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



Appointment of Governor Geary.--His departure for Kansas.--Arrival at Jefferson City.--Interviews with Governor Price.--Removal of obstructions on the Missouri River.--Departure on steamboat Keystone.--Scenes at Glasgow.--Captain Jackson's Missouri volunteers.--What Reeder did.--Arrival at Kansas City.--Description of Border Ruffians.--Who comprise the Abolitionists.--Appearance and condition of Leavenworth City.

    COL. JOHN W. GEARY, of Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania, received information of his appointment as Governor of Kansas in the latter part of July, 1856, and in a few days after, was confirmed, without the usual reference to a committee, by a unanimous vote of the Senate. He immediately hastened to Washington City, to receive instructions and make the necessary arrangements, and early in September proceeded to take charge of the office to which he had been chosen. He reached Jefferson City, Mo., on the 5th of that month, and passed the greater portion of the 6th, in consultation with Governor Sterling Price, in relation to the policy he was about to adopt and the means he purposed to employ to restore tranquillity and peace to the territory. Gov. Price coincided in his opinions, heartily approved the indicated course, and promised such assistance as might be desired and he had the power to render. From these considerations and mutual understandings, measures were adopted, and successfully carried out, to remove the obstructions, that until this time existed, against the free-state emigrants passing up the Missouri River on their way to Kansas. In no instance were the emigrants subsequently interfered with upon the steamboats on the river.

    On the night of Sept. 6th, accompanied by his private secretary, and several friends, Governor Geary took passage on the steam packet Keystone, for Fort Leavenworth, and about noon of the 7th, it being Sunday, arrived at Glasgow in Missouri. On approaching this town, a most stirring scene was presented. The entire population of the city and surrounding neighborhood was assembled upon the high bank overlooking the river, and all appeared to be laboring under a state of extraordinary excitement. Whites and blacks,--men, women, and children, of all ages, were crowded together in one confused mass, or hurrying hither and yon, as though some terrible event was about to transpire. A large brass field-piece was mounted in a prominent position, and ever and anon belched forth a fiery flame and deafened the ear with its thundering warlike sounds. When the Keystone touched the landing a party of about sixty, comprising Captain Jackson's company of Missouri volunteers for the Kansas militia, descended the hill, dragging their cannon with them, and ranged themselves along the shore; the captain; after numerous attempts, failing to get them into what might properly be termed a line. He got them into as good a military position as possible, by backing them up against the foot of the hill. They were as raw and undisciplined a set of recruits as ever shouldered arms. Their ages varied, through every gradation, from the smooth-faced half-grown boy to the gray-bearded old man; whilst their dresses, which differed as much as their ages, gave unmistakable evidences, that they belonged to any class of society, excepting that usually termed respectable. Each one carried some description of fire-arm, not two of which were alike. There were muskets, carbines, rifles, shot-guns, and pistols of every size, quality, shape and style. Some of them were in good condition, but others were never intended for use, and still others unfit to shoot robins or tomtits. It would have been an afflictive sight to witness the numerous friends of this patriotic band, shaking them affectionately by the hand and pronouncing their blessings and benedictions, had they been enlisted in their country's cause, to repel invasion, or battle with a foreign foe; but knowing the character of their enterprise, the feeling inspired was anything but one of admiration or even sympathy.

    While these parting ceremonies were being performed, a steamboat, bound down the river, and directly from Kansas, came alongside the Keystone. Ex-governor Shannon was a passenger, who, upon learning the close proximity of Governor Geary, sought an immediate interview with him. The ex-governor was greatly agitated. He had fled in haste and terror from the territory, and seemed still to be laboring under an apprehension for his personal safety. His description of Kansas was suggestive of everything that is frightful and horrible. Its condition was deplorable in the extreme. The whole territory was in a state of insurrection, and a destructive civil war was devastating the country. Murder ran rampant, and the roads were everywhere strewn with the bodies of slaughtered men. No language can exaggerate the awful picture that was drawn; and a man of less nerve than Governor Geary, believing it not too highly colored, would instantly have taken the backward track, rather than rush upon the dangers so eloquently and fearfully portrayed.

    During this interview, Captain Jackson embarked his company, cannon, wagons, arms and ammunition on board the Keystone, and soon after, she was again on her way. Opportunities now occurred for conversation with the volunteers. Very few of them had any definite idea of the nature of the enterprise in which they had embarked. The most they seemed to understand about the matter, was, that they were to receive so much per diem for going to Kansas to hunt and kill abolitionists. What this latter word meant they could not clearly define. They had been informed that abolitionists were enemies to Missourians, some of whom had been killed, and they were hired to revenge their deaths. More than this they neither knew nor cared to know. A vague notion prevailed among them, that whatever an abolitionist was, it was a virtue to kill him and take possession of his property. They seemed to apprehend no danger to themselves, as they had been told the abolitionists would not fight; but being overawed by the numbers and warlike appearance of their adversaries, would escape as rapidly as possible out of the territory, leaving behind them any quantity of land, horses, clothing, arms, goods and chattels, all of which was to be divided among the victors. They crowded around Governor Geary, wherever he might chance to be, eager to ask questions, volunteer advice, and ascertain satisfactorily, whether, in their own chaste phrase, he was "sound on the goose." One, more importunate than the rest, and who was a sort of spokesman for his companions, having made sundry efforts to receive convincing proofs of the latter named fact, very knowingly remarked, after putting an unusually large plug of tobacco into his mouth, and winking to those around him, as though he would say, "I'll catch him now; just listen!"--

    "Wall, govner, as yer gwoin to Kanzies to be govner, I hope ye'll not do what Reeder done."
    The governor very quietly asked, "What was it that Reeder did?"
    This was a poser.
    "Whoy," said the inquisitor, breathing less freely, and shifting the plug of tobacco to the opposite side of his huge jaws, as if to awaken a new thought,--"whoy, Reeder, you see--Reeder, he--wall, Reeder, then Reeder; he didn't do nothing!''
    "In that case," answered the governor, "I'll endeavor not to do as Reeder did!"

    This answer was perfectly clear and satisfactory. The governor was "sound," and the inquisitorial party adjourned to the bar to drink the health of the new governor, who was all right, as he didn't intend to do as Reeder had done.

    Active preparations for war were discernible at all the river towns. At Lexington, a large crowd was assembled on the levee, many of the persons composing it loaded with arms. But at Kansas City, the warlike demonstrations were still greater. This town is on the southern side of the mouth of the Kansas River, which, at this point, separates Missouri from the territory of Kansas. It is situated about five miles from Westport, near the eastern boundary of Kansas, where the Missouri army was concentrating, preparatory to an invasion of the territory. Both of these towns have become notorious as places of refuge for the most desperate characters, whose almost nameless crimes have blackened the annals of Kansas, and as being the resorts of numerous combinations which have been congregated to plot against its peace. In a word, they are the strongholds of the worst of the "Border Ruffians."

    Let it not be understood that this latter term is considered by those to whom it is applied as one of reproach. On the contrary, they boast of it, are proud of it, glory in it, and do all in their power to merit it; and very many of then have been eminently successful. In their manner, they assume the character of the ruffian; in their dress, they exhibit the appearance of the ruffian; and in their conversation they labor to convey the impression that they are ruffians indeed. They imitate and resemble the guerillas, ladrones or greasers of Mexico; the brigands of Spain or Italy; or the pirates, robbers and murderers of the theatre.

    On the levee at Kansas City stood a sort of omnibus or wagon, used to convey passengers to and from Westport, upon either side of which was painted in flaming capitals the words "BORDER RUFFIAN.'' Standing about in groups or running in every direction, were numbers of the men who claim for themselves that gentle appellation. A description of one of these will give the reader some idea of their general characteristics. Imagine a man standing in a pair of long boots, covered with dust and mud and drawn over his trousers, the latter made of coarse, fancy-colored cloth, well soiled; the handle of a large bowie-knife projecting from one or both boot-tops; a leathern belt buckled around his waist, on each side of which is fastened a large revolver; a red or blue shirt, with a heart, anchor, eagle or some other favorite device braided on the breast and back, over which is swung a rifle or carbine; a sword dangling by his side; an old slouched hat, with a cockade or brass star on the front or side, and a chicken, goose or turkey feather sticking in the top; hair uncut and uncombed, covering his neck and shoulders; an unshaved face and unwashed hands. Imagine such a picture of humanity, who can swear any given number of oaths in any specified time, drink any quantity of bad whiskey without getting drunk, and boast of having stolen a half dozen horses and killed one or more abolitionists, and you will have a pretty fair conception of a border ruffian, as he appears in Missouri and in Kansas. He has, however, the happy faculty of assuming a very different aspect. Like other animals, he can shed his coat and change his colors. In the city of Washington, he is quite another person. You will see him in the corridors of the first-class hotels--upon Pennsylvania avenue--in the rotunda of the capitol, or the spacious halls of the White House, dressed in the finest broad cloths and in the extreme of fashion; his hair trimmed, his face smoothed and his hands cleansed; his manner gentle, kind and courteous; his whole deportment that of innocence, and his speech so smooth, studied and oily as to convince even the sagacious President himself that he is a veritable and a polished gentleman, and obtain from the wise heads that form the cabinet the most important posts of trust, honor and emolument in the gift of the nation.

    The Keystone no sooner touched the shore at Kansas City, than she was boarded by a half dozen or more of the leading ruffians, who dashed through the cabins and over the decks, inspecting the passengers and the state-rooms to satisfy themselves that no abolitionists were on board. And here let it be distinctly observed that an abolitionist, in border-ruffian parlance, is not simply a man opposed to the extension of slavery, or who favors its abolishment from the states; but every person born in a free state, who is unwilling to give indubitable evidences that he will do all in his power to assist in making Kansas a slave state, by means either fair or foul, at any sacrifice and at every hazard. It is of little consequence what have been and still are his political predilections on every great national question. He must know but one issue--that issue slavery--or be branded, in the language of a resolution unanimously passed by the Legislative Assembly, as an "ally of abolitionism." It will not do to assume a neutral ground; it is not sufficient to asseverate that you will give your influence to the cause of slavery. All this may be done, and you will be regarded with suspicion and treated as an enemy. More substantial proof of being "sound on the goose" is demanded. You must join the "blue Lodges"--take their solemn oaths--bind yourself to murder any man who is opposed to making Kansas a slave state, and invoke upon yourself their horrible penalties in case of failure. You must steep your hands in crime deeper than the most rabid of the fire-eaters of the south. You must place yourself utterly in their power, so that you dare not quail, or hesitate, or fail to do their bidding You must become yourself a slave, bound by stronger bonds than any that holds in servitude the veriest negro wretch--else you are an abolitionist. And there are men in Kansas who, though born in free states, are sold, body and soul, to the slave interest; men who have taken the oaths of the Blue Lodges--who boast, to prove themselves "sound," of the number of crimes they have committed; the horses they have stolen; the women they have outraged; the houses they have robbed; the murders they have done:--men, in fact, who have become so deeply steeped in infamy that they dare not now stop, even should they never so much desire; but who find themselves precisely in the condition of Macbeth, when he exclaimed

              "I am in blood,
        Stept in so far, that, should I wade no more,
        Returning were as tedious as go o'er."

    The abolitionists of Kansas are all northern-born men, who will not thus prostitute, degrade and destroy themselves in support of the slave power; but who have the honesty and independence to be free, and to maintain their freedom.

    The Keystone remained at Kansas City only long enough for Captain Jackson to land his company with its paraphernalia of war, and to undergo a thorough inspection of the border ruffian inquisitors, when she proceeded up the river for Fort Leavenworth. She left Kansas City late on the evening of the 8th, and soon after day-break of the 9th, reached the landing at Leavenworth City, three miles below the fort. Here was given another exhibition of the wretched condition of the country and deplorable spirit of the times. In front of the grog-shops, and these comprised nearly every house on the river front; on piles of wood, lumber and stone; upon the heads of whiskey barrels; at the corners of the streets; and upon the river bank,--lounged, strolled, and idled, singly or in squads, men and boys clad in the ruffian attire, giving sure indication that no useful occupation was being pursued, and that vice, confusion and anarchy, had undivided and undisputed possession of the town. Armed horsemen were dashing about in every direction, the horses' feet striking fire from the stones beneath, and the sabres of the riders rattling by their sides. The drum and fife disturbed the stillness of the morning, and volunteer companies were on parade and drill, with all the habiliments and panoply of war. The town was evidently under a complete military rule, and on every side were visible indications of a destructive civil strife. The whole scene was calculated to excite feelings of commiseration, if not disgust for the parties, who, actuated by pride, avarice, or other even worse passions, should suffer themselves to sink so low in the scale of humanity, as to become entirely unmindful of all that elevates and dignifies the character of man.


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