Border Ruffian Warfare in Atchison
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who settled in
previous to 1857 were, with two or three exceptions, very careful not to express
their sentiments. Up to the spring of that year there was no political
organization in the county opposed to the principle of slavery. Occasionally;
however, very early in the conflict, someone like Reverend
of the Christian Church, reckless of bodily consequences, ventured to uphold his
Abolitionist opinions, even upon the corner of the streets.
month of August, 1855, a black woman "belonging" to Grafton Thomassen, the
sawmill man, was found drowned in the river. A gentleman from Cincinnati, J. W.
B. Kelley, a lawyer by profession and a Free-soiler in politics, made the
mistake of expressing his opinion that if she had been treated better she would
not have committed suicide.
He went on to throw out
more remarks on the subject of slavery, which were offensive to the pro-slavery
party. Thomassen was sufficiently angered enough that he physically beat Kelley
up and was sustained in his conduct by a large meeting of
townsmen. The townsmen quickly made several resolutions concerning Kelley:
Resolved, That one J. W. B. Kelley,
hailing from Cincinnati, having upon sundry occasions denounced our
institutions, and declared all Pro-slaverymen ruffians, we deem it an act of
kindness to rid him of such company, and therefore command him to leave the
town of Atchison one hour after having been
informed of the passage of this resolution, never more to show himself in this
Resolved 2d. That in case he fails to
obey this reasonable command, we inflict upon him such punishment as the
nature of the case and circumstances may require.
Resolved, 3d. That other emissaries
of this Abolitionist Society, now in our midst tampering with our slaves, are
warned to leave, else they will meet the reward which their nefarious designs
so justly merit - hemp.
Resolved, 4d. That we approve and
applaud our fellow townsman, Grafton Thomassen, for the castigation
administered to said J. W. B. Kelley, whose presence among us is a libel upon
our good standing and a disgrace to our community.
Resolved, 5th. That we recommend the
good work of purging our town of all resident Abolitionists; and after
cleansing our town of such nuisances, shall do the same for the settlers on
Walnut and Independence creeks, whose propensities for cattle stealing are
well known to many.
Resolved, 6th. That the chairman
appoint a committee of three to wait upon said Kelley and acquaint him with
the action of this meeting.
Resolved, 7th. That the proceedings
of this meeting be published, that the world may know our determination.
It was further agreed that copies of
these resolutions be made out and circulated for the signatures of all the
townsmen, and all who refused to sign them should be considered and treated as
Reverend Pardee Butler
lived upon his claim, twelve miles west of Atchison. On August 16th,
very soon after this large and enthusiastic meeting had been held, he came to
town on his way to the East, bound on business. But some of his pro-slavery
enemies said “he arrived in town, with a view of starting for the East, probably
for the purpose of getting a fresh supply of Free-soilers from the
penitentiaries and pest-holes of the Northern States."
Being obliged to wait for a boat until
morning, Pardee stayed at the National Hotel, and then proceeded to make the
rounds of the town, expressing himself freely, as was his wont, upon Free-soiler
and Abolitionist doctrines, and being particularly severe upon the actions of
the meeting which passed the Thomassen-Kelley resolutions. He declared that
there were many persons in
were Free-soilers at heart, but feared to avow their sentiments. He; however,
would express his views wherever he was. Reverend
in fact, preached the "foulest Abolitionist heresies," and was considered a
dangerous man, to be let alone.
In the course of a conversation which
he had at the post office with
Robert S. Kelley, publisher of the local
informed him that he would have become a regular subscriber of his paper, had he
not disliked the spirit of violence which characterized it.
To this, Kelley replied, "I look upon
all Free-soilers as rogues, and they ought to be treated as such."
responded, "I am a Free-soiler and expect to vote for Kansas to be a Free
"I do not expect you will be allowed to
vote," was the reply.
The next morning Kelley called at the
hotel with the resolutions which had been adopted by the public meeting, and the
signature to which was to be made the test of political faith. Of course,
refused to sign the pro-slavery document and walked down the stairs into the
street. A crowd was there awaiting him, which increased as they dragged the
abolitionist victim along towards the river, saying they were going to drown
him. A vote was taken upon the mode of punishment which ought to be accorded to
him, and a decided verdict of death by hanging was rendered. Ironically,
Kelley ended up saving
life, by talking the other townsmen into sending him down the Missouri River on
a raft instead.
The particulars of his treatment were
later given by the Reverend
"When we arrived at the bank,
painted my face with black paint, marking upon it the letter 'R'. The company
had increased to some thirty or forty persons. Without any trial, witness,
judge, counsel, or jury, for about two hours I was a sort of target at which
were hurled imprecations, curses, arguments, entreaties, accusations and
interrogations. They constructed a raft of three cottonwood saw logs, fastened
together with inch plank nailed to the logs, upon which they put me and sent me
down the Missouri River. The raft was towed out to the middle of the stream with
a canoe. Robert S. Kelley
held the rope that towed the raft.
gave me neither rudder, oar, nor anything else to manage my raft with. They put
up a flag on the raft with the following inscriptions on it: 'Eastern Emigrant
Aid Express,' 'The Reverend Pardee Butler
again for the underground railroad,' and 'The way they are served in Kansas,'
'For Boston,' 'Cargo insured, unavoidable danger of the Missourians and Missouri
River excepted,' 'Let future emissaries from the North beware,' 'Our hemp crop
is sufficient to reward all such scoundrels.' They threatened to shoot me if I
pulled the flag down. I pulled it down, cut the flag off the flag-staff, made a
paddle of the flag-staff, and ultimately got ashore about six miles below."
On April 30, 1856, the Reverend Pardee Butler,
having terminated safely his voyage on the raft, again ventured to make his
appearance in the pro-slavery town of Atchison, where, as he would
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