Battle of Hickory Point, Jefferson County, Kansas Territory, 1856
As battles go, this one wasn’t all that big. “Skirmish” comes to mind as a description for the two-day pre-Civil War fight that found early Jefferson County settlers armed and facing off at a little trading post on the prairie. The heart of the issue was slavery, although participants might have seen a more immediate cause of self-defense or retaliation for the “outrages and depredations” going on in this part of Bleeding Kansas. And, in all truth, a lot of the combatants in the Sept. 13-14 fight were not from Jefferson County, or even from Kansas Territory. More on that, and all the rest, later in this blog.
The map below sets up the Hickory Point story nicely, since the battle was the peak of armed fighting in Jefferson County when Kansas Territory was determining whether it would enter the union as a state that allowed or prohibited slavery. The question was brought on by the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. That year, partisans of the slavery question came west, along with waves of settlers who wanted to speculate in land or to buy land cheaply, sow their crops and get on to the business of settling a new territory. Disagreement over slavery become violent, resulting in the name “Bleeding Kansas.”
The map, created by Kirk Webb of the Jefferson County, Kansas, Geographic Information Systems Department, shows Hickory Point’s location, as well as other locations that were linked in some way to the Hickory Point clash between free-state and pro-slavery partisans in September 1856.
- Sept. 8-12: Free-staters, some of them territorial leaders for the cause, destroyed commercial property and otherwise harassed pro-slavery leaders in Osawkee (now Ozawkie). Their actions were related, apparently, to an ongoing series of free-staters and pro-slavers plundering and destroying property in their efforts to drive out the other side.
- Sept. 8: Newly arrived (with a group from Chicago) free-state military leader James A. Harvey and his men join up with militia (“Stubbs”) from Lawrence in Douglas County, Leavenworth County and some from Jefferson County (Simeon Hull) to help Leavenworth County free-staters under attack by pro-slavers from Kansas Territory, Missouri and from South Carolina and other southern states. Harvey’s troops concentrate on Easton and Alexandria (no longer a town), and start back for Lawrence Sept. 10.
- Sept. 10, 11: Harvey camps out near Round Grove (current McLouth area), Jefferson County, on the night of the 10th. Jesse Newell, who has set up a saw mill at what will become Oskaloosa, enters Harvey’s camp and tells Harvey about a group of South Carolinians camped out along Slough Creek, a couple of miles north of Oskaloosa. Harvey decides to attack.
- Sept. 11: Early morning, Harvey’s group ambushes the sleeping southerners, takes their equipment, horses, etc. and lets the South Carolinians go, ordering that they leave Kansas Territory. Harvey and Co. head back to Lawrence, dragging the captured big, red “Southern Rights,” “South Carolina” flag with them.
- Sept. 8-12 (dates conflict): Businesses and belongings in Grasshopper Falls (now Valley Falls) are burned by pro-slavers, thought to be the Kickapoo Rangers, who also fire shots at the town’s mill. It is possible they thought free-stater Isaac Cody, father of the then about 10-year-old Buffalo Bill Cody, was there that day (but he wasn’t).
- Sept 11, 12: Free-state commander James H. Lane, who was about to head up through Holton to Nebraska and beyond, or maybe go back and attack Lecompton or protect Lawrence, is asked by Jefferson County free-staters for some help against the pro-slavery attacks. Lane and troops from Topeka and other points south of the Kansas River meet in Osawkee, picking up some local fighters in Jefferson County. They had already sacked Osawkee.
- Sept. 13: Battle of Hickory Point Day 1. Lane knows that pro-slavers, thought to be some of the same men attacking free-staters in the area, are camped at Hickory Point, a tiny pro-slavery settlement and trading post on the military road from Fort Riley to Fort Leavenworth. Lane and troops march to Hickory Point, unconditional surrender of pro-slavery men inside (including South Carolinians) asked and rejected, shooting begins. Lane determines he needs more troops and bigger guns and sends a messenger off. Lane learns that the new governor has arrived in KT, and that the new governor is disbanding all partisan militias, like Lane’s and like the Kickapoo Rangers. Lane tries to get the word to Harvey, but Harvey doesn’t get the message due to some garbling, perhaps.
- Sept. 14: Battle of Hickory Point Day II. Harvey gets the message to help, procures a cannon and takes his troops north, stopping at Newell’s Mill for breakfast. Harvey picks up the battle at Hickory Point, which ends later that day. Various accounts of the battle say: 1) Free-state victory. 2) Pro-slavery victory. 3) Nobody won. Harvey and troops go back to Newell’s Mill to rest; Harvey goes over to Jesse Newell’s cabin, which was in the immediate vicinity of Old Jefferson Town in Oskaloosa. Meanwhile, Osawkee pro-slavery partisans have gone to Lecompton, the territorial capital, to ask for U.S. troops to come up to Jefferson County and stop the free-staters’ attacks. The U.S. Troops find Harvey’s men resting by Newell’s sawmill, arrest them and imprison them at Lecompton. The U.S. troops found neither Harvey nor Newell at Newell’s cabin.