Reeder material give glimpse into 1850s Kan.

Descendant gives former governor’s papers to Geary County Historical Society

By Bryan Richardson

Material about a pivotal figure in Kansas history has made its way to Geary County, providing a look into the world of 1850s Kansas.

The Geary County Historical Society received personal material of Andrew Reeder, the first territorial governor of Kansas, from Marie-Louise Stokes, a direct descendant of Reeder. The material gives a clearer picture of what was going on through the words of those around Reeder and the man himself.

Reeder came to the state in 1854 after receiving a presidential appointment from President Franklin Pierce that June. During this time, great debate occurred over whether Kansas should be a slave state or a free state.

Reeder and Pierce advocated the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which would determine by democratic process whether slavery would occur in those states.

Reeder, a Democrat, eventually became a Republican after a series of events left him in opposition with the pro-slavery forces and cost him his governorship. He eventually had to be snuck out of Kansas through the pro-slavery state of Missouri.

“I am much alarmed for Gov. Reeder, and I want you to break the case to Mrs. Reeder as gently as you can,” G.P. Lowrey, Reeder’s secretary, said in a letter.

Lowrey wrote two letters on May 17 and May 21, 1856, to Henry Green, Reeder’s law partner in Easton, Pa. The letters came during the escape from Kansas.

“I shall have no objection to being arrested if it were not necessary to go back to Kansas where mob violence rules as will in as out of the Court,” Lowrey states in the latter letter.

A U.S. Marshall had recently been through the area, leaving a description of Lowrey, and offered a bonus for finding and arresting Lowrey on the charge of high treason.

The trip to leave Kansas involved a close call at the American Hotel in Kansas City. A large number of Michigan men including Geo. W. Brown, a newspaper editor, also arrived. Brown had agitated the Missourians to the point where a “great mob” had surrounded the hotel to throw him in the river.

“I trembled for the Gov. but they did not find him, nor Brown,” Lowrey said.

That was a long ways from less than two years prior when Reeder entered the state.

In a Nov. 10, 1854, letter to Green, Reeder talked about his travel to Kansas. He called it a land that would be “as glorious a land as the sun of heaven ever shone upon” when populated.

Reeder mostly addressed business to be attended to back in Pennsylvania in the letter, but he used the beginning of the letter to address his work in Kansas.

“I cannot write you now at much length as my hands are full in making the necessary preparation for the election of a Delegate to Congress …,” Reeder said. He dealt with an influx of Missourians stuffed the ballot in favor of pro-slavery delegates during the election.

In addition to attempting to combat the voting fraud, Reeder made the unfavorable decision to place the First Territorial Capital of Kansas in Pawnee.

The legislative session began July 2, 1855, and lasted just five days as pro-slavery legislators ejected freestater members. The legislators then moved seat of the government to Shawnee Mission, placing it closer to the Kansas-Missouri border.

Also in the Stokes collection is an 1856 book “War in Kansas,” written by G. Douglas Brewerton; Ron Harris, of the historical society, said Brewerton was very pro-slavery.

Written in the margins are notes by Reeder, according to Stokes. However, Harris said the notes could also be written by Lowrey.

Within the book contains a glimpse of how heated the topic of slavery could be. It also shows that political discussion provided as much color in the 1800s as it does today.

The book contained a chapter called “His Honor Judge Portly.” He’s never referred to by name, but a hand-written note in the book said the chapter is about Judge John Wakefield.

Wakefield famously said before being ejected from the First Territorial Legislature at Pawnee, “Gentleman, this is a memorable day and it may become even more so, for your acts will be the means of lighting the watch fires of war in our land.”

Brewerton referred to Wakefield, as Squire Portly because of his sizable stomach. This chapter had a conversation between guests and Wakefield’s wife.

“Waal, stranger, yeou see it wor in thar fust part of thar evenin but not so dark as it mout be,” she says in the book.

Reeder, or Lowrey, wrote in the margins that this was an absurd mixture of Southern, Western and Yankee dialect. “The attempt to give dialect or style of conversation throughout the book is a silly abortion,” he said. “No citizen of Kansas could recognize it as anything he has overheard before.”

Brewerton also wrote about a free-state advocate, Thomas Barber, being shot and killed. Brewerton said this was used as political capital against the pro-slavery faction, and noted it could have been a justified homicide.

Reeder had a different opinion of the matter. “This is sheer nonsense,” the notation said. “Not only every lawyer but every man of common sense can see that it was a wanton undoubted murder.”

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