Home A - Z FAQ Online Library Discussion Forum Muir Weather Maps About Search
Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management

Next: More of KansasContentsPrevious: Notes on Kansas

An Overland Journey from New York to San Francisco in the Summer of 1859 by Horace Greeley (1860)


Leavenworth, May 23, 1859.

The convention at Osawatamie was of course very slow in assembling, and I think not more than half the organized counties were represented at all. Hardly any were present from the southern counties, for whose benefit that place of meeting had been selected. Those who did come got there by swimming many dangerous creeks; but from most localities attendance was a physical impossibility. Ferry-boats are scarce in Kansas, bridges, of course, nearly unknown; and the water runs off these rolling prairies so rapidly that a stream which a three-year old child might ford at night will be running water enough to float a steamboat before morning. Obviously, there can be no ferries maintained on such; and, until bridges can be erected, those whose way lies across them have no further alternative when they are in flood than either to swim or wait. But to swim an angry, turbid, rushing torrent, perhaps a dozen rods across, and running drift-wood in a perfectly reckless manner, is a job requiring nerve and skill; so the greater number have simply to stay at home or camp on the bank, and wait until the flood runs out, which it usually will in twelve to thirty-six hours, according to the size of the stream, unless the rain or thaw continues. But it had rained nearly half the time for a week prior and up to the eighteenth, so that few even of those who supposed the convention would be held could reach it. Yet there gathered on the afternoon of that day nearly a thousand of the pioneers, mainly of the immediate neighborhood, to whom, in an interlude of the convention’s discussions concerning their organization and platform, I had the satisfaction of setting forth the reputblican faith as I understand it, and by whom it was heartily received. It was a labor of love so to speak, but rather a tax to write the speech out, even imperfectly, as I was obliged to do during the next two days in the intervals of riding and speaking, in order that all those people of Kansas who care to do so may consider my notions of “Free-State Democracy” and “Squatter Sovereignty.”

The twin curses of Kansas, now that the border-ruffians have stopped ravaging her, are land-speculation (whereof the manufacture of paper-cities and bogus corner-lots, though more amusingly absurd, is not half so mischievous as the grasping of whole townships by means of fraudulent pre-emptions and other devices familiar to the craft) and one-horse politicians. Many of these latter were driven into the free-state movement by the enormity of the border-ruffian outrages, by their own terror or indignation, and by the overwhelming force of public sentiment; but, being essentially demagogues, they gravitate irresistibly toward the sham-democracy, in whose embraces the whole tribe will bring up, sooner or later. Their prototype is Mr. H. Miles Moore of this city, who, after having been one of the noisiest and most conspicuous free-state men in 1855-6, after having been driven down the river by the border ruffians, who gave him his choice between leaving Kansas and instant death, and after having been once strung up by the neck by them and choked till nearly dead, is now hard at work trying to put Kansas once more into their hands, and figuring in conventions and on committees with those who didn’t quite hang him, as fellow democrats! His case reminds me strongly by contrast of that of the man who observed that, for the first month after marriage, he loved his wife so that he wanted to eat her, while ever since he had wished he had.

The controlling idea of the one-horse politicians is that the republicans must not let their adversaries have a chance to raise the cry of “nigger” against them—that hence they must be as harsh, and cruel, and tyrannical, toward the unfortunate blacks as possible, in order to prove themselves “the white man’s party,” or else all the mean, low, ignorant, drunken, brutish whites will go against them from horror of “negro equality.” To which I reply that this sort of cattle are against the republicans any how, and never can be permanently otherwise. They may be driven by circumstances to vote once or twice with us, but the virus of sham-democracy is in their blood, and must come out. That democracy, from long practice and an experience that it pays, can dive deeper, stay under longer, and come up nastier, in this business of negro-hating, than any other party that ever was or ever can be invented. There is nothing that more strikingly exposes the radical baseness of slaveholding than the fact that its votaries so hate those whom they have long injured, that, beaten in their desperate struggle to force negroes into Kansas as slaves, they now turn a short corner and insist that, if they cannot come in as slaves, they shall be shut out, and even driven out, altogether.

I apprehend that it will be necessary for the republicans of Kansas, in view of the inveterate western prejudices of a large portion of her population, to concede, for the present, that the right of suffrage shall be exercised only by white males, or men of European lineage, excluding, on account of their imperfect moral and intellectual developments, Indians negroes, and their descendants. Further than this, I would not go, no matter how great the inducement. Leave the democrats alone in their glory, when they come to propose and support—as they are certain to do—propositions that negroes shall be expelled and excluded from Kansas— shall be precluded from testifying against a white man —shall be debarred from attending schools frequented by white children, etc., etc. Let any city or district that sees fit, make adequate provision for the education of colored children by themselves; but, in default of this, let the schools be open to all who need their ministrations. Such, I hope, will be the determination of republicans generally; and, if Kansas has to be lost in consequence, then let her go!

I left Osawatamie on the morning of the nineteenth, int he Lawrence stage, crossing the Marias de Cygnes at Bundy’s ferry (where we crossed the day before), and finding the water considerably lower, though still over its regular northern bank, and the access on either side most detestable. Passing Stanton, we kept still west of north into the Ottawa Reserve, so as to leave a mail at Ottawa Jonies’s, where we struck due north to Prairie City, leaving Peoria City and Ohio City some miles distant on our left, either upon or near the Marais des Cygnes. (It takes three log houses to make a city in Kansas, but they begin calling it a city so soon as they have staked out the lots.) I stopped at Prairie City and talked to a republican gathering of four hundred people, though where on earth so many could have been scared up, within a reasonable ride of this point, one who merely runs over the country could not imagine. True, we had here “Prairie City,” “Baldwin City,” and “Palmyra” in a string, all within three miles; but they could not all have mustered half this audience; and I was forced to conclude that the country is really better peopled than it seems to a mere traveler—that, while the favored roads traverse the high “divides,” or middle of the prairies, in order to avoid, so far as possible, the miry bottoms and water-courses, the settlers are nested in the edge of the timber, and down the water-courses, where fencing and fuel are far more accessible.

The country I traversed between Stanton and Prairie City was a little more rolling, and considerably better timbered, than that between Shawnee and Stanton, already described. The oaks often covered considerable tracts of upland, while young timber was visibly spreading on all hands, under cover of the universal hazel-bushes of those Kansas uplands which are not burned over every year. Our next post-office above Jones’s was Hickory Grove, which reminds me that I saw more good hickory this day than in any former day of my life. Some of the oak, also, was very serviceable. These, with the black-walnut, are the settler’s main reliance for timber, rails included. The elm, cotton-wood, sycamore, etc., warp so badly when sawed into boards and seasoned, that very little use can be made of them, though I think I saw a few cotton-wood rails. The grass was abundant and superb; the soil generally deep and excellent.

We had another smart thunder-shower on Friday morning (20th), after which I came from Prairie City to Lawrence, fifteen miles north. My companion was a young pioneer from southern Missouri, reared among slaves and slaveholders, but free-state from the time he could fairly see, who assured me that he knew a large portion of the people of Missouri to condemn and hate slavery, even while they shout and vote in its favor. He came out here in 1855 to be rid of the curse, and had had a pretty fair experience of the struggle, having been with Lane at Bull Creek, when eight hundred Missourians did not venture to attack three hundred and fifty free-state men, but, after being separated by night, beat a retreat across the line, leaving some of their arms and camp equipage behind them. He was also at the somewhat noted “Battle of Black Jack,” which he described to me substantially as follows:

On the 1st of June, 1856, Henry Clay Pate, at the head of a pro-slavery band, emerging suddenly from the Indian Reserve, which then covered most of the region between this point and the Missouri border, surprised the little settlement of Palmyra, which they sacked without resistance. Next morning, they proposed to extend their operations to Prairie City, which would probably have shared the same fate, had not Old Brown, lately driven from Osawatamie by an overwhelming force, been camped, with ten of his tried men, in the woods on Black Jack, a little creek four miles eastward. Strengthened by these, Prairie City resolved on resistance, and mustered its sixteen Sharp’s rifles, in addition to those of Old Brown’s party, and when the ruffians sent in six of their men to sack the place, presuming there would be no resistance, they took four of them prisoners, and chased the other two back to their band, with bullets whistling by their ears. They found the ruffians encamped on the open prairie, but drawn out in line for battle, where they stood perfectly still as the free-state men neared them, firing as they neared to get the range of their rifles. As they approached, a small ravine only lay betwixt them, but the two lines could be and were distinctly counted on either side—fifty-four men in rank composing the pro-slavery and twenty-six the free-state party. Soon, two or three of the ruffians went down badly wounded, and one after another of their comrades were seen tailing off, making tracks for Missouri at a 2: 40 gait, until barely twenty two of them remained, when Pate raised a white flag and surrendered at discretion, to just fourteen men standing in the free-state array at that moment. Seven horses, two wagons well laden with the plunder of Palmyra, two drums, and about forty stand of arms, were among the “spoils of victory” and though Colonel Summer with his United States troops came down on hearing of the affray, liberated the prisoners, and restored what they claimed as their property; the booty taken from Palmyra was left and restored to its rightful owners. Not one free-state man was killed or badly wounded. The wounded Missourians were kindly nursed at Prairie City till they were well enough to travel, when they were recommended to resume that wholesome excersise —a suggestion which they promptly and gladly heeded. Two of those who got away died of their wounds. And, though there were many alarms, and a year of marching, camping, scouting, riding, after that, to the destruction of all industry and progress, Prairie City has seen no organized company of border-ruffians at her doors since that 2d day of June, 1856.

The road from that city to Lawrence (fifteen miles) passes over a rolling country, mainly prairie, crosses the great Santa Fé trail, now horribly cut up by many heavy wagons passing in bad weather, then takes over a high “divide” and along a limestone ridge which runs out into the valley of the Wakarusa, and affords a magnificent view of the country for an area of twenty miles in each direction, with the prairie in good part cultivated, gleaming in sunlight on every bend, and the Wakarusa with ifs belt of timber making, its way through them to join the Kaw, with its still larger belt, on the north. Spacious mounds or spurs of limestone covered with soil and grass rise to a height of two or three hundred feet on every side, on one of which, visible for many miles on every side, a flag, when raised, used to give warning of invasion and danger in the troublous days now happily passed away. At the base of one of these spurs, by the side of the Kaw, sits Lawrence, clearly discernible from a distance of ten miles. Descending, from the ridge, and passing over a lower prairie two or three miles, we cross the Wakarusa (a moderate creek, hardly twenty yards wide, but very deep and with high, steep banks) on a good toll-bridge, traverse its wide, wet bottom, here in good part prairie-marsh, and pass over two miles of superb prairie into the renowned citadel of free-state principle, the first-born of northern resolution that Kansas should not be tamely yielded to the slaveholders, and which does not deny its parentage.

Lawrence can only grow with the more thorough development of the surrounding country. Across the Kaw on the north, a large Indian reservation (the Delaware) impedes its progress, while town-sites, and very good ones are so abundant in Kansas, that no location but one where navigable water is abandoned for land transportation can be of very much account. I should say Lawrence has now five hundred dwellings and perhaps five thousand inhabitants; and these figures are more likely to be over than under the mark. She has a magnificent hotel (the Eldridge House)—the best, I hear, between the Missouri and the Sacramento—far better, I fear, than its patronage will justify—though it has nearly all that Lawrence can give. She is to have a great University, for which a part of the funds are already provided; but I trust it will be located some distance away, so as to give scope for a Model Farm, and for a perfect development of the education of the brain and the hands together. In our old states, the cost of land is always assigned as a reason for not blending labor with study authoritatively and systematically; here there can be no such excuse. I trust the establishment of the Lawrence University will not be unduly hurried, but that it will be, whenever it does open its doors to students, an institution worthly of its name.

I passed into the town over “Mount Oread,” a considerable eminence on the south-west, on whose summit the free-state fortress of other days was constructed. It is now dilapidated, but is a place of considerable natural strength as a defensive position, and, in the hands of the grandsons of the men who defended Bunker Hill, would have cost something to whoever might have taken it. As it was, the ruffians, though often in the neighborhood in overwhelming force, and anxious enough for its destruction, never got possession of it but once, and then by marching, with federal officers at their head and federal writs in their pockets. For one, I regret that even these were suffered to shield them, and thus allow printing-presses to be destroyed and houses battered down and burned with impunity.

I did not speak long in Lawrence, for I trust words are not there needed. Her people have had practical illustrations of the great issue which divides the country, and are not likely soon to forget them. Of course, her pioneers will die or become dispersed; new men will come in or rise up to fill their places, and “another king arose who knew not Joseph,” will find its parallel in her future. Thus, among her new-comers is the gentleman who led over one thousand armed Missourians from Jackson County in March, 1855, and returned by their votes and revolvers pro-slavery men to represent her in the bogus Legislature of that year. He is, of course, an “Old-Line-Whig,” of the Buchanan stripe, and will make a first-rate “Free-State Democrat” in due season. By-and-by, when the grogshops, already too numerous in Lawrence, shall have manufactured or attracted thither a sufficient number of ground-tier Democrats, and mortified pride or disappointed ambition shall have wrought its perfect work with quite a number of sometime free-state men, he may be chosen mayor of the city of his young love, and The Constitution (or whatever may then be the name of the pro-slavery organ at Washington) may announce with guns and trumpets that “National Democracy has triumphed at last in the great stronghold of Kansas Abolition.” But that will not probably happen just yet.

While I was in Lawrence, the little steamboat “Gus Linn,” Captain Beasley, came down the Kaw from Fort Riley, some thirty miles above the fork of the Big Blue, two hundred and thirty-five (I believe) from the mouth of the river, and over one hundred in a bee-line. She reached the fort in a little over two days from Kansas City, discharged her cargo, and loaded on her way down with corn, whereof Kansas has a large surplus of last year’s growth, after supplying this year’s heavy emigration to Pike’s Peak. As the Territory has little or nothing else to sell, and almost everything to buy, she would like to export her corn if she had any way by which to get it to the Missouri without costing all it will fetch, so that this pioneer passage of a steamboat above Topeka and Manhattan was hailed with general exultation. Her burthen is three hundred tons, and she draws when full but thirty inches (when light, scarcely ten), and, in the present stage of water, I presume she might easily go up to the Falls, twenty miles further. Of course, she can only do this to any purpose when the water is very high; but, in the absence of passable roads, the fact that this river can be navigated at all throughout the most thickly-peopled portion of Kansas, is of some consequence.

I left Lawrence by stage on Saturday morning, crossing the Kaw by a good ferry directly at the city, and rising to a wide and well-timbered bottom on the north. It is probably well for Lawrence ultimately that this timber is in Indian hands, and therefore sure to be preserved for some years, though for the present the Reserve is a nuisance to her. Beyond the Kaw bottom, stretches beautiful and gently undulating prairie, checkered by belts of timber on the creeks which traverse it, across the Reserve and beyond, until we begin to descend the Missouri bluffs to Leavenworth.

Coming to “Turkey Creek,” the passengers were turned out (as once or twice before), to lighten the coach, which was then driven cautiously through the steep-banked ford, while the passengers severally let themselves down a perpendicular bank by clinging to a tree, and crossed a deep and whirling place above the ford, on the vilest log I ever attempted to walk—twisty sharp-backed, and every way detestable. One of the passengers refused to risk his life on it, but hired one of the lazy Indians loafing on the further bank to blind over a pony, and let him ride across the ford. At “Big Stranger,” we changed coaches with the passengers from Leavenworth—who had been waiting our arrival here two hours, and must have been glad to see us—our luggage being first taken across the deep, ugly stream in a skiff, and the passengers next, either coach returning the way it came. We left Lawrence at nearly 10, and arrived here (thirty-five miles) about 6 p. m.

Leavenworth is, of course, much the largest place in Kansas, containing (I judge) one thousand houses and ten thousand inhabitants. The Fort, three miles up the Missouri, is not included in this estimate; though that is a city of itself, with extensive barracks, capacious storehouses, several companies of soldiers, many fine houses for officers, sutlers, etc., and a farm of twelve hundred acres, whlich Uncle Sam cultivates, I presume, to much the same profit with other gentlemen who have fancy farms and do not oversee them very closely. It is a nice place, that Fort, with many excellent people about it; but I can’t help asking what it costs, and who pays, and whether that little bill might not be somewhat docked without prejudice to the public interest. I believe it could. Whenever our people shall have grown wise enough to maintain no standing army whatever but the barest skeleton of one, to be clothed with flesh whenever needed by calling out volunteers, the annual expenditures may be reduced at least one fourth, and we may build a railroad to the Pacific with the savings of three or four years.

But Russell, Majors & Waddell’s transportation establishment, between the fort and the city, is the great feature of Leavenworth. Such acres of wagons! such pyramids of extra axletrees! such herds of oxen! such regiments of drivers and other employees! No one who does not see can realize how vast a business this is, nor how immense are its outlays as well as its income. I presume this great firm has at this hour two millions of dollars invested in stock, mainly oxen, mules and wagons. (They last year employed six thousand teamsters, and worked forty-five thousand oxen.) Of course, they are capital fellows-so are those at the fort—but I protest against the doctrine that either army officers or army contractors, or both together, may have power to fasten slavery on a newly organized territory (as has just been done in New-Mexico) under the guise of letting the people of such territories govern themselves. Yet this is just what “Squatter Sovereignty,” unmodified by a fiery anti-slavery agitation in the free-states, will in practice amount to.

Whether the three great cities of America are to be New York, St. Louis and Leavenworth, as one set of friends seem to think, or New York, St. Louis and Atchison, as another set assure me, I do not pretend to decide. If Atchison had the start that Leavenworth now has, I think she would probably keep it. But not having it, you see, alters the case materially. The fort is here as a fixed fact; the United States goods are landed at the fort; so the trains are made up there; and so Leavenworth is Leavenworth, and Atchison (for the present) only Atchison.

I saw a great mule train started from the fort to-day, and another will start soon, filled with one hundred and sixty soldiers’ wives and babies, on their way to join their husbands in Utah, from whom they have been separated nearly two years. I argue from this fact that Uncle Sam expects to have use for his army in Utah for some time yet.

There has been no rain for three days; the sun is bright and hot; the prairie-wind from the west is a gale; the streams are down—all but “Big Muddy,” which does not give an inch, but rushes by Leavenworth almost bank-full and turbid as ever. The roads which so lately were mud, are now blowing dust in clouds; and there is a fair prospect of settled summer weather. I turn my face westward to-morrow.

Next: More of KansasContentsPrevious: Notes on Kansas

Home A - Z FAQ Online Library Discussion Forum Muir Weather Maps About Search
Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management