The Battle of Grasshopper Falls

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

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

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

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

Joseph A. Cody,[i] editor and proprietor of The Grasshopper newspaper, as it turns out, ran a story, [ii]The Battle of Grasshopper Falls,” in his June 12, 1858, 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.”

~~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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