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.

Kansas Day

January 29, 1861

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.”

 

(Sources for this article include the U.S. Senate’s website at https://www.senate.gov/ and the Kansas State Historical Society’s Kansapedia article, Kansas Constitutions, at https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/kansas-constitutions/16532 )