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



The Missouri army of invasion.--Letter from Theodore Adams.--Governor Geary proceeds with troops to Lawrence, and protects the town.--The governor visits the camp of the Missourians, addresses the officers, and disbands the forces.

    WHILST the governor was making his arrangements for quelling the disturbances at Osawkee and Hickory Point, difficulties of a more serious nature were demanding his attention in a different direction. Messengers were constantly arriving from Lawrence, bringing intelligence that a large army from Missouri was encamped on the Wakarusa River, and was hourly expected to attack the town. As these men styled themselves territorial militia, and were called into service by the late acting-governor Woodson, Governor Geary commanded that officer to take with him Adjutant-General Strickler, with an escort of United States troops, and disband, in accordance with the proclamations issued, the forces that had so unwisely been assembled. Woodson and Strickler left Lecompton in the afternoon, and reached the Missouri camp early in the evening.

    Here Woodson found it impossible to accomplish the object of his mission. No attention or respect was paid to him by those having command of the forces. The army he had gathered, refused to acknowledge his authority. He had raised a storm, the elements of which he was powerless to control. Neither could the officers be assembled to receive the governor's orders from the adjutant-general. The militia had resolved not to disband; the officers refused to listen to the reading of the proclamation; they were determined upon accomplishing the bloody work they had entered the territory to perform. Nothing but the destruction of Lawrence, and the other free-state towns, the massacre of all the free-state residents, and the appropriation of their lands and other property, could satisfy them. Vengeance was theirs--they had now the power--and it should be executed. Governor Geary was denounced by such men as Clarke, Maclean, Stringfellow and Jones, and sentence of death was freely uttered against him, along the whole line of the encampment, should he dare to interfere. Nothing, now, could satisfy them but abolition blood. This they intended to wade through, and drink to satiety; nor would they stop at anything short of the utter extermination or "wiping out" of Kansas, everything bearing the vestige of free-soilism. Never was collected together such a fierce and furious band. Little did they imagine that for every abolitionist they "wiped out," a hundred others would arise to revenge his death! Little did they think that for every drop of blood they shed, rivers of their own would have been caused to flow! Had Governor Geary permitted them to execute their fiendish work, the sword of retribution would long since have fallen with dreadful power upon that murderous crew. The measure of their iniquity would have been full, and Heaven could no longer have held back the avenging arm of justice; and ere now, the slave power, which has so long been bullying the freemen of the land, would have been swept into the ocean of eternity! The delusive hope that the north will not fight, would have been dispelled; for the weight would have been felt, of thousands of more powerful and mighty arms than any that have ever laid the lash upon negroes' backs. The entire people of the south--every man, woman and child, of the slavery party--owe a debt of gratitude which never can be paid, to Governor Geary, for his timely presence and arrest of the bloody purpose of these hot brained madmen!

    Mr. Adams, who accompanied Secretary Woodson to the Missouri camp, dispatched the following:--

              "Lawrence, 12 o'clock, midnight,
                    "September 14, 1856.
    "Sir: I went as directed to the camp of the militia, and found at the town of Franklin, three miles from this place, encamped three hundred men, with four pieces of artillery. One mile to the right on the Wakarusa, I found a very large encampment of three hundred tents and wagons. They claim to have two thousand five hundred men, and from the appearance of the camp I have no doubt they have that number. General Reid is in command. I saw and was introduced to General Atchison, Colonel Titus, Sheriff Jones, General Richardson, &c. The proclamations were distributed.
    "Secretary Woodson and General Strickler had not, up to the time I left, delivered their orders; but were about doing so as soon as they could get the officers together.
    ''The outposts of both parties were fighting about an hour before sunset. One man killed of the militia, and one house burned at Franklin.
    "There were but few people at Lawrence, most of them having gone to their homes after your visit here.
    "I reported these facts to the officer in command here, and your prompt action has undoubtedly been the means of preventing the loss of blood and saving valuable property.
    "Secretary Woodson thought you had better come to the camp of the militia as soon as you can. I think a prompt visit would have a good effect. I will see you as you come this way, and communicate with you more fully.
              "Very respectfully, your obedt. servt.,
                    "THEODORE ADAMS."

    Before this dispatch reached Lecompton, the governor had departed, with three hundred United States mounted troops and a battery of light artillery, and riding speedily, arrived at Lawrence early in the evening of the 14th, where he found matters precisely as described. Skilfully stationing his troops outside the town, in commanding positions, to prevent a collision between the invading forces from Missouri and the citizens, he entered Lawrence alone, and there he beheld a sight which would have aroused the manhood of the most stolid mortal, and which another writer has thus eloquently described:--

    "About three hundred persons were found in arms, determined to sell their lives at the dearest price to their ruffian enemies. Among these were many women, and children of both sexes, armed with guns and otherwise accoutred for battle. They had been goaded to this by the courage of despair. Lawrence was to have been their Termopylae, and every other free town would have proved a Saragossa. When men determine to die for the right, a hecatomb of victims grace their immolation; but when women and children betake themselves to the battlefield, ready to fight and die with their husbands and fathers, heroism becomes the animating principle of every heart, and a giant's strength invigorates every arm. Each drop of blood lost by such warriors becomes a dragon's tooth, which will spring from the earth, in all the armor of truth and justice, to extract a fearful retribution. Had Lawrence been destroyed, and her population butchered, the red right hand of vengeance would have gleamed over the entire South, and the question of slavery have been settled by a bloody and infuriated baptism. There are such examples in history, and mankind have lost none of their impulses or human emotions.

    "Gov. Geary addressed the armed citizens of Lawrence, and when he assured them of his and the law's protection, they offered to deposit their arms at his feet and return to their respective habitations. He bid them go to their homes in confidence, and to carry their arms with them, as the Constitution of the Union guaranteed that right; but to use those arms only in the last resort to protect their lives and property, and the chastity of their females. They obeyed the governor and repaired to their homes."

    Early on the morning of the 15th, having left the troops to protect the town of Lawrence, the governor proceeded alone to the camp of the invading forces, then within three miles, and drawn up in line of battle. Before reaching Franklin, he met the advance guard, and upon inquiring who they were and what were their objects, received for answer, that they were the territorial militia, called into service by the governor of Kansas, and that they were marching to "wipe out Lawrence and every d---d abolitionist in the country." Geary informed them that he was now Governor of Kansas, and commander-in-chief of the territorial militia, and ordered the officer in command to countermarch his troops back to the main line, and conduct him to the centre, that being his proper position, which order, after some hesitation, was reluctantly obeyed.

    The scene that was presented as the governor advanced, was one that no time nor circumstance can ever erase from his mind. The militia had taken a position upon an extensive and beautiful plain near the junction of the Wakarusa with the Kansas River. On one side towered a lofty hill, known as the Blue Mound, and on the other Mount Oread showed its fortified summit. The town of Franklin, from its elevated site, looked down upon the active scene, while beyond, in a quiet vale, the more flourishing city of Lawrence reposed as though unconscious of its threatened doom. The waters of the Kansas River might be seen gliding rapidly toward the Missouri, and the tall forest trees which line its banks, plainly indicated the course of the Wakarusa. The red face of the rising sun was just peering over the top of the Blue Mound, as the governor with his strange escort of three hundred mounted men, with red shirts and odd-shaped hats, descended upon the Wakarusa plain. There, in battle array, were ranged at least three thousand armed and desperate men. They were not dressed in the usual habiliments of soldiers; but in every imaginable costume that could be obtained in that western region. Scarcely had two presented the same appearance, while all exhibited a ruffianly aspect. Most of them were mounted, and manifested an unmistakable disposition to be at their bloody work. In the background stood at least three hundred army tents and as many wagons, while here and there a cannon was planted ready to aid in the anticipated destruction. Among the banners floated black flags to indicate the design that neither age, sex, nor condition would be spared in the slaughter that was to ensue. The arms and cannon also bore the black indices of extermination.

    In passing along the lines, murmurs of discontent and savage threats of assassination fell upon the governor's ears; but heedless of these, and regardless, in fact, of everything but a desire to avert the terrible calamity that was impending, he fearlessly proceeded to the quarters of their leader.

    This threatening army was under the command of General John W. Reid, then and now a member of the Missouri Legislature, assisted by ex-senator Atchison, General B. F. Stringfellow, General L. A. Maclean, General J. W. Whitfield, General George W. Clarke, Generals William A. Heiskell, Wm. H. Richardson, and F. A. Marshal, Col. H. T. Titus, Captain Frederick Emory, and others of similar character. Some of these men have since been rewarded by the present administration with lucrative offices, if not for the valuable services they were about to render in this affair, at least for some others which the government has considered important.

    Governor Geary at once summoned the officers together, and addressed them at length and with great feeling. He depicted in a forcible manner the improper position they occupied, and the untold horrors that would result from the consummation of their cruel designs: that if they persisted in their mad career, the entire Union would be involved in a civil war, and thousands and tens of thousands of innocent lives be sacrificed. To Atchison, he especially addressed himself, telling him that when he last saw him, he was acting as vice-president of the nation and president of the most dignified body of men in the world, the senate of the United States; but now with sorrow and pain he saw him leading on to a civil and disastrous war an army of men, with uncontrollable passions, and determined upon wholesale slaughter and destruction. He concluded his remarks by directing attention to his proclamation, and ordered the army to be disbanded and dispersed. Some of the more judicious of the officers were not only willing, but anxious to obey this order; whilst others, resolved upon mischief, yielded a very reluctant assent. General Clarke said he was for pitching into the United States troops, if necessary, rather than abandon the objects of the expedition. General Maclean didn't see any use of going back until they had whipped the d---d abolitionists. Sheriff Jones was in favor, now they had a sufficient force, of "wiping out" Lawrence and all the free-state towns. And these and others, cursed Governor Geary in not very gentle expressions, for his untimely interference with their well laid plans. They, however, obeyed the order, and retired, not as good and law-loving citizens, but as bands of plunderers and destroyers, leaving in their wake ruined fortunes, weeping eyes, and sorrowing hearts.

    The question has been asked, why was this army dispersed, and permitted to depart for their homes, whilst that at Hickory Point was captured, imprisoned, tried and convicted of a criminal charge? The answer is simple. These men had been called into service by the late acting-governor, and by him given authority as the duly constituted militia of the territory. As such Governor Geary was compelled to recognise them. They had committed no overt act against the laws of which they were accused and of which he could properly take cognisance, and all that he could do was to order them to disperse. Had they refused, and still kept up their military organization, they would have been placed in quite a different position, and Governor Geary could then have arrested them as violators of the peace. But they obeyed his order and disbanded. On the other hand, the party at Hickory Point, though morally as good, if not better men, were in arms not only without the sanction, but in open violation of law. With the governor's proclamation in their hands, commanding all unauthorized armed bodies instantly to disband or quit the territory, they marched against and stormed a settlement, killing one man and wounding several others, and almost in the very commission of this unlawful and overt act, they were captured by the government troops. The whole difference, therefore, between the two parties, is, not that one was morally worse than the other, but because one was acting by and the other against legal authority.

    On the 16th of September, the governor dispatched the following letter to Secretary Marcy:--

              "Executive Department, Lecompton, K. T.,
                      "Sept. 16, 1856.
"HON. WM. L. MARCY, Secretary of State:
    "My Dear Sir:--My last dispatch was dated the 12th instant, in which I gave you a statement of my operations to that date. Since then, I have had business of the deepest importance to occupy every moment of my attention, and to require the most constant watchfulness and untiring energy. Indeed, so absolutely occupied is all my time, that I scarcely have a minute to devote to the duty of keeping you apprised of the true condition of this territory. I have this instant returned from an expedition to Lawrence and the vicinity, and am preparing to depart almost immediately for other sections of the territory, where my presence is demanded.
    "After having issued my address and proclamations in this city, copies of which have been forwarded to you, I sent them with a special messenger, to Lawrence, twelve miles to the eastward, where they were made known to the citizens on the 12th instant. The people of that place were alarmed with a report that a large body of armed men, called out under the proclamation of the late acting-governor Woodson, were threatening them with an attack, and they were making the necessary preparations for resistance. So well authenticated seemed their information, that my agent forwarded an express by a United States trooper, announcing the fact, and calling upon me to use my power to prevent the impending calamity. This express reached me at half-past one o'clock, on the morning of the 13th instant. I immediately made a requisition upon Colonel Cook, commander of the United States forces stationed at this place, for as many troops as could be made available, and in about an hour was on my way towards Lawrence, with three hundred mounted men, including a battery of light artillery. On arriving at Lawrence we found the danger had been exaggerated, and that there was no immediate necessity for the intervention of the military. The moral effect of our presence, however, was of great avail. The citizens were satisfied that the government was disposed to render them all needed protection, and I received from them the assurance that they would conduct themselves as law-abiding and peace-loving men. They voluntarily offered to lay down their arms, and enrol themselves as territorial militia, in accordance with the terms of my proclamations. I returned the same day with the troops, well satisfied with the result of my mission.
    "During the evening of Saturday, the 13th, I remained at my office, which was constantly thronged with men uttering complaints concerning outrages that had been and were being committed upon their persons and property. These complaints came in from every direction , and were made by the advocates of all the conflicting political sentiments, with which the territory has been agitated; and they exhibited clearly a moral condition of affairs, too lamentable for any language adequately to describe. The whole country was evidently infested with armed bands of marauders, who set all law at defiance, and travelled from place to place, assailing villages, sacking and burning houses, destroying crops, maltreating women and children, driving off and stealing cattle and horses, and murdering harmless men in their own dwellings and on the public highways. Many of these grievances needed immediate redress; but unfortunately the law was a dead letter, no magistrate or judge being at hand to take an affidavit or issue a process, and no marshal or sheriff to be found, even had the judges been present to prepare them, to execute the same.
    "The next day, Sunday, matters grew worse and worse. The most positive evidence reached me, that a large body of armed and mounted men were devastating the neighborhoods of Osawkee and Hardtville, commonly called Hickory Point. Being well convinced of this fact, I determined to act upon my own responsibility, and immediately issued an order to Colonel Cook for a detachment of his forces, to visit the scene of disturbance. In answer to this requisition, a squadron of eighty-one men were detached, consisting of companies C. and H. 1st cavalry, Captains Wood and Newby, the whole under command of Captain Wood. This detachment left the camp at two o'clock, P. M., with instructions to proceed to Osawkee and Hickory Point, the former twelve, and the latter eighteen miles to the northward of Lecompton. It was accompanied by a deputy marshal.
    "In consequence of the want of proper facilities for crossing the Kansas River, it was late in the evening before the force could march. After having proceeded about six miles, intelligence was brought to Captain Wood, that a large party of men, under command of a person named Harvey, had come over from Lawrence, and made an attack upon a log house at Hickory Point, in which a number of the settlers had taken refuge. This assault commenced about eleven o'clock in the morning, and continued six hours. The attacking party had charge of a brass four-pounder, the same that was taken by Colonel Doniphan at the battle of Sacramento. This piece had been freely used in the assault; but without effecting any material damage. As far as has yet been ascertained, but one man was killed, and some half-dozen wounded.
    "About eleven o'clock in the evening, Captain Wood's command met a party of twenty-five men, with three wagons, one of which contained a wounded man. These he ascertained to be a portion of Harvey's forces, who had been engaged in the assault at Hickory Point, and who were returning to Lawrence. They were immediately arrested, without resistance, disarmed and held as prisoners. Three others were soon after arrested, who also proved to be a portion of Harvey's party.
    "When within about four miles of Hickory Point, Captain Wood discovered a large encampment upon the prairie, near the road leading to Lawrence. It was the main body of Harvey's men, then under command of a man named Bickerton, Harvey having left after the attack on Hickory Point. This party was surprised and captured.
    "After securing the prisoners, Captain Wood returned to Lecompton, which place he reached about day-break, on Monday the 15th instant, bringing with him one hundred and one prisoners, one brass field-piece, seven wagons, thirty-eight United States muskets, forty-seven Sharp's rifles, six hunting rifles, two shot guns, twenty revolving pistols, fourteen bowie knives, four swords, and a large supply of ammunition for artillery and small arms.
    "Whilst engaged in making preparations for the foregoing expedition, several messengers reached me from Lawrence, announcing that a powerful army was marching upon that place, it being the main body of the militia called into service by the proclamation of Secretary Woodson, when acting-governor.
    "Satisfied that the most prompt and decisive measures were necessary to prevent the sacrifice of many lives, and the destruction of one of the finest and most prosperous towns in the territory, and avert a state of affairs, which must have inevitably involved the country in a most disastrous civil war, I dispatched the following order to Colonel Cook:- -
    "'Proceed at all speed with your command to Lawrence, and prevent a collision if possible, and leave a portion of your troops there for that purpose.'
    "Accordingly, the entire available United States force was put in motion, and reached Lawrence at an early hour in the evening. Here, the worst apprehensions of the citizens were discovered to have been well founded. Twenty-seven hundred men, under command of Generals Heiskell, Reid, Atchison, Richardson, Stringfellow, and others, were encamped on the Wakarusa, about four miles from Lawrence, eager and determined to exterminate that place and all its inhabitants. An advanced party of three hundred men had already taken possession of Franklin, one mile from the camp, and three miles from Lawrence, and skirmishing parties had begun to engage in deadly conflict.
    "Fully appreciating the awful calamities that were impending, I hastened with all possible dispatch to the encampment, assembled the officers of the militia, and in the name of the President of the United States, demanded suspension of hostilities. I had sent in advance, the secretary and adjutant-general of the territory, with orders to carry out the spirit and letter of my proclamations; but up to the time of my arrival, these orders had been unheeded, and I could discover but little disposition to obey them. I addressed the officers in council at considerable length, setting forth the disastrous consequences of such a demonstration as was contemplated, and the absolute necessity of more lawful and conciliatory measures to restore peace, tranquillity, and prosperity to the country. I read my instructions from the president, and convinced them that my whole course of procedure was in accordance therewith, and called upon them to aid me in my efforts, not only to carry out those instructions, but to support and enforce the laws, and the constitution of the United States. I am happy to say, that a more ready concurrence in my views was met, than I had at first any good reason to expect. It was agreed, that the terms of my proclamations should be carried out by the disbandment of the militia; whereupon the camp was broken up , and the different commands separated, to repair to their respective homes.
    "The occurrences, thus related, are already exerting a beneficent influence, and although the work is not yet accomplished, I do not despair of success in my efforts to satisfy the government that I am worthy of the high trust which has been reposed in me. As soon as circumstances will permit, I shall visit, in person, every section of the territory, where I feel assured that my presence will tend to give confidence and security to the people.
    "In closing, I have merely to add, that unless I am more fully sustained hereafter by the civil authorities, and serious difficulties and disturbances continue to agitate the territory, my only recourse will be to martial law, which I must needs proclaim and enforce.
                  "Very respectfully, &c.
                      "JNO. W. GEARY.
                    Governor of Kansas Territory."


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