THE EARLY HISTORY OF LAWRENCE and Kansas was filled with a struggle for the defense of high principles. At first, the New Englanders came, determined to make it a free state, unrestricted by race or color, and were followed a few years later by many Germans from the Old Country who came to escape military service and to start a new life of freedom. The early days were filled with border wars, guerilla raids, grasshopper scourges, and in later years, floods.
In the early part of 1854, the feeling of anti-slavery was running high throughout the north, and when the Kansas - Nebraska bill was passed in May 25, 1854, providing that the people themselves should decide whether Kansas should be slave or free, those Free-Staters were determined that slavery was not going to secure a foothold in new territory. It was feared because of its proximity to Missouri, which was a strong pro-slave state, that Kansas territory would turn to slavery. The New England Emigrant Aid Society was formed in Massachusetts to encourage and aid emigration to Kansas, and Amos L. Lawrence of Boston was one of its prominent leaders. In June, 1854, they sent Dr. Charles Robinson of Fitch (he was later to become Kansas' first governor), and Mr. Charles H. Branscomb of Holyoke, to pick out a site for the colony. Dr. Robinson had stood on Mount Oread (where the University now stands), when he went to California in the gold rush of '49, and remembered its beautiful view, so he picked it for a townsite.
The first contingent arrived by train at St. Louis August 1, 1854 and Dr. Robinson met them. They took a steamer up the Missouri River to Kansas City, and then the final 40 miles to Lawrence on foot. Ox teams were used to carry their baggage.
The group left Kansas City at 10 o'clock on Saturday evening and arrived in Lawrence on Tuesday. It was hot going, so most of the traveling was done at night. Now it takes less than 45 minutes to cover the same distance. Twenty-five tents were pitched on Mount Oread the night of arrival and the colonizers all voted in favor of the site. However, a few days later they moved down and camped near the Kaw or Kansas river, where the town continued to grow south of the river.
In September, a larger group came, and from then on small bands of settlers continued to filter in and settle down in Lawrence. Lawrence did not start out being called "Lawrence". The settlers tried several names, such as Waukarusa (the Waukarusa river is south of the town), Yankeetown, Excelsior, New Boston, and finally Lawrence in honor of Amos A. Lawrence of Boston.
The people of Missouri were determined Kansas was going to be a slave state, and Lawrence being the headquarters of the Free-State party and the center of the free movement, naturally became the focal point of conflict and bloodshed and destruction waged time after time between the border ruffians and the free-staters. When the first election was held for the territorial legislature, hundreds of Missourians came over and registered and voted so that the entire legislature, with one exception, had been elected by Missourians. All subsequent elections were conducted the same way and voters were influenced by threat of death and destruction. Feeling ran high and bitter. Appeals were made to the territorial governors, to Congress, and to the eastern sponsors, but due to distance, politics, and misrepresentation, nothing much could be done to help the free-staters, and the pro-slaveryites gained control of the militia.
The sheriff, S. J. Jones, was a Missouri ruffian who had been appointed by the Kansas territorial governor to keep law and order in Lawrence. Thus the free-staters had to exert great caution not to overstep the law and provide an excuse to kill some of their leaders. One man was sent to Boston to lay the matter before the friends of Free Kansas, and as a result, rifles were smuggled into Lawrence, in anticipation of bloodshed that was bound to come.
In May of 1856, the town was looted and the Free-State Hotel (present site of the Hotel Eldridge) was burned to the ground. Conflict and bloodshed in retaliation followed, first by the free-staters led by John Brown, and then by the pro-slavers. These constant conflicts bound the people of Lawrence closer together.
Before the town was given a charter, all necessary business to carry on the mechanics of a town was done voluntarily by each man carrying out his duties and working with the others without meetings, and by word agreement only, as they had no legal authority until a charter would be granted. Troops were sent out by Governor Walker in 1857 to dispel any power that might be displayed, or any signs that might show organization, but the troops could find none. It was all done so unobtrusively and quietly by suggestion only, that they could find nothing that indicated the setting up of an independent city government.
Finally, after numerable bogus elections, the free-state people gained control of the territorial legislature and one of the first things considered was a charter for Lawrence. A bill was passed February 11, 1858 and on February 20, the charter was accepted and city officers were elected.
Women played an important role in the early days. They took a hand in everything and did their share of the work. They came to Kansas with the full understanding of what they had to
meet. They helped provide rations and make bullets. They were womanly and had been reared in cultured homes, but they had strong convictions and devoted their lives to maintaining them.
In the years 1857 and 1858, the State had appeared so much in the papers that it was popular to come to Kansas. Emigrants from all over moved to Kansas to help. Many college students turned from a literary life to come to Lawrence, not for personal gain, but for a principal, to help make it free. Not only emigrants came, but many others to see the country. They nearly all had money and they had it to spend.
There was not much productivity in Lawrence at that time, but a good deal of building was in progress and Lawrence enjoyed a wave of business prosperity. Colonel S. W. Eldridge and his brother built a 4-story brick hotel at a cost of $80,000 on the site of the Free-State hotel that had been burned to the ground by raiders. Many churches were built. Then from September 1859 to October 1860 a drouth swept over the state. Lawrence suffered less than some of the newer sections, due partly to aid received from Illinois and other prosperous states.
January 29, 1861 Kansas became a state and the legislature passed a bill submitting the question of the permanent capitol to the vote of the people. Lawrence and Topeka were the two competitors, and in the ensuing election, Lawrence lost.
New troubles started shortly. Civil War was declared and Lawrence was in a hot spot. Being only 40 miles from the Missouri border, she was in the center of "Border ruffian" hate. Lawrence people realized they were vulnerable to raids and that it still rankled the ruffians that they had been repulsed in the years back, and they were afraid they would some day be attacked in reprisal. Then too, Lawrence had the reputation in Missouri and in pro-slave states of being one of the stations of the underground railroad. Many slaves made their way to Lawrence and were given help, although it was not admitted at the time.
The negroes made good citizens of the community and they were healthy were healthy and eager to work and were self-sustaining. Since they were eager to learn, a night school was started for the teaching was done on a volunteer basis and without recompense. It was conducted in the form of a Sabbath school.
Meanwhile, guerilla bands roamed all over Missouri. The most famous leader was Quantrill. William Clark Quantrill was born in Ohio of good parents. His father was a school teacher. Quantrill came to Kansas at the age of 20. He taught school near Stanton for a year, then went to Salt Lake for two years and in 1860 he returned and made headquarters at Lawrence. When he came to Lawrence he went by the name of Charlie Hart. He carried on questionable dealings and came to the attention of the Law. He fled to Missouri and proceeded to carry on numerous
raids and killings and soon became the most dangerous of the guerrilla leaders.
By 1863 Quantrill had become very bold, and sacked communities and farms as he pleased. Efforts were made to protect Lawrence. A military company was organized, arms were secured from the State, but the colonel in charge had a peculiar notion that all arms should be kept in the armory and not at home.
Lawrence felt reasonably safe, regardless of repeated warnings that Quantrill would some day come there, because they thought they would be warned long before he could reach the 40-mile distance from the border. But at daybreak on August 21, 1863 Quantrill, with around 400 men, rode into Lawrence. It was one of the most brutal raids in history. He was said to have told his men that not a man in Lawrence was to be alive when they got off of their horses.
The band split up and took separate sections of the town, so that every section got its full share of murder and theft and fire. For 4 hours they ransacked and burned and murdered. As the firearms were all locked in the armory, there was no chance for the citizens to organize and defend the town. The raiders shot down every man and boy in sight and those that did not offer resistance fared as badly as others. Not one of their own men was killed.
The Eldridge hotel seemed to be regarded as the citadel of the town and the raiders descended on it in one body. They fired upon it and burned it to the ground. Buildings and homes all over the country-side were also destroyed. When the raiders rode out of town, they left a trail of fire and over 150 dead men, and many wounded. Lawrence was stunned. Only one building on Massachusetts street, the main business street, was left standing. Not even enough food was left for a day's use so thoroughly was the destruction. In the evening, as word got around, farmers who has escaped the path of the raiders, brought food and supplies for the sufferers.
In the days that followed, money poured in from cities which had heard of the devastation and money was offered and loaned without interest to those wanting to rebuild. After burying their dead and cleaning up the debris, the residents seemed more determined than ever to stay, and they set out to build better and larger buildings. In a few weeks, two companies of United States troops were sent and they remained to guard Lawrence until the end of the war. The State seal reads, "Ad Astra per Aspera" -- (To the Stars through Difficulties.)