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Parent Category: Kansas State History Articles
Category: Territorial Kansas
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The long line separating the Indian and agricultural frontiers was in 1850 but little farther west than the point which it had reached by 1820. Then it had arrived at the bend of the Missouri, where it remained for thirty years.

Its flanks had swung out during this generation, including Arkansas on the south and Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin on the north, so that now at the close of the Mexican War the line was nearly a true meridian crossing the Missouri at its bend. West of this spot it had been kept from going by the tradition of the desert and the pressure of the Indian tribes. The country behind had filled up with population, Oregon and California had appeared across the desert, but the barrier had not been pushed away.

Through the great trails which penetrated the desert accurate knowledge of the Far West had begun to come. By 1850 the tradition which Pike and Long had helped to found had well-nigh disappeared, and covetous eyes had been cast upon the Indian lands across the border,--lands from which the tribes were never to be removed without their consent, and which were never to be included in any organized territory or state. Most of the traffic over the trails and through this country had been in defiance of treaty obligations. Some of the tribes had granted rights of transit, but such privileges as were needed and used by the Oregon, and California, and Utah hordes were far in excess of these. Most of the emigrants were technically trespassers upon Indian lands as well as violators of treaty provisions. Trouble with the Indians had begun early in the migrations.

THE WEST IN 1849

THE WEST IN 1849 Texas still claimed the Rio Grande as her western boundary. The Southwest acquired in 1848 was yet unorganized.

At the very beginning of the Oregon movement the Indian office had foreseen trouble: "Frequent difficulties have occurred during the spring of the last and present year [1845] from the passing of emigrants for Oregon at various points into the Indian Country. Large companies have frequently rendezvoused on the Indian lands for months previous to the period of their starting. The emigrants have two advantages in crossing into the Indian Country at an early period of the spring; one, the facility of grazing their stock on the rushes with which the lands abound; and the other, that they cross the Missouri River at their leisure. In one instance a large party had to be forced by the military to put back. This passing of the emigrants through the Indian Country without their permission must, I fear, result in an unpleasant collision, if not bloodshed. The Indians say that the whites have no right to be in their country without their consent; and the upper tribes, who subsist on game, complain that the buffalo are wantonly killed and scared off, which renders their only means of subsistence every year more precarious." Frémont had seen, in 1842, that this invasion of the Indian Country could not be kept up safely without a show of military force, and had recommended a post at the point where Fort Laramie was finally placed.

The years of the great migrations steadily aggravated the relations with the tribes, while the Indian agents continually called upon Congress to redress or stop the wrongs being done as often by panic-stricken emigrants as by vicious ones. "By alternate persuasion and force," wrote the Commissioner in 1854, "some of these tribes have been removed, step by step, from mountain to valley, and from river to plain, until they have been pushed halfway across the continent. They can go no further; on the ground they now occupy the crisis must be met, and their future determined.... [There] they are, and as they are, with outstanding obligations in their behalf of the most solemn and imperative character, voluntarily assumed by the government." But a relentless westward movement that had no regard for rights of Mexico in either Texas or California could not be expected to notice the rights of savages even less powerful. It demanded for its own citizens rights not inferior to those conceded by the government "to wandering nations of savages." A shrewd and experienced Indian agent, Fitzpatrick, who had the confidence of both races, voiced this demand in 1853. "But one course remains," he wrote, "which promises any permanent relief to them, or any lasting benefit to the country in which they dwell. That is simply to make such modifications in the 'intercourse laws' as will invite the residence of traders amongst them, and _open the whole Indian territory to settlement_. In this manner will be introduced amongst them those who will set the example of developing the resources of the soil, of which the Indians have not now the most distant idea; who will afford to them employment in pursuits congenial to their nature; and who will accustom them, imperceptibly, to those modes of life which can alone secure them from the miseries of penury. Trade is the only civilizer of the Indian. It has been the precursor of all civilization heretofore, and it will be of all hereafter.... The present 'intercourse laws' too, so far as they are calculated to protect the Indians from the evils of civilized life--from the sale of ardent spirits and the prostitution of morals--are nothing more than a dead letter; while, so far as they contribute to exclude the benefits of civilization from amongst them, they can be, and are, strictly enforced."

In 1849 the Indian Office was transferred by Congress from the War Department to the Interior, with the idea that the Indians would be better off under civilian than military control, and shortly after this negotiations were begun looking towards new settlements with the tribes. The Sioux were persuaded in the summer of 1851 to make way for increasing population in Minnesota, while in the autumn of the same year the tribes of the western plains were induced to make concessions.

The great treaties signed at the Upper Platte agency at Fort Laramie in 1851 were in the interest of the migrating thousands. Fitzpatrick had spent the summer of 1850 in summoning the bands of Cheyenne and Arapaho to the conference. Shoshoni were brought in from the West. From the north of the Platte came Sioux and Assiniboin, Arickara, Grosventres, and Crows. The treaties here concluded were never ratified in full, but for fifteen years Congress paid various annuities provided by them, and in general the tribes adhered to them. The right of the United States to make roads across the plains and to fortify them with military posts was fully agreed to, while the Indians pledged themselves to commit no depredations upon emigrants. Two years later, at Fort Atkinson, Fitzpatrick had a conference with the plains Indians of the south, Comanche and Apache, making "a renewal of faith, which the Indians did not have in the Government, nor the Government in them."

Overland traffic was made more safe for several years by these treaties. Such friction and fighting as occurred in the fifties were due chiefly to the excesses and the fears of the emigrants themselves. But in these treaties there was nothing for the eastern tribes along the Iowa and Missouri border, who were in constant danger of dispossession by the advance of the frontier itself.

The settlement of Kansas, becoming probable in the early fifties, was the impending danger threatening the peace of the border. There was not as yet any special need to extend colonization across the Missouri, since Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota were but sparsely inhabited. Settlers for years might be accommodated farther to the east. But the slavery debate of 1850 had revealed and aroused passions in both North and South. Motives were so thoroughly mixed that participants were rarely able to give satisfactory accounts of themselves. Love of struggle, desire for revenge, political ambition, all mingled with pure philanthropy and a reasonable fear of outside interference with domestic institutions. The compromise had settled the future of the new lands, but between Missouri and the mountains lay the residue of the Louisiana purchase, divided truly by the Missouri compromise line of 36° 30', but not yet settled. Ambition to possess it, to convert it to slavery, or to retain it for freedom was stimulated by the debate and the fears of outside interference. The nearest part of the unorganized West was adjacent to Missouri. Hence it was that Kansas came within the public vision first.

It is possible to trace a movement for territorial organization in the Indian Country back to 1850 or even earlier. Certain of the more intelligent of the Indian colonists had been able to read the signs of the times, with the result that organized effort for a territory of Nebraska had emanated from the Wyandot country and had besieged Congress between 1851 and 1853. The obstacles in the road of fulfilment were the Indians and the laws. Experience had long demonstrated the unwisdom of permitting Indians and emigrants to live in the same districts. The removal and intercourse acts, and the treaties based upon them, had guaranteed in particular that no territory or state should ever be organized in this country. Good faith and the physical presence of the tribes had to be overcome before a new territory could appear.

The guarantee of permanency was based upon treaty, and in the eye of Congress was not so sacred that it could not be modified by treaty. As it became clear that the demand for the opening of these lands would soon have to be granted, Congress prepared for the inevitable by ordering, in March, 1853, a series of negotiations with the tribes west of Missouri with a view to the cession of more country. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs, George W. Manypenny, who later wrote a book on "Our Indian Wards," spent the next summer in breaking to the Indians the hard news that they were expected once more to vacate. He found the tribes uneasy and sullen. Occasional prospectors, wandering over their lands, had set them thinking. There had been no actual white settlement up to October, 1853, so Manypenny declared, but the chiefs feared that he was contemplating a seizure of their lands. The Indian mind had some difficulty in comprehending the difference between ceding their land by treaty and losing it by force.

At a long series of council fires the Commissioner soothed away some of the apprehensions, but found a stubborn resistance when he came to talk of ceding all the reserves and moving to new homes. The tribes, under pressure, were ready to part with some of their lands, but wanted to retain enough to live on. When he talked to them of the Great Father in Washington, Manypenny himself felt the irony of the situation; the guarantee of permanency had been simple and explicit. Yet he arranged for a series of treaties in the following year.

In the spring of 1854 treaties were concluded with most of the tribes fronting on Missouri between 37° and 42° 40'. Some of these had been persuaded to move into the Missouri Valley in the negotiations of the thirties. Others, always resident there, had accepted curtailed reserves. The Omaha faced the Missouri, north of the Platte. South of the Platte were the Oto and Missouri, the Sauk and Foxes of Missouri, the Iowa, and the Kickapoo. The Delaware reserve, north of the Kansas, and around Fort Leavenworth, was the seat of Indian civilization of a high order. The Shawnee, immediately south of the Kansas, were also well advanced in agriculture in the permanent home they had accepted. The confederated Kaskaskia and Peoria, and Wea and Piankashaw, and the Miami were further south. From those tribes more than thirteen million acres of land were bought in the treaties of 1854. In scattered and reduced reserves the Indians retained for themselves about one-tenth of what they ceded. Generally, when the final signing came, under the persuasion of the Indian Office, and often amid the strange surroundings of Washington, the chiefs surrendered the lands outright and with no condition.

Certain of the tribes resisted all importunities to give title at once and held out for conditions of sale. The Iowa, the confederated minor tribes, and notably the Delawares, ceded their lands in trust to the United States, with the treaty pledge that the lands so yielded should be sold at public auction to the highest bidder, the remainders should then be offered privately for three years at $1.25 per acre, and the final remnants should be disposed of by the United States, the accruing funds being held in trust by the United States for the Indians. By the end of May the treaties were nearly all concluded. In July, 1854, Congress provided a land office for the territory of Kansas.

While the Indian negotiations were in progress, Senator Douglas was forcing his Kansas-Nebraska bill at Washington. The bill had failed in 1853, partly because the Senate had felt the sanctity of the Indian agreement; but in 1854 the leader of the Democratic party carried it along relentlessly. With words of highest patriotism upon his lips, as Rhodes has told it, he secured the passage of a bill not needed by the westward movement, subversive of the national pledge, and, blind as he was, destructive as well of his party and his own political future. The support of President Pierce and the coöperation of Jefferson Davis were his in the struggle. It was not his intent, he declared, to legislate slavery into or out of the territories; he proposed to leave that to the people themselves. To this principle he gave the name of "popular sovereignty," "and the name was a far greater invention than the doctrine." With rising opposition all about him, he repealed the Missouri compromise which in 1820 had divided the Indian Country by the line of 36° 30' into free and slave areas, and created within these limits the new territories of Kansas and Nebraska. His bill was signed by the President on May 30, 1854. In later years this day has been observed as a memorial to those who lost their lives in fighting the battle which he provoked.

With public sentiment excited, and the Missouri compromise repealed, eager partisans prepared in the spring of 1854 to colonize the new territories in the interests of slavery and freedom. On the slavery side, Senator Atchison, of Missouri, was to be reckoned as one of the leaders. Young men of the South were urged to move, with their slaves and their possessions, into the new territories, and thus secure these for their cherished institution. If votes should fail them in the future, the Missouri border was not far removed, and colonization of voters might be counted upon. Missouri, directly adjacent to Kansas, and a slave state, naturally took the lead in this matter of preventing the erection of a free state on her western boundary. The northern states had been stirred by the act as deeply as the South. In New England the bill was not yet passed when leaders of the abolition movement prepared to act under it. One Eli Thayer, of Worcester, urged during the spring that friends of freedom could do no better work than aid in the colonization of Kansas. He secured from his own state, in April, a charter for a Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society, through which he proposed to aid suitable men to move into the debatable land. Churches and schools were to be provided for them. A stern New England abolition spirit was to be fostered by them. And they were not to be left without the usual border means of defence. Amos A. Lawrence, of Boston, a wealthy philanthropist, made Thayer's scheme financially possible. Dr. Charles Robinson was their choice for leader of emigration and local representative in Kansas.

The resulting settlement of Kansas was stimulated little by the ordinary westward impulse but greatly by political ambition and sectional rivalry. As late as October, 1853, there had been almost no whites in the Indian Country. Early in 1854 they began to come in, in increasing numbers. The Emigrant Aid Society sent its parties at once, before the ink was dry on the treaties of cession and before land offices had been opened. The approach was by the Missouri River steamers to Kansas City and Westport, near the bend of the river, where was the gateway into Kansas. The Delaware cession, north of the Kansas River, was not yet open to legal occupation, but the Shawnee lands had been ceded completely and would soon be ready. So the New England companies worked their way on foot, or in hired wagons, up the right bank of the Kansas, hunting for eligible sites. About thirty miles west of the Missouri line and the old Shawnee mission they picked their spot late in July. The town of Lawrence grew out of their cluster of tents and cabins.

It was more than two months after the arrival of the squatters at Lawrence before the first governor of the new territory, Andrew H. Reeder, made his appearance at Fort Leavenworth and established civil government in Kansas. One of his first experiences was with the attempt of United States officers at the post to secure for themselves pieces of the Delaware lands which surrounded it. "While lying at the fort," wrote a surveyor who left early in September to run the Nebraska boundary line, "we heard a great deal about those d--d squatters who were trying to steal the Leavenworth site." None of the Delaware lands were open to settlement, since the United States had pledged itself to sell them all at public auction for the Indians' benefit. But certain speculators, including officers of the regular army, organized a town company to preëmpt a site near the fort, where they thought they foresaw the great city of the West. They relied on the immunity which usually saved pilferers on the Indian lands, and seem even to have used United States soldiers to build their shanties. They had begun to dispose of their building lots "in this discreditable business" four weeks before the first of the Delaware trust lands were put on sale.

However bitter toward each other, the settlers were agreed in their attitude toward the Indians, and squatted regardless of Indian rights or United States laws. Governor Reeder himself convened his legislature, first at Pawnee, whence troops from Fort Riley ejected it; then at the Shawnee mission, close to Kansas City, where his presence and its were equally without authority of law. He established election precincts in unceded lands, and voting places at spots where no white man could go without violating the law. The legal snarl into which the settlers plunged reveals the inconsistencies in the Indian policy. It is even intimated that Governor Reeder was interested in a land scheme at Pawnee similar to that at Fort Leavenworth.

The fight for Kansas began immediately after the arrival of Governor Reeder and the earliest immigrants. The settlers actually in residence at the commencement of 1855 seem to have been about 8500. Propinquity gave Missouri an advantage at the start, when the North was not yet fully aroused. At an election for territorial legislature held on March 30, 1855, the threat of Senator Atchison was revealed in all its fullness when more than 6000 votes were counted among a population which had under 3000 qualified voters. Missouri men had ridden over in organized bands to colonize the precincts and carry the election. The whole area of settlement was within an easy two days' ride of the Missouri border. The fraud was so crude that Governor Reeder disavowed certain of the results, yet the resulting legislature, meeting in July, 1855, was able to expel some of its anti-slavery members, while the rest resigned. It adopted the Missouri code of law, thus laying the foundations for a slave state.

The political struggle over Kansas became more intense on the border and more absorbing in the nation in the next four years. The free-state men, as the settlers around Lawrence came to be known, disavowed the first legislature on the ground of its fraudulent election, while President Pierce steadily supported it from Washington. Governor Reeder was removed during its session, seemingly because he had thrown doubts upon its validity. Protesting against it, the northerners held a series of meetings in the autumn, around Lawrence, and Topeka, some twenty-five miles further up the Kansas River, and crystallized their opposition under Dr. Robinson. Their efforts culminated at Topeka in October in a spontaneous, but in this instance revolutionary, convention which framed a free-state constitution for Kansas and provided for erecting a rival administration. Dr. Robinson became its governor.

Before the first legislature under the Topeka constitution assembled, Kansas had still further trouble. Private violence and mob attacks began during the fall of 1855. What is known as the Wakarusa War occurred in November, when Sheriff Jones of Douglas County tried to arrest some free-state men at Lecompton, and met with strong resistance reënforced with Sharpe rifles from New England. Governor Wilson Shannon, who had succeeded Reeder, patched up peace, but hostility continued through the winter. Lawrence was increasingly the centre of northern settlement and the object of pro-slave aggression. A Missouri mob visited it on May 21, 1856, and in the approving presence, it is said, of Sheriff Jones, sacked its hotel and printing shop, and burned the residence of Dr. Robinson.

In the fall a free-state crowd marched up the river and attacked Lecompton, but within a week of the sacking of Lawrence retribution was visited upon the pro-slave settlers. In cold blood, five men were murdered at a settlement on Potawatomi Creek, by a group of fanatical free-state men. Just what provocation John Brown and his family had received which may excuse his revenge is not certain. In many instances individual anti-slavery men retaliated lawlessly upon their enemies. But the leaders of the Lawrence party have led also in censuring Brown and in disclaiming responsibility for his acts. It is certain that in this struggle the free-state party, in general, wanted peaceful settlement of the country, and were staking their fortunes and families upon it. They were ready for defence, but criminal aggression was no part of their platform.

The course of Governor Shannon reached its end in the summer of 1856. He was disliked by the free-state faction, while his personal habits gave no respectability to the pro-slave cause. At the end of his régime the extra-legal legislature under the Topeka constitution was prevented by federal troops from convening in session at Topeka. A few weeks later Governor John W. Geary superseded him and established his seat of government in Lecompton, by this time a village of some twenty houses. It took Geary, an honest, well-meaning man, only six weeks to fall out with the pro-slave element and the federal land officers. He resigned in March, 1857.

Under Governor Robert J. Walker, who followed Geary, the first official attempt at a constitution was entered upon. The legislature had already summoned a convention which sat at Lecompton during September and October. Its constitution, which was essentially pro-slavery, however it was read, was ratified before the end of the year and submitted to Congress. But meanwhile the legislature which called the convention had fallen into free-state hands, disavowed the constitution, and summoned another convention. At Leavenworth this convention framed a free-state constitution in March, which was ratified by popular vote in May, 1858. Governor Walker had already resigned in December, 1857. Through holding an honest election and purging the returns of slave-state frauds he had enabled the free-state party to secure the legislature. Southerner though he was, he choked at the political dishonesty of the administration in Kansas. He had yielded to the evidence of his eyes, that the population of Kansas possessed a large free-state majority. But so yielding he had lost the confidence of Washington. Even Senator Douglas, the patron of the popular sovereignty doctrine, had now broken with President Buchanan, recognizing the right of the people to form their own institutions. No attention was ever paid by Congress to this Leavenworth constitution, but when the Lecompton constitution was finally submitted to the people by Congress, in August, 1858, it was defeated by more than 11,000 votes in a total of 13,000. Kansas was henceforth in the hands of the actual settlers. A year later, at Wyandotte, it made a fourth constitution, under which it at last entered the union on January 29, 1861. "In the Wyandotte Convention," says one of the local historians, "there were a few Democrats and one or two cranks, and probably both were of some use in their way."

There had been no white population in Kansas in 1853, and no special desire to create one. But the political struggle had advertised the territory on a large scale, while the whole West was under the influence of the agricultural boom that was extending settlement into Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. Governor Reeder's census in 1855 found that about 8500 had come in since the erection of the territory. The rioting and fighting, the rumors of Sharpe rifles and the stories of Lawrence and Pottawatomie, instead of frightening settlers away, drew them there in increasing thousands. Some few came from the South, but the northern majority was overwhelming before the panic of 1857 laid its heavy hand upon expansion. There was a white population of 106,390 in 1860.

The westward movement, under its normal influences, had extended the range of prosperous agricultural settlement into the Northwest in this past decade. It had coöperated in the extension into that part of the old desert now known as Kansas. But chiefly politics, and secondly the call of the West, is the order of causes which must explain the first westward advance of the agricultural frontier since 1820. Even in 1860 the population of Kansas was almost exclusively within a three days' journey of the Missouri bend.

 

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