Civil War Looms: Searing The
Frank Yerby: A Victim’s Guilt
Episode One: The Fugitive Slave Law Click Here
Episode Two: The Underground Railroad Click Here]
Episode Three: Enslaving Kansas Click Here
EPISODE FOUR: Another Death In The Family
Claude Coombs is taking the twenty-five fugitives from Iowa to the slave auction in St. Louis. He figures to make five hundred dollars on each of them. The ‘Albany’ affair taught Claude a lesson. “In this business you gotta stay close to your own kind,” Claude tells Jake. “You can’t expect those abolitionists in the North to help us.”
“I don ’t know about that,” Jake replies, “but them niggers whopped us pretty good.” Jake shakes his head recalling the loss of his brother. “I just can’t believe niggers attacking white men like that. I’ll tell you, Claude, times is changing. Things just ain’t the same. Niggers attacking white men like that!”
Claude and Jake are guarding their captives until they can be safely loaded aboard a river boat. One of the captives stares intently at the timberline visible beyond the cluster of Leavenworth’s shanties. The tall black captive tries to gauge the distance to the tree line. Hank intends to escape. Whispering to another slave, Hank says, “Today’s the day I’s gonna leave y’all. I’m gonna go back to Iowa, get my family and head north to Canada.”.
“Hank, I think you should think about it awhile,” Josh advises. “Even if you get away, they just gonna catch you again ___ what with those scars across your back, half your ear gone and those brands they put on you.”
“You ain’t lying about that,” Hank replies. “Them white folks have scarred me up
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something fierce. Don ’t see how my wife can stand to touch me, but she does. And I can’t leave her and the children without any way to survive the winter. I’ve got to get back to them.” Hank was a blacksmith so Claude’s manacles and shackles were no obstacles. There wasn’t a lock Hank couldn’t pick. He only needed to pick the lock at the right time and make his getaway.
Until his capture several weeks earlier, Hank had lived on a small plot with his wife and three children outside Sioux City. Five earlier, Hank escaped from a Carolina plantation. Hank blacksmithed for local Iowa farmers, repairing their tools, shoeing their horses and mules and making wheels for their wagons and buggies. Claude had spotted Hank walking down a lonely stretch of Iowa road returning from a job on a neighboring farm. Claude and his men swooped down on the unsuspecting black man, easily subduing and manacling him. Then they led him to a holding pen where they kept their other captives. Now they were here at the docks Leavenworth waiting to board a St. Louis-bound riverboat.
“I don ’t see how you expect to make your escape during the day,” Josh observes.
“The day is better,” Hank replies, “Pattyrollers patrol at night and they have dogs. Can’t outrun those dogs. But during the day, once you get away, you can just disappear. ’Specially if you can get outta Kansas.”
Hank didn’t understand that, night or day, it didn’t make any difference. There was nowhere a fugitive bearing the marks of a runaway could hide. And, under the Fugitive Slave Law, nothing and no one could interfere with the slave catchers selling Hank back into slavery.
Claude’s black captives squatting down by the side of the wharf in Leavanworth’s docking area waited until after the cargo, bales of cotton, loads of tobacco and crates of every size. Hank estimated that the timberline surrounding Leavenworth was some three hundred yards away from the docks. The fugitives would be loaded, last, and chained in
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the bilge area of the river boat below the engines. So while Claude chats with Jake and the other members of his gang, Hank decides to make his escape. He loosens himself from the manacles and shackle and begins sneaking away from the other fugitives. Slipping between the crates and cotton bales, Hank creeps as low as he can and moves as quickly as he dares. Not far to go now, Hank tells himself. He rests behind the last crate between himself and the woods and prepares for a desperate dash to the tree-line three hundred yards away. Hank gets to his feet and, keeping low, he starts a half creep, half walk. Halfway to the trees, he turns. None of the slave catchers have taken notice. He stands up and runs for his life. That was Hank’s mistake. He is spotted. The alarm is raised. Shouts fill the air. Then shots ring out. Summoning all the energy and speed he can muster, Hank wills himself the remaining distance into the cover of the trees where he will be safe. Almost there! Hank hears the distinctive crack of a Kentucky long rifle from a great distance away. It will be the last sound Hank will ever hear. A fraction of a second later, his head explodes, the blue sky fades into blackness, his body tumbles to the ground and his sightless eyes peer into the portal of death.
Instantly, the air is filled with yells and shouts. Grizzled frontiersmen run to where Hank’s body lies, blood trickling from the ugly wound in his head.
“That was the best gol ’darn shot that I have ever seen in my entire life!” one of Claude’s slave catchers cries out. “Claude Coombes shot half that nigger’s head off from over two hundred and fifty yards.”
“If that shot went ten yards, it went over three hundred yards,” another shouts. Soon well wishers surround Claude and pat him on the back, declaring that his head shot was the best one Leavenworth has ever seen. They hoist Claude high upon their shoulders and
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deposit him in the nearest saloon. Everyone celebrates Claude’s head shot. The celebration, telling ‘tall tales’ and drinking, continues long into the night. Claude misses the St. Louis-bound riverboat. The next day, the ruffians display Hank’s body in front of a saloon. A sign reads: “This nigger was shot in the head from 250 yards by Claude Coombs, September 11, 1855.” In retelling the story, the distance continues to grow, but no one minds. With little else to celebrate, Claude Coombs becomes a hero to ruffians and bushwhackers prowling both sides of the Kansas Missouri border. They regale each other with Claude’s celebrated “head shot.” But in Lawrence, the local newspapers, the Herald of Freedom and the Free Stater, carry stories with a different point of view. Lawrence’s newspapers call the shooting of the fugitive slave an atrocity. Their front pages carry pictures of the dead man’s corpse being displayed outside the Leavenworth saloon.
“Have you heard about them shooting that nigger in Leavenworth?” Louise Collins asks Ellen. Louise finds the event exhilarating.
“I heard it was Claude Coombs who did the shooting. They say it was just about the best shot anyone did see in these parts.” Then in a malicious tone, Louise asks her aunt, “Wasn’t Claude Coombs the one who tried to take you back home?”
Ellen’s face goes white. She struggles to subdue the terrible memories the very name of that slave catcher summons to her mind. Louise’s glows with hate.
“Yes he’s the man who kidnapped me,” Ellen replies. “He’s also the man who murdered your mother.”
Louise stares at her aunt with unblinking eyes. “My mother was murdered by a burr-headed, blubber-lipped nigger running away from his lawful master.” Louise rants in a high-pitched voice. “All escaped niggers need to be in cages where they belong.”
“What are you saying, Louise?” Ellen asks.
Soon, very soon, Louise tells herself, Billy is going to destroy Lawrence and every nigger lover in it. And I’m going to personally invite Claude Coombs here for you, my dear aunt,.
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Louise’s hate feels like a slap in her face. “You blame me!” Ellen cries. “You blame me for your mother’s death.” Pain clutches at Ellen’s heart as Louise’s face twists into an evil grin. Ellen races from the schoolhouse to her cabin. She locks herself in and refuses to speak to anyone for the next three days. Shields and Frank worry about her. Yerby bangs at Ellens cabin. “You must come out,” he pleads. Its one thing for Ellen to face her own guilt and Louise’s accusations, but Claude Coombs terrifies her. Knowing that the slave catcher is less than fifty miles away with nothing to prevent him from coming to the schoolhouse and seizing her makes her hide in her cabin. So she just remains on her cot buried under her blankets waiting. The second day, Frank again pleads with Ellen to come out; but she will not. Ellen has never felt white; she only felt illegitimate. She always felt that she was living a lie. She had wanted to find the truth in the arms of another mixed-breed like herself. But that decision cost Abby her life and might possibly cost Ellen’s as well.
After awhile, Ellen begins experiencing another emotion. It wasn’t very strong at first, but the longer she lies in her cot the angrier she gets. Cowering in her bed being intimidated by someone as foul as Claude Coombs angers her. How dare this hateful, foul man have so much power over my life? Ellen’s inner self shouts out. She’s angry that Louise speak of Negroes as if Louise herself is not one. The longer she lays in her cot, the angrier she becomes. I will not let him destroy me, Ellen finally decides. With that, she rises up and, though light-headed and dizzy from her self-imposed withdrawal, she wobbles over to the door, opens it and stares into the concerned face of Frank Yerby.
“Decided to come out, did you?” Yerby smiles.
“I’ve had enough guilt,” Ellen snaps. “Now I want to get even.”
Ellen walks over to the schoolhouse. In Ellen’s absence, Louise conducts the classes. The students run up, shouting, “Mrs. Collins! Mrs. Collins!” The children give her confidence.
“I’m getting bored with this place,” Louise announces after Ellen has been back teaching for more than a week. “I think I’d like to visit St. Louis for awhile.”
“St. Louis?” Ellen asks. “Why St. Louis? Do you have friends there, Louise?” All free staters know that St. Louis is the center of pro-slavery Democratic plots and conspiracies hatched against them. The very mention of the name, St. Louis, make free state homesteaders shudder.
“If you must know, I have a friend in St. Louis who has come to see me from Boston,” Louise replies. It was the truth.
“From Boston!” Ellen gasps. “Who is he? Is it someone I know?”
“His name is Caleb Cushing,”Louise smiles, pleased with her own self-importance. “But, I don’t believe you know him.”
A week later, Louise boards a river boat for the trip down the Kansas River to Leavenworth and over the Missouri River to St. Louis.
Caleb had booked reservations for Louise at the National Hotel. Opened in 1832 at Third and Market, the National was St. Louis’ finest and most elegant hotel. She had a suite with servants who brought her champagne, drew her bath and massaged her body. The US attorney general occupied the entire top floor of the National. For the next two weeks, Louise and Caleb discussed the Democrat’s plan for Kansas. Actually, Caleb and Louise only discussed Kansas when Cushing was too exhausted from their other, more intimate, discussions. But Caleb Cushing was by no means young or athletic. So Caleb and Louise had a lot of time to discuss Kansas.
“We are strong enough wipe out Lawrence, Topeka and any other free state settlement in Kansas,” Caleb explains.
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“So why don’t we?” Louise asks.
“Too much violence against the homesteaders could work against us,” Caleb explains.
“How will getting rid of all those nigger-loving abolitionists work against us?” Louise wants to know.
“We’re trying to bring Kansas into the Union as a slave state and control all the land in the territory.” Cushing takes his time and explain his plans carefuly to Louise. “Northern free states are not likely to support our petition for statehood if all the homesteaders from the Northern states are being killed.”
Louise thinks about Caleb’s response before admitting that what he says makes sense. They are having lunch in the National’s elegant dining room. To his distres, Cushing looks across the room and spies General Ethan Allen Hitchcock sitting at a table with a couple of his army buddies. The general is staring at Cushing and Louise. Cushing knows Hitchcock well. The attorney general funds the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society. The attorney general hired Hitchcock as the federal agent responsible for organizing the free state resistance to the pro-slavery takeover of Kansas. Using Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society monies, Hitchcock had purchased all the weapons bound for Lawrence.
“Why would Cushing come all the way to St. Louis to have lunch with that intriguing young woman?” Hitchcock asks himself. The general resolves to learn everything he can about Louise Collins. Cushing is no fool; he knows he has revealed himself to a dangerous adversary. Well, the attorney general decides, when the time comes, I’ll have to take care of General Ethan Allen Hitchcock.
Three days later, Louise boards a riverboat leaving St. Louis and steaming west. Five days later she is in the arms of Billy Quantrill in an upper room in A.B.Miller’s hotel. And Louise knows that she is in love. She is far happier in the squalor of Leavenworth
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with her no good bushwhacker, than she was in the luxurious St. Louis hotel with the Attorney General of the United States. After awhile the lovers ’attention turned to Lawrence and the need for the vigilantes to do their work.
“Claude’s shooting that nigger has rallied free staters all over Kansas,” Louise tells Billy.
“Some of their churches even held memorial services for him. Caleb’s concerned that abolitionist sentiment is spreading all over the Kansas territory.”
“What about Lawrence?” Quantrill mumbles.
“Lawrence is headquarters for the Kansas ‘repudiation movement’,” Louise answers.
“I’ve been saying that we should just go down there and kill every abolitionist we find,” Billy snorts. “When will somebody listen to me.”
“Caleb says that we need to prepare first.”
“Caleb wants them to form a militia,” Louise explains. “He knows just the person to put in charge, a deserter from the Mexican war, Jim Lane. He wants them to have some of those guns that we’ve got. You know, the muskets, rifles and some of those Navy Colts.” Cushing doesn’t know about the Sharp’s rifles smuggled into Lawrence under the false bottoms of shipping crates marked “Books.” Jim Lane’s militia has Sharp’s rifles, but no ammunition. Neither do they have cannon balls or cannon shot for their howitzer. In fact, Lawrence has little gunpowder or shot for the standard muskets and pistols.
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“They’re not organized, yet,” Louise continues. “We need to smuggle gunpowder and shot into Lawrence.”
“I still don’t understand,” Billy says.
“Well, honey lamb, you can’t just go in and shoot up a whole town that can’t shoot back.”
“Why not?” Quantrill asks. “We just need to get it over with.”
“For one reason,” Louise replies, “Caleb doesn’t want you
to. He didn’t go to all the trouble of getting them those rifles and not have them
used. And you can’t start a war with only one side doing all the shooting. It
takes two sides to start a war, Honey Chile, just like it’ll take Northern votes to bring
Kansas into the Union as a slave state. We won’t get their votes if you go into
Lawrence, killing and shooting all the free staters and they’re not fighting
“Why do we want them fighting back?”
“How else are we going to blame them for starting an insurrection against the government?”
“If their policy of repudiation catches on,” Quantrill says, “there will be no war and Kansas will be lost. Does Caleb know that?”
“All you men ever think about is your little wars,” Louise smiles demurely. “Of course, Caleb has thought about it. He has organized the Jayhawkers under Jim Lane, didn’t he?”
“Caleb didn’t organize them, you did!“ Billy Quantrill says in a voice tinged with jealousy. “You just twisted that Jim Lane around your finger. When the time comes, Caleb can thank you when he is forced to send in the army to restore order in Kansas.”
“Yes!” Louise smiles. “And you and I will see a petition for admitting Kansas into the union as a slave state pass Congress. But right now, Lawrence needs ammunition for their weapons so that they can fight back when you attack them.”
Billy Quantrill understands that Caleb and Louise have already made their plans without him, so he sulks. “I don’t think I can take much more of her bossing me around like she does,” he mutters himself.
As if she could hear his thoughts, Louise replies, “But Caleb didn’t say nothing about letting more nigger-lovers into Lawrence or letting Lawrence continue getting their supplies.”
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Looking at Louise, Billy breaks into a smile and lets out a yell. Quantrill loses no time ordering hordes of vigilantes and border ruffians into Kansas.“Nothing and no one is to reach Lawrence,” he tells them. Vigilantes from Missouri, South Carolina and Texas pour into Leavenworth, signing on to patrol free state settlements all over Kansas especially those around Lawrence. The bushwhackers rob every free state homesteader unfortunate enough to fall into their hands. They ambush wagons with supplies bound for Lawrence. Vigilantes shoot and lynch many of the homesteaders and, leaving their bodies unburied as a warning to others.
As the blockade around Lawrence tightens, free state homesteaders feel the shortages. The children are hungry. Ellen notices a steady decline in school attendance.The children who come to school are listless and inattentive. The churches are unable to help their parishioners. Citizens complain. Mayor Hoyt asks Jim Lane to address the town council and repudiation committee.
“The problem is simple,” Lane says. “There is not enough food and supplies getting through the blockade. But my militia cannot escort the supply trains through the blocade, because we have no ammunition for our weapons.”
“Isn’t there a way to bring in more supplies without resorting to violence?” Mayor Hoyt asks.
“We are not resorting to violence,” Louise retorts. “We are protecting what is ours. But if Colonel Lane is to protect us, he needs ammunition for his rifles.”
“What do you suggest, Colonel?” Hoyt asks.
“Someone must go out and bring gunpowder and ammunition into Lawrence,” Lane replies. This is what Stoddard Hoyt had feared. The mayor had hoped that by keeping
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the gunpowder and ammunition out of Lawrence, he could avert bloodshed. “The roadhouse on the Santa Fe Road is outside the vigilantes’ blockade,” Louise reports, “Ammunition and gunpowder is available there for a price.”
“Who do you suggest we send for it,” Mayor Hoyt asks.
“The vigilante pickets are far too gallant to molest women,” Louise replies. “My Aunt Ellen and I should be able to bring the powder and ammunition back to Lawrence without any problem.” Turning to Ellen, she asks, “You don’t have any objection do you?” Ellen hesitates briefly, but agrees. The repudiation committee and town council approve Louise’s recommendation and give Ellen and Louise permission to ride out to the Santa Fe roadhouse for the gunpowder and ammunition for Jim Lane’s militia.
When Ellen and Louise return from the committee meeting, Frank senses that something is wrong;
“Louise and I are going out to the Santa Fe Roadhouse to pick up gunpowder and ammunition for the Lawrence militia,” Ellen informs him.
“Have you lost your mind?” Yerby asks Ellen. “No don’t tell me, it was Louise’s idea!” “Someone has to go,” Ellen replies. “We were the logical choice.”
“Logical to whom?” Yerby asks.
“If the bushwhackers and vigilantes from Missouri attack Lawrence, our militia will need ammunition and gunpowder to defend us.” Ellen simply states the facts.
“How compatible with your Cathar beliefs is getting gunpowder and bullets that will be used to kill other humans?” Yerby’s cooment is meant to catch Ellen off guard.
Ellen doesn’t know whether to feel hurt or amused. So she just smiles and says, “I know you worry about me, Frank, but don’t. This is something I must do. I owe it to Louise.”
“You don’t owe Louise anything.” Yerby’s tone is calm.
“I owe Louise her mother’s life,” Ellen says.
“Have you considered that Louise may be working with the vigilance party?” Frank asks Ellen.
Ellen does not hesitate. “Yes, I have considered it. But I don’t believe that it’s possible. Louise has colored blood. She wouldn’t protect those guilty of murdering her own
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mother. I know she seems a little confused but I refuse to believe that of Louise.”
“Louise is not confused!” Yerby says, He uses a sharp and critical tone. “You are the only one who is confused. Louise knows very well what wants.”
“And what is that, Frank?” Ellen asks.
“She wants vengeance.”
“All I have ever done was try to love her,” Ellen sighs
“Love simply enrages those who hate,” Yerby says. “Louise doesn’t think the way we do.”
“But why shouldn’t I love her?” Ellen sighs. “I am her aunt. Her mother was my sister. I loved Abby so much___ I would not have harmed her for the world.” Tears gather unbidden in Ellen’s eyes. They begin their gentle descent down her cheeks. And then great heaves of emotion seize her convulsing Ellen’s entire body into uncontrollable sobs. All Yerby can do is hold her close while the flood of tears wash away her pain. After awhile, Yerby says, “You may want Louise’s forgiveness, but she isn’t ready to forgive you.”
Even though his words were meant to be comforting,Yerby sees the terrible hurt in Ellen’s eyes. “But if anything can reach her, your love can,” he adds.
Later on in the evening, Frank and Shields discuss what they should do. “Mayor Hoyt and the committee are sending women because they don’t expect the vigilantes to molest them,” Yerby says. “If we ride with them, the chances of their being stopped will increase.”
“On the other hand, they might just think we the white women’s servants,” Shields replies.
“The vigilantes know that there are no slaves in Lawrence,” Yerby says. “No, I think we need to stay away from them but keep them in sight, which means we need horses.“
“Well, that may be what you think, but I intend to be right in that wagon with Ms. Ellen all the way to the Santa Fe Roadhouse and back,” Shields says.
The next day before dawn Yerby rides out towards the Santa Fe Roadhouse. At a good pace, Shields and the two women drive their wagon out of Lawrence at the same time.
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Yerby rides across the plains keeping the wagon in sight while watching for horsemen riding the Santa Fe Road in either direction. All day, he sees no one. Louise arranged that the vigilantes not interfere with their journey to the roadhouse. She planned this to be a pleasant journey for Ellen since it would be her last. Shields pulls the wagon up to the entrance of the Santa Fe Roadhouse just as evening stars make their appearance in the purpling sky.
The Santa Fe Roadhouse is a compound of log cabins clustered near a solid two-story log structure surrounded by a high wooden fence, gated front and rear. The roadhouse is far sturdier and more solidly constructed than most of the buildings in Lawrence. It was originally built as a army fort, but was abandoned once all the Indians in the area had been exterminated. The roadhouse had a big barn for horses and wagon. The main building opened into a great hall with a huge stone fireplace raised above the floor. Opposite the hall was a large dining room with two long tables facing each other. At the end of the dining room was the entry to the kitchen. To the left of the entry, stairs led to the guest rooms. Louise and Ellen approach a beaming elderly gentleman behind a great desk.
“Welcome! Welcome! How long will you be staying with us?” The hostler squints through round spectacles that do little to improve his failing eyesight.
“Just until tomorrow morning,” Louise replies. “We have come to take delivery of books
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and supplies for the school in Lawrence.”
“Yes, of course, Madam,” the proprietor responds. “We have a very nice room for you upstairs.Your boys can stay out in one of the cabins.”
“Do you have separate rooms for me and my aunt?” Louise asks.
“Of course,” the proprietor replies.
As the women go upstairs to wash the Kansas plains off their hands and faces, Frank helps Shields water and feed the horses. After attending to the animals, they return to the main building just as Ellen and Louise come downstairs.
“You two boys can go out to the cabin in the rear,” the smiling roadhouse manager says. “Suzie back in the kitchen will ring the bell when she has your food buckets ready.”
“Yessir,” Shields says. He and Frank retreat back out the door to an empty cabin in the rear.
In the main hall, several men lounge about in front of the great fireplace. One, in particular, Billy Quantrill, is all too familiar to Louise. Claude Coombs and Jake are also present. Louise watches to see Ellen’s reaction to the fugitive slave catcher. Louise’s eyes gleam devilisly. Louise has waited for this moment for nearly five years. She now has Ellen completely under her control. Not even her niggers outside in their cabin can help Ellen now.
Two other men slouching about in the hall also belong to Quantrill’s gang. However, one of them is a spy. Hitchcock sent this army officer to Leavenworth to join Quantrill’s vigilance committee. Other men lounging about the hall do not belong to Quantrill’s vigilante group. The roadhouse keeper cannot remember when he had so many guests ___ all arriving on the same day.
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Across from the great hall in the dining area, Hitchcock has additional men. The general had sent twenty men to the Santa Fe Roadhouse, as soon as he discovered Louise’s plot. They had been at the roadhouse most of the day.
“Didn’t think you’d see us again, did you, little lady?” Claude grins at Ellen.
But just as Ellen shrinks away from the infamous slave catcher, an authoriative voice booms from the entryway. “I don’t believe she is interested in your company.”
General Hitchcock slowly walks into the great hall. Behind him are Yerby and Green. “Ellen, please step over here. Gentlemen …” At Hitchcock’s command, his men in the great hall as well as those entering the hall from the dining room, draw their pistols. The vigilantes are taken by surprise.
“If you gentlemen will drop your weapons,”Hitchcock continues to Quantrill and his men, “you will be searched. Please cooperate and you will soon be on your way.”
Louise is livid. She and Quantrill exchange looks. How can this be happening? Billy reads Louise’s eyes. Suddenly she leaps for the revolvers lying on the floor and shouts, “Here, Billy, kill her! Kill her!”
But neither Billy Quantrill nor Claude Coombs are fools. They have killed so many homesteaders, that neither expect any mercy from General Hitchcock. Both take advantage of the diversion to race for the door and make good their escape. But Jake, who was always apt to do something stupid, takes the gun from Louise. Hitchcock’s men, all army veterans, are clear- headed under fire. Jake gets as far as cocking the trigger before the guns in the hands of all seven men bark. In an instant, Jake’s body convulses violently under the impact of the forty-four caliber lead balls simultaneously slamming into him. The slave catcher is dead even before his body hits the floor. But not all of the bullets hit Jake. Others find another target. Louise lies crumpled on the floor next to Jake. Her face twists into a hateful grimace; blood trickles from two wounds in her chest.
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“You must leave at once,” the roadhouse proprietor says emerging from behind the reception desk. “This will look bad for me ___ very bad.”
“Come on, Ellen, your ‘books’ are loaded in your wagon,” Hitchcock tries to guide Ellen toward the door. But Ellen pulls away and, sitting on the floor, cradles Louise’s head in her lap and gently rocks to and fro just as she had Dwight Jr. and Elaine when they were babies. “Come, Ellen,” Hitchcock repeats. “Those others are on foot, but we will need time to get away.” Ellen continues to rock Louise, as if she does not hear him. Finally, Hitchcock thunders, “Ellen, snap out of it. We must go now!”
Ellen looks up and says, “She had so much hate in her.” Then she gets up and she says, “We can’t just leave her here.”
“What do you suggest we do?” Hitchcock asks. He is used to leaving the fallen where they lay.
“We must bring her back to Lawrence and give her a proper burial.”
Frank and Shields hitch the wagon to a fresh set of horses. They wrap and load Louise’s body onto the wagon. Hitchcock’s men drive the wagon loaded with ammunition for the Sharp’s rifles and crates of gunpowder and shot. The full moon bathing the Kansas prairie in a bright light guides the party back to Lawrence. On a couple of occasions, riders —or rather the shadows of riders — are spotted, but just before dawn the group descends the familiar plain and, without further incident, deliver the ammunition, powder and shot into Lawrence.
Why are we wasting time?” Quantrill’s impatience swells into anger. “We have enough men here to wipe out every nigger-loving abolitionist in Kansas, starting with Lawrence.”
Davy Atchison patiently listens Quantrill’s ranting. Atchison owns large swaths of land in Missouri, most of which was originally Indian land. But the process of identifying good land with access to water, driving off the Indians and aquiring title through land office took patience. Atchison was an important member of the Democratic Party’s inner circle, that also took patience. Biding his time while taking orders from the attorney general’s mistress, took a level of patience that would have destroyed lesser men. Now with the death of Louise Collins, Davy is the US attorney general’s number two man in Kansas and is committed to the government’s absorbtion of the Kansas territory into the United States. Billy Quantrill, Jefferson Davis’ protégé, gives the orders in Leavenworth, but Quantrill needs Atchison’s men to launch an attack on Lawrence. Atchison has a company of three hundred vigilantes in Leavenworth, camped at Salt Creek three miles away. Another eight hundred ruffians work on Davy Atchison’s three Missouri plantations. To attack Lawrence, Quantrill needs Atchison’s men and Atchison counsels patience.
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“I know how you feel about Lawrence,” Atchison tells Quantrill. “Miss Collins was a fine woman and a patriot. All of us mourn her loss. We have all vowed to make them damned abolitionists in Lawrence pay for what they did. But we can’t go off half cocked.”
“You ain’t scared are you Davy?” Billy asks.
“No, I ain’t scared, Billy,” Davy replies. “But I heard tell that those were soldiers at that roadhouse. Everything must be done legal or we might find ourselves fighting them army boys out of Fort Leavenworth.” Actually, Atchison was more concerned with the free staters with Sharp’s rifles then the Army. He didn’t want his men slaughtered in a senseless attack on Lawrence. Atchison never understood why Louise and Billy let the abolitionists in Lawrence get weapons in the first place.
“Well Davy,” Quantrill asks his second in charge, “what do you suggest that I do.”
“I have a plan that might try,” Davy smiles. It’s a plan that Caleb Cushing, himself, recommended.
“You know Wilson Shannon, don’t you, Lyle?” Quantrill asks the balding, middle-aged editor of The Herald, Leavenworth’s only newspaper. Billy had invited Lyle Eastin to join him for a drink. Billy wanted to discuss Kansas politics with the newspaper editor. Like everyone in Leavenworth, Lyle Eastin is a drunk and eyes Quantrill’s bottle of well-aged whiskey, greedily. Billy Quantrill pours the editor a glassful and Lyle Eastin slurps it down in a single gulp.
“You mean the newly appointed governor of Kansas?” Eastin replies.
“The very same,” Quantrill says, pouring the editor another glass.
“Certainly I know the new territorial governor, my boy.” Eastin beams as he downs another shot. “I was wondering why you invited me over to your table.”
“I need a favor.”
“You need me to put in a word with my friend, Governor Shannon?”
“Don’t you think that the governor should know about the lawlessness in Lawrence?” Quantrill asks, giving the editor of The Herald a sly look.
“Lawlessness?” Eastin gasps in mock concern.
“Actually, it’s more like outright anarchy,” Quantrill asserts. “And it’s your responsibilty
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to apprise Governor Shannon of the situation in Lawrence.”
“Certainly, my boy,” the drunk editor agrees, “certainly!”
Stumbling to his feet, Lyle Eastin downs his final glass of whiskey before lurching out of Miller’s. And true to his word, after sobering up somewhat, Lyle Eastin sends his friend, Wilson Shannon, a message alerting him to the alarming conditions in Lawrence where heavily armed outlaws are entrenched inside the city limits. Furthermore, Eastin informs Shannon that over a thousand of these outlaws, armed with cannon and Sharp’s rifles, are resisting legal authority and threatening the lives of innocent families who came to Kansas from Missouri to claim the free land granted them by the federal government. Eastin recommends that the governor call for a volunteer militia to engage and disband this free state militia calling themselves, ‘repuudiators’.
Daniel Woodson, who serves as Governor Shannon’s secretary, receives Eastin’s telegraph message. Woodson is the head of the Kansas Law and Order Party and personally approved every law and order office holder sitting in the Kansas territorial legislature. Woodson is Cushing’s man in Lecompton. He had little success urging Governor Reeder to take action against Lawrence’s repudiation movement. He hopes to have more success with Reeder’s replacement, Wilson Shannon, pushing the Democratic Party pro-slavery agenda.
“It’s time to act,” Woodson tells Governor Shannon. Woodson thrusts a proclamation in front of him calling for a state militia to enforce the law in Lawrence. Shannon signs the proclamation. Woodson contacts Caleb Cushing and awaits further instructions.
Over 1500 vigilantes answer Governor Shannon’s call for a state militia. Alarmed his attorney general’s report that free staters are repudiating the law, President Franklin Pierce directs his Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, to put federal troops from Fort Leavenworth at the disposal of Governor Shannon. subdue free stater lawlessness in and around Lawrence. Governor Shannon wires Fort Leavenworth’s commander to march upon Lawrence as soon as he receives the authorization from Washington. With the law in Kansas on their side, the pro-slavery leaders in Washington are anxious to crush the free-state movement once and for all. Woodson receives a message from Cushing: Notify Quantrill, Atchison and Miller to march on Lawrence.
“The Repudiation Committee will come to order,” Mayor Hoyt announces. “Governor Shannon desires to address us about this most urgent situation.” Twenty members of Lawrence’s repudiation committee and the town council meet with the territorial governor of Kansas. Lawrence is ringed with border ruffians and vigilantes. Lawrence’s citizens wait outside to learn how the governor proposes to abort the threatened attack. Most of the free state homesteaders see Wilson Shannon as the enemy. Shannon is a member of the Kansas Law and Order Party. Shannon was appointed to serve the interests of Washington’s pro-slavery Democratic Party. The governor had issued the proclamation raising the state militia, made up of Missourians, that for weeks had rampaged about Lawrence, murdering free state homesteaders. But Wilson Shannon was unwilling to order the final bloody assault on Lawrence. Instead, Shannon decided to resolve the situation peacebly.
“As your territorial governor,” Shannon begins, “I have come to resolve what has become a serious misunderstanding between the citizens of Lawrence and myself. Regardless of the rumors, I did not request those vigilantes from Missouri to represent the government
of Kansas in a war against the town of Lawrence or any other town here in Kansas.”
“Then what are you proposing, Governor?” asks one council member.
“In return for the commitment of the citizens of Lawrence not to resist the execution of any laws enacted by legal authority, I will discharge Missourians from my territorial militia and send them back to Missouri.”
“But what if they come anyway, Governor?”
“I will commission a militia from Lawrence under the command of General Jim Lane, here, to take any action he believes appropriate to resist the attack. In addition, the Kansas territorial government will pay any damages or loses suffered at the hands of an illegal invasion. I will have any illegal invader arrested.”
With that the committee wastes no time in approving Governor Shannon’s proposed peace treaty. Once he completes his business with Mayor Hoyt and the citizens of Lawrence, Governor Shannon goes out to where Quantrill’s vigilantes and bushwhackers are camped.
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“The citizens of Lawrence have agreed to allow all legal writs and warrants to be served by the sheriff,” Shannon informs the vigilantes. “There’s no longer any need for your
militia here in Lawrence.” The vigilante leaders grumble at Shannon’s announcement.
Their men had been camped outside Lawrence for some time anticipating their share of the loot.
“We can’t back out now,” Quantrill shouts at Shannon, “our men won’t stand for it.”
“If you attack,” Shannon tells them,“I’ll have the army hunt you down as outlaws.”
But in the end it’s not Governor Shannon’s threat but the weather that turns the vigilantes back. Even as the governor discusses the situation, a wind suddenly blows down from the arctic. The blast chills everything it touches. By the time the governor and his party sets out for Lecompton, the winds have blown in an arctic storm. The temperature plunges to zero. The winds blow a blizzard of snow and sleet. The blizzard forces the ruffians who wear little more than a shirt and saddle pants, to retreat back to Leavenworth and saves Lawrence from destruction this time. The next time, Lawrence will not be so fortunate.
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Most of Lawrence homesteaders celebrate Governor Shannon’s peaceful settlement. However, one tall, raw-boned homesteader with a bearded face and piercing, unsmiling eyes, rails against it. Recently, John Brown joined the free state settlement at Osawatomie. When news of the attack on Lawrence reached his settlement, John Brown and his four sons joined other free staters coming to the town’s defense, arriving in Lawrence on the day the treaty was announced.
“The only way of concluding this issue is by soundly thrashing them law and order bushwhackers,” John Brown thunders. “We’ve gotta send those vigilantes back to Missouri with their tails between their legs.”
But the citizens of Lawrence who have suffered a protracted blockade welcome the end of the violence. John Brown is an outsider; he hadn’t suffered hunger as the others had. Members of his family hadn’t been lynched and had their land stolen as others had. Only Ellen Collins pays any attention to John Brown. Though she shudders at his words, Ellen believes the stern-faced prophet is right.
“Lawrence has not seen the last of those bushwhackers,” Ellen confides to Frank even as the arctic winds blow in the harsh winter storm.
“If you believe that John Brown is right,” Yerby replies, “then we better start getting ready.”
“How?” Ellen asks.
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“Those ‘bushwhackers’ will be back with their blockade,” Yerby reasons. “You’d better be thinking about how to keep supplies coming in.”
“…and us getting out,” Shields chimes in.
“You’re right about that,” Ellen agrees.
Ellen continues convening the meetings of the repudiation committee. She tries to get them to plan for the defense of Lawrence. But the committee believes that the defense of Lawrence should be handled by Jim Lane and Lawrence’s militia. They are armed, and have ammunition.
“The fact that the militia is armed with Sharp’s rifles does not change the facts,” Ellen argues.
“When Lawrence was surrounded by vigilantes, Jim Lane and his militia did nothing to defend Lawrence,” she says. “And he won’t do anything the next time, either.”
“We have the governor’s word,” one town councilman says. “There won’t be a next time.”
“There will be a next time.” Ellen warns. “ Believe me. Evil never rests.”
The spring of 1856, following Governor Stoddard’s uneasy peace settlement, the free staters hold a constitutional convention in Topeka. They draft a petition for statehood and elect state constitutional officers. The convention elects Charles Robinson governor of the free state of Kansas. All over Kansas free staters cheer the Topeka Movement, but, very quietly, the pro-slavery forces cheer the Topeka Movement as well.
Quantrill reads a telegraph message from Lecompton:“The entire gang has been indicted.” “We ’ve got them, Davy!” Quantrill shouts.
“We got who?” Atchison asks.
“A Lecompton grand jury has indicted every officer elected by the Topeka Convention on charges of treason,” Quantrill exults. The Topeka Convention’s petition for statehood included a prohibition against slavery in violation of Kansas territorial law.
“That’s what we’ve been waiting for,” Atchison beams.
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“They indicted the Free State Hotel as well as the Herald of Freedom and Free State newspapers in Lawrence,” Quantrill gloats. “We’ll burn them to the ground.”
“Call out the boys,” Atchison says.“Now we’ll show those nigger-loving abolitionists who runs Kansas.”
On May 21,1856, once again, the earth around Lawrence rumbles and the air is thick with dirt and dust as hundreds of riders thunder across the plains. This time the riders don’t wear white ribbons nor do they intend to vote. The riders are armed and are intent on violence.
Ellen and the other members of the repudiation committee meet with the mayor and the town council in Lawrence’s Free State Hotel.
“What should we do?”
“We must defend ourselves,” says Gaius Jenkins, a free state homesteader, who owns a forty acre parcel. One of the free state constitutional officers elected in Topeka, Jenkins is under indictment for treason.
“Mayor, we can’t fight these vigilantes,” a councilman says. His sentiments are echoed by most of the others.
“Where is Jim Lane and the Lawrence militia?” Jenkins asks. “We are paying them.”
Quantrill had warned Jim Lane that he was about to attack Lawrence. Lane and his lieutinants had fled days earlier.
Quantrill and Atchison crowd Lawrence’s main street with their vigilantes.
“Bring all your weapons to the Free State Hotel within one halfhour,” booms Atchison. “If you do not surrender all your weapons, we will burn down your town,” Quantrill adds.
Mayor Hoyt emerges from the hotel to face the vigilante leaders. “What weapons are you referring to?” he asks.
“You know what weapons that we want,” Quantrill snaps. “We want your cannon, your
A V I C T I M ’S G U I L T 3 7 5
Sharp’s rifles and all your ammunition.”
While Quantrill waits Members of the repudiation committee trudge over to the wooden shanty that serves as Lawrence’s armory. The vigilantes are anxious; they have waited a long time for this opportunity and they are eager for action. But they wait for their orders. Quantrill looks around Lawrence. There is a stark difference between Lawrence and Leavenworth. The streets of Lawrence are clean with neat rows of wooden houses boasting modest flower gardens in the front and large vegetable gardens in the rear. Church spires pierce the sky giving the town a look of culture and charm. Lawrence’s commercial enterprises include general and hardware stores, an apothecary, post and telegraph offices, a land claim and legal office, livery stables, doctors, dentists, shipping firms, warehouses and two newspapers. Billy Quantrill hates Lawrence.
In contrast, Leavenworth is a squalid and filthy pesthole whose only commercial activities are located in gambling, drinking and prostitution houses. Leavenworth’s denizens are primarily engaged in land grabbing, intimidation and murder.
Lawrence’s citizen committee delivers five boxes of Sharp’s rifles, one hundred rifles altogether. One of Ellen’s precautions was to hide boxes of Beecher’s “bibles,” containing two hundred Sharp’s rifles. However, Quantrill only expects to find the hundred rifles and the the six pound howitzer cannon. He is satisfied. “Take those rifles back to camp,” he orders. “Get that howitzer ready!”
“Yessir,” one of his men says. The men are eager.
“Search the town,” Quantrill orders. “Seize any contraband and arrest every Topeka leader you find. If anyone resists, shoot them and burn their house down.”
And the outrages begin. The vigilantes raid and loot every home. They take money, valuables, clothes and livestock. Quantrill’s men shoot a number of citizens; some for resisting; other for the pleasure of killing. Women plead with the invaders, but to no avail. The law and order vigilantes set wooden cabins ablaze. The fires spread to many. Men are shot trying to save their homes. One of those shot is the brother-in-law of the Reverend Ephraim Nute, pastor of Lawrence’s Unitarian Church. His scalp was taken back to Leavenworth as a trophy. Gaius Jenkins and other free state party leaders are arrested.
Quantrill orders his men to fire the howitzer first on the newspaper offices, then on the Free State Hotel. He wants them each destroyed. For hours the vigilantes set about their task, going house by house, looting and burning. Quantrill watches as his men shoot shell after shell into Lawrence’s hotel and newspaper offices. After inflicting as much damage as possible, Quantrill orders what remains of the buildings to be burned to the ground.
While Quantrill is raiding Lawrence, Davy Atchison leads his men looting, pillaging and burning homesteaders in the vicinity of Lawrence.. But even before the first building is burned or the first citizen shot, Claude Coombs searches all over Lawrence for Ellen Collins. Claude has a score to settle. But throughout that day and over the next several, Claude searches in vain. One of the first tasks Shields Green had set for himself after the governor’s temporary treaty was to build an escape tunnel from the school. He and Frank dig and reinforce an escape tunnel that leads to a secret trail leading up into the foothills. By the time Claude has begun his search, Shields, Frank and Ellen are secure in a cave on the side of Mount Oread in the foothills overlooking Lawrence.
Upon hearing of the attack, John Brown and his sons rush to Lawrence. Once again, he is late. Already loaded down with plunder and loot, Quantrill’s vigilantes are straggling back to Leavenworth. However, Davy Atchison’s vigilantes attack on free state settlements lead them to Osawatomie. They loot and burn down John Brown’s home as well as the homes of his neighbors. When John Brown returns and finds his home destroyed and his belongings gone, he rides to a pro-slavery settlement on thePottawatomie Creek. Sneaking up a number of individual cabins, John Brown captures five sleeping pro-slavery men. Brown orders his sons to kill the five men in front of their wives and children. Four are hacked to death with swords. The fifth is shot attempting to escape.
During the next several months, the law and order vigilance party imposes an embargo against Lawrence. Not a sack of flour or bushel of meal is available for miles around. Over two thousand men, women and children in Lawrence slowly starve. And in Washington, the Democratic Party congradulates itself on the destruction of those homesteaders who intended to make Kansas a free state.
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