Geary and Kansas by John H. Gihon, M.D.




    THUS ended the Wakarusa war, but not till a most fearful tragedy had been enacted. About one o'clock on the afternoon of December 6th, three men, named Thomas W. Barber, Robert F. Barber and Thomas M. Pierson, left Lawrence to proceed to their houses, about seven miles distant. They had progressed nearly four miles, when they saw a party of from twelve to fifteen horsemen, travelling the road leading from Lecompton to the Wakarusa camp. These were subsequently ascertained to be pro-slavery men, and among them were Gen. Richardson, commander of the Kansas militia; Judge S. G. Cato, of the Supreme Court of the territory; Jno. P. Wood, probate judge and police magistrate of Douglas county; Col. J. N. Burns, a lawyer of Weston, Mo., and Major George W. Clarke, U. S. Agent for the Potawattomie Indians.

    The Barbers, who were brothers, and Pierson, their brother-in-law, had just left the main road and taken a nearer path to the left. Upon perceiving this movement, Clarke and Burns put spurs to their horses, and dashed across the prairie, with the obvious intention to intercept them. The Barbers, therefore, slackened their pace, when Clarke, getting within speaking distance, ordered them to halt, a summons which they immediately obeyed. Richardson, Cato, and the remainder of Clarke's party, continued in full sight and at but a short distance. Clarke, who is a thick set man, about five feet three inches in height, exceedingly loquacious, and consequential in his manners, and notorious for his violent opposition to free-state people, commenced interrogating the Barbers, demanding to know who they were, where they were from, and where they were going; to all of which questions Thomas W. Barber made mild and truthful replies. Clarke then ordered them to turn their horses heads and go with him and Burns, to which demand Barber answered, "We wont," When Clarke drew his pistol, and taking deliberate aim, fired at Thomas W. Barber. Burns discharged his pistol almost at the same instant. Robert F. Barber then returned the shots, firing three times in rapid succession without effect. Pierson had with him a small revolver, but could not get it out. Thomas W. Barber was without arms of any description. The parties then separated, taking opposite directions and galloping their horses. They had proceeded but a short distance, when Thomas W. Barber remarked to his brother, with a smile, "That fellow shot me," and placed his hand against his side. Robert, perceiving that he had dropped the reins and was riding unsteadily, hastened to his assistance and attempted to support him; but in a little while he slipped from his saddle and fell to the ground. His brother and Pierson immediately dismounted; but Thomas was dead. They were about to place the body upon a horse and convey it home, when looking around they saw the other party again in pursuit, and to save their lives, they left it where it lay, hastily mounted and fled. They had not gone far when the horse of Robert gave out, and upon an examination he was found to have been shot, doubtless by Burns, just behind the fore-shoulder on the right side. He died during the night. The body of Barber was afterwards carried to Lawrence, where it was buried. A fouler murder than this, or one for which there was so little excuse, has not been committed during all the Kansas excitement.

    The pro-slavery men's account of this transaction is as follows. They state that they were on their way from Lecompton to Franklin, and seeing Barber's party turn aside from the road, "Colonel Burns and Major Clarke were detailed and rode to overtake the free-state men. This they did; and, after halting them, a conversation ensued, in which the free-state men not only declared that there was no law nor order in the territory, but declined to surrender themselves in compliance with the demands of Clarke and his companions. Upon this both parties commenced drawing their arms, with the exception of one of the free-state men (who was most probably the man killed); this person sat on his horse a little apart from his companions. He had a switch in his hand, but drew no arms, nor did he appear to have any. Both parties `squared to each other' and fired pistols, being the only weapons used. On the part of the pro-slavery men, Clarke was armed with a small five-inch Colt's revolver, while Colonel Burns had a navy revolver, which is heavier, and carries a much larger ball. After exchanging shots, the free-state men galloped off. Burns proposed to send a long, shot after them with his rifle; but Clarke objected, saying, 'let them go.' Burns is said to have admitted that he thought he hit the man he fired at, as he saw him press his hand to his side, or, as others state it, `saw the fur fly from his old coat.'"

    It is of little consequence which of the two men fired the fatal shot. Both were alike guilty, and both fired with the intention to kill. The testimony of Pierson and Robert F. Barber seems to fix the crime directly upon Clarke, who, it is said, and none who know the man will discredit the story, boastingly declared, when he entered the Wakarusa camp, "I have sent another d--d abolitionist to h-ll!"

    A writer, who is decidedly pro-slavery in his tendencies, gives the following account of a visit, a short time afterwards, to the widow of the murdered man. After describing the dreary house, into which he entered, he says:--

    "Between a heavy pine table, on which a flaring tallow candle stood flickering and sweltering in its socket, and the half-curtained window, against which the sleet and biting winter wind beat drearily, sat a woman of some forty years of age, plainly clad in a dress of coarse dark stuff. She was leaning forward when we entered, and seemed unmindful of all about her. It needed no introduction to tell us that this was the widow of Thomas W. Barber. No, the thin hand which supported the aching head and half shielded the tear-dimmed eyes, as well as the silent drops that came trickling down those wasted cheeks, had already told the story. What could we say in the way of consolation? What was the cause of Kansas and liberty to her? Could the success of a party or the advancement of a principle dry those burning tears? Could they soothe the sorrows of what she herself has called a poor heart-broken creature? Oh, ye demagogues! ye peace-breakers! ye incendiary orators of both north and south, whose aim is to urge on a strife, that you yourselves are not slow to avoid! could you but have stood beside us, in her once happy home, and have listened to the broken sentences, uttered with all that unstudied pathos which an agonized and grief-torn spirit alone can give, we hope, for the sake of our common humanity, that the lesson would have sunk deep into your hearts. Hear what she says:

    "'They have left me a poor forsaken creature, to mourn all my days. Oh, my husband! They have taken from me all that I held dear--one that I loved better than I loved my own life.' These are her very words. We have added nothing to them, nor have we taken aught from them.

    "There are circumstances connected with the life and character of the man Barber, which make his death more particularly to be deplored. He adds another to the long list of victims who have been sacrificed to the demon of political excitement. Barber is spoken of as a quiet, inoffensive, and amiable man; domestic and unexceptionable in his habits, and deeply attached to his wife to whom he had been married between nine and ten years. He was, moreover, the leading man among the agriculturists in his neighborhood; a lover of fine stock; and a careful pains-taking farmer. Such at least is the reputation he bore in Ohio, the state from whence he emigrated. He was unarmed when he received his death wound, and on his way to his home. His wife, to whom he had written to inform her of his coming, was expecting him. She is said to have loved her husband with more than ordinary devotion. Her sister-in-law tells us that they used to rally her, upon her almost girlish affection and solicitude for Thomas. It was her habit, when she saw him coming back from his work, to leave the house, and go forth to meet him on his way. If he failed to return at the time indicated, she grew anxious; and if his stay was prolonged, oftentimes passed the night in tears; when ill--the same informant tells us--she would hang over his bed, with all the anxiety of a mother for her child. She would seem, too, to have had a presentiment of some impending evil, for after exhausting every argument to prevent her husband from going to join the free-state forces in Lawrence, she said, `Oh, Thomas, if you should be shot, I should be all alone indeed; remember I have no child--nothing in the wide world to fill your place.' And this was their last parting. The intelligence of his death was kept from her--in mercy--through the kindness of her friends, but only to be announced, without the slightest preparation, by a young man, who had been sent out from Lawrence, with a carriage, to bring her in to the Free-State Hotel, where her husband's body had been laid. Upon arriving at the house where Mrs. Barber was, he rode up, most unthinkingly, and shouted, `Thomas Barber is killed.' His widow heard the dreadful tidings, rushed to the door, cried, `Oh, God! what do I hear?' and then filled the room with her shrieks. We have heard, too, a description of the heart-rending scene, which took place when they brought her into the apartment where her husband's body lay; of her throwing herself upon his corpse, and kissing the dead man's face; of the fearful imprecations, which, in her madness, she called down upon the heads of those who had separated her from all that she held dear; and these things were related to us by men, who turned shudderingly away from the exhibition of a sorrow which no earthly power could assuage. It is, moreover, stated that her companions were obliged to hold her forcibly down in the carriage, from whence her frantic exclamations rang out along the prairie, as they conveyed her from her home to the chamber of the dead."

    And what became of him who thus wantonly destroyed the life of an innocent and inoffensive man, and made such sad havoc of that poor woman's peace? As the pretended conservator of "law and order," he might subsequently have been seen at the head of bands of kindred spirits, traversing the country, venting, as once did Saul of Tarsus, threats of slaughter and destruction; robbing stores and burning dwellings; in the camps of infuriated armies bent upon ruin and desolation; in the legislative halls, the most active of those assembled, helping to enact laws for the oppression of free men; writing inflammatory articles for incendiary newspapers; and finally, at the seat of the general government, in daily intercourse with the president and his cabinet, the new governor and secretary of Kansas, consulting and advising as to the policy to be pursued for the government of that abused territory.

    This man boasts of his willingness and anxiety to be tried for the terrible crime of which he stands accused. And this he may do with perfect safety. Such a trial before a judge who was a witness, if not a party to his guilt, would be but mockery and a farce. But he must yet appear before that Supreme Judge, at whose dread tribunal no false witness will be heard and no quibbles of law can screen the guilty soul. There the blood of the murdered man, and the tears and sighs, shrieks, groans and terrible agonies of that distracted widow, will appeal and not in vain, for retributive justice upon the destroyer's head. "Vengeance is mine!--I will repay, saith the Lord!"


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