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Authors: Thomas Goodrich

Bloody Dawn

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The Story of the Lawrence Massacre




© 1991 by The Kent State University Press, Kent, Ohio 44242

All rights reserved
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 91-8638
Manufactured in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Goodrich, Th.

Bloody dawn : the story of the Lawrence massacre / Thomas Goodrich.

      p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

0-87338-442-3 (alk.) ∞

978-0-87338-476-6 (pbk : alk.) ∞

1. Massacres—Kansas—Lawrence—History—19th century.    2. Lawrence (Kan.)—History.    3. Kansas—History—Civil War, 1861–1865.    4. Quantrill, William Clarke, 1837–1865.

E474.97.G66 1991


British Library Cataloging-in-Publication data are available.

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n a bright Missouri morning in August 1863, nearly three hundred horsemen emerged from the timber along the Blackwater River Onto the prairie they rode in military order, four abreast. Many of the men, those at front and rear, wore coats of Union blue, but most in the column did not. Some had been working fields the day before. They carried no flag

When possible, hills were used to screen their movements, brush and creek bottoms as well. Later that day, however, a Federal scout from Warrensburg spotted the riders passing west, apparently toward the Kansas line, forty-five miles away. The scout rode back to report

That evening the column skirted the town of Pleasant Hill, fifteen miles east of Kansas, and here it veered slightly, slanting southwest. Halts to water and graze were frequent, but short. Over one hundred Rebel recruits, weaving their way south to Arkansas, met the horsemen and agreed to join. Together the four hundred rode into the night

By daylight, Thursday, August 20, the column left the prairie and entered the woods along the Grand River, four miles east of the Kansas line. Here a camp was made. Horses were unsaddled and tethered. Food was prepared, sleep taken. An additional fifty men rode in from downriver and joined the camp

At approximately the same time, two companies of Union militia left Warrensburg and struck off in pursuit. The identity and nature of the column was yet a mystery, but a messenger was hurried west to spread the alarm

By noon the temperature approached 100

The entire eastern border of Kansas is shared with only one state—Missouri. For seven suspenseful years the eyes of the nation
had been locked on this border because it was here in 1854, after passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, that the dramatic struggle between freedom and slavery began. For decades the annoying issue of slavery had been swept under the rug only to sift up again and again. But at length the showdown came and the stage was this border, a land not particularly beautiful or rich in itself, yet at the time, and to the parties concerned, it was the most valuable tract of sod on earth.

For the South it was simply a question of survival. To hold the line with the North in Congress, Kansas and all the territories west and south must embrace slavery. There were never any claims to Nebraska or the wild regions beyond, and it was well understood that these lands would go to the North. But above all Kansas had to be delivered to the South because, as one observer prophesied, “if Kansas is not made a slave state … there will never be another.”
And even worse, others warned, should the new territory fall to the North it would be but a matter of time before Missouri too was lost, because with much of its slave population located in the western half of that state the Kansas line would pull like a magnet on runaways. But if there was deep concern among some Southerners, an air of confidence surrounded others, for it was Missouri's mere proximity to the territory with its settlers ready to swarm over the western border that gave the slave power its highest hope.

Nebraska for the North, Kansas for the South. Such, it seemed, would be the compromise. And for those who ignored the claims of the South, a warning: “Kansas must be a slave state or the Union will be dissolved.”

To a good many in the North, the idea of further compromise with slavery was unthinkable. The South had no rights to Kansas, political or otherwise, and this they were determined to enforce even if it did mean the breakup of the Union. Not only would Nebraska be free and all the country beyond, they insisted, but so too would Kansas and all the land lying west. “Not one inch further,” was the cry; no “chains, shackles, Negro-whips, [or] blood-hounds on the beautiful plains of Kansas.”

Consequently, when the territory opened to settlement in 1854 and the two sides met, the results were as tragic as they were predictable. Much to the shock and anger of the South the North did not bow to slavery's bid on Kansas, and in an even more surprising development their immigrants came in far greater numbers than expected. Desperately, proslavers worked to stem the tide. Bluster and threats came first.

“God damn you,” shouted one Southerner, “if you are ever caught here again you shall be strung up! Go to Nebraska, damn you! You have no right in Kansas!”

Not cowed in the least, free-soilers held their ground. “With God, humanity, and Sharp's rifles on our side, we are prepared to meet any struggle,” they replied defiantly.

As the scales tipped hopelessly against them, Missourians grew violent. They marched to Kansas in mobs, “Border Ruffians” they were called, crossing the state line to enforce the territorial “laws”; chasing, jailing, even tar and feathering free-soilers and rafting them downriver. Murderous fanatics arose on both sides and each claimed divine sanction for his deeds.

On a dark, windy night in May 1856, John Brown led a small group of believers to Pottawatomie Creek and with musket and blade butchered five proslavery settlers. Thus was inaugurated civil war, and for the next several years death and destruction swept the prairie. By 1858, however, the outcome for the most part was settled. Although Brown's atrocity was repaid in kind when five free-staters were mowed down on the Marais des Cygnes in the spring of that year, this proved but the parting shot of a vanquished South. Northern immigration came on in a rush. Kansas would, after all, be free. And none understood this more clearly, nor acted upon it more readily, than slaves in adjoining Missouri.

“The long agony is over,” sighed one of the victors. “The last act of the drama which opened in blood and was continued in violence has been enacted, and the curtain has fallen upon a happy consummation.”

And at the moment so it might have seemed. Yet those with a common degree of foresight plainly saw that the “drama” was not over; the curtain had been raised, not lowered. Kansas, the great experiment, proved a failure and solved nothing in the end. It did illustrate, however, what many had feared all along—that America as it existed in the middle of the nineteenth century, half free, half slave, could no longer abide with itself.

As the thunderhead that had boiled over this ill-fated land for the past seven years spread eastward, the border as a national arena was all but forgotten, forgotten, that is, by all save those who remained—the Missourians and Kansans. A legacy of hatred and violence had evolved which neither side could, which neither side would, forget.

At the beginning of the American Civil War, Kansas contained a population of roughly one hundred thousand strung almost entirely along the Missouri and Kansas, or Kaw, River valleys. And it was in part because of the recent territorial excitement that a shabby air of want lay heavy on the new land. Business and commerce had been crimped, building and public works were disrupted, crops went unattended while settlers had devoted a vast amount of time to politics and the struggle for freedom. Then nature added to the problem. From early 1859 to late 1860 a severe drought wracked the territory, ruining crops and causing widespread suffering and dismay. It was with much effort and no mean amount of Eastern philanthropy that the people were set back on the road to recovery. But complete recovery was slow in coming and by the spring of 1861 the young state remained impoverished.

By contrast western Missouri was a bloom of prosperity. A solid, rooted society of forty years dwelled here on splendid farms and plantations, rich in cattle, horses, and mules, with black slaves hoeing fields of corn, tobacco, and hemp. Green-lawned courthouses surrounded by thriving, white-fenced towns dotted the countryside. Everything bespoke plenty. And even though the Missouri border was in many respects crude, rough, and unmistakably Western, it was like another world when compared to the land over the line.

To most Kansans, the contest of the fifties was proof enough that one needn't look for Dixie and treason in Virginia, South Carolina, or Mississippi—one need only gaze across the border. Shortly after the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861, their convictions rang true when throughout western Missouri acts of disloyalty and sedition were daily occurrences. With their neighbor in virtual revolt, no further excuse was needed. To some Kansans, “Sumter” was the eagle's cry to march across the line and with firm hand and bayonet steel crush the rebellion and thus help preserve the Union. But for a larger flock of Kansans, “jayhawkers,” as they came to be called, Sumter was the signal gun for open season on the pride and bounty of western Missouri. It was also a chance to settle some old scores.

Unlike the battlefields farther east, the western border for the most part was not a stage where vast armies acted out grand strategy or clashed in bloody conflict. The war in the West was instead a very personal war, a war among neighbors, a war of theft and arson, a war of midnight murder and torture—a vendetta.

No Kansan personified this brand of war more, nor had a greater hand in promoting it, than did one Charles Jennison. Actually, the outbreak of civil war simply lent an aura of legitimacy to a program Jennison had been pursuing all along. Characterized as cruel, heartless, cowardly, a “moral vagabond” by his detractors, to friends the
jockey-sized jayhawker was a mailed fist of retribution, punishing Missouri for crimes past and present. Whatever the opinion, Jennison and his regiment became in fact the scourge and salt of western Missouri during the first summer and winter of the war. One by one the towns along the border fell victim to their forays. Stores were looted, safes emptied, elegant homes gutted. Nor was the countryside spared. Night after night the skies over the border were aglow as barns, cabins, and crops were set ablaze. Those hapless farmers lucky enough to escape the torch watched powerless while the fruits of their labor were hauled off in their own wagons. Herds of cattle, horses, and sheep were likewise driven west. And wherever Jennison and his men marched, despite President Abraham Lincoln's bid to hold loyal slave owners to the Union, there followed in the wake large crowds of blacks stepping gaily over to Kansas and freedom. Masters who tried to recover their chattel were beaten or killed.

Most Kansans praised Jennison's style of war. Abolitionists thrilled to the irony of Missouri slaves, “contrabands,” escaping bondage under the banner of the same regiment in which John Brown, Jr., served as captain. And newspaper editors, gloating over the colonel's “victories,” eagerly echoed his warning that “desolation will follow treason.” Others smiled and found sport in the numerous tales, one of which claimed that Missouri mothers quieted restless children simply by whispering the name “Jennison.” From a distance it did seem as if the jayhawkers were putting down the rebellion in Missouri single-handedly, and it was a certainty that much of the plunder rolling into Kansas greatly enriched the state.

Across the border it was another matter. Among Missouri's hard-pressed loyalists, Charles Jennison marching under the U.S. flag was seen as a much more serious threat to peace and accord than all the secessionists in the state combined. His brutal treatment of captured Rebels did little more than fire the will of those who escaped, as did the terrible reports which stated that some even had their ears “cropped” as a ghastly, living reminder to others.
Although his crimes against Missourians were legion, opposition might have remained minimal had Jennison been more selective on whom he preyed. But he was not. Consequently, many would-be Unionists and the important neutral segment, formerly little more than fencesitters on the jayhawkers' approach, soon became active, violent enemies of the government on their passing.

Renowned artist and ironclad Unionist George Caleb Bingham led the campaign, orating throughout his beloved Missouri, pounding Washington with the same message: “Jennison must be removed,
Jennison must be removed. His outrages in this state are so notorious that I no longer have sufficient brass … to defend the authorities of the government.”
Largely through Bingham's efforts others were spurred to protest.

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