Life at Laurel Town in Anglo Saxon Kansas by Kate Stephens




How the attractiveness of Laurel Town, its natural beauty, its people, the state's young university, led my Father to purchase land for a home adjoining the city, I have told in foregoing pages.

It was not then a town of the soft, quiet beauty of nowadays, but more rugged, more individual, possibly closer to the heart of things. Suffering even to martyrdom before and during the War Between the States had graved its face with startling emphasis; it was a little city with its own physiognomy.

North and south had sent together its people: southerners marked with strong personal sentiment, an unvarying consciousness of self, and a social view that sometimes suggested the eighteenth century we find in English books; the New England element, on the other hand, having its inevitable simplicity and directness. New England blood predominated, and especially affiliated with that from Ohio, Illinois and other western states and one or two generations removed from the Atlantic slope. New England characteristics were in the fore.

Therefore, to sketch the folks of Laurel Town as



a body of unity and like color would not be true. The community was too newly gathered, too unlike in its elements, too nerve-fatigued by horrors of war; it was not yet closely enough knit by continuity of interests to have a general social spirit. Academic life which now stamps the town had not evolved. The university was a small institution struggling with legislature after legislature for its very breath, and with no appreciable influence on the social will. Still, even then Laurel Town was what a professor of Harvard University twenty years after told me he found it; "A New England town set in a western environment."

After our flight from the east, and we were established on the farm, those with whom Pater already had acquaintance, through his open-air-seeking life and rides about Laurel Town, paid our Mother formal visits. We came to know delightful people.

The first we met was the family of Judge Welch who had come from Litchfield, Connecticut. Mrs. Welch had great taste for sociabilities, and after the habit of that day now and then entertained our family at tea; not our present four o'clock brew with sliced lemon and wafer, but the last hearty meal of the day. Her hospitality pictures itself before me yet table spread with damask linen hanging low, set about with cold meats, sour conserves, biscuits hot and steaming through a doily, and invariably at one side the cover cakes, and a tall, broad glass dish holding boiled



custard flavored with bitter almond and flecked with white of egg beaten to a snow and centring flakes of currant jelly.

The hostess herself sat behind a shining silver tea service. A lucid memory and love of anecdotes made her the life of the party, her dark eyes sparkling as she related some tale of "Uncle Nott," a characterful president of Union College, or traditions of such ancestors as Philip van Schuyler who, about 1650, settled in Rensselaerwyck; of Renneke Jans, whose farm then lay in contest between Trinity Church of New York and her descendants; of Mary Dyer, last martyr of religious liberty for the Quakers on Boston Commons in 1660.

At one of these teas our hostess told a story which still lingers in my memory: when a little girl and visiting relatives in Albany, she was dining with Mrs. Alexander Hamilton. An elderly man entered the hotel's dining room. A waiter gave him a chair at the table where Mrs. Hamilton and her youthful guest were sitting. At once Mrs. Hamilton's face became white, and she seemed deeply affected. Her discomposure told the steward of the contretemps and he changed to another table the late comer--Aaron Burr who twenty-six years before, had shot Alexander Hamilton on the heights of Weehawken.

In those early summers of our life near Laurel Town, the ladies calling on Mater commonly came in



strict formality, as I said, and without the men of their family. They drove out in hacks, if they had not their own conveyance, and oftenest were clad in light-colored silks, soft greys, blues, greens and lavenders, the skirts full, reaching the ground and giving an effect of the wearers floating. We were past the hoop-skirt era. But the idea which brought the hoop-skirt forward still survived---the idea that skirts are to conceal and let escape no suggestion of women's nether extremities; not even the line of the knee to show. For a woman's dress to hint that the wearer had legs was, in that mid-Victorian* day, immodest; and some went so far as to say no trace of a foot should be seen.

In summer, diaphanous llama-lace shawls, white or black, pinned to the dress at the shoulders, half covered the gowns of these ladies; and in colder weather, velvet cloaks and paisley shawls. Light colored kid gloved their hands, and in the left they almost always carried, together with a lace-edged handkerchief, a card-case of mother-of-pearl, or ivory, or silver. Above their fine-spirited faces they wore filmy patches they called bonnets -- bewitching apologies for the head-covering that Paul, still retentive of the Pharisee, demanded of women of unregenerate Corinth.

How differently we pay our visits nowadays! The

*Why should we repeatedly say "Victorian', when we speak of the time's fashions in dress! Most of the vogues of that day, for instance that of the "modest and pious crinoline," were due to the taste of the Spanish woman leading the French court.



Time-Spirit has wrought changes for women -- the word women tells the whole story. We are women; they were ladies, and many of them would have resented any other descriptive.

The converse of these dames commonly dropped to the lugubrious note of the anaemic woman; evidence they unconsciously bore to their shutting-off from the companionship and ideas of the world. They would talk of the advantages of their old home, its fine spaciousness, the narrowness and disadvantages of the new. But inanities of those who pass their days in parlors did not prevail. The optimism of founders and up-builders brightened these ladies, also. Hopeful lines of the mouth far outnumbered lines of despair. In a new commonwealth men and women are more exactly companions than where conventions rule, their needs of each other establishing interdependence.

Among those early visits Mrs. Shannon's stands clearest in memory. Governor Shannon, who had had a notable career as governor of Ohio, United States Minister to Mexico, and governor of Kansas accompanied his wife. A late number of a magazine, Harper's, I think, lay on the table, and in it account of Tom Corwin and a campaign of his against Governor Shannon in Ohio. Naturally our parents spoke of the article, and this led to the retelling of one of its stories -- how the brilliant Corwin met Mrs. Shannon in a stage coach, and on learning who she was paid her marked



courtesies; and how, when change of coaches came, and he was to take another line, the orator laid her baby Wilson on her lap with the remark that he would soon lay the old Governor as flat on his back as he was now laying the young governor; thus disclosing to Mrs. Shannon who the gentleman of cavalier politeness really was.

Still, of the callers that afternoon, I recall more plainly Sallie Shannon -- the most beautiful human creature I have ever seen. Not attractiveness of color, but the higher beauty, exquisite proportion and expression, marked her in every way - - a perfectly modeled forehead, nose and chin, delicately curved mouth and fine complexion, back of which shone limpid, lustrous eyes of grey and brown hair. She wore a close-fitting, black-silk frock (the family were, in the speech of that day, "in half-mourning"), a band of tiny, white French roses forming the collar.

A little later on, when fame of her beauty had gone abroad, she paid the penalty public admiration exacts, whether of poet, orator or a beautiful woman. Self-consciousness settled on her countenance. But at this day of which I speak, she was about eighteen, like a lily blossoming out of sheer loveliness. She bore herself with grace and the repose convents stamped upon girls bred in their cloisters. In those days I did not know the artificiality, and her native beauty sent me, a flapper, into hushed wonder. I wanted to gaze upon



her till her form and face were photographed on some sensitized tablet of memory. In those days, too, we saw Mr. John Hutchings, and his winsome wife who had the gift of singing English, Scottish and Irish songs with their native simplicity and tenderness. At times Mr. and Mrs. Hutchings would bring friends, for instance Elliott V. Banks, and then we delighted in stories told with striking clarity and conciseness; a quality springing, I fancied, from lawyers' practice in brief-writing.

One of these occasions, an intense heat drove us out of doors, to the shade of an oak upon whose trunk a red-headed woodpecker kept recurrently drumming. Some one brought up the fact that the day was the centenary of the birth of Napoleon; and what the Corsican did, his love of the tinsel of feudalism, his rhetorical successes and the significance of his failure informed the talk that afternoon.

At another visit, our guests told how they fled the morning of Quantrell's raid, and, pointing towards acres skirting the Kaw, said the tall corn of that rich loam saved their lives by concealing them as they ran.


Sufferings of Laurel Town at the hands of its enemies and during its early years spoke through legends innumerable in our after-days. Let one alone bear witness; the story of a serviceable hoop-skirt.



Now, we know that a farthingale, as our fore-mothers of Queen Elizabeth's time called a trooped petticoat, a farthingale is hardly the best sort of a lorry for carrying valuables from a beleaguered city. In stirring old times of Queen Bess, and in the renewed fashion of Queen Anne's day, rumors now and then went abroad that a man had in great stress, for instance to save his life, been secreted in their ample coop. I doubt not that farthingales, and women in farthingales, in those earlier centuries, did heroic deeds. Else women would not have been women. But the story of what this farthingale accomplished in Laurel Town, in Kansas, in the year 1863, is so good that it ought to have a headline all to itself. Therefore, will Mr. Printer kindly insert in small black, fat caps;


Quantrell and his band got into Laurel Town that morning of the 21st of August, 1863, without discovery. How they did no one ever could tell.

One report had it that Sallie Young was seen ahorse-back in the early grey of the day, her pony loping over the level towards Franklin, and that she led in the chief and pointed out the houses of Yankee Free-Staters in memory of their youthful friendship over in Ohio. But the story had little credit among the clearer-minded. And from what I saw of Sallie Young years



after, still a buxom woman in Governor Shannon's household, I should call the tale absurd.

Quantrell knew every inch of Laurel Town. In earlier years he had lived there. No one needed to point him the way.

That August morning, however, no one doubted Quantrell was in town. His two hundred and ninety-four "border ruffians," their chief at their head, came over the south-east prairie like a devastating whirlwind.

Daring and deviltry had marked these bushwhackers from the beginning of the War Between the States. Desperadoes all of them, they nested in the Sni hills near Kansas City, and from dense woods and impenetrable underbrush dashed out for raids. Then, after their plundering and burning, a superb horsemanship permitted their speedily racing back and concealing themselves, at times among the brakes of the Blackwater river, but more often in their fastnesses of lofty ledged bluffs alternating with deep ravines leading to the Sni and the Blue.

Such deeds as these of theirs Robin Hood is reported to have done in Sherwood Forest of England many hundreds of years ago, and in a milder manner; Robin and his outlaws aiming to dispense rude justice by robbing rich Normans and endowing poor Saxons. These bandits of the border of Missouri and its western neighbor carried on their guerrillas against every interest that sought to make Kansas a free state.



Laurel Town, that child-city, forty miles, say, from their ledged hills, had centered Free-State activities throughout its existence. Its people had not hesitated to declare their stand for human freedom, their hatred of human slavery. Nothing more native to those times and places, therefore, than that border bands should make the town a target for their ill-will. Already they had tried to destroy it. And now, after years of a vast, organized rebellion, they hated it with an intensity that only their own lurid invective could describe.

The law-abiding folks of Laurel Town knew this resentment. Through months they had kept patrol, and taken turns in night guard. But only lately an order had reached them to stack their guns in an armory. This night of August the little city lay without watchers -- save the stars of heaven.

So it happened that Quantrell and his bushwhackers, bending forward on the neck of their mounts till each man seemed a part of the animal he strode -- guiding the light-footed horses wholly by their legs, thus leaving both hands free to carry shooting irons -- so it happened the bushwhackers rode through the early dawn into the sleeping city.

Whooping and firing of guns awakening them, the people of Laurel Town instantly knew the fortune of the assault. Who, also, its prey. Men sprang from



their beds and ran for hiding places -- to an empty barrel, to a wife's fruit closet, through a bulk-head door just as a bandit entered the house, pistol cocked, to shoot on sight any man there.

Not only murder; burning, too, must be essential in putting the town to extremes. Women worked to quench fire eating its way up the sides of their houses; and saw husband, or father, shot dead within touch of their hand. In one dwelling, Mrs. Fred Reed's, a stalwart outlaw laid lighted matches against curtains and other quickly ignited furnishings, while the house-wife followed beating out blazes with her blistered fingers. Every excess of partisan warfare held sway.

On rising ground, over near the river, stood the Eldridge House, a four-story brick hotel. This summer-season many people housed within its walls -- travelers from a distance; men come to see the beauty of the country and the arduous, picturesque life of the young commonwealth; then again, others looking for investments of idle money.

Among young couples living in the hotel were Mr. and Mrs. Tisdale; he interested in far-reaching stage-coach lines; she a sweet-faced bride, gifted with the liveliness and brightness of French blood, gifted, moreover, with every woman's wit in a dilemma.

This 21st day of August the beating of horses' hoofs and shooting of guns woke the lady from her morning slumbers. Sensing the cause, she at once be-



gan planning how to save her husband's business papers; which she felt sure he would preserve if he were there.

How terribly near those whoops and yells sounded!

She opened her door to the public hallway in hopes of another's counsel. An acquaintance, Edward D. Thompson from New York, at that instant came by. he two spoke together -- the hotel must suffer the raiders' fury, probably its men killed and the building fired.

Like Mr. Tisdale, Mr. Thompson had papers of importance to the fortunes of himself and others. He told of his anxiety lest the records be destroyed.

"I have taken my husband's from his secretary," said the lady showing bulky folios, "and I'll care for yours, too, if you wish."

"Can you?" hesitated Mr. Thompson.

"I am sure," cried Mrs. Tisdale. "But run. Take the ferry. Or swim."

"I'll bring the papers," rejoined Mr. Thompson. "I wish I could save some underwear," he added, hastening toward his room.

"You can't," cried Mrs. Tisdale nervously. "Fetch the papers; and clothes. I'll see what I can do. And run. Run for the river."

Mr. Thompson brought his belongings and fled.

Mrs. Tisdale turned back to her room and locked her door.



Silence now reigned in front of the hotel. The bushwhackers were parleying for delivery into their hands of the building and its people.

In the peace of these minutes Mrs. Tisdale hung her hoop-skirt from a nail, and bound on the inner side of the steels all the legal papers in her care. Little pieces of underwear, half the comfort of living, she also tied fast till the crinoline looked like a beehive.

She slipped the hoops over her head and buckled the belt. A couple of petticoats. Surmounting the structure with a dimity frock and silk mantilla, she took her bag (in those days called "reticula") in hand and passed down the stairs to the "Ladies' Entrance" just round the corner from the main doors where the bandits were completing their terms of surrender.

Her hoopskirt swayed with its burden. The unexpected weight of the luggage nearly overcame her. But with heart as strong as resourcefulness clever, she would be the last to let the load affect her light step and calm countenance.

Not far off she met a group of raiders, terrible, but picturesque. Some clad in butternut. A few vaingloriously rigged in red-top boots, coats with linings turned outside to gratify their taste for color, and red handkerchiefs tied about their swarthy necks.

She saw them demanding gold trinkets from other women, even searching the women's pockets; and this led her to go a trifle timorously. One ruffian did swag-



ger towards her and call out that here they might find booty. His companions, possibly satiated by some good fortune, told him to come with them.

At last, breathless and quivering, Mrs. Tisdale reached the river, and in time to catch the ferry. On the other side she would find friends. There, too, her husband would join her on his return from Fort Leavenworth.

The boat finally made the north bank.

Why did she back away? -- her stricken comrades asked when they pressed towards her as she stepped upon the sand. No word, merely waving her hand and seeking a clump of willows.

A minute after she came forth holding up to view her freighted hoopskirt. And then the relaxation of a smile spread over every anxious countenance as she untied and handed Mr. Thompson his legal papers, adding a pair of stockings. Many had fled in scant clothing and her gifts served needs.

Yellow smoke, plumed by the wind of a soft summer morning, now rolled skyward, and the refugees stood straining eyes to lengthen their vision, guessing from whose house this cloud, or that cloud, might have risen. They had not long to wait before flames shot from the roof of the Eldridge House; and little longer till its brick walls alone remained to witness to the building's uses.

Human worth -- what human courage could do to



save men from murder and homes from burning-- that day sent down many a legacy and sanctified the little city to all posterity.

But the retiring bushwhackers? Union soldiers traced them by their horses' footprints, and, reports said, next day came upon their rear. Yet lacking orders, they made no attack.

After a fortnight, in endeavor at Paola to organize retaliatory measures, General James H. Lane claimed that the ranking officers were rebel-sympathizers, and that ruffians would devastate the whole Kansas border: -- "There is one remedy only, and that lies in the people's hands. The way to kill wolves is to hunt them in their dens. The way to exterminate snakes is to crush them in their nests. The way to punish Quantrell and his band is to make a burning hell of Missouri." This appeal sent out several companies of cavalry; who, however, found no way to effective reprisal. In the end the guerrillas paid lightly for their raid on Laurel Town.

Unequal payment often evented in other inter-tribal wars -- for instance, in the old encounters of Scotch highlander with Scotch lowlander; Irish clan with Irish clan; English faction with Welsh. Yet with this difference in result between mediaeval conditions and our own: --

While in earlier centuries Quantrell might have seized the stricken town, and gained a feudal title, say,



"Duke of the Douglas Marches," or "Lord of Laurel Town," in our democratic and more truth-telling days he was merely branded a brutal bushwhacker, and, rumor told, fearing some mortal might seek vengeance, in years following the war he concealed his name and his whereabouts.

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