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 tohelp 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 shekindly 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. 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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
The Weekly Commonwealth (newspaper) “Kansas Legislature: Brief Sketches of the Representatives”, December 16, 1886.
 Vicki Betts. Fort Smith New Era, October 1863-December 1864. University of Texas at Tyler, 2016.
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 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.
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.
 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 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.
Same boat, different story, below.
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 went to Grasshopper Falls and defeated a force of about one hundred Insurgents under the command of one Crosby. 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 men.”
Northrup and the Crosby Brothers
A few years later, Congress collected stories of financial loss suffered by Kansas Territory settlers during Bleeding Kansas, 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  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.”
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.”
 This captain more likely is a Capt. Robertson, who led the southerners and Missourians in 1856 Kansas Territory.
 Insurgents, meaning freestaters. But 100 freestaters stationed as Grasshopper Falls??
Forget for the moment Bleeding Kansas, fraudulent elections, Border Ruffians and murderous abolitionists. Kansas Territory, having fought off slavery from 1854 into 1859, was about to slip into the Union as the 34th state.
“HAIL! YE SOVEREIGNS!,” crowed The Oskaloosa Independent in its January 30, 1861, edition. “LATEST. – We learn from a private source that a telegraph was received in Leavenworth at three o’clock yesterday (Tuesday) announcing that Kansas is admitted into the Union as a sovereign State.”
Cause for joy, all right, but on that same page we have this: “Beyond all question, we are on the brink of a terrible chasm; it may be [our] destruction as a nation. No one can look the danger fairly in the face, and not feel a cold tremor run through the frame. War! Bloody, relentless, fratricidal war stares us in the face!”
Not so celebratory, and here’s a refresher about why that was.
Kansas Territory voters finally sent a free-state constitution to Congress and the president on October 4, 1859. Kansans had wrangled through three other proposed constitutions with opposing positions on slavery before settling on the Wyandotte Constitution, which barred slavery. Note that date.
In the spring of 1860, enough U.S. House of Representatives members stamped the legislation OK by them and sent Kansas statehood to the U.S. Senate. Despite effort from northern senators, the legislation went nowhere. Southern slave states didn’t like slavery-free states and they had the votes to paralyze the legislation. The Kansas question was shoved down to a committee. Congress adjourned.
Abraham Lincoln, the Republican, was elected president November 6, 1860. Within five days, South Carolina’s two senators dismissed themselves from the U.S. Senate, their state about to secede from the Union.
Mississippi’s two senators, then Alabama’s, then Florida’s all quit the Senate January 21, 1861, their states having quit the Union.
With the southern senators’ departing footprints fresh on the ground, Kansas backers saw their chance and quickly brought up the Kansas bill, which finally passed the Senate. Having a pack of “no” votes disappear with secession gave Kansas the passage numbers it needed.
The Kansas legislation make a quick flight back to the House to check a minor amendment, approved Jan. 28, 1861. The next day, the outgoing slavery-supporting president, James Buchanan, signed the bill.
Editor John Wesley Roberts and his associate John W. Day had it right in their Oskaloosa newspaper that day. Happy that Kansas was a state, they saw what the seceding southern states would bring in a Civil War. Still, Kansas had became a free state and that was cause for elation.
“The President has signed the bill, and we are now citizens of the United States,” read The Emporia News on February 2, 1861. “The joyful news was received here on Thursday afternoon, and soon was communicated to all within hearing by the booming of the ‘big gun.’ A national salute of thirty-four guns was fired – one for each State and a ‘tiger’ for Kansas.”
The Kansas National Democrat, the proslavery newspaper based in Kansas Territory’s slavery-backing HQ, Lecompton, agreed to be glad Kansas was a state in its February 7, 1861, edition. “No one can fail to notice that the admission of Kansas as a State is producing much interest among the people of the country. Our brethren of the Republican school – including editors of Kansas journals – are all at the height of glorification.”
And, finally, there was outrage from a Kansas supporter relieved at the new free state’s admission, The Evansville Daily Journal (Indiana) of February 1, 1861: “The states which endeavored to thrust a blighting institution on her, failing in their work, are now madly rushing to destruction on account of the same institution that they tried to force on her.” And, “We confidently believe that the day will come when the whole secession scheme with all of its attendant horrors will be stigmatized as the work of the maniacs of South Carolina.”
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.
“Duringthe 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, here. 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.”
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. [Update: These two editions of the newspaper have been added to the online collection of newspapers.com. This link is for the Battle of Grasshopper Falls clip in the June 12 edition. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/23322139/battle_of_grasshopper_falls_harvey/ ]
[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 strange denial letter ran in Lecompton’s proslavery newspaper, the Kansas National Democrat, on March 24, 1859. The settler and 10 other men had just been outed as partners in John Doy’s plan to move freedom-seekers through a short stretch of Kansas Territory via the Underground Railroad.
Newell, the co-founder of Oskaloosa, had written his letter in response to the articles revealing his name in Kansas and Missouri newspapers. Exposure like that would be poison to the secret operations of the Underground, which thwarted the Fugitive Slave Law’s command against helping enslaved people escape. And while participants were considered heroes in some quarters, they were thieves and lawbreakers in others.
Had Newell, a radical freestater in Jefferson County, been threatened or endangered by people who objected to the Underground Railroad’s interference with slavery? Is that why he or someone writing for him would publish a letter denying involvement? I can’t say.
In the next county over, Jackson County, another man whose name was revealed alongside Newell’s was beaten severely at a political party meeting at Holton on March 12. The articles naming 11 men who had agreed to help in the Underground Railroad were published as early as Feb 19, so Martin Anderson’s proslavery neighbors could have learned of his Underground Railroad involvement. Already, Anderson was helping to build the Republican party in Jackson County, making him an opponent to Democrats who were slavery supporters. Anderson was beaten unconscious and several Democrats were hurt at the meeting, described in the press as an affray, a riot, a row, a melee, a difficulty. Was Martin attacked because of his Underground Railroad ties?
Anderson’s name, like Newell’s, had been published in newspapers from notes that John Doy apparently wrote outlining his planned Underground route through Jefferson and Jackson counties and naming the men set to help.
“March 12, 1859, Mr. Anderson was instrumental in forming the first Republican organization in this Territory,” an 1897 obituary said. ”He called a meeting for that object which was held in the school house in Holton, only twelve men participating.
“After the organization was completed and the meeting adjournment the little party was assaulted by a mob of drunken proslavery ruffians. Major Anderson was struck in the back of the head with an oak stick three feet long (the heart of a clap-board bolt) in the hands of a burly ruffian; he fell to the ground and the ruffian deliberately emptied his revolver at the prostrate form, but without further injury.”
As was nearly always the case, a deep chasm sat between one side’s “facts” and the other’s, at least in the newspaper accounts I read.
Proslavery-leaning newspapers told of four Democrats who were first assaulted by Republicans. Angered by the loss of conservative men to the Democrats, the Republicans attacked these Democrats at the meeting and then went to a nearby abolitionist’s house where anywhere from 50 to 70 Sharps rifles were stored, arming themselves.
Later, these Republicans drove the four men from their Kansas Territory homes and back to Platte County, Missouri. Those accounts don’t mention Anderson, who was a probate judge at the time, or anyone injured by Democrat ruffians. The Republican accounts do mention the four men injured and driven back to Missouri, but portray the violence as defense.
Considering the unease in Kansas Territory, March 1859, Anderson’s attack merited a double-take. I had not read of the Holton “difficulty” before in my narrow (Jefferson County) research over the past five years. The story, although nothing I read connected Anderson’s injuries to an Underground Railroad, got a lot of ink, as violent tales from Kansas Territory usually did. My quick look at online newspapers found Holton coverage in Kansas and Missouri, and Ohio, Kentucky, Washington D.C., Illinois, Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Iowa.
Important elections were on the horizon, although it was by then understood that proslavery rule was kaput. Kansas Territory was on its way to joining the Union as a free state, one that outlawed slavery. Defeated, Democrats (and perhaps some freestate conservatives) were working up their next big campaign: keeping all people of African descent out of Kansas.
Yes, times were caustic. The Fugitive Slave Law had just been validated by the U.S. Supreme Court against attempts to nullify it, meaning it was still against the law to help enslaved people escape bondage by any means. That meant offering food, providing secret harbor, acting as a rifle-toting escort for a covered wagon full of fugitive slaves and even refusing to inform a marshal of a fugitive slave’s whereabouts, if one held that information.
Also at the time of Newell’s letter and Martin Anderson’s injury, Kansas Territory and Missouri slavery supporters were furious over the latest Underground Railroad activity. Of particular aggravation was the violent abolitionist, John Brown, who had just winged it out of Kansas Territory (via a Holton area stop) with 11 fugitives, and John Doy, who had attempted to do so, both events near the end of January 1859.
Yes, the stories were vigorously at odds over whether Democrats or radical Republicans started the fight and assaulted their opponents. Some newspapers even ran both versions of the story, noting the chasm between one side’s “facts” and the other’s.
But some of the proslavery newspapers widened the context of the Holton sensation by dropping John Brown, John Doy and other freestate leaders, fighters and Jayhawkers into their stories. John Brown, while long gone from Kansas, was controlling these Kansas Territory happenings from afar, they charged.
Supremely evident regarding the charges of who started what at Holton on March 12, however, was the star plank in the Dem’s new agenda: making Kansas a free white state, blocking all people of African descent from living in Kansas.
Local Democrats, in campaigning for more party members, maintained that the radicals, or “Black Republicans” — people who wanted to abolish slavery and advocated “negro equality,” among other then-radical ideas– were extremist troublemakers. They were destroying the peace of Kansas Territory and they were unpopular among conservative freestaters. These Democrats hoped to attract those freestaters to build up sentiment (and votes) to keep people of African descent out of Kansas.
The Kansas National Democrat, Lecompton, Kansas Territory, March 31, 1859. Image from newspapers.com
“The Free State men rallied at once, secured their [Sharps] rifles and drove the ruffians from the town and across the river into Missouri.” Martin Anderson’s obituary said nearly 40 years after the Holton trouble. “One of the ruffians was shot through the mouth as he mounted his horse to leave and another lost his good right arm as the result of another shot from a [Sharps] rifle.”
Martin Anderson was unconscious for three days, his obituary said, and he didn’t recover completely for six months. An ardent freestate supporter, Anderson had settled in Grasshopper Falls, Jefferson County, in 1857 but moved to Jackson County in 1858. A probate judge and later Kansas state treasurer, Anderson was a major in the 11th Regiment, Kansas Volunteer Cavalry in the Civil War.
 John Doy’s Underground Railroad “train,” two horse-drawn wagons, was ambushed in Jefferson County about eight miles south of Jesse Newell’s home at Oskaloosa, Jefferson County, Kansas Territory, Jan. 25, 1859. According to notes Doy appears to have carried with him the night he was abducted, Newell’s place was to be the first stop for aid on that treacherous trip. The notes named 10 other people between Oskaloosa and just past Holton, in neighboring Jackson County, travel stop by travel stop, who were lined up to help once Doy got to Oskaloosa. It was at Oskaloosa that Doy would get his escort guard to protect the train. He had had to travel from Lawrence without protection. But he and the African-Americans he carried with him never made it to Oskaloosa. [Oskaloosa guard information is from Doy’s book, The narrative of John Doy, of Lawrence, Kansas, “A Plain Unvarnished Truth.”] Slave owners and slave-hunters captured Doy’s party about 8 miles south of Oskaloosa and 12 miles north of Lawrence , taking all to Missouri. In March when “The Holton Difficulty” occurred, Doy was still in jail in Missouri accused of inducing a slave to leave Missouri with him. As early as February, a few area newspapers (most of them proslavery) had published the names of the men who were to participate with Doy in the Underground Railroad, an illegal act under the Fugitive Slave Law. Such exposure could be dangerous, of course, and Jesse Newell’s name had appeared in a letter in which he appeared to deny planning to help fugitive slaves. Newell’s letter was published March 24, although it was dated earlier, March 2, 1859.
 Day, Judge John W., “Selected Sketch, Scrap of Kansas History,” The Oskaloosa Independent, April 2, 1881, p1, referred to Jesse Newell as a radical freestater..
 Jesse Newell’s letter is in Part V of this “Underground Railroad Ambush” series. John Doy’s written notes transcribed into a newspaper article include the names of men he had enlisted to help him move 13 freedom-seekers from Lawrence to Holton. That article is in Part IV. After studying Newell’s letter and a collection of linked information, I believe Newell was involved in the Underground Railroad, at least he would have been had Doy not been ambushed in this instance. Newell’s letter contains a touch of snark, and the last portion is written to include language from the Fugitive Slaw Law itself. One possibility for the careful letter is that Newell contended he had signed up to help free persons of color escape the area, not slaves. Doy had indicated that all of the 13 were free persons, although that was not the case.
 Calhoun County’s name was changed to Jackson County by the Kansas Legislature in February 1859. Some newspapers hadn’t yet made the change to “Jackson” in their news columns. Golden Silvers, another man on John Doy’s Underground Railroad roster, had been the legislator proposing the change.
The Topeka Daily Capital, “Martin Anderson. Death of One Who Helped Make Kansas History”, 10 July, 1897. See the full obituary at the bottom of this post.
 The freestaters’ weapon of choice, the Sharps rifle, was legend in Kansas Territory. It was an innovative breech-loading weapon, more accurate and rapid-firing than other arms of the day. The “Mr. Ray” mentioned was Abraham Ray, another freestate proponent who named a son James Lane Ray for the fiery Kansas militant, politician and Jayhawker, U.S. Sen. Jim Lane.
Sometimes a 158-year old story mined for new depths glides along yielding astonishing new chapters and minute but key details. All is grand. But then the story takes an abrupt turn, balks at the jump, hits a snag. Or, as I’ve just survived, the story suddenly clamps a bone-chilling denial onto the exhilarating historic tale that our deep and careful research has resurrected.
Glaring out from page 2 of the March 24, 1859, Kansas National Democrat, a Lecompton proslavery newspaper, was a letter from our Oskaloosa radical freestater, Jesse Newell. Newell, was denying that he had agreed to assist Dr. John Doy with an Underground Railroad expedition from Lawrence to Holton two months earlier.
Of course, Newell had not participated in Doy’s attempt Jan. 25, 1859, to help 13 freedom-seekers move covertly through Kansas to Iowa and farther north to safety. That’s because Doy’s “train” was ambushed by slave-holders and slave-catchers about 8 miles short of Newell’s home, Doy’s intended first stop, and the entire Doy party taken across the river to Missouri.
Dr. Doy had been in jail in Missouri ever since his January catastrophe, awaiting trial for enticing a slave out of Missouri.
What was Jesse Newell doing
in a proslavery newspaper talking about something that was supposed to be watertight-secret among radicals like him? All of the people linked along the Underground Railroad routes offering shelter, food, transport or escort guard were breaking the law. The nation’s Fugitive Slave Law was still in effect, and it barred anyone from helping enslaved people break free.
Why would Newell even raise the subject with a denial, albeit with perhaps some crafty wording and little snark?
“I never assisted a fugitive slave to run away from his master, and do not know that I have ever seen one,” the letter under Jesse Newell’s name said. “And I never made any arrangement with Dr. Doy, or any other man, to harbor, conceal, convey or conduct fugitives from slavery.”
Wow. Was all that other material false about Jesse Newell and his aim to help enslaved people free themselves from slavery? This was not a happy development for my research.
Once my heart rate decelerated, I looked at Newell’s letter again and registered that the letter was in response to something.
That something was John Doy’s “memorandum book,” or journal/notes on paper that outlined his route from Lawrence to Oskaloosa and Grasshopper Falls (now Valley Falls) in Jefferson County and on to Holton (See Part IV of the Underground Railroad Ambush series in this blog to read what was held to have been written in Doy’s notes.).
These notes named all the people Doy had appeared to have lined up to help him between Lawrence and Holton. The notes had revealed them as people who were going to break the law to do their part to grind out human bondage.
Doy’s captors reported they had found the route notes in Doy’s pocket when he was seized and taken prisoner in January. And now, besides Missouri prosecutors holding Doy’s notes for use against him in court, the contents of the notes had already been published in some area newspapers.
The publication of Doy’s damning notes appears to have occurred months earlier than I had known. Their revelation during the tense period when a Kansas Territory man was held in a Missouri jail could only have made things worse for Jesse Newell, a noisy radical freestater who had made it through the 1856 Bleeding Kansas days.
Newell’s letter in Lecompton’s Democrat referred to Doy’s journal/notes having been published in the (Feb. 19, 1859) Kansas Weekly Herald, a proslavery newspaper in Leavenworth. He quotes a part of the published article of Doy’s notes..
“…’Arrived at Oskaloosa that night; opened my subject to Mr. Newell, who laid out the town – he accepts.’ This is a very vague sentence. ‘He accepts.’ – Accepts what? It is not stated; but from what follows, it is to be presumed that he accepts the appointment of conductor on an underground Railroad,” Newell’s letter said.
Right. So Newell’s letter does reveal a whisper of the author’s sentiments about what happened to Dr. Doy and company upon their southern Jefferson County ambush and subsequent forced March into Missouri: He chose the word “kidnapped.”
I should declare at this point that I reject Newell’s denial. I believe he told an untruth as an act of self-preservation. Or maybe someone else, a protector, wrote the letter on his behalf, whether he wanted the denial or not. Maybe he believed that Doy’s 13 African-American passengers were free, and not fugitive slaves. Compared to another communique Newell wrote in 1856, this one sounds nothing like him. It has a semicolon in it, for Heaven’s sake.
Significantly, Newell’s letter in the Democrat, published in Douglas County, Jefferson County’s southern neighbor, was hemmed in by column after column of proslavery braying, crowing and dog-whistling. By 1859, Kansas Territory was drawing closer to becoming a state and it was evident it would enter the Union as a free state, outlawing slavery within its boundaries.
Crouched directly atop Newell’s letter in the Democrat is an article about a meeting of Jesse Newell’s Oskaloosa and Jefferson County neighbors, and they were organizing the Jefferson County Democrats.
With palpable exasperation, Newell’s Democrat neighbors acknowledged that Kansas Territory was going to be admitted to the Union as a free state. But the Jefferson County Democrats were tired of the “intolerant spirit of fanatical sectionalism as evinced by a certain portion of the citizens of this Territory…”
They were “…opposed to all and every attempt made by agitators, to disturb the peace and quiet of our own Territory and the peaceful relations between us and the citizens of our neighboring States.”
Oh, and if the state of Kansas was going to prohibit slavery, the Jefferson County Democrats resolved unanimously:
“That we are opposed to free negroes being permitted habitations in this Territory, either as our equals in increasing political rights, or in any way whatsoever.”
And there it was, the vitriol that would slide into the next part of the Kansas question, debate before and even on the floor of the constitution-writing convention in 1859 over whether people of African descent, negroes, should be allowed to live in the free state of Kansas. And if they were to live in Kansas, should their children be educated alongside white Kansas children?
By the time Jesse Newell’s letter appeared in the Democrat on March 24, Dr. Doy was being tried for abducting a slave or slaves from Missouri. Grasped by his prosecutors and trickling onto the pages of a few proslavery newspapers were the incriminating words from Dr. Doy’s memo book: the names of those 11 or 12 men in Jefferson and Jackson counties whom he had lined up to help him with his Underground Railroad train.
Page 2 of the March 24, 1859, Kansas National Democrat, where Jesse Newell’s letter appeared in response to his name being publicly linked to the Underground Railroad, displayed flashpoint issues that had burned through the Kansas Territory freedom fight. Here was a celebratory article about the newly upheld Fugitive Slave Law. There was an article calling for Democrats to unite — maybe with some not-radical Republicans — to clench the power at the constitutional convention that would bring Kansas to statehood. Here were Jefferson County Democrats saying what they really thought about their neighbors, the intolerant fanatics and agitators (Translation: Slavery opponents who thought black men should live free in Kansas and enjoy the same rights of white people.).
Jesse Newell had stood opposite of these people since his arrival in Kansas Territory in 1856 and had not been a friend to the proslavers in northeast Kansas. He had faced difficulties and threat of death for his freestate actions.
His oldest son, Valentine F. Newell, devoted much of his own biographical spot in the Jefferson County section of William G. Cutler’s History of the State of Kansas book to his father. In such publications, people were allowed to write about themselves and what they had done in Kansas. V.F. Newell wrote of Jesse Newell:
“He was a strong Free-state man, and was fearless in denouncing the advocates of slavery, who took every possible opportunity of persecuting him. He was a powerful man, physically, and did not hesitate to exercise his strength where language failed to have the desired effect. Few men were more popular among the Free-soilers. Himself and son were at Hickory Point battle, and at other skirmishes of less importance. The first Free-state election in that part was held in a cabin on his farm, five of six votes being cast.”
My next few posts will look at some of those issues carried in the March 24, 1859, Kansas National Democrat.
 The distance from the Kansas Territory ambush site to Weston, Missouri, where Doy and the other captives were taken, is about 30 miles, but only as the crow flies. See Part IV of the Doy ambush series to learn how Doy had attempted to help 13 brave freedom-seekers, some of them enslaved people and some who said they possessed free papers, move north through Kansas from Lawrence to Holton, where new conductors would go on to Iowa and (probably) on to Canada. The party was ambushed by Missouri and Kansas slave-holders and slavery supporters, including the ruthless slave kidnapper, Jake Hurd, and taken into Missouri, where Doy and his son, Charles, were jailed. Doy had mapped out his planned route to Holton and carried with him the names of men who had agreed to help (Jesse Newell’s home was to be the first stop) maneuver through two counties to Holton. The names of the men were found by Doy’s captors, used against him at trial, and publicized in newspapers, exposing the Underground Railroad participants’ plans.
 The article is on page 2 of the Herald and may be seen on microfilm reel L835 in the research library of the Kansas State Historical Society. The Herald and Newell’s letter refer to the Herald’s copy coming from the Argus, which I haven’t yet verified as the Western Argus in Wyandotte City, Kansas, or the Weston or Platte Argus in Missouri. The Feb. 19, 1859 Herald also refers to the notes being published in the Times, possibly the Leavenworth Times in Kansas.
 Missouri was the only state bordering Kansas at the time. Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado did not yet have that status. This dog-whistle reference must be to Kansas Jayhawkers or Underground Railroad forays into Missouri, or both.
 Dr. Doy was tried in St. Joseph for enticing a slave away from Missouri, but the trial ended March 27 when jurors could not agree on a verdict. All but one juror had found the evidence lacking against Doy, who was granted $1,000 for his defense by the Kansas territorial legislature. Charles Doy, Doy’s son who had been with him on the Underground Railroad mission, was released. The elder Doy was tried again and convicted, his penitentiary sentence set at 5 years. He did not serve that sentence because he was liberated from jail in July by Kansas men, the “Immortal Ten.” We will learn more of the Jefferson County freestaters small, supporting role in that story in a future post.
The worst result of the ambush was that 13 freedom-seekers, who had had the most to lose in taking this risk, were taken to Missouri, a slave state, to be returned to slavery or, if they had been free, to risk being sold into slavery. The most complete account I’ve read about what happened to these people is in a book by Harriet C. Frazier, Runaway and Freed Missouri Slaves and Those Who Helped Them, 1763-1865.
Today, 161 years ago, this flag was seized before morning’s light from well-armed slavery advocates camping beside Slough Creek in Jefferson County. J. A. Harvey and his little band of Leavenworth, Douglas and Jefferson County free-state partisans did the seizing, a nasty humiliation for the southern and area proslavers.
As shown, the flag bears a single star and euphemistically advocates “Southern Rights” on one side. The other side says “South Carolina.”
The freestaters had surprised and captured a sleeping force of the bearers of that flag, pro-slavery fighters composed of South Carolinians, Alabamians, Georgians and most likely some Missourians and Kansas Territory men from the Kickapoo Rangers. It was in the bleeding part of Bleeding Kansas, Sept. 11, 1856, and the Kansas decision of whether to block or allow slavery had not been made.
James A. Harvey, “Col. Harvey” to his men, had arrived in the territory a month earlier with a Chicago contingent of settlers , aided organizationally and financially by Thaddeus Hyatt’s National Kansas Committee. Harvey’s Chicago men wanted to settle in Kansas and they promised to help make it a free state.
The men from South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama had come on a ticket from Major Jefferson Buford of Alabama, having arrived in April 1856 to settle in Kansas and make it a state that allowed slavery.
Men from both sides were engaged in trying to drive their opponents out of Kansas Territory so they could claim the prize of slavery or freedom for Kansas.
Jesse Newell, co-founder of Oskaloosa and no friend of slavery, had tipped off James A. Harvey to the campsite of the “Southern Rights” flag-bearers. Newell, who had settled in Kansas Territory that May, rode his horse about six miles east of his home to inform Harvey of the proslavers’ position and to guide the troops there. The southerners were camped out along Slough Creek about two miles north of what is now Oskaloosa, in Jefferson County.
After Harvey & Co. crept up and captured the sleeping southerners, the freestate troops snatched up weapons, horses, supplies, wagons (and the flag), and collected free-state settlers’ belongings that had been taken by the proslavers. Harvey, who was commanding the 1st Regiment of free-state troops, ordered the defeated southerners to leave Kansas Territory and to
“take long steps and short cuts for the Missouri River, for we shall be on your trail in a very few hours.”
Harvey’s company dragged the big red flag in the dirt to the free-state headquarters of Lawrence. Shortly afterward, the flag went on the road to rally support for making Kansas a free state and was given to the Kansas State Historical Society in 1879. The flag’s capture, a great triumph in war, was especially gratifying to the people of Lawrence because the southerners and Kansas Territory slavery advocates had flown the flag up over the town in May before destroying the town’s main hotel and two printing presses.
Losing your flag to the enemy (especially if you were asleep when ambushed) is an enormous embarrassment, but that doesn’t mean the flag can’t be cherished, or hawked, as a symbol of some sort of belief or other, right? Our country has done a lot of pondering lately over flags and statues and symbols, so it only makes sense that someone would sell copies of the South Carolina Southern Rights flag, even though it was a “loser” flag.
On the few sites selling the flag, the ad copy goes something like this: (The southerners ) …took this flag into battle when they participated in an attack on the pro-Northern town of Lawrence on May 21, 1856. Their flag briefly flew over both the Herald of Freedom newspaper office and the Free State Hotel, before both buildings were destroyed by the pro-Southern forces. End of story and a heck of an omission .
To help consumers know what they’re buying, I offer the rest of the flag’s story: The “Southern Rights” flag was captured, dragged in the dust, used to raise antislavery money and, finally, sits in a glassed-in display case in Kansas, the state the southern boys failed to turn into a slave state.
 Quotation from the American Nonconformist newspaper, January 24, 1889, in a reminiscence by one of Harvey’s men on the campaign, H. N. Dunlap of Sedan, Kansas. From Kansas Territory scrapbooks held by the Kansas State Historical Society.
In 1859 America, it was a crime to help a person escape enslavement. Even if you lived in a state like Massachusetts or Iowa, which prohibited slavery, it was legal for slave owners to come to your state and take back slaves.
Riding as a guard or escort for an Underground Railroad “train” of freedom-seekers was illegal. Operating as a conductor, an organizer or as someone providing food and hidden shelter for fugitive slaves at an Underground Railroad stop was illegal. Federal authorities could charge you with aiding a fugitive slave’s escape, all under the expanded Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.* Even refusing to help federal officers capture fugitive slaves was illegal.
Secrecy about Underground Railroad routes, dates and people engaged in the perilous enterprise was vital to help ensure that slaves and free black people – sometimes abducted and sold into slavery –would make it to freedom and keep operations alive.
The catastrophic Kansas Territory ambush of Dr. John Doy’s Underground Railroad trek on Jan. 25, 1859, sent 13 freedom-seekers to Missouri, a slave state, and landed Dr. Doy in a Missouri jail. It also revealed a secret UGRR route and exposed the names of nearly a dozen men who had agreed to help in a dangerous and illegal mission.
Before the night of the ambush, Dr. Doy had conducted a sort of dry run to map out his planned transport of black passengers and to confirm those who would help him along the way.[i] From Lawrence, in Douglas County, Dr. Doy’s route included stops at Oskaloosa and Grasshopper Falls[ii] in Jefferson County and Holton and New Brighton in Calhoun County.[iii]
From his advance trip, Dr. Doy jotted down notes about the best route to take, what expenses he had, sights along the way and the names of men who agreed to help in this Underground Railroad plan. His first stop would be Oskaloosa where he would pick up a guard[iv] to protect the group on the way forward.[v]
Dr. Doy carried his journal notes along with him when he set off that January night with his son, Charles, and a young wagon driver, Wilbur Clough, and the 13 passengers.
Bad move. Post ambush, the notes were snapped up and used as evidence in the Missouri trial[vi] against Dr. Doy for slave abduction. (Dr. Doy was accused of going into Missouri and taking a slave or slaves back to Kansas. Dr. Doy’s defense team argued that he had not been in Missouri when the slaves left.)
Worse, an excerpt from Dr. Doy’s journal was published in at least one Missouri newspaper, exposing the names of Kansas Territory men who were willing to participate in the Underground Railroad and break federal law.
To us, 158 years later, Dr. Doy’s notes also reveal the names of Jefferson and Jackson County people willing to risk themselves to knock down slavery. In Jefferson County, where legends of Underground Railroad activity carried few facts, we had names to study. Remember, too, that in 1859, Kansas Territory was not yet a state, although recent elections made clear Kansas was headed toward entering the Union as a free state. The names of men willing to risk jail and fines to help fugitive slaves and free black people would be of keen interest to their agitated proslavery neighbors.
I’ve taken the journal names as they were published in the St. Joseph newspaper article (left) about Dr. Doy’s trial and attempted to identify them. My sources included census data, material from ancestry.com, various Kansas biographies, material from local historical societies, military records and family stories to try to identify these men. I do not know who would have transcribed Dr. Doy’s journal for the court or the St. Joseph Weekly West, but transcription errors are likely, as are possible name spellings errors on Dr. Doy’s part.
In Jefferson County, Dr. Doy’s first stop was to be at the home of “Mr. Newall, who (l)aid out town” of Oskaloosa. That would be Jesse Newell, an Ohio man who came to Kansas Territory from Iowa in 1856, and co-founded with Joseph Fitzsimmons, Oskaloosa, Kansas Territory. He was a freestater, later described as a Jayhawker and radical Republican, involved in 1856 free-state forces and in Civil War militias. We hear of Jesse Newell again when Dr. Doy is busted out of the Missouri jail by Lawrence area men (future blog post).
“Mr. Barnes, from Ohio,” on Dr. Doy’s Oskaloosa list, is a puzzle, since there were several Barneses in or near Oskaloosa at the time. My guess is Mr. Barnes was Ebenezer James Barnes, born in 1828 in Ohio and associated with Oskaloosa’s other co-founder Joseph Fitzsimmons. Eb Barnes had lived in Harrison Township, Mahaska County, Iowa, in the 1850s where Jesse Newell lived, although Mr. Barnes arrived in Kansas Territory later, in 1858. During the Civil War he was captain of Co. E in the Kansas 5th Cavalry, one of Kansas Sen. James H. Lane’s units. After the Civil War, Eb Barnes remained in Arkansas and died there in 1867. Mr. Barnes’ brother, William Conwell Barnes, is a possibility for “Mr. Barnes, from Ohio.” In addition, Jared Pierpont Barnes, who lived at Rock Creek in western Jefferson County, was said to have been involved in the Underground Railroad. A New York stater, he moved to Kansas Territory in 1857. His home might have been closer to the “Lane Trail,” an UGRR route that went north from Topeka through Jackson County to Holton and to Nebraska. Going to his home would have been out of the way for Dr. Doy, who doesn’t mention going that direction in his notes.
“Mr. W.A. Corwin and J. H. Elliott, from Ohio,” in the Grasshopper Falls (now Valley Falls) area, are difficult to pin down, as well. There were Corwins from New England involved in making Kansas a free state, but not in Valley Falls census records at that time. My guess is William A. Cowan and Thomas H. Elliott, both of Pennsylvania and who arrived in the Valley Falls area in 1855, or one could be Thomas H. Elliott’s father, John Elliott. Both free-staters, William A. Cowan and Thomas H. Elliott later moved on to California.
“Rev. Mr. Moffer,” Valley Falls, was Rev. Josiah B. McAfee. An obituary details his Kansas life. He arrived in Kansas Territory in 1855, alighting in Leavenworth. Pressure from the proslavers led to his move to Grasshopper Falls, where he set up the first permanent Lutheran church in Kansas. His (Union) Civil War service included being chaplain of a Kansas colored regiment. He served various state offices and was a prohibition proponent. Like Mr. Newell, Rev. McAfee enters the picture again after Dr. Doy was rescued from jail.
In Calhoun County, now Jackson County, “… a fine specimen of a man… Capt. Creitz… who brought his company two separate times to the aid of Lawrence… “ William F. Creitz was an early settler and free-state fighter in Calhoun County, renamed Jackson County in February 1859. He was captain of Co. A in the Kansas 5th Cavalry and an Underground Railroad participant on other occasions. His account of John Brown’s Battle of the Spurs is a lively read. He later moved to Oregon.
“… we selected Mr. Parks, his companion… “ Most likely this man was Ephraim Markley Parks, another Ohio man who came to Kansas via Iowa. By 1875 he was living in Oregon.
“Obtained the name of Mr. Wimmery and Martin Anderson, agents for New Brighton…” Mr. Wimmery could be Jason Whinery, from an Ohio Quaker family and a Holton subscriber to the Anti-slavery Bugle newspaper from Lisbon, Ohio. He later moved to Washington state. Martin Anderson was Maj. George Martin Anderson, an Ohio man who also came to Kansas Territory by way of Iowa. He was an officer in the Kansas 11th Cavalry who eventually moved to Topeka, Kansas, and served as state treasurer. In the earlier Kansas Territory days, Anderson was supposed to have been part owner of a mill in Jefferson County where Thomas H. Elliott worked.
“The member’s name in the Legislature is Golden Silvers…” OK, who could mistake the name, Golden Silvers? When Kansas Territory became a state in 1861, Mr. Silvers and George Martin Anderson served in the first state legislature, representing Jackson County. In 1863, after Quantrill’s raiders devastated Lawrence, Mr. Silvers was captain of a western Jefferson County Civil War militia cavalry. As a legislator, Silvers was the man who got the county name changed from its proslavery “Calhoun” to Jackson. He was born in Missouri and remained in Kansas, moving one county south to Shawnee County.
[i][i] John Doy, The Narrative of John Doy, of Lawrence, Kansas, “A Plain, Unvarnished tale” (New York: Thomas Holman, Book and Job Printer, Corner Central and White Sts., 1860) 23.
*Just allow me to note here that the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law allowed slavery’s applauders to harp on about the wild and fanatical law-breakers who abducted their slaves or otherwise helped slaves escape slavery. They didn’t want free states to be able to keep their runaway slaves from them. Free states were unsuccessful in passing their own laws to block slave-hunters (and the Fugitive Slave law) from capturing former slaves in free states. They saw that law as forcing slavery on them, a violation of states’ rights. Seceding southern states in the Civil War would conveniently separate themselves from trampling free states’ rights when they made their hollow argument that they were leaving the Union to preserve their states’ rights.
[iii] New Brighton is now Circleville. Calhoun County was renamed Jackson County in February 1859.
[iv] John Doy did not have an escort or guard to protect the group. He wanted one, but none other than John Brown was arranging a separate UGRR trip for the same time and John Brown got the guard. Brown’s trip was eventful, as well, but his was successful and is known as The Battle of the Spurs. https://www.kshs.org/publicat/khc/1919_1922_lowell_spurs.pdf
[v] John Doy, The Narrative of John Doy, of Lawrence, Kansas, “A Plain, Unvarnished tale” (New York: Thomas Holman, Book and Job Printer, Corner Central and White Sts., 1860) 105, 123.
Late in 1860, two U.S. surveyors and a crew carting signal flags, measuring chains, an ax and a compass began their prescribed survey of a six-mile square piece of land in southern Jefferson County, Kansas Territory.
They inched along, lining up points north and south and east and west within the square — Township 11 South, which was in Range 19 East of the 6th Principal Meridian. They measured divisions, whittling down the township into smaller, government-defined parcels of land in the Delaware (Indian) Reserve . The reserve was soon to be sold and the boundaries had to be set in advance.
As the surveyors moved between Sections 15 and 16 in Township 11 South they noted a ravine coursing to the southeast. A couple of days later the crew was near the same place and lead surveyor Germain F Simpson wrote in his field notes that the Lawrence to Oskaloosa Road passed southeast to northwest at a point 65 chains (4,290 feet) east of a section marker.
Mr. Simpson’s survey and field notes document would become the basis for Kansas Territory’s survey plats, mapping the territory. And with his observation of a particular ravine and a particular road, Mr. Simpson in the end handed us a defining point that would help find the place where Dr. John Doy, two assistants and 13 Underground Railroad passengers seeking safety and freedom were ambushed by slave hunters January 25, 1859.
It was 2014, and I was researching Jefferson County people who appeared to have been helpers in the Underground Railroad, at least in connection with the John Doy episode. As I dug deeper into my search it became apparent that no one had determined the location of the winter ambush 155 years before, at least as far as I could find.
There were some pretty good clues already and it was obvious that the ambush occurred in Jefferson County. I figured we should be able to find the place where Doy’s Underground Railroad train met its doom. But at this point, I knew nothing of Mr. Simpson’s survey or field notes.
We had John Doy’s book description of what happened the night of the ambush. Doy wrote that the group was 12 miles from Lawrence and eight from Oskaloosa. In his description, Doy’s group was at the bottom of a hill with a bluff on the right side of the road. As Doy’s wagons turned, 20 or more armed men emerged from behind the bluff.
Ephraim Nute, a Lawrence minister involved in the Underground Railroad, wrote in a February 1859 letter that when Doy’s train launched that January night, the 13 freedom-seekers were placed about four miles west of Lawrence, on the Kansas River. Doy and his crew, with two wagons, took the ferry across to the north side of the Kaw about where the bridge into current downtown Lawrence is. They traveled west along the riverside to pick up the waiting passengers and took the road toward Oskaloosa. After about an hour they entered a sort of “defile” between the bluffs and the timber, and were surrounded by the hiding ambushers.
John Doy, again, gives us another route hint from notes he took when he did a dry run of his trip. He recorded his movements from Lawrence north and west to Holton, in Jackson County, an important transit point for the UGRR in Kansas Territory. Doy wrote in his memo book of his dry run: “…ferried over Kaw river at Lawrence; took the road west up the river, crossing Buck creek, keeping the left-hand road till the creek is crossed, then the right-hand; arrived at Oscaloosa [Oskaloosa] that night…”
So, now we had helpful details about Buck Creek, bluffs and draws – but those are all-to-common features in the landscape between Lawrence and Oskaloosa.
The thing we had to find was that road.
I decided the best course would be to find people to help me solve the mystery. Three people who, independently from the others, would get all the information I had to work with, and maybe find some clues of their own. I put myself in the search party of three, and on a trip back to Kansas put my husband at the wheel of a rental car.
We headed north from Lawrence on Buck Creek Road in Jefferson County, tracking mileage on a GPS device. Maybe Buck Creek Road, a twisting, gravel beauty that snakes around the hills, wasthe old Lawrence to Oskaloosa Road. Then, about 12 miles up from Lawrence, our Buck Creek Road curved sharply around a bluff. That bluff — looming over the path I figured Doy would have taken — had obvious posse-hiding potential. But the bluff was on the left, not the right, as described by Dr. Doy. Wrong road.
An 1850s or 1860s “road” was not made of pavement, asphalt or even gravel. It was more of a trail, just dirt where traveling animals, humans or wagon wheels wore away the grass and made ruts. Could we find visible remnants of the old road, or had all traces been obliterated? Had the road continued its use and been upgraded into one of the county’s gravel roads? Roads over time are abandoned for easier and better routes. Or they get re-routed for farmers wanting uninterrupted fields, or because they are drowned in perennial flooding.
This was as close to the Doy ambush site as I would get on my own. Time to call in someone else.
Jennifer Binkley, a Flint Hills author and horse trainer, was researching old abandoned roads and trails in the Buck Creek area for a book. Jennifer grew up riding those old roads across hilltops and down through prairie, and all along Buck Creek south of Oskaloosa. Her historical fiction book, “The Forgotten Road,” would even include Jake Hurd, the vile slave hunter and kidnapper who was with John Doy’s ambushers that day.
I handed over the Doy and Nute story descriptions, links to old maps and topography, and Jennifer got to work. She knew the terrain, having ridden horses through the area so many times and noticing old road remnants when she was a kid. She reached farther by looking at county records in Oskaloosa showing road abandonments and route changes. She studied historic maps at the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka and climbed around the Buck Creek area hills in January to find some old ruts she remembered.
Jennifer turned up an 1868 county road document and map that outlined a proposed change to the old Lawrence to Oskaloosa Road not far from my Buck Creek Road experience. Her focus was near where I ended my quest but was closer to the actual ambush spot. Jennifer had her eye, at one point, on an old road remnant in the same string of bluffs as the actual site, about half a mile east from the ambush site.
Encouraged, I tapped Bill Noll, Jefferson County’s public works director, a licensed surveyor in Kansas and a certified floodplain manager. I thought he might know the old roads (roads and bridges are in his department) and whether a remnant of the Lawrence and Oskaloosa Road remained anywhere near our ambush spot. I gave him the narrative descriptions of the Underground Railroad ambush, a terrain map and some older map copies showing the Lawrence/Oskaloosa road.
Bill promptly returned a satellite image of the middle of Township 11 South overlaid with notations explaining his “guess” about the ambush location. He had zeroed in on a 270-yard area near today’s Phillips Road, about .8 mile west of my Buck Creek Road attempt. He had overlaid the same 270-yard target area to a copy of the 1862 land survey plat that was drawn from the 1860 field notes of our surveyor Mr. Simpson.
For his finding, Bill had drawn two radiuses, one 12 miles north from Lawrence and the other 8 miles south from Oskaloosa. He applied his “guess” to the U.S. Government Land Office Survey Map to find Township 11 South section lines that intersected in the target area.
The county’s public works director noted that the old Lawrence to Oskaloosa trail was similar in shape and location to the current Phillips Road. He next used an aerial map to show topographic features that would match the Doy narratives. The southerly draw in a topographical map of this area most closely matched the Doy description because it was deep and could have provided cover. It had a sharp southwesterly bend near the end of it that would allow a group of ambushers to hide around a corner from a group of people making their way through the draw.
“In my opinion this was the only area near where the trail was at the distances from each town that had the characteristics that were described,” Bill concluded in his first shot at finding the ambush site. “My best guess is that it was near the location of the pond that has now been built in that draw.”
U.S. government and commercial hand-drawn maps from the 1850s and 1860s do show a road running to Oskaloosa from Lawrence. The road doesn’t appear in exactly the same place among the several maps of the era, as mapping roads wasn’t as precise as today and those who drew or painted the maps couldn’t possibly know every curve. The old hand-drawn survey maps do show bluffs and prairies, waterways and creeks.
U.S. Geological Survey maps today provide a clear look at the hills and bluffs, draws and defiles in topographic contour maps. And up-to-date Jefferson County GIS maps show parcels of land in vivid satellite photograph images, overlaid with sections, townships, ranges and meridians boundaries. Bill circled his Doy ambush estimate over the county’s copy of the 1862 map produced from surveyor Simpson’s 1860 field notes for Township 11 South in Range 19 East of the 6th Principal Meridian. The map picks up Doy’s route from the place Buck Creek runs into the Kansas River, west of Lawrence.
And there, within Bill Noll’s 270-yard estimate circled in red, was our ambush site, labeled “capture location.”
Impressed and grateful, I emailed a copy of the 1855 field notes from a different township , thinking Director Noll might find them interesting. I didn’t know that his county office holds hand-written copies of ALL the old field notes for every township in Jefferson County.
I like reading the field notes for the glimpse they offer of Jefferson County’s landscape just before Kansas Territory was a state: “land, rolling prairie,” “1st rate soil,” “a wagon trail bears northwest and southeast,” “Mr.Meredith’s field bears E & W,” “timber, oak and hickory,” “black oak 24-in diameter,” or land is “poor, hilly, stony.”
The next thing I knew I was looking at a NEW conclusion from Bill that updated his finding on the Doy ambush location. Bill had looked up the field notes for our Doy quest, Township 11 South. He had stopped calling his conclusion a “guess.”
The field notes taken by surveyor Germain F. Simpson nearly 150 years ago — when measurement was taken with (physical) chains and limestone rocks were dropped in place to mark sectional quarters — mentioned the Lawrence to Oskaloosa Road passing through our target area.
The road cut across the land in this little segment going from the southeast to the northwest, in a spot 65 chains east of a specific section line corner. It was inside the 270-yard area Bill had targeted earlier. And, finally, X marked our spot.
The ambush site as we have pinpointed it sits on private land whose owners were fascinated to learn of the 1859 events that happened there. They do want to maintain privacy, however, and the spot is off limits to visitors.
Driving the area will give you a feel for the lay of the land, and the Doy ambush site is located just off one of the western borders of the Buck Creek Wildlife Area between 27th and 35th streets.
As Bill Noll noted, a pond has gone in at one end of a low draw (Ephraim Nute’s “defile”?) John Doy reached in 1859. The bluff that concealed the armed ambushers still casts a shadow, and maintains the memory of a time when Kansas settlers, enslaved people fighting for freedom and profiteers bent on their capture struggled over their beliefs.
 Information from the Kansas State Historical Society Archives and Jefferson County GIS and roads departments. The United States uses a specific system to divide land into identifiable and uniform portions. Sections, townships, ranges and meridians are the key components, explained here on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s website.
 A “chain” for the surveyor was a specialized chain 66 feet long and containing 100 7.92-inch links. Each Township contained 36 Sections. Mr. Simpson was moving east between Sections 9 and 16 in Township 11 South when he observed the road. The east-west border between those two sections was 80 chains, and the road was recorded at 65 chains from the west beginning point. More information about how surveys were conducted is contained in this handbook, which, published in 1855, was the one in use for the early Kansas Territory surveys. https://www.ntc.blm.gov/krc/uploads/538/1855_Instructions_to_the_S_G.pdf
 The Kansas State Historical Society has included some plats made from the early land surveys on its website, Kansas Memory. The plats include parts of Douglas, Jefferson, Johnson, Shawnee and Wyandotte counties and may be seen here: http://www.kansasmemory.org/item/223914
 Doy, John, The Kansas Narrative, A Plain, Unvarnished Tale, (Thomas Holman, book and job printer, New York, 1860), 24.
 Nute, Ephraim, Letter, [E. Nute] to [Unidentified recipient], February 14, 1859; Kansas State Historical Society Item No. 102720, John Brown Collection, #299, Box 2, Folder 1.
 St. Joseph Weekly West (newspaper); 26 June, 1859, 2. Microfilm, State Historical Society of Missouri. An upcoming post will look at these notes, taken from Doy and used against him in his trial in Missouri.
 St. Joseph Weekly West (newspaper); 26 June, 1859, 2. Microfilm, State Historical Society of Missouri.
 In the end, my first-shot spot on Buck Creek Road was nearly a mile east of where we later determined was the actual ambush site.
 The 836 acres of land in the Buck Creek Wildlife Area is held by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. It was preserved by the Kansas Land Trust, which promotes the park as including restored prairies, riparian woodlands, oak-hickory forest, hay meadows, and abundant wildlife.