An Underground Railroad Ambush in Jefferson County, Part VII. A Glorious Return: Captain Jesse Newell and His Rifle Company

A sentence in James B. Abbott’s “how we did it” John Doy  rescue story offers another insight into our Oskaloosa freestater Jesse Newell.

We pick up our story at Rev. Josiah B. McAfee’s place at Grasshopper Falls (now Valley Falls), where John Doy and his rescuers and John Doy had been fed and had a rest. Worried that his crew was being tailed by enemies, Abbott called for Jesse Newell’s aid in the final 20-mile leg of the journey from the St. Joseph jail to Lawrence.[1]

“…word was sent to Captain Jesse Newell, of Oskaloosa, to furnish an escort; and when we arrived at his place we found the Captain on hand with the following-named officers of his rifle company, to wit: Jerome Hazen, First Lieutenant; J. I. Forbes, Second Lieutenant; John Newell, Gil. Towner, Robert Newell, James Monroe, Resolve Fuller, M. R. Dutton – privates; and eight or ten others. And without delay we passed on, most of the escort going to within a few miles of Lawrence, and the captain and a few of his men going the whole distance, where we arrived about six o’clock in the evening, and where we also found the streets lined with people…,” Abbott wrote of the glorious Lawrence arrival in July 1859.[2]

Learning that Jesse Newell had assisted out his fellow abolitionists this way was helpful to my research on Newell. But that first sentence was alluring, the part that called Jesse Newell “Captain” and that he had a “rifle company.” What was he doing with something called a rifle company in 1859 and what did it mean that he was captain of it? I don’t have an oath-worthy answer for that but believe the reference points to a free-state militia type group for defense against proslavers and working to ensure Kansas would become a free state, or it could be the beginnings of a Jayhawker group.

No tidy, primary source that I’ve ever seen says that Jesse Newell was a Jayhawker, and I mean “Jayhawker”[3] in the sense of settlers who took action for the free-state and subsequent Civil War Union cause. Characters like Jesse Newell challenge us to divine answers from a lot of wobbly sources.  But these anecdotes and aged after-the-fact tales are what we’ve got. I’ve pulled up a few today to help you get to know something of Jesse Newell, who lived from 1812-1881. You’ll see more of these anecdotes in future posts.

Story No. 1: Jayhawkers and Uncle Jesse Newell

Jeremiah H. Bennet, who settled near Grasshopper Falls in 1857, wrote a series of articles, Early Recollections of Kansas, for The Oskaloosa Independent in 1878. Bennet was a lawyer, a county schools official, and a knowledgeable and entertaining writer.  His May 11, 1878, Recollection reveals Oskaloosa and  Jefferson County  Jayhawker activity during the Civil War, the “rebellion,” as Bennet calls it. Warning: Bennet’s first paragraph set-up speeds through about a dozen things that are separate tales in themselves, but we will zero in on the Jayhawkers.

“It was in the dark portion of the rebellion. Close to the time when the southern army held possession of the Hannibal & St. Joe Railroad; when a Rebel paper at the city of Atchison rejoiced at the Union defeat at the battle of Wilson’s Creek; when the Jayhawkers held high carnival at Oskaloosa; when herds of rebel cattle pastured on the borders of Cedar Creek [west of Grasshopper Falls]; when horse flesh as well as white man was ‘mighty unsartin.’” And…

“… It was after the time that Jefferson County militia took possession of Atchison one bright sunny morning. Those were wild times for our boys, and those boys were wild. Uncle Jesse Newell commanded the Oskaloosa company.  Sim Hull the Crooked Creekers. Ed. Hutchins the Grasshoppers. Did Hiram Webb have a company?  S.S. Cooper was Major of the Jefferson Rangers. Ed. Lynde was commander of the Post at Atchison.”

Bennet was describing a story in which a Missouri Confederate militia officer, Gideon Thompson, owed a debt. He owned pastureland[4] on the Kansas side, west of Grasshopper Falls and, according to Bennet’s story, Thompson’s livestock was to be sold off to satisfy a judgement. Word got out that the Oskaloosa Jayhawkers were going to snatch up the livestock first, before it would be sold.  The Oskaloosa crew, Bennet wrote, had a reputation for “sudden and swift thoroughness.”

Jesse and Rosannah Newell
This photograph of Jesse Newell and his wife Rosannah was published in a centennial booklet, The First Hundred Years of Jefferson County Kansas, in 1955.

The standard bio for Jesse Newell, found in the local 19th century newspapers and abbreviated county histories, is that he and his brother-in-law Joseph Fitzsimmons co-founded Oskaloosa, arriving from Iowa in 1856. We know that Newell, who set up a steam-operated saw mill, was in the thick of Jefferson County’s proslavery vs. free-state conflicts in September 1856. He is listed in censuses as a physician. He was a Methodist, and came to Kansas Territory from Iowa with Methodist Episcopalian minister’s credentials. He was viewed as a radical freestater.[5] But these synopses say nothing of his Jayhawker or off-the-books Civil War service.

Story No. 2:  Noble-hearted

The Civil War Battle of Wilson’s Creek (read about it here), fought near Springfield, Missouri, was significant for Kansas, which had just become a state on Jan. 29, 1861. It was the first major battle fought west of the Mississippi, and it was one the Union lost to the Confederates. Kansas had quickly raised the 1st Kansas Infantry and 2nd Kansas Infantry regiments, and sent them into the battle Aug. 10, 1861. Jesse Newell had two sons in the 2nd Kansas, Robert and Abram. Robert was killed that day and Abram injured.

Kansas U.S. Sen.  Samuel Clarke Pomeroy spoke of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek that December on the U.S. Senate floor, recounting the work of Kansas soldiers in the young war and lamenting the death of Gen. Nathaniel Lyon, a Kansas freestater favorite who died in the battle. A portion of his address, published in The Weekly Atchison Champion on Jan. 4, 1862, mentioned Lieut. Robert Newell, and his father, Jesse Newell (who was closer to 50 years old, instead of 60 as recalled by Pomeroy).

“But this day’s work was not ended until from the sixteen hundred who went into that battle from Kansas, five hundred and forty men, the pride and hope of our young State, not yet a year old, lay among the dead or the wounded.”  And, continuing…

“Lieutenant Newell, I am sorry to say, was killed. I remember him and his noble-hearted father (though sixty years of age) marching, camping and fighting with us through the long and wasting years of 1855 and 1856, never to be forgotten in our early history.”

Story No. 3:  Too much fight in the material of his constitution

James B. Shaw was a Methodist Episcopalian preacher who came to Kansas Territory in 1857 and was a leader in establishing the church in the new circuit. He knew the developing towns of Kansas Territory and helped install Methodist churches and travelling ministers for the local worshippers. As a result, he knew Oskaloosa and Jesse Newell, and had this to say:[6]

“The town was commenced by members of the church from Iowa. The leading man was a local preacher, and under his leadership they prospered for a time; but there was too much fight in the material of his constitution for these troublous times; so he quit preaching, engaged in the struggle, and was carried away in the excitement; got out of the church and became intemperate. He has once of twice been reclaimed, and the last I heard of him, he was preaching for the United Brethren. May he have strength to triumph over all sin and stand entire at last.”

No, Rev. Shaw does not offer a name for the person above. I’ve narrowed it down to Jesse Newell and Jacob Boucher, another Iowa settler who came to Oskaloosa, Jefferson County, as they were the only two people Shaw could have meant.  I haven’t found much information about Boucher during Bleeding Kansas days or about his leaving the Methodist church.

But Jesse Newell in 1857 formally and voluntarily gave up his Methodist preaching credentials during the “Kansas troubles.”[7] He requested and received  their reinstatement in 1868. The Rev. Shaw also had this to say of Jesse Newell:

 “Jesse Newell was one of the town proprietors. He came here a local preacher; he was ardent and positive in his temperament, and when he went right, he went with railroad speed; but when he stopped, he would not go at all; and when he took the wrong shoot, he went with accelerated motion. I believe on the whole, he wanted to be good, and do good. He had some ups and downs. We hope, through grace, he will get to heaven at last.”

Maybe Newell was associated with more than one Underground Railroad venture, as a guard or escort, and that’s why he had a rifle company. The  passage of enslaved people seeking safety and freedom, after all, was still illegal in 1859 when we meet Newell’s rifle company. Escorts would connect with the network of countryside safe harbor points that extended all the way into Canada.

Recall, too, that Newell and other Jefferson County freestaters had been under assault in earlier years by proslavers from within and without Kansas Territory. Maybe this rifle company remained as a defensive troop for the occasional flare up. It was 1859 and while Kansas Territory appeared to be in the clear to enter the Union as a free state (no slavery), statehood was still a year and a half away and tussles were not unheard of. It wasn’t time yet for a rifle company to serve in a state-ordained militia or in a home guard to ward off Rebels in the Civil War.

A few dark, nameless, conspiratorial stories pop up here and there hinting that Oskaloosa was a headquarters for Jayhawkers during the Civil War. Those accounts cast Jayhawkers as wholly criminal, never noting that the Kansas armed forces officially put Jayhawkers to work saving Kansas from being overtaken by Missouri confederates during the Civil War or taking supplies from Rebels to feed and outfit Union troops. Some of those accounts were written by people associated with spreading slavery to Kansas.

Story No. 4: Physician

This final anecdote, for now, is about Jesse Newell’s status as a pioneer doctor. Censuses listed him as a physician and I have found just one anecdote to back that up. I present the clip from the Oskaloosa newspaper with a warning to the squeamish.[8]

“Tumor Extracted. – Dr. Newell has shown us a small encysted tumor which he extracted from the head of Mr. J. Downing, of this place.  In shape, it somewhat resembled an eye-tooth, and under the glass exhibited the porous characteristics of the skin in a diseased condition.  It was a tough, gristly or cartilaginous substance, and when first removed contained living animalcule of the largest size.  It was extracted by medicine without the aid of surgeon’s instruments.”

[1] You can read about John Doy’s 1859 failed attempt to help 13 freedom-seekers via the Underground Railroad and Doy’s subsequent rescue from a Missouri jail in Abbott’s account here and here.  The unrealized role of  Jesse Newell and other Jefferson County, Kansas Territory, men for the January 1859 Underground Railroad trip is explained here in Part IV

[2] Maj. James B. Abbott  read his story of “The Immortal Ten” rescue of John Doy on Jan. 15, 1889, at the annual meeting of the Kansas State Historical Society, 30 years after the 10 Lawrence area men sprang John Doy from the St. Joseph, Missouri, jail. Future posts will tell a little about those other members of Captain Newell’s rifle company.

[3] The word “Jayhawker” has a lot of connotations. A short explanation can be found here, although  countless books and articles have debated whether Jayhawkers were good soldiers for the cause and defenders of freedom  or merely ruffian thieves.

[4] Jefferson County property tax records, patents filed with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s General Land office records and Thompson’s Missouri probate records (ancestry.com) all confirm his land holdings in Jefferson County, Kansas.

[5] Radical freestaters, or Radical Republicans,.opposed slavery in the United States. In Kansas, they also believed African-Americans should be allowed to live free in Kansas, and have rights equal to white men’s. Radical freestaters differed from another sort  of freestaters, those who didn’t want slavery in Kansas but who wanted to bar free African-Americans from Kansas. Jesse Newell was called a radical freestater  by John Day, a fellow Bleeding Kansas-era freestater  in Jefferson County Kansas Territory, in Topeka’s The Daily Commonwealth newspaper, March 15, 1881.

[6] Both quotations are from James B. Shaw’s book, Early Reminiscences of Pioneer Life in Kansas, Haskell printing Co., 1886.

[7] Jesse Newell’s original “parchment” certificate is dated 1853 and is from Oskaloosa, Iowa.  The document  named Newell a deacon qualified to administer baptisms, marriages and burials in certain conditions and to preach the gospel. It is held in the Kansas United Methodist Archives at Baker University in Baldwin, Kansas. The archives also document Newell surrendering his credentials in April 1857  and having them restored in March 1868.

[8] The article, “Tumor Extracted,” was published in The Oskaloosa Independent on July 11, 1863.A

An Underground Railroad Ambush In Jefferson County, Part VII. A Glorious Return: Supper and Rest with Rev. Josiah B. McAfee

 Our previous post introduced a few Jefferson County settlers, some of whom were ready and willing Underground Railroad volunteers,  who were called upon in July 1859 to help James B. Abbott’s “Immortal Ten” rescuers with the last leg of a deftly performed  rescue.  Abbott and nine Lawrence-area freestaters had just freed Underground Railroad operator John Doy from a St. Joseph, Missouri, jail before he would be shipped off to the state’s penitentiary. Doy had been incarcerated for his part in helping enslaved and free black people make their way to safer states and places. With Doy along, Abbott’s crew worked their way south through Kansas Territory from an area probably in Doniphan County, reaching Jefferson County. You can read the entire account of Abbott’s supremely operated mission here.

“… About ten o’clock that night we found our way to a farm-house situated a little off from the road, near what was then known as Grasshopper Falls, owned and occupied by Rev. J.B. McAfee, now known as Hon. J.B. McAfee, present member of the Legislature from Shawnee county, at which place we were well fed and made very comfortable. Thinking that it was more than likely that the horseman who followed us would endeavor to get reinforced at Lecompton and try to recapture Dr. Doy, …” Abbott wrote for a speech given 30 years later. The group got back on the road and continued toward Lawrence

Guest poster Wendi Bevitt has been researching the minister from Grasshopper Falls. Wendi is a historical and genealogical researcher specializing in Kansas history and she kindly shares a little of her research on Josiah B. McAfee. 

By Wendi Bevitt

Josiah B.  McAfee, born in 1830 in Juniata County, Pennsylvania, came to Kansas Territory in 1855. He and his pregnant wife, Anna, and their toddler, Celeste, traveled by railroad and steamer, finding immediate and constant conflict in the pro-slavery dominated town of Leavenworth.  This did not keep the fiery young pastor from speaking against slavery when provoked, and he often faced threats on his life.

Within a month of his arrival, Josiah McAfee opened a small subscription school called Leavenworth Collegiate Institute. His own schooling included Pennsylvania College at Gettysburg, followed by Lutheran seminary in Maryland. McAfee’s Leavenworth school was the first school in Kansas Territory aside from mission or military schools.

Josiah engaged himself with ensuring Kansas entered  the Union as a free state, and  in 1856 along with other free-state men he traveled east to Ohio to visit Gov. Salmon P. Chase and on to Washington D. C.  to meet President Franklin Pierce and Speaker of the House Nathaniel Banks. He made 27 speeches encouraging the election of the Republican John C. Fremont and William L. Dayton in the fall of 1856[1].  When McAfee returned to Kansas Territory, he found that his home had been taken over, the school closed, his church used as a store, and his fellow preachers chased out of Leavenworth by local proslavery forces who also gave him notice to leave.

Josiah B. McAfee Kansas Memory item 216367
Pictured is Caplain J.B. McAfee, a Pennsylvania-born early Kansas settler. The image is from the Kansas State Historical Society’s Kansas Memory website, Item 216367 and may be seen here.

His family found refuge nearby in Jefferson County at the free-state community of Grasshopper Falls. There he was welcomed by Lorenzo Northrup, who gave him land and invited him to start a school and to preach.  He built the first Lutheran church west of the Missouri, primarily by himself, and started classes immediately, lodging the teacher in his house. He preached every other week  at Grasshopper Falls and at three other area churches on the off Sunday. He refused payment for his ministry, which placed him in financial straits because of earlier losses caused by the border ruffians.

In the Civil War, McAfee served in and recruited for the 11th Regiment of the Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, Company I, which included soldiers from Burlingame and Grasshopper Falls.  Like many from Co. I, he transferred out of that company to serve in a U.S. Colored troops regiment.  As chaplain of 2nd Kansas Colored (which eventually became the 83rd US Colored Troops), when his unit was stationed at Fort Smith, Arkansas he was assigned the  care of the more than 4,000 refugees in the area.  He personally accompanied some of the 2,600 refugees who came to Kansas[2].

Prior to the end of the war, he followed his former commander and soon to be Kansas governor, Samuel J. Crawford to Topeka to serve as Crawford’s personal secretary.  Still retaining some ties to Grasshopper Falls, he for a time owned a newspaper named The Jeffersonian along with George T. Isbell from 1865-66[3], which served as a voice for Gov. Crawford’s politics.  Josiah then put down deeper roots in Topeka by establishing a Lutheran church there and becoming adjutant general for the state of Kansas.

His Topeka home consisted of a sizable stock farm north of present day Gage Park. On his farm he employed former U.S. Colored Troops soldiers.

From 1870-1871 Josiah served as mayor of Topeka.  He would give half of his salary to the police force, encouraging them to enforce the laws, and the other half to the temperance cause and charity.  During McAfee’s tenure as mayor no liquor licenses were issued and gambling paraphernalia was publicly burned. His actions resulted in his being “unmercifully reversed” in the next election.

 

He was a three-time member of the Kansas House of Representatives starting in 1883.  He maintained a staunch opposition to liquor and promoted fierce prohibition laws, conceding to less stringent ones only to allow for their passage.  His leadership within the prohibition movement prompted him to be among the individuals to post bail for Carry A. Nation when she was arrested for smashing a liquor establishment with some of her followers[4].

Josiah died in Topeka in 1908 at the age of 77.

 

*Most of the general history obout McAfee was taken from  A History of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Kansas by Rev. H. A. Ott, D.D. F. M. Steves & Sons, Topeka, KS , 1907.

[1] The Weekly Commonwealth (newspaper) “Kansas Legislature: Brief Sketches of the Representatives”, December 16, 1886.

[2] Vicki Betts. Fort Smith New Era, October 1863-December 1864.  University of Texas at Tyler, 2016.

[3] Valley Falls New Era July 1, 1876.

[4] Marshall County News (newspaper), “Mrs. Nation is out on Bond”, March 1, 1901.

An Underground Railroad Ambush in Jefferson County, Part VII. A Glorious Return: Shelter and an Armed Escort

Today we get back to John Doy, the Kansas Territory Underground Railroad conductor who was  ambushed with his 13 freedom-seeking passengers south of Oskaloosa in late January 1859.

Doy had been making his way to the home of Jesse Newell, cofounder of  Oskaloosa and likely a Jayhawker for the antislavery cause. Newell’s place was to be Doy’s first stop on the dangerous trip for the enslaved and free African-Americans trying to make their way to northern states and safety.  North of Oskaloosa, still in Jefferson County, Doy had planned to stop at the home of the Rev. Josiah B. McAfee at Grasshopper Falls, now Valley Falls,  for aid.

But Doy’s capture that January night by slave-catchers and kidnappers, border ruffians and other armed proslavers crushed those plans. The Underground Railroad train never made it to the Newell or McAfee homes. Instead, Doy and his son, Charles, and the 13 freedom-seekers were hauled east across the Missouri River and jailed in Missouri.

(Note: A future blog post will share accounts of this catastrophic result for the two free and 11 likely enslaved people from Missouri who did not get away to the north on the John Doy trek. I have not researched many of the bigger questions and stories linked to the John Doy story because this blog is micro-focused. However, others have studied some of these topics and I will forward some of their published findings.)

Now, six months later on July 23, 1859, John Doy sat in a St. Joseph, Missouri, jail. He had been convicted of enticing[1] a slave away from his Missouri owner, Weston Mayor Benjamin Wood., who was in the ambush group. Doy had been jailed for six months and was about to be transferred to the state penitentiary in Jefferson City for five years of hard labor.

Kansas friends viewed  Doy’s  ambush by Missourians in Kansas Territory  that January  as an outrageous kidnapping. They further rejected the Missouri jury’s June decision that Doy had “enticed” the enslaved man called Dick away from the Weston mayor’s ownership. Doy’s defense, paid for by the territorial legislature,  argued, with the support of witnesses, that Doy was not in Missouri at the time  he was accused of persuading Dick to leave slavery behind.

While Doy was locked up in Missouri, rumors hinted  that fighting Kansas men would try to rescue Doy from jail or the state prison. As July waned, James B. Abbott, a free-stater with experience from Bleeding Kansas days, was asked by some of Lawrence’s abolitionist and Underground Railroad leaders to do precisely that.

Abbott selected nine other Kansas Territory men he knew could do the job, many of them likewise tested during the slavery and free-state struggles of 1855-1856. On July 23, with small boats secretly tied to the dark riverside, a tall tale to trick a jailer and discreet plans to blend into crowds exiting the town’s theater, the Kansas men walked out of the jail and headed toward the river and Kansas.

On their return trip, the rescuers and John Doy would travel through Jefferson County, where we meet again some of the Jefferson Countians  who had agreed to help enslaved people get free.

Elwood, Gunn and Mitchell's New Map of Kansas and the Gold Mines (up to 1862)
This is a photograph of a print of a portion of  Gunn & Mitchell’s New Map of Kansas and the Gold Mines, show Kansas up to 1862. The towns on the route the Immortal Ten would have taken to rescue John Doy from his Missouri jail St. Joseph to the Elwood area, then south to Valley Falls, Oskaloosa and back to Lawrence.

After their rescue work was finished, the ten Kansas Territory men were hailed as “The Immortal Ten.” The rescue was a masterpiece of covert operational planning and execution. The men had liberated Doy and spirited him back to Lawrence without harming anyone in their way.

Abbott 30 years later presented a speech about how The Immortal 10 had succeeded in their cunning and precise operation. You’ll find it  here. It’s a gripping read

He tells of a (smaller) role played in this important Kansas story by some Jefferson County settlers. No, they were not among the Ten. But their aid and willingness to stand up again was another puzzling example of a story that didn’t make it into Jefferson County’s history narratives. Back in the picture with Doy are  Rev. McAfee and Jesse Newell, and this time Jesse Newell’s got a rifle company.

Here, Abbott describes the last one-third of trip back  to Lawrence  from the northeast Kansas point where Abbott’s men, with a weakened Doy in tow, had crossed the Missouri River from St. Joseph.

“…About ten o’clock that night we found our way to a farm-house situated a little off from the road, near what was then known as Grasshopper Falls, owned and occupied by Rev. J.B. McAfee, now known as Hon. J.B. McAfee, present member of the Legislature from Shawnee county, at which place we were well fed and made very comfortable. Thinking that it was more than likely that the horseman who followed us would endeavor to get reinforced at Lecompton and try to recapture Dr. Doy, word was sent to Captain Jesse Newell, of Oskaloosa, to furnish an escort; and when we arrived at his place we found the Captain on hand with the following-named officers of his rifle company, to wit: Jerome Hazen, First Lieutenant; J. I. Forbes, Second Lieutenant; John Newell, Gil. Towner, Robert Newell, James Monroe, Resolve Fuller, M. R. Dutton – privates; and eight or ten others. And without delay we passed on, most of the escort going to within a few miles of Lawrence, and the captain and a few of his men going the whole distance, where we arrived about six o’clock in the evening, and where we also found the streets lined with people…”

We will get to know some of these Jefferson County settlers in upcoming posts. Our first nearly forgotten Jefferson County Freestater from the John Doy experience will be Josiah B. McAfee, whom guest blogger Wendi Bevitt has come to know quite well.

[1] John Doy and his lawyers argued that Doy was not guilty of enticing the Weston mayor’s enslaved man away from Missouri because Doy had not been in Missouri to do so. It was not uncommon for enslaved people to get themselves to Lawrence, well-known as an Underground Railroad town, to find help. Missouri’s slavery laws from the 1850s   are explained here:  https://www.sos.mo.gov/archives/education/aahi/earlyslavelaws/slavelaws

 

The Battle of Grasshopper Falls, Part II The Steamboat Correspondents

The Grasshopper newspaper’s account of “The Battle of Grasshopper Falls,” printed nearly two years after the burning of the town’s store, is pretty straightforward.

Freestaters had been guarding Grasshopper Falls, but the proslavery rangers  charged in during a break on Sept. 12, 1856. They burned and plundered. The Grasshopper Falls freestaters didn’t have time to rally and defend their town. But no  one was killed or injured, it appears.

I don’t think there’s an official, fact-checked account of what happened during Jefferson County’s  Bleeding Kansas week, which blew up in fights at Osawkie, Grasshopper Falls, Hickory Point and on Slough Creek near Oskaloosa. That leaves us a lot of choices for pondering the Grasshopper Falls destruction because the news reports of the day were magnificently varied.  Let’s start with my favorites, the story as told by someone getting off  a steamboat in Missouri.

The_Times_Picayune_Mon__Sep_22__1856_
This clipping is from The Times-Picayune newspaper of New Orleans, page 2, Monday Sept. 22, 1856. The second paragraph is about the Grasshopper Falls attack, which, in fact, happened BEFORE Hickory Point. The image is from 2018 Newspaper.com

Same boat, different story, below.

The_New_York_Times_Mon__Sep_22__1856_
This clip has a scrambled story, as well, and is from The New York Times, page 1, Monday, Sept. 22, 1856. The image is from 2018 Newspapers.com

Palmyra Weekly Whig, from the Polar Star

In Palmyra, Missouri, the Palmyra Weekly Whig ran the news “FROM KANSAS” on page 2 of its Sept. 25, 1856, edition. The story said that the newspaper was indebted to one of the officers of the Polar Star steamer for the information, which was gathered  when the boat landed at Atchison (Kansas).

“The day before the battle at Hickory Point, Capt. Robinson[1] went to Grasshopper Falls and defeated a force of about one hundred Insurgents[2] under the command of one Crosby.[3] Cap. Robinson also captured all their stores and ammunition, consisting of property stolen by the Insurgents. Two of these men were killed, and they all left their horses, which were taken by the Law and Order[4] men.”

Northrup and the Crosby Brothers

A few years later, Congress collected stories of financial loss suffered by Kansas Territory settlers during Bleeding Kansas[5], defined  as November 1855 to December 1856. About 500 claims resulted, among them these from The Battle of Grasshopper Falls.

Dr. Lorenzo Northrup had his office in Crosby’s building in Grasshopper Falls. When the building was torched by the proslavers, Northrup lost $1,120, he said.  That’s $575 worth of drugs and medicines, $150 in surgical instruments, $345 in books, $50 in office furniture.  He said between about 30 men, who he thought had come from Atchison, entered Grasshopper Falls in the morning.

“…they crossed the creek below the [saw] mill and came up to the town with their horses on a run, giving a whoop or scream as they came up… I was about 100 yards from Mr. Crosby’s store at the time, and immediately started for my horse, which was picketed a short distance away but was pursued by two men from the party, and my horse taken by them before I could secure him; and for my own safety went down to the bank of the creek and remained there until the party left town, which was less than an hour, I should think.”

Rufus H. Crosby and his brother ,William, owned the store and building that burned that day. They told the claims panel  that they lost $3,359.50, a figure that includes a horse, which was stolen.   The store contained boots and shoes, caps, hats, tinware, hardware, stationery and books, clothing, bedding, dry goods, groceries and provisions, a stove and the Crosby brother’s account books.

The Squatter Sovereign

The ultra-proslavery newspaper of Atchison, The Squatter Sovereign , gave extensive coverage in several editions to the Jefferson County events of September 1856. Edited by J.N. Stringfellow and R.S. Kelley, the Sovereign jumped right in with its coverage on Sept. 16. The paper reported that Capt. Robertson [6] took 24 men to Grasshopper Falls to fight “Lane’s hirelings.”

“They rode in a trot until within about a mile of town, when they charged with a yell that struck a panic in the ranks of the white-livered Yankees. Not a shot was fired at them, though one man snapped at Capt.  R and was shot on the spot for his temerity. At the time of the attack, Capt. Crosby’s company numbering about thirty, were on parade, but scattered like a flock of startled sheep without firing a gun. So terror-stricken were they that numbers of them lay in cornfields and permitted our troops to pass within a short distance of them without firing a gun.

“Crosby’s store, with all its contents – consisting chiefly of provisions and supplies for the band of thieves whose rendezvous was at that point – was burned to the ground. Some arms and horses, stolen during the depredations of Crosby’s gang, were brought away, but everything else that could be used to sustain the midnight assassins was destroyed. Two or more of the abolitionists were killed, but not a scratch was received by any of our men. This much accomplished, the company returned to Hickory Point.”

Pap. Weiser

The Valley Falls New Era in 1876 published a lengthy history of Jefferson County and included a streamlined version of The Battle of Grasshopper Falls, taking pains to explain the freestater defeat. Since the town defenders were surprised by the attack they vamoosed so the proslavers would not attack the defenseless old men, women and children left behind. The account focuses on the oddities of the rout and notes that no one was hurt.

“Among the invalids around town was old Pap. Weiser. He had purchased a sack of flour of Mr. Crosby, was in the store at the time it was set on fire, was unwilling to lose it, sought the Captain of the [Ruffian] company and obtained permission to take it out.  Mr. Weiser rushed into the store, shouldered his flour and was making off with it, when some of the Carolinians pointed their guns at him and cried out, ‘Run old fellow or we will shoot you!’ Mr. Weiser responded, ‘Just you shoot and be d—-d. I cannot run any faster than I does.’ The pluck and courage of the old gentleman not only won the day, but the admiration of all.”

[1] This captain more likely is a Capt. Robertson, who led the southerners and Missourians in 1856 Kansas Territory.

[2] Insurgents, meaning freestaters. But 100 freestaters stationed as Grasshopper Falls??

[3] Rufus H. Crosby

[4] Law and Order men were proslavers.

[5] About 500 Kansas Territory claims are contained in the 1861 Reports of Committees of the House of Representatives made during the Second Session of the Thirty-Sixth Congress, 1860-1861.

[6] The same edition of the paper lists Robertson as captain of a unit with numerous men who had come to Kansas from South Carolina and other states to make Kansas a slave state.

The Battle of Grasshopper Falls

I had not known that the 1856 Border War attack on Grasshopper Falls carried a name.

Yes, we knew that the Crosby brothers’ general store and Dr. Lorenzo Northrup’s books, medicines and surgical instruments were torched in a September 12 raid by proslavery rangers. That arson and the weak resistance by Grasshopper Falls freestaters was part of a lickety-split succession of clashes over slavery in Jefferson County, Kansas Territory, in a week’s time.

But accounts of the raid have hung in dimness and contradiction, probably because a). The freestaters were utterly routed, b). No one died and c). Nobody has seemed to know much about it. Well.

During the Fall of ’56, when the Blood Hounds of the South were making such desperate efforts to crush out the Free State men of Kansas, the citizens of Grasshopper Falls and vicinity being almost unanimously of the latter class, united in a company...”

Joseph A. Cody,[i] editor and proprietor of The Grasshopper newspaper, as it turns out, ran a story, [ii]The Battle of Grasshopper Falls,” in his June 12, 1858, edition. His stirring account of  Bleeding Kansas in Jefferson County and Grasshopper Falls (now Valley Falls) brought a new bit of information, at least to me, along with its glorious hyperbole. It explains why the  Grasshopper Falls freestaters bumbled their defense, and it was written about two years after the event. That’s closer than the decade and decades-old remembrances written later.

The war over slavery for Kansas had raged south of the Kansas River. Flashpoints included four-square abolitionist Lawrence in Douglas County, John Brown’s terrorizing of Franklin County, and back-and-forth between  bands of freestaters and proslavers in Miami and Linn counties. Bands of Missourians, who wanted their neighbor state to embrace slavery, were joined by young men sent up from South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia.

Now, the violence was picking up north of the Kansas River. The South Carolinians and friends, imported by  Jefferson Buford of Alabama, kept a base at Atchison and they were aligned with the “Kickapoo Rangers,” Missourians for the most part.

In mid-September 1856 these groups had had already succeeded in clearing Leavenworth, Jefferson County’s neighbor to the east, of its free-state men. By all appearances, they were set to procure a nice homebase at Hickory Point in Jefferson County, which sat between slavery capital Lecompton to the south and proslavery Atchison to the north. These proslavery bands had suffered a few defeats south of the Kansas River in recent weeks, and now  regrouped for yet another attack on Lawrence, the Douglas County center of  Kansas anti-slavery immigrants.

Below is  the  transcribed  article from  The Grasshopper, the text broken into shorter paragraphs than printed in the original. The footnotes are my addition.

Grasshopper Falls, Kansas Territory

The Grasshopper, June 12, 1858,

J.A. Cody, Editor and Proprietor

 “The Battle of Grasshopper Falls

This, though but a bloodless skirmish, deserves a brief and truthful history – for here where now the evidences of Free State progress are to be seen on”…  [Several words are illegible.]… “powerful engine of Freedom now echoes the joyful tiding of our deliverance, the myrmidons of Slavery once supposed they had entirely obliterated the last vestige of freedom. During the Fall of ’56, when the Blood Hounds of the South[iii] were making such desperate efforts to crush out the Free State men of Kansas, the citizens of Grasshopper Falls and vicinity being almost unanimously of the latter class, united in a company of some twenty-five or thirty for the mutual defense of their homes.

 A slight fortification was established on the bank of the Grasshopper[iv], where the main body would remain at night, while a strict watch was kept by means of scouts. For several months threats of destruction had been frequently brought to us from the border, and now a violent pro-slavery resident, who was in knowledge of the secret places of the Ruffians, had joined them for purposes well known to us.  Our scouts brought intelligence of an encampment of some 150 of Shannon’s militia[v] at Hickory Point, distant some eight miles from the Falls. For several nights we slept on our arms, and … [One line of copy illegible] …during the day time.

On the morning of September 12th, our company being fairly worn down , and no fresh demonstrations being made at Hickory Point, that part of our company who resided out of town were allowed to pay a short visit to their respective homes.

At about 10 o’clock an alarm was given that the enemy was upon us. When first seen, they were but a few rods distant on the opposite bank of the Grasshopper. All that were in town able to bear arms, amounting to the number of 8 or 10, rallied to man and proceeded in haste to gain if possible, the fortification on the bank of the river, for the purposes of cutting them down as they crossed.

But we came too late; for as we gained the open bottom, the enemy, to the number of 30 well-mounted men, dashed up over the bank and with a savage yell, galloped upon us. A few shots were exchanged, without effect, when we were compelled to beat a hasty retreat.

The ruffians then entered town, and forced open the Store of Crosby & Brother,[vi] then supposed by them to be the head outfitting quarters of Gen. Lane[vii] and the Abolitionists.  After plundering to their satisfaction, they applied the match and the building was soon enveloped in flames.   They then beat a hasty retreat to their headquarters at Hickory point.

That night we received the joyful news that Gen. Lane had come to our rescue, and was advancing upon Hickory Point.  We immediately joined him and the next day attacked them. They were so well fortified in their several block houses; and having no cannon we could make but little impression upon them.  Word was dispatched to Col. Harvey,[viii] at Lawrence, to come with all haste with a cannon to our aid.

Soon after, a message was received from Gov. Geary,[ix] to the effect that all armed bodies must be disbanded and he would pledge safety to the settlers.  Upon this, General Lane thought proper to countermand the order just sent to Col. Harvey, and immediately retired from the field.  The countermand, however, did not reach Col. Harvey, and that night we heard the cannon booming at Hickory Point.  We soon learned of the capitulation of the enemy, with the understanding that they should leave after giving [us?] all their stolen horses. Col. Harvey then proceeded on his return to Lawrence but was intercepted by the U.S. troops, and his whole company taken prisoners[x], while the Ruffians still encamped at Hickory Point and fresh from [their?] pillage and  burning of Grasshopper Falls, were with full … [One line of text illegible.] …   and return to their dens on the border. Thus closed the drama of that eventful campaign of Slavery against Freedom.”

~~~~

gunn map 1862
The yellow arrows point to Jefferson County-related hot spots from 1856. Starting at the bottom and proceeding clockwise: Lawrence, Lecompton, Osawkee, Grasshopper Falls, Atchison, Hardtville (Hickory Point), Oskaloosa (Slough Creek). This map, from Gunn & Mitchell’s New Map of Kansas and the Gold Mines,  was published in 1862, six years after

By way of background, nearly all of Jefferson County’s outright Bleeding Kansas conflicts occurred between  Sept. 8 and Sept. 15, 1856.  Led by James H. Lane, freestaters around Sept. 8 plundered Osawkee (now Ozawkie), the  Jefferson County county seat and proslavery stronghold. On Sept. 11, Jesse Newell, a radical freestater, led J.A. Harvey and his free-state militants to a camp of South Carolinians on Slough Creek north of Oskaloosa. They ambushed the South Carolinians, took their weapons and horses, victorious in the Battle of Slough Creek.  The Grasshopper Falls raid was the next day, Sept. 12, apparently.  After that, the two sides collided for two days at Hickory Point, Sept. 13 and 14.

Other, hugely varied accounts of the Grasshopper Falls attack will follow in the next post.

The June 5 and June 12, 1858, editions of The Grasshopper are on microfilm reel V 25 in the archives of the Kansas State Historical Society.

[i] Joseph A. Cody and his brother, Isaac Cody, were freestaters. Isaac Cody, father of William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, was one of the builders of a mill in Grasshopper Falls and was elected to the freestate legislature in 1856.He died in 1857 at least partly from complications from a stab wound inflicted by a proslavery man in Leavenworth County in earlier years. Joseph A. Cody was in James H. Lane’s Frontier Guard that set up in the White House and scouted Washington to protect the nation’s new president Abraham Lincoln in April 1861 (The 116: The True Story of Abraham Lincoln’s Lost Guard by James P. Muehlberger).

[ii] There is no byline attached to the article. It is my supposition, possibly incorrect, that Joseph A. Cody wrote the article.

[iii] Refers to proslavery militants/Border Ruffians from slave state Missouri and southern states who came to Kansas to make it a slave state and who also might claim the inexpensive land on offer with the opening of the Territory to settlement. They  sometimes called themselves “law and order” men who feigned keeping the peace by attacking and retaliating against freestaters from the east and “west” (Ohio, for example, was a western state at that time). These freestaters wanted Kansas to enter the Union without slavery and they were claiming land, building towns in advance of elections and legislation that would erase the codes pushing Kansas to slavery. Freestaters, too, had formed their own military units.

[iv] The Grasshopper River, now the Delaware River.

[v] Gov. Wilson Shannon, one of 10 Kansas Territory governors and  “acting” governors appointed by the U.S. president  to govern the territory between mid-1854 and early 1861, when Kansas entered the Union as a free state. Cody’s newspaper’s “militia” reference here is a sort of swipe at the South Carolinians and other southern state men brought to Kansas in the spring of 1856 by Major Jefferson Buford of Alabama to secure Kansas for slavery. These southerners had been active on both the north and south sides of the Kansas River. The “militia” label also referred to Border Ruffians from Missouri (some were Kickapoo Rangers based in Atchison County) who were camping at Jefferson County’s little proslavery town near  the military road, Hickory Point, also called Hardtville.

[vi] Rufus H. and William Crosby, free-staters from Hampden, Maine. They operated a general store.

[vii] James H. Lane, Kansas Territory political and military leader and U.S. senator. He was  loved and hated perhaps nearly equally but was an extremely skilled recruiter leader  to the free-state cause.  Right after Sept. 13, 1856, after the first day’s battle at Hickory Point, Lane left Kansas Territory for the north to organize more freestate support. In Kansas Territory, he was on the proslavers’ and government most-wanted list.

[viii] J.A. Harvey, leader of  free-state units, had just arrived in Kansas Territory Aug. 13. He came to Kansas with the “Chicago Company,” a group of settlers, freestaters aided by the Kansas National Committee led by  wealthy New Yorker Thaddeus Hyatt.

[ix] Territorial Gov. John W. Geary had just started his new post as Kansas Territory’s latest governor on Sept. 9, 1856.

[x] Harvey himself was not captured by the U.S. troops who arrested the free-state fighters resting near what is now Oskaloosa. Harvey had been at the nearby home of Jesse Newell and had escaped out the back. (Thaddeus Hyatt Collection, Kansas State Historical Society, microfilm reel  MS 87.) U.S. troops had been sent into Jefferson County because of complaints from Jefferson County proslavers.

 

 

 

 

Jesse Newell’s 1856 Travel Pass “I expect, sir, to carry that pass to the judgment day”

I interrupt John Doy’s badly ending Underground Railroad trip to introduce you to Jesse Newell, whose Oskaloosa homestead Dr. Doy had failed to reach. I will introduce you to Mr. Newell the same way I met him about five years ago.

We had just figured out that a badly declining property in Oskaloosa, Kansas, had once been Jesse Newell’s homestead plot and we wanted to find out more about him. Local and state compiled histories revealed practically nothing.

Stephen Smith, Newell stone cabin, west side door,keith 2 10 2013
This limestone cabin sits behind a house on what was once the homestead plot of Jesse Newell in Oskaloosa, Kansas. The site was named to the Register of Historic Kansas Places on May 13 and on July 10, 2017, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Photo by Stephen Smith.

A simple web search captured a glimpse of Mr. Newell and showed him to be a Kansas character beyond what our aged historical portraits had told us: co-founded Oskaloosa, had a saw mill, moved to Kansas from Iowa.

My first illuminating encounter with Jesse Newell, then, sprang from an essay written by Mary-Sherman Willis in the literary journal archipelago, http://www.archipelago.org/vol6-3/willis.htm.  Her essay, “The Fight for Kansas: The Letters of Cecilia and John Sherman,” reveals a critical moment in the warfare that led to Kansas statehood, told in letters written by her ancestors Cecilia Stewart Sherman and Ohio Congressman John Sherman.[1]

Mrs. Sherman’s letter shows us Jesse Newell travelling from Topeka to Lawrence with a son, John Newell, his brother-in-law Joseph Fitzsimmons and Dr. Robert Gamble. It was May 17, 1856, and Newell had just arrived in Kansas Territory from Iowa. He was annoyed.

Over and again, Newell and his company were stopped, harassed, interrogated, all OK’d by proslavery authority at Lecompton to stop people from getting to Lawrence, home of eastern slavery opponents.  The proslavery partisans were cutting off Lawrence to suppress a “rebellion” by antislavery settlers there who resisted the proslavery government’s outrageous and illegally enacted laws.[2]

Exasperated, Newell rode for Lecompton, roughly half way between Topeka and Lawrence on his 25-mile trip. Lecompton was the proslavery crowned capital of the territory. A native of Ohio, Newell found fellow Ohioan Wilson Shannon, the current governor of Kansas Territory. Cecilia Stewart Sherman’s letter, written to a sister on May 19, details what Newell[3] said of his visit with Gov. Shannon. Mrs. Sherman wrote:

“… Mr. Jesse Newell, formerly from near Olivesburg [Ohio] & immediately from Iowa with his two sons & a son-in-law, is looking through the country for a location. He arrived [in Leavenworth] today and gave us an account of his adventures for the last two or three days. He was stopped several times before he got through. He was going from Topeka to Lawrence on Saturday but after having been stopped once or twice he turned around and went to Lecompton, the headquarters of the enemy, to see Gov. Shannon whom he knew. He spied him in a crowd upon the street and accosted him thus:  ‘I would like to know what these bands of armed men who are going round the country mean stopping peaceable citizens on the high way—&c &c. I am a free man & thought I was in a free country till I came here,’ he said.

“Shannon got angry & told him there was no use in his getting mad—&c—that the whole Territory was under military law. He then turned to go into his office.  Mr. Newell called to him, ‘Shannon it’s me[,] and you are not going to treat me thus. I’ll know what these things mean.’ Shannon then told him to follow him in. He did so & he gave him a permit to pass unmolested through the territory. He then started again for Lawrence but was stopped twice by one party of ten—-& another of fifteen armed with rifles & fixed bayonets; they questioned as to where he was from, when he came, what town he had been, where he was going.

“He told them, and they said he had been travelling in d—d abolition towns all the time. They supposed he was going now to Lawrence to help fight the Border Ruffians, and he couldn’t go. He told them he had started for Lawrence, there he intended to go. They told him they would take his mules for the use of the army. Says he, ‘These mules cost eleven dollars & before you get them you’ll take my scalp.’ He showed them his permit then & they let him go, but Shannon & they too told him there was no use to go, that he wouldn’t get into the town, it was guarded & in arms. But he said he went on & when he came near the town he saw men planting corn & women in the garden. He went on down town & there were little girls jumping the rope, stores were open, the men at their usual work & all was quiet. He didn’t know what to make of it after the stories Shannon had told him about the citizens of Lawrence all being in arms &c. No doubt Shannon thinks they are. The pro-slavery tell him so in order to bend him to their measures & he never goes out of Lecompton so he can find out himself.”

Included in the national news about the Kansas struggle for freedom were stories about the severing of simple freedoms by the proslavery powers at Lecompton, and they included stories about Jesse Newell and his pass.

Jesse Newell's Pass, The Buffalo Daily Republic
From the Buffalo Daily Republic (Buffalo, New York), Thursday, May 29, 1856, page 1.  Image from newspapers.com.

Well, maybe not yet were they identified with the “troubles” of the territory; that came a few months later when Newell was fully invested in the free-state cause.  Newell and Joseph Fitzsimmons, the brother-in-law with him for the pass, went on to start the town of Oskaloosa, naming it for Oskaloosa, Iowa.  Dr. Gamble, born in Pennsylvania and later an Ohio man, likewise had come to Kansas Territory from Iowa. After serving in leadership positions around the town, Gamble had moved on to California in the later 1860s.

Eleven years later the Oskaloosa Independent newspaper published a long-running series of reminiscences by Jefferson Countians about the Civil War and the territorial strife that preceded Kansas statehood in 1861. John W. Day, who arrived in Kansas Territory in May 1856, was present for various territorial skirmishes and political clashes and in June 1867 wrote about events of 1856.

He noted Newell’s pass, setting up his story  by detailing how settlers had to carry written passes from the government to ensure their safety on public thoroughfares.[4]  Mr. Day, who edited the Oskaloosa Independent for a time, wrote:

“I think it was in June or July of 1856 that at the store of Nelson McCracken, in Leavenworth, Jesse Newell, who had been traveling through the Territory looking for a location to settle and build a mill, exhibited to myself and several other persons, a pass furnished him by Wilson Shannon, then governor of the Territory of Kansas.  This pass was obtained from the Governor on the ground of old acquaintanceship in Ohio when both were Democrats[5] in the Buckeye State.

“I solicited the document to file away as a memento, but Mr. Newell replied:  ‘No, sir; I cannot part with it.  I expect, sir, to carry that pass to the judgment day’.”

Newell cabin stone north window
A photo of one of the stones that makes up the limestone cabin on Jesse Newell’s homestead property in Oskaloosa, Kansas.

[1] The Shermans were in Kansas Territory because John Sherman was on a three-person congressional committee assigned to investigate the 1855 and 1856 “troubles” in Kansas, including voting frauds by out-of-state proslavers and violence through the territory.  The committee produced the Report of the Special Committee Appointed to Investigate the Troubles in Kansas; With the Views of the Minority of Said Committee. Report No. 200, 34th Congress, 1st Session, 1856.  Mrs. Sherman’s letter is held by the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library in Mansfield, Ohio, in the (John) Sherman Room Collection.

[2] The first sacking  sacking of Lawrence occurred a few days later, on May 21, when proslavery militia, supported by men from southern states, marched on Lawrence and destroyed the Free State Hotel, ruined the printing presses of two newspapers, the Herald of Freedom and the Kansas Free State, and burned the home of Charles Robinson, future Kansas governor. Before the burning began, a red flag bearing the words “Southern Rights” on one side and “South Carolina” flew briefly over Lawrence.

[3] Mrs. Sherman’s letter was illuminating because it told a story that, as far as I have figured out, was unknown in Kansas.  It was the first “new” bit of information we had found about Jesse Newell.  And for a moment in May 1856 Jesse Newell’s experience in Kansas Territory had made national news.

[4] Oskaloosa Independent, June 22, 1867, page one, series “Heroes of the Border and the War for Liberty and Union”

[5] Jesse Newell a Democrat, the party associated with slavery? That, to me,  was a new label for Jesse Newell.  Later descriptions of Newell, including one by Mr. Day, called him a Radical Republican, meaning someone who was not only an opponent of slavery in Kansas, but of slavery all together and was a proponent of rights for  black people. Others who came to Kansas Territory and fought against slavery, including Kansas’ U.S. Sen. James H. Lane, the orator and top free-state recruiter, came to the state as Democrats.

Kansas Territory Elections 1855: Let ’em vote or they’ll tear the house down

Even if there hadn’t been local point men pushing slavery or county captains dashing it, Jefferson County could not have dodged the turmoil of Bleeding Kansas. Its location in Kansas Territory guaranteed it would grapple with the question dividing the nation.

Eastern Kansas Territory was pocked by clashes between free-staters (“no” to slavery in Kansas) and pro-slavers (expand slavery to more states, Kansas in particular). The contestants had been campaigning since late 1854, the year the Kansas-Nebraska Act
handed the slavery decision to settlers in the soon-to-be states.

Partisans on opposing sides of slavery moved in on Kansas Territory, along with settlers  less interested in slavery, and went about staking claims to land they hoped to buy at low government prices. Settlers would do the voting that would decide the slavery question for Kansas.

If you want to know what fraudulent elections look like, consider Jefferson County, Kansas Territory, on March 30, 1855. Continue reading “Kansas Territory Elections 1855: Let ’em vote or they’ll tear the house down”