Excitement at Lecompton.--Affidavit of W. F. Dyer.--Requisition for troops.--The battle at Hickory Point.--Arrest of one hundred and one free-state prisoners.--The killing of Grayson, a pro-slavery man.--Treatment of the prisoners.--Conduct of Judges Lecompte and Cato.--Trial and sentence of the prisoners, and their subsequent treatment.
UPON his return to Lecompton, the governor found his office beset with crowds of persons, all of them greatly excited, and many seriously alarmed, in consequence of a supposed intended assault by a large body of men belonging to Lane's party, on the pro-slavery settlements at Hardteville, (known as Hickory Point,) Osawkee, and the surrounding neighborhoods. It was alleged that on that day, and several days previous, stores had been broken into and robbed, horses had been stolen, cattle driven off, end other similar outrages committed; and that there was abundant reason for apprehension that additional atrocities were about to be committed. The inhabitants had hastily fled in terror from their dwellings, fearful that their lives were in danger, and numbers had made their way to Lecompton to seek protection and redress from the governor.
Among the most importunate of the complainants was Dr. William H. Tebbs, a prominent member of the pro-slavery party. He, among others, insisted upon some immediate action being taken to secure the persons complained of, and to save the property declared to be endangered. It was quite late in the evening when the governor arrived, and during the night the excitement increased, as other settlers came in, each having some tale of horror to relate. There were no courts in session--no judges or magistrates at hand to hear these complaints and issue process against the offenders, in legal form. After much difficulty, a Mr. Dyer succeeded in finding a justice of the peace, before whom he swore and subscribed to the following affidavit, which he placed in the hands of the governor on Sunday morning, September 14th:
Upon the receipt of this affidavit, the statements of which were confirmed by other reliable witnesses, a requisition was made upon Colonel Cooke, as follows:--
Colonel Cook immediately detailed a squadron of United States dragoons to pursue the alleged marauders, and protect the threatened neighborhood. They forded the river at Lecompton a little before sunset, and about midnight fell in with a party of men, of whom they made one hundred and one prisoners, without resistance. This party was mostly mounted, and well armed with rifles, pistols and bowie-knives, and had one brass field-piece and several wagons, all of which were captured and brought into Lecompton early on the morning of Monday, September 15th. They were said to be a detachment of Lane's forces, under command of Captain Harvey, and had come from Lawrence on Saturday the 13th, with a view to join a large body from Topeka. They had been engaged in an affray at Hickory Point, about twelve miles from Lecompton, and one mile from the place at which they were taken, on the afternoon of Sunday. The full particulars of this fight and capture of the prisoners will be found in the governor's dispatch to Secretary Marcy, of the 16th September. The prisoners at first denied having been guilty of any overt act, and claimed to have been peaceable citizens, banded together for mutual protection. But upon being taunted by some prominent pro-slavery men in regard to the dilemma in which they were placed, they acknowledged the whole story of the Hickory Point fight, and made themselves merry in describing what they pronounced the cowardice of the opposite party. They called it a 'free-fight,' in which they said all concerned were equally at fault. They seemed to apprehend no serious results from their capture; and some of them even proposed to the persons who were taking advantage of their helpless condition to insult them, that they should be allowed another opportunity to fight the matter out. "We will give you two to one in numbers,'' says one, "and an equality of arms, if you will only give us an open field and fair play." Being asked if they had not read the governor's proclamation, one of the leaders readily and wittily replied, "Oh, yes, and before we commenced our fire upon the border-ruffians, we read the proclamation to them, and commanded them to surrender in the name of the governor."
A man named Grayson was killed by a soldier shortly after the capture of these prisoners. He was a pro-slavery man, and had been acting as a guide to the troops. He attempted to pass the guard during the night, which was dark, when being hailed, he supposed he was accosted by an enemy, and suddenly turned and shot the sentinel in the shoulder. Another of the guard, witnessing the transaction, immediately discharged his pistol, the ball from which took effect in the breast of Grayson, killing him instantly.
The prisoners were conducted to the United States encampment on the outskirts of Lecompton, where they were detained some time without proper shelter from the weather or sufficient rations. Their preliminary examination was procrastinated to an unreasonable and almost criminal length of time by the supreme judges. A hearing was eventually given them by Judge Cato, which was somewhat partial in its character, the prosecuting attorney being the celebrated Joseph C. Anderson, of Lexington, Mo., a member of the Kansas Legislature, the author of some of its most obnoxious laws, and notorious for his complicity with many of the grossest outrages committed by the pro-slavery party. The judge, who but a short time previous had been found in the encampment of as lawless men as those under examination, committed the whole party for trial on the charge of murder in the first degree. Nothing would be heard in mitigation of their offence; nor would either Judge Cato or Judge Lecompte permit them to be discharged from custody, upon any amount or character of bail, although it was notoriously true that every pro-slavery man that had been arrested in the territory, no matter how heinous the crime or positive the proof, for which he was committed, had been set at liberty upon worthless bail, by these same officials; the murderers of Barber, of Phillips, of Buffum, and others, were all liberated upon "straw bail," and some of them are now holding offices of responsibility under the federal government.
It was quite palpable that some of these prisoners were comparatively if not entirely innocent of any crime; but this fact had no weight upon the judges. They were free-state men, and that, in their estimation, was a crime sufficient to condemn them to imprisonment and death. There were many cases of peculiar hardship, one of which may be related. A poor German, who scarcely understood the nature of the political contest that was waging in the territory, was working in his field with a wagon and two horses, when the party for Hickory Point passed his house. Some of these being on foot, jumped into his wagon, and compelled him to drive them to the scene of action. This fact was clearly established, and the wretched wife of the prisoner came on foot a distance of nearly twenty miles, bringing with her six almost naked and bare-footed children, to plead to the governor in behalf of her husband. She told the story as it really occurred; represented her husband as an industrious and peaceable man, who had taken no part in any of the disturbances; and declared that unless he was set at liberty, to procure them a livelihood, herself and children were in danger of actual starvation. Notwithstanding all this was satisfactorily established, and responsible gentlemen were willing to enter bail for the prisoner's appearance at court, the judges were inexorable, and refused, upon any terms, to discharge the unfortunate man.
Colonel Cook finding it inconvenient to keep the prisoners at the encampment, and General Smith having issued an order for their removal, they were taken to a dilapidated house in Lecompton, and guarded by a company of militia under command of Colonel H. T. Titus. Here their condition was truly deplorable. The building was insufficient in capacity for so many men, while no adequate means were at hand to provide them with food, clothing or bedding. Hence they were nearly starved; subject to constant insults from their guards; living in actual filth; overrun with vermin; and exposed to all the changes of the weather in the most severe and inclement season of the year.
The prisoners received their trial at the October term of the first district court, when some of them were acquitted, and others convicted of various degrees of manslaughter. These were sentenced to terms of confinement varying from five to ten years, at hard labor, and to wear a ball and chain.
Sheriff Jones, who was disappointed in not being allowed by the verdict to hang these prisoners, agreeably to his expressed desire, was nervously anxious to see the ball and chain applied, and accordingly wrote to Governor Geary, then at Fort Leavenworth, as follows:--
To this application the governor replied, upon reaching Lecompton:
On the next day, the governor addressed the following communication to Captain L. J. Hampton, whom, in accordance with an act of the territorial legislature, creating that office, he appointed master of convicts. The remission of the ball and chain penalty excited the unconcealed anger of Jones, Clarke and other leaders of the pro-slavery party, whose maledictions against the governor, for his clemency, were loud and unstinted. The Lecompton Union, over which they had control, was unsparing in its denunciations:--
These prisoners were not all rough and desperate adventurers. Some of them were gentlemen of polished education, who had graduated in the best institutions of learning, and belonged to the most respectable families in the country. It is true, they were convicted of the commission of an unlawful act; but, in order to understand the merits of their case, it is necessary that all the circumstances connected with it should be fairly weighed and duly considered. The territory was in a state of insurrection and rebellion. The whole community was in arms. Aggressions had been committed by various parties, which had aroused on all sides a spirit of retaliation and revenge. These same prisoners had suffered many and great abuses from their pro-slavery enemies; and at the very time they attacked the settlement at Hickory Point, these latter were marching in great force to effect their utter annihilation.
Upon the disbanding of the militia in December, those of the prisoners that were left, one having died of privation and exposure, and others having made their escape despite the vigilance of their guards, were placed in charge of the master of convicts. Captain Hampton was a Kentuckian by birth, and a pro-slavery man; but possessed an honest heart and generous disposition. He treated the prisoners as though they were human beings, and with as much kindness and consideration as their relative positions would permit. He soon gained their confidence, and having no proper place for their safe confinement, and being required to keep them at work when labor could be obtained, he allowed them to go at large without a keeper, relying upon their own promise to return to his charge at any specified time.
This conduct called down upon Hampton the vengeance of leading members of his party, who denounced him fiercely for his leniency, complained of him to the governor, and loudly demanded his removal from office. The most violent of those who condemned him were Sheriff Jones, the editors of the Lecompton Union, and L. A. Maclean, chief clerk of Surveyor Calhoun, every one of whom was guilty of greater offences against the laws than the worst man then in charge of the master of convicts. When the pro-slavery convention, which baptized itself into the name of the "National Democracy of Kansas," met in Lecompton in January, Captain Hampton was violently assailed by Maclean, Jones and Stringfellow, and his seat as a delegate contested, because, as it was maintained, his kind treatment of the free-state prisoners afforded ample proof that he was not and could not be a pro-slavery man. And for the same reason the Legislative Assembly refused to confirm his appointment.
A good anecdote is told by a gentleman from one of the southern states, in regard to these free-state prisoners, when under the charge of Captain Hampton. Soon after his arrival at Lecompton, he called upon the governor, and, in the course of conversation, expressed himself with considerable warmth against the prisoners who had committed such atrocious crimes as were charged against them in certain newspapers that he had read. So horrible an idea had he conceived of the character of the men in question, that he could not find terms sufficiently strong to express his execration of their deeds. He unquestionably and honestly imagined that they were moral monsters of enormous magnitude. Having expressed a desire to see these terrible robbers and murderers and assassins, as he styled them, the governor directed him to the prison, and assured him that by paying it a visit he might gratify his curiosity.
He immediately started, and after reaching the designated neighborhood, and looking in vain for anything that resembled a prison, he approached two men, who were enjoying themselves with a game of quoits.
"Can you tell me," he enquired, "where the prison is in which those great robbers and murderers are confined?"
The old gentleman had no desire to see any more of those desperate thieves, robbers, murderers and assassins.
There were but seventeen convicts remaining in the custody of Captain Hampton on the 2d of March, at which time they were all freely pardoned by the governor, in compliance with numerous petitions, in which it was alleged that the prisoners had, previous to the difficulty for which they were arrested, uniformly "maintained good reputations; that the offence for which they were convicted, was committed in one of those political contentions, in which a great portion of the people of the territory took an active part, many of whom, though equally, if not more guilty, were still at liberty, and could never be brought to punishment; that they had already suffered an imprisonment of nearly six months; and that their continued punishment could neither subserve the ends of justice, nor the interests of the territory."
It might, with propriety, have been added, in palliation of their offence, that the most of those with whom they had the affray at Hickory Point, comprised a company of pro-slavery men, under the command of one Captain Robinson, who were then on their way to join the Missouri army, about to destroy Lawrence, and that in their march from the northern portion of the state, they had committed many and grievous depredations upon the free-state settlers, and the attack upon them was partly in retaliation for the wrongs they had inflicted.