Monday, January 21, 2008

the Wakarusa War

The legislators at Pawnee seat all the first election’s chosen men and exclude those recently elected in the disputed district’s second elections. The only free-state legislator resigns in protest and the entire body votes to adjourn to the Shawnee Mission, on the Missouri border and closer to their benefactors, supporters and voters. Reeder vetoes the act, which then passes over his veto.

In Shawnee Mission, armed with a brace of pistols, Governor Reeder presides over the 2nd meeting of legislature, which pretty much ignores his presence. President Pierce dismisses Reeder in order to appease his southern backers and in hopes of uniting the 2 wings of the Democrats together he appoints Wilson Shannon in his place, a loyal Democrat who had voted for the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

Before Shannon’s arrival, the legislature passes a strict slave code and requires all voters to swear to uphold the law. The legislature wishes to establish a permanent capital and name it ‘Douglas’, but soon changes the name to ‘Lecompton’ – appealing to the vanity of US district Judge Samuel D. Lecompte.

Further west, free-staters convene at Big Springs on September 5, 1855, hoping to draft a competing free-state constitution and legislature. Overwhelming majorities in attendance are Democrats but Republicans watch closely for both direction and opportunity. The free-stares are well aware that the President, governor, judges, recognized legislature and, perhaps soon the army, are opposed to them. Former Governor Reeder attends and in a keynote speech urges them to protect their rights with a ‘steady aim and sure eye’ – a call to action!

After drafting a free constitution, the ‘Topeka Movement’ adjourns on November 11. Their organization quickly creates civil chaos as petty criminals dodge among the two factions seeking protection, especially over land claims. The murder of Charles Dow, a free- state squatter by proslavery Franklin Coleman brings the problem to a head. Over a hundred men congregate at the scene of the crime, 10 miles south of Lawrence. Pro-slavery men flea to Missouri and their houses are torched. The sheriff, with Coleman as guide, rides to arrest one of Dow’s friends. The posse is met, threatened and retreats to Shawnee Mission vowing vengeance on Kansas in general and Lawrence in particular.

Sheriff Jones appeals to Governor Shannon for 3000 militia to counteract the flouting of his authority. Only a handful responds to the call. Shannon calls on the US Army at Fort Leavenworth headed by Colonel Edwin Sumner, an anti-slavery man, who refuses to send troops unless ordered by the President. However, some 1500 Missourians with 7 cannon from the Liberty arsenal are also en route and soon make camp in Wakarusa, 3 miles from Lawrence. Jim Lane organizes the citizens of Lawrence, drills them and erects blockhouses and fortifications. Among the Kansas forces are seven large men from Osawatomie named Brown, armed with short swords and long pikes.

For the first time armies from Kansas and Missouri face off, beginning a war that will last until 1865. However this time, cold December weather dampens the men’s ardor. A pair of messengers from Lawrence are allowed to pass through Wakarusa with a message for the governor in Shawnee Mission. Reeder insists that the free-staters obey the laws and give up their weapons. The messengers are astounded and remind him that no laws had been broken and of their right to bear arm. Shannon rides west, noting that the men in the pro-slavery Wakarusa camp are Missourians. He arrives in Lawrence and sees the body recently murdered man. Finally convinced that war is being forced upon Kansas by the Border ruffians, Shannon returns to powwow with the Missourians and signs a ‘treaty’ convincing them to return home.

However, Jim Lane has a trick up his sleeve. He sends word from his camp to the governor back that the Missourians are not dispersing and are, in fact, moving on the town. Would the governor authorize him, in writing, to resist with arms? The governor does, discovers that no attack is truly forthcoming and that the order is now widely distributed stating that Kansans are now authorized to resist attacks on their state by Missourians.

So the Wakarusa War ends, with one man killed, the others going home and with a new determination, however achieved, on the part of free-state residents to defend themselves from Missouri border ruffians. On December 15, 1855 a large majority ratifies the Topeka Constitution showing the true free will of the Kansas populace.

1 comment:

Sara E. Campbell said...

I'm looking for more info on this Franklin Coleman. I have an ancestor by that name, or Colman, whose wife was a Dow. Probably just a coincidence, but is more known about this man? How old was he? Was he born in Missouri?