist Church in Hugoton by an embittered opponent. (From: Herald of Freedom, v. 3, no. 12, October 31, 1857, p. 2; Biographical sketch of Samuel Newitt Wood; Journal, Leavenworth Constitutional Convention; A History of Lawrence from the earliest settlement to the close of the rebellion, by Richard Cordley, E. F. Caldwell, Lawrence, Kansas, 1895, Chapter 4; Samuel N. Wood; and, More Oklahoma Renegades, by Ken Butler, Pelican Publishing Company, Gretna, Louisiana, 2007, pp. 48-59. Published 10/09.)  Back to top of page

November 11, 1859 - A stabbing in the Kaw Bottoms - The November 19, 1859, edition of the Herald of Freedom newspaper, published in Lawrence, Kansas Territory, reported an incident first reported in the Lecompton Democrat. Earlier in the month, on November 11, a man named Joseph Myers had allegedly stabbed another man named C.C. Rice in the region of the heart. The victim died about two hours after the assault. The attack was reported to have been over a land claim dispute and had occurred in the Kaw Bottoms, the name given to the floodplain along the Kansas River, which is also known as the Kaw. Although much of the violence in the area during the five years since the Territory had been opened up for settlement was the result of contention over whether Kansas would enter the Union as a free state or a slave state, it was not unknown for disagreements over property ownership to result in bloodshed. After his alleged assault on Rice, Myers was reported to have made good his escape. Most of the rest of that edition of the Herald of Freedom was taken up with discussion of the abolitionist John Brown and his anti-slavery activities. At the time the issue was published, Brown was in jail in Charlestown, Virginia, awaiting his execution on December 2, in the aftermath of the trial for his raid the previous month on the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry. A significant portion of the paper was dedicated to articles discussing the raid, some of the men who also had participated in it, such as John Henry Kagi, Brown's second in command, and on Brown's allies and activities while he was in Kansas. In addition, there was a feature purporting to tell the true story of the Pottawatomie Massacre, which had occurred in May 1856, and which John Brown was suspected of having led. (From: Herald of Freedom, v. 5, no. 18 (November 19, 1859), p. 3. Published 11/09.)  Back to top of page

December 6, 1855 - Thomas W. Barber murdered on his way home to chop wood - In the first week of December 1855, during what was to become know as the Wakarusa War, the war without a battle, a large force of armed men who supported the Territory of Kansas being admitted to the Union as a state that allowed slavery were besieging the town of Lawrence, Kansas. Lawrence was the headquarters of the movement to have Kansas admitted to the Union as a state that banned slavery, and had already experienced a significant amount of trouble over the issue since the town was founded a little over two years before. One of the leaders of the besieging men was the pro-slavery sheriff of Douglas County, Sam Jones. The Free-State defenders in Lawrence included the abolitionist John Brown and the Free-State leader James Henry Lane. They had been able to organize a strong defense, with numerous fortifications having been quickly thrown up. The citizens of the town were also well armed. Many had Sharp's Rifles, one of the most modern firearms of the time, and a cannon had been smuggled into town and was manned by determined men. The current trouble had begun on November 21 when Charles Dow, a Free-State man, had been gunned down by his neighbor, Franklin Coleman, a pro-slavery man. Although the incident was supposedly over a land claim and not over the slavery issue, the two sides quickly began to agitate against each other. The fact that Coleman was able to flee the territory without being arrested made the situation worse. On the night of November 26, Jacob Branson, a friend of Dow's, was arrested by Sheriff Jones and a posse of pro-slavery men because he had allegedly made threating comments about Coleman. A group of Branson's Free-State friends confronted the posse and was able to free him without gunfire. His rescuers had then brought Branson to Lawrence for safekeeping. The pro-slavery men claimed that Lawrence was in armed rebellion against the government and began organizing a force to suppress this supposed insurrection. The besiegement of Lawrence was the result. Around noon on December 6, at the height of the siege, three Free-State men, brothers Robert and Thomas Barber and their brother-in-law Thomas Peirson, slipped out of town and headed home to chop wood for their families. Thomas Barber had come to Kansas from Indiana and had settled with his wife in the Bloomington area near the present day town of Clinton, about eight miles southwest of Lawrence. He had become a private in the Bloomington Company (D) of the 1st Regiment, Kansas Volunteers, and was in Lawrence to help defend the town. The three Free-State men rode west from town by the California Road, planning eventually to turn to the south toward home. Unlike his two companions, Thomas Barber was unarmed. They had gone about four miles when they were stopped by two men on horseback. One of the men, later identified as George W. Clarke, Indian Agent for the Pottawatomie and a pro-slavery man, asked the trio, "Where are you going?" Thomas Barber supposedly answered, "We are going home." Clarke then asked, "Where are you from?" Barber answered, "We are from Lawrence." "What is going on in Lawrence?" was the next question. "Nothing in particular," said Barber. "Nothing in particular, hey?" replied Clarke. "We have orders from the Governor to see the laws executed in Kansas." Thomas Barber then asked, "What laws have we disobeyed?" Clarke replied, "Then, turn your horses' heads and go with us," pointing in the direction of a group of riders a short distance from them. Barber said, "We won't do it." Clarke rode his horse to Barber's right side saying, "You won't, hey?" As he did so, he fired his pistol at Thomas Barber. Clarke's companion, later identified as James N. Burns, a merchant from Weston, Missouri, also fired his pistol. Robert Barber managed to fire three shots in return but to no effect. Peirson had trouble getting his pistol out, and the two assailants road off before he could use it. Thomas said, "Let us be off," and the three rode off at top speed. They had ridden about a hundred yards when Thomas said, "That fellow shot me." Robert asked, "Where are you shot." He pointed at his right side. Robert said, "That is not possible, Thomas." Thomas smiled, said, "It is," dropped his reigns, and began to fall. Robert as able to support him in the saddle for a few moments, and then Thomas fell to the ground. Robert dismounted and found that his brother was dead. He remounted his horse and he and Peirson rode off to escape the other riders. When Clarke arrived back in the camp of the pro-slavery men, he is reported to have said, "I have sent another of these damned abolitionists to his winter-quarters." Later, Barber's body was retrieved and taken to Lawrence, lying in state in the Free State Hotel. His grief-stricken widow arrived in town the next day. In a letter to his wife, John Brown called the scene of Barber's wife and friends morning around his body "heart rending." While Barber was lying in state, Wilson Shannon, Kansas Territorial Governor, came to Lawrence and brokered a peace treaty that succeeded in ending the siege, allowing everyone to go home for the winter, but postponing an attack on the town for only five months. Thomas Barber was buried with full military honors on December 16 in Oread Cemetery, now Pioneer Cemetery, on a hill west of Lawrence, attended by three companies of Free-State militia. There was a large crowd of mourners, a band, and five ministers present at the services. Future Kansas governor Charles Robinson and future Kansas senator James Henry Lane made speeches. Thomas Barber was seen as a martyr to the Free-State cause. John Greenleaf Whittier, the noted 19th-Century poet, wrote a poem titled Burial of Barber honoring his martyrdom. In 1873, Barber County, Kansas, was named in honor of Thomas Barber. Although he claimed to have been the one to shoot Barber, there is no indication that Clarke was never tried for the killing. He was forced to leave Kansas in 1858, and as to his fate, no record of him after that has been found. James Burns, Clarke's companion who also claimed to have shot Barber, became a lawyer in Leavenworth, Kansas, eventually moving to St. Joseph, Missouri, where he agitated for the secession of Missouri from the Union at the beginning of the Civil War. He later became a politician and was elected to Congress, and was reported to have lived to a ripe old age, something that his and Clarke's actions on that December day denied Thomas Barber. (From: War to the Knife: Bleeding Kansas, 1854-1861, by Thomas Goodrich, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA, 1998, pp. 80-82; Chosen Land: A History of Barber County, Barber County Historical Society, Medicine Lodge, KS, 1980, pg. 6; Biographies - Thomas W. Barber, February 22, 1814 - December 6, 1855; George Clarke Desk; Geary and Kansas: Governor Geary's administration in Kansas: with a complete history of the territory until June 1857: embracing a full account of its discovery, …: all fully authenticated, by John H. Gihon, Charles C. Rhodes, Philadelphia, 1857, Chapter 11. Produced by Connie Snyder for the Kansas Collection website; Letter, John Brown to Dear Wife & Children every one, December 16, 1855, p.2; Letter, Hiram Hill to Dear Wife, December 12, 1855, p.2; Early history of Leavenworth City and County: also an appendix containing a list of lawyers…of the State, by H. Miles Moore, Samuel Dodsworth Book Co., Leavenworth, Kansas, 1906, pp. 257, 284, 324. Published 12/09.)  Back to top of page

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