Parent Category: Kansas State History Articles
Category: Kansas People
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Little Known of Kansas in 1854 

Kansas in 1854 was, to most people, only a name, a part of the great desert in the Far West, an Indian country. Many of those who had crossed it in emigrating to California had been impressed with the beauty and richness of the country and had written back glowing accounts of it. Some of them had returned from the coast, and were now numbered among our early settlers. When its organization as a territory brought it into such prominence, knowledge of Kansas soon became more general.


Advantages of the South

The people of the South felt confident that they could make it a slave state, for they had gained many victories in Congress, and the President, Franklin Pierce, was in sympathy with them. Moreover, they were closer to Kansas than were the northern people, and the only state touching Kansas was the slave state Missouri.

Advantages of the North 

The people of the North, however, possessed one very important advantage. The population of the South consisted largely of plantation owners and their slaves, and it was not an easy matter for these men to leave their property or to take it into a new and untried country. On the other hand, the North was a land of small farms and shops and many laborers. Moreover, there was much foreign immigration into the United States in those years, and since the employment of slaves left no place in the South for white laborers, most of the immigrants entered the northern states, and added to the number of those who were ready and anxious to go farther west. Consequently many more settlers came into Kansas from the North than from the South, but the Southerners tried to overcome this handicap in other ways.

The Coming of the Missourians 

The plan of the South was to use Missouri as the stepping-stone to Kansas. Immediately following the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill a number of Missourians came over into Kansas and took as claims large tracts of the best lands, in some cases not even waiting for the removal of the Indians. Settlers who asked for claims were required to build houses and to use the land for homes for a certain length of time. While some of the Missourians met these requirements, many of them did not come here to live. They notched trees, or posted notices, or laid rails on the ground in the shape of a house, or in some other way indicated their claims, and returned to their homes in Missouri, coming back only to vote or to fight when it seemed to them necessary. While in Kansas, however, they held a meeting at which it was resolved that: "We recognize slavery as always existing in this Territory," and, "We will afford protection to no abolitionists as settlers of Kansas Territory."

Handicap to Northern Emigration 

The free-state people could not step over a boundary line and be in Kansas. They lived a long way off, the trip out here was expensive, and little was known of the new Territory. It was a land without homes or towns, churches, schools, or newspapers, and the Northerners knew that people would hesitate to start to Kansas under all these difficulties.

The New England Emigrant Aid Company

So it came about that even while the Kansas-Nebraska Bill was pending in Congress a Massachusetts man named Eli Thayer had thought out a plan for assisting and encouraging the people to undertake the long journey. His plan was to form a company for the purpose of inducing and organ-izing emigration to Kansas and reducing the expense and hardship involved. This was not to be done as charity, but was to be put on a business basis. Thayer aroused public interest in his plan by constant writing and speaking, and since the people were ready to listen to whatever promised to aid in making Kansas a free state, money enough was soon raised to organize a company, called the New England Emigrant Aid Company. It gathered and published information concerning the new country and organized emigrants into large parties in order to make the journey more pleasant, to reduce expense, and to lessen danger. Competent guides were sent with the parties. The company established schools, newspapers, mills, hotels, and other improvements that tended to lessen the hardships of the pioneers and to further the development of the new Territory. Several similar organizations were formed, but none of them was so well known nor so efficient as the New England Emigrant Aid Company.

Work of the Emigrant Aid Companies

Hundreds of people came here under the management of these companies, but probably the greatest service the companies performed was that of giving an immense amount of publicity and advertising to Kansas. Newspapers were filled with descriptions of the loveliness, the fertility, and the future greatness of the new Territory, and people were urged to go to Kansas at once, both to secure the advantages of the country and to help in saving it from slavery. In this way interest and enthusiasm were aroused over the whole North, but for every one who came in one of the emigrant aid parties there were many who came independently, especially from the states farther west than New England —Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa.

Southern Organizations

The organizations in the North aroused much bitter feeling in the South, and a reward was offered for the capture of EH Thayer. The South soon formed organizations too, some of them being known as Blue Lodges, Social Bands, and Sons of the South.

The Coming of the Free-state Settlers 

As has been stated, the Missourians came into Kansas immediately after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill on May 30, but the free-state people were not far behind, for on the first day of August, just two months later, the first party of emigrants sent out by the New England Emigrant Aid Company reached the Territory. Even these were not the first free-state men to arrive; a few who had come independently were already here.

The First Party of Settlers 

This first party consisted of only twenty-nine men. It had been organized with some difficulty, for coming to Kansas was looked upon as a dangerous undertaking. Hundreds of people gathered to bid these men farewell as they started on their long journey to take part in the great conflict between freedom and slavery. There were many who would not have been surprised had the whole party been murdered on their arrival in Kansas, but when nothing of the kind happened others took courage and more parties soon followed.

They Reach the Present Site of Lawrence 

The pioneer party reached St. Louis by railroad, where they boarded a steamboat and came up the Missouri River to Kansas City, then a town of only three or four hundred people. There they purchased an ox team to transport their baggage, and on Saturday evening set out on foot into Kansas. By Tuesday noon they reached the present site of Lawrence, where they pitched their tents on a big flat-topped hill. Today the great buildings of the University of Kansas stand on this hill, which is still called Mount Oread, ^ the name given it by this first party of pioneers. The weather was extremely hot; a drouth had parched the earth and prairie fires had destroyed the grass, but the pioneers were not discouraged. They staked out claims in the surrounding country and began preparations for the future.

The Second Party Arrives 

In a short time the second party arrived. It was under the direction of Dr. Charles Robinson and Samuel C. Pomeroy, who were leaders in the free-state cause during the whole Territorial struggle. This party was much larger, and part of its members were women and children. The town was now laid out, organized, and named Lawrence.^ On the arrival of this party a boarding house was established by two of the women. It was thus described by a writer of that time: "In the open air, on some logs of wood, two rough boards were laid across for a table, and on washtubs, kegs, and blocks the boarders were seated around it." A short time later a hotel was opened. It was constructed by driving into the ground two long rows of poles, which were brought together at the top and the sides thatched with prairie grass. The ends were made of cotton cloth, and the building resembled the "stray roof of a huge warehouse."

Getting Ready for the First Winter

The people lived in tents and houses of thatch through the summer and fall, but in the meantime all were busy getting log cabins ready for the winter. By the time winter had come a number of things had been accomplished: a sawmill was running, churches had been organized, two newspapers had been established, and Lawrence had been granted a post office with mail from Kansas City three times a week. The population was about four hundred. Many of the cabins still had cloth doors and were without floors, and altogether the people had all they could do to take care of themselves through the winter. When two more parties of emigrants arrived at the beginning of winter the task became much more difficult.

The Actual Settlers' Association

Besides the work of building homes and developing the town, there was much to occupy the minds of the pioneers. Missourians had taken claims over much of the eastern part of the Territory. While some pro-slavery settlers had come to make homes, just as the free-state settlers had, most of those who had taken claims were really living in Missouri. When the first party came to Lawrence, the members bought out the claims where they located their town; later other claimants appeared, and there was much trouble over the title to the land. The same kind of trouble arose in regard to the land taken by many freestate settlers outside of Lawrence. It became a common occurrence for a Missourian to come over and lay claim to some free-state man's land and warn him to leave the Territory. This caused the formation of the Actual Settlers' Association, which helped to adjust such difficulties.

Other Towns

Lawrence was not the only place in the Territory that was settled before the close of the first winter. People were coming in from north, east, and south, settling on claims and starting other towns. The principal proslavery towns were Leavenworth, Atchison, and Lecompton. Free-state towns were Lawrence, Topeka, Osawatomie, and Manhattan. Leavenworth and Atchison were both founded by people from Missouri, and, since they were on the Missouri River, came to be out-fitting points for travelers over the California and Salt Lake Trails. Lecompton, on the Kansas River, not far from Lawrence, soon became the headquarters of the proslavery people, and for several years was the Territorial capital. Topeka was founded with the hope of its becoming the capital of Kansas. Osawatomie soon became an important free-state center. Manhattan, on the Kansas River at the mouth of the Big Blue, was for the first few months called Boston. On the arrival of a party of seventy-five people from Cincinnati, Ohio, the name was changed to Manhattan. This party made the entire trip from Cincinnati to Manhattan by boat.


When Kansas Territory was organized little was known of it, but, because it was wanted by both the North and the South, knowledge of Kansas spread rapidly. The South had the support of every branch of the National Government and the added advantage that the only State touching Kansas was proslavery. The advantage of the North lay in the fact that it had a much larger number of people who were free to move to a new country. The proslavery Missourians came in at once and took claims. A few free-state people came within a month, and in two months the emigrant aid parties began to arrive. The fact that many Missourians had staked out claims and gone back home led to numerous claim disputes and caused the organization of the Actual Settlers* Association. By the time winter had come four emigrant aid parties had arrived at Lawrence, many settlers were living on their claims, and several towns had been started by each side.


Spring, Kansas, pp. 29-40. Brooks, The Boy Settlers. Prentis, History of Kansas, pp. 71-78. Thayer, The Kansas Crusade. Robinson, The Kansas Conflict, chaps, ii-iv. Mrs. Robinson, Kansas —Its Interior and Exterior Life. Gihon, Geary and Kansas, chap. iv. Historical Collections, vol. vi, p. 90; vol. ix, p. 144.


1. When was Kansas organized as a territory? In what ways had the people gained any knowledge of Kansas up to this time? Why did Kansas soon become well known? 

2. What advantages did the South have in the effort to win Kansas? The North? 

3. Contrast the manner of life in the North and the South in those days. What do you know of the conditions to-day? 

4. Why did Missouri play an important part in early Kansas affairs? Explain how Missourians took claims. 

5. Why did the North organize emigrant aid companies? What was the chief company? What did it do? Did all the Kansas settlers come under the management of these companies? 

6. What was the attitude of the South toward these organizations? 

7. When did the first emigrant aid party arrive? Tell of their journey; their settlement. Were they the first free-state settlers to arrive? 8. Give an account of the second party. Tell something of the way they lived. What had been accomplished by the time winter set in? 

9. What was the Actual Settlers' Association? Why was it formed? 

10. Name several persons connected with this period of Kansas history, and tell something of each. 

11. Name and locate some of the towns settled during this period.


Source: A History of Kansas / Anna E. Arnold. pp.62-71

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