Kansas; Its Interior and Exterior Life

Author: Sara Tappan Doolittle Robinson  | Date: 1856

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Free-Soil Emigration to Kansas (1854–1855)


. . . IT was evident that a large emigration would naturally flow into Kansas from the North and East; and, to enable the emigrant to reach his destination easily and cheaply, an association was formed, which completed its organization in July [1854]. The purpose of this association, as declared by themselves, was to "assist emigrants to settle in the West." Their objects were to induce emigrants to move westward in such large bodies, that arrangements might be made with boat lines and railroads for tickets at reduced rates; to erect saw-mills and boarding-houses, and establish schools in different localities, that the people might gather around them, and not be obliged to wait years for the blessings and privileges of social life, as most early settlers in the West have done. Transplanted into the wilderness, they hoped to bring to them the civilization and the comforts of their old homes.

Mr. Eli Thayer, of Worcester, Mass., was one of the first movers in the scheme. To some suggestions of his the association owed its birth. He, with A. A. Lawrence of Boston, Mass., and J. M. F. Williams, of Cambridge, Mass., acted as trustees of the Stock Company formed July 24, 1854. They are all gentlemen of sterling integrity and noble purpose, and with untiring energy have devoted their labors and money to the cause of freedom. . . .

The first of August, 1854, a party of about thirty settlers, chiefly from New England, arrived in the territory, and settled at Lawrence. Mr. C. H. Branscomb, of Boston, on a tour in the territory a few weeks earlier in the summer, had selected this spot as one of peculiar loveliness for a town site. A part of them pitched their tents upon the high hill south-west of the town site, and named it Mount Oread, after the Mount Oread School in Worcester, of which Mr. Thayer was founder and proprietor.

When the party arrived, one man only occupied the town site with his family. His improvements were purchased, and he abandoned his claim for the town. This party was met with insult and abuse on the Missouri river, and on their way into the territory. After they arrived in Lawrence, bands of these Missourians gathered along the river bottoms, and wherever they put a stake they made a pretended claim. They invaded the meetings of the actual settlers in the neighborhood, and attempted to control them. Attempts were also made to frighten and drive them from the territory by fomenting disputes about claims, and other quarrels. . . .

About the first of September, the second New England party arrived and settled at Lawrence. As soon as it was known that a New England settlement was to be made at Lawrence, every means was resorted to, to break it up.

. . . The people however proceeded with their improvements, erecting a saw-mill, boarding-houses, and stores. . . .

The week came and went. . . . For some reason, the people of

Missouri, although urgently called upon, did not respond, and the belligerent parties concluded to postpone any warlike action. . . .

The buildings erected in Lawrence were of most primitive style, of pole and thatch. Most of the people for some weeks boarded in common, and, in such a dwelling, sleeping upon the ground on buffalo robes and blankets. . . .

The first Kansas party of the season left Boston, March 13, 1855, under the charge of Dr. C. Robinson. There were nearly two hundred in the party, men, women and children. We reached Kansas city March 24. . . .

[March] 25th.—Another boat came in with another party of Kansas passengers. . . . My husband made an arrangement to accompany a portion of our fellow-travellers into the country, to look for a pleasant location for a new settlement. . . .

[April] 17th.—We leave for Lawrence this morning. . . .

[18.] . . . Although the first work done upon the house was upon the Friday before, after taking supper down street, we preferred going to it to stopping elsewhere. One room was clapboarded within a foot of the chamber-floor, loose boards were laid over the joists above to keep out the rains or falling dews. The windows were also similarly protected upon each side, while at the front the glass was set. There were mattresses laid upon the floor and upon the lounge, while upon the table a candle was burning. . . . A broom had also been provided, and a brimming pail of cold water. Blessings on him who was thus thoughtful of our comfort! By nailing a buffalo-robe at the door-way, and arranging some articles of bedding upon chairs, out of one room we made two for the night. . . .

21st.—The floor in the dining-room is laid. The windows are in. The door between the rooms is taken away, and the stove is set, with the pipe out of the window, after the true pioneer fashion. . . .

[May 17.] Take a walk down to the town, and call upon one of our fellow-travellers. We find her in a little cabin of mud walls, cottonwood roof, and with cloth covering the inside. It is tent-shaped, and very small. There is an earthy smell and a stifled feeling as I enter the low door; and, as I at a glance see the want of comfort pervading all, I scarcely can find courage to ask how she likes Kansas. A bed, standing crosswise, fills up one entire end of the cabin, leaving only about eight feet square of space for the family, consisting of father, mother, and four little girls under six years. Two rough benches, about two feet in length, and two rude tables, make up the furniture. The cooking is done out of doors, after camp fashion. The children have been very ill, and the little one now tosses restlessly in its fevered dreams. . . .

24th.—The timbers are drawn for the kitchen. . . .

The roads for many days have been full of wagons—white-covered, emigrant wagons. We cannot look out of the windows without seeing a number, either upon the road through the prairie east of us, which comes in from Kansas city, where most emigrants leave the boats and buy wagons and provisions for the journey, or, going on the hill west, on their way to Topeka, or other settlements above.

The prairie, too, is alive with people, coming and going. Some are upon horseback, and others in carriages of eastern manufacture; while the busy teams, carrying stone for the hotel and other large buildings, give to the whole town an appearance of unprecedented thrift which renders the name of Yankee Town, bestowed upon it by the border friends, richly merited. At night we see the camp-fires all about us, on the prairies and in the ravines. The appearance of the men, preparing their evening meal, is singularly grotesque and gypsy-like. . . .

[June 12.] Large stone buildings, which would be an ornament to any place, are fast being erected, while buildings of humble pretensions, of wood and stone, are springing up with a rapidity almost equalling the wonderful genius of Aladdin. We can count already fifty dwellings erected since we came; and the little city of less than a year’s existence will, in intelligence, refinement, and moral worth, compare most favorably with many New England towns of six times its number of inhabitants. . . .

[August] 18th.—The quiet citizens of Lawrence are continually annoyed by the street broils in our midst. . . . The border papers are full of threats against the Yankees. An extract from the Leavenworth Herald is a sample of all: "Dr. Robinson is sole agent for the underground railroad leading out of Western Missouri, and for the transportation of fugitive ’niggers.’ His office is in Lawrence, K.T. Give him a call." . . .

[September] 4th.—Emigration again begins to pour into the territory. During the last two months there has been little in this part of the country. Cholera has raged on the river, and summer heats have been too great for any comfort in travelling; but now the prairies are again dotted with white-covered wagons of the western emigrant. They come bringing everything with them in their wagons, their furniture, provisions, and their families. Their stock, also, is driven with the teams. Their wagons to them are a travelling home; many of them having a stove set, with pipe running through the top. They often travel far into the territory; it matters to them little how far, so that they get a location which pleases them. Then they build a cabin, and, with a fixed habitation, they will become the strength and sinew of the country. . . .

22d. . . . There are . . . continued rumors of new invasions, which disturb us but little. . . .

About this time the people of Lawrence entered into a self defensive organization. The street broils and outrages were becoming so frequent their lives were in daily peril. As soon as the organization was complete, and their badges gave evidence of a secret society, the outrages ceased. . . .

[November 18.] . . . There has been a good deal of sickness in the country this fall,—slow fever and chills. They prevail mostly in the low grounds near the rivers. We hear from some settlements, especially from those south on the Neosho, that sickness has laid its heavy hand on the strongest, and scarcely any have escaped the paralyzing blow. So far as we can learn, exposures, either necessary or unavoidable, have been the cause.

Sara T. L. Robinson, (Boston, etc., 1856), 10–98 passim.

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Chicago: Sara Tappan Doolittle Robinson, Kansas; Its Interior and Exterior Life in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1903), Original Sources, accessed July 20, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=24JERPKQKXAP31J.

MLA: Robinson, Sara Tappan Doolittle. Kansas; Its Interior and Exterior Life, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 4, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1903, Original Sources. 20 Jul. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=24JERPKQKXAP31J.

Harvard: Robinson, ST, Kansas; Its Interior and Exterior Life. cited in 1903, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 20 July 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=24JERPKQKXAP31J.