The Englishman in Kansas; or, Squatter Life and Border Warfare

Author: Thomas H. Gladstone  | Date: 1857

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Civil War in Kansas (1855–1856)


THE autumn of 1854 witnessed the erection of the first log-huts of Lawrence by a few families of New England settlers. During the year 1855 its population increased rapidly, chiefly by the arrival of emigrants from the Northern States. Its log-hut existence gave way to a more advanced stage, in which buildings of brick and stone were introduced; and the growing prosperity of the "Yankee town" early began to excite the jealousy of the abettors of slavery. Viewed as the stronghold of the Free-state party, it was made the point of attack during what was called "the Wakarusa war" in the winter of 1855. Before the termination of this its first siege, the necessity of some means of defence being manifest, the inhabitants of Lawrence proceeded to fortify their town by the erection of four or five circular earthworks, thrown up about seven feet in height, and measuring a hundred feet in diameter. These were connected with long lines of earthwork entrenchments, rifle-pits, and other means of fortification. Whilst these engineering operations were being carried on, the men might have been seen, day and night, working in the trenches, in haste to complete the defence of their Western Sebastopol. The inhabitants were also placed under arms, formed into companies, with their respective commanders, under the generalship of Robinson and Lane, had their daily drill, mounted guard day and night upon the forts, and sent out at night a horse-patrol to watch the outer posts, and give warning of approaching danger.

The pacification which followed the Wakarusa campaign in December, 1855, afforded only a temporary lull. Although war had ceased, the people did not cease to carry arms, and used them, when occasion offered, with fatal effect. The Missourians did not conceal that they were organizing another invasion, which should effectually "wipe out Lawrence," and win Kansas for slavery, "though they should wade to the knees in blood to obtain it." The Southern states were being appealed to far and wide, to aid by men and money in the extirpation of every Northern settler. . . .

The month of May arrived, and the state of parties continued as before. The pro-slavery, or, as it was commonly termed, the border-ruffian army, had, however, gained strength by large reinforcements from the States. Colonel Buford was there with his determined bands from Alabama, Colonel Titus from Florida, Colonel Wilkes and others with companies from South Carolina and Georgia, all of whom had sworn to fight the battles of the South in Kansas. The President, too, through his Secretary-at-War, had placed the federal troops at the command of Governor Shannon, and the Chief Justice Lecompte had declared, in a notable charge to a grand jury, that all who resisted the laws made by the fraudulently elected Legislature were to be found guilty of high treason. . . .

Meanwhile, Sheriff Jones rode about the country with a "posse" of United States troops, arresting whomsoever he pleased; the grand jury declared the Free-state Hotel and the offices of the Herald of Freedom and Kansas Free-State newspapers in Lawrence to be nuisances, and as such to be removed; Governor Robinson and several other men of influence in the Free-state cause were severally seized and held as prisoners; Free-state men were daily molested in the highway, some robbed, and others killed; and a constantly increasing army was encamping right and left of Lawrence, pressing daily more closely around it, and openly declaring that their intention was to "wipe out the traitorous city, and not to leave an abolitionist alive in the territory." . . .

At length the day approached when Lawrence was to fall. On the night previous to May 21st, could any one have taken a survey of the country around, he would have seen the old encampment at Franklin, four miles to the southeast of Lawrence, which was occupied during the Wakarusa war, again bristling with the arms of Colonel Buford’s companies, brought from the States. This formed the lower division of the invading army. On the west of Lawrence, at twelve miles distance, he would have seen another encampment in the neighbourhood of Lecompton, occupied by the forces under Colonel Titus and Colonel Wilkes. These were reinforced by General Atchison, with his Platte County Rifles and two pieces of artillery; by Captain Dunn, heading the Kickapoo Rangers; by the Doniphan Tigers, and another company under General Clark, as well as by General Stringfellow, with his brother, the doctor, who had left for a time his editorship to take a military command, and other leaders, who brought up all the lawless rabble of the border-towns, to aid in the attack. These on the west of Lawrence formed the upper division. A large proportion were cavalry. The general control of the troops was in the hands of the United States Marshal, Donaldson, the whole body, of some six or eight hundred armed men, being regarded as a posse comitatus to aid this officer in the execution of his duties. . . .

During the forenoon Fain, the Deputy-Marshal, entered Lawrence with some assistants, to make arrests of its citizens. He failed, however, in provoking the resistance desired, on which to found a pretext for attacking the city; for the citizens permitted the arrests to be made, and responded to his demand for a "posse" to aid him. . . .

The United States Marshal had now, he stated, no more need of the troops; but, as Sheriff Jones had some processes to serve in Lawrence, he would hand them over to him as a posse comitatus.

Accordingly, in the afternoon, Jones rode into Lawrence at the head of twenty or more men, mounted and armed, and placed himself in front of the Free-state Hotel, demanding of General Pomeroy the surrender of all arms. He gave him five minutes for his decision, failing which the posse would be ordered to bombard the town. General Pomeroy gave up their brass howitzer and some small pieces, the only arms that were not private property. Jones then demanded the removal of the furniture from the hotel, stating that the District Court for Douglas

County had adjudged the hotel and the two flee-state newspaper offices to be nuisances, and as nuisances to be removed, and that he was there as Sheriff to execute these indictments, and summarily remove the obnoxious buildings.

In the mean time the forces had left the hill, and were at the entrance of the town, under Titus and Buford, Atchison and Stringfellow. . . .

The newspaper offices were the first objects of attack. First that of the Free Stale, then that of the Herald of Freedom, underwent a thorough demolition. The presses were in each case broken to pieces, and the offending type carried away to the river. The papers and books were treated in like manner, until the soldiers became weary of carrying them to the Kaw, when they thrust them in piles into the street, and burnt, tore, or otherwise destroyed them.

From the printing offices they went to the hotel. . . .

As orders were given to remove the furniture, the wild mob threw the articles out of the windows, but shortly found more congenial employment in emptying the cellars. By this time four cannon had been brought opposite the hotel, and, under Atchison’s command, they commenced to batter down the building. In this, however, they failed. The General’s "Now, boys, let her rip!" was answered by some of the shot missing the mark, although the breadth of Massachusetts-street alone intervened, and the remainder of some scores of rounds leaving the walls of the hotel unharmed. They then placed kegs of gunpowder in the lower parts of the building, and attempted to blow it up. The only result was, the shattering of some of the windows and other limited damage. At length, to complete the work which their own clumsiness or inebriety had rendered difficult hitherto, orders were given to fire the building in a number of places, and, as a consequence, it was soon encircled in a mass of flames. Before evening, all that remained of the Eldridge House was a portion of one wall standing erect, and for the rest a shapeless heap of ruins.

The firing of the cannon had been the signal for most of the women and children in Lawrence to leave the city. This they did, not knowing whither to turn their steps. The male portion of its citizens watched, without offering resistance, the destruction of the buildings named, and next had to see their own houses made the objects of unscrupulous plunder.

The sack of Lawrence occupied the remainder of the afternoon. Sheriff Jones, after gazing on the flames rising from the hotel, and saying that it was "the happiest day of his life," dismissed his "posse," and they immediately commenced their lawless pillage. In this officers and men all participated, and they did not terminate until they had rifled all the principal houses of whatever articles of value they could lay their hands upon, and had destroyed that which they could not carry away. Finally, Governor Robinson’s house on Mount Oread was set fire to, after it had been searched for papers and valuables, and its burning walls lit up the evening sky as the army of desperadoes, now wild with plunder and excesses, and maddened with drink, retired from the pillaged city.

The value of the property stolen and destroyed during the day in Lawrence is estimated to have amounted to nearly thirty thousand pounds sterling.

Life was fortunately not taken, as the inhabitants of Lawrence disappointed their invaders of a fight, by offering no resistance. . . .

Among all the scenes of violence I witnessed, it is remarkable that the offending parties were invariably on the Pro-slavery side. The Free-state men appeared to me to be intimidated and overawed, in consequence, not merely of the determination and defiant boldness of their opponents, but still more through the sanction given to these acts by the Government.

I often heard the remark, that they would resist, but that they were resolved not to bring themselves into collision with the Federal power. . . .

Their later conduct, however, was different. In the hands of their oppressors all justice had been set at defiance. They had been driven out of house and home by an armed mob, acting under territorial authority. The Federal power had been appealed to in vain. The Free-state men were driven to desperation. It was but natural that some revulsion of feeling should be experienced. As it was, guerrilla parties were organized by some of the less passive spirits on the Free-state side, corresponding with those already existing amongst their opponents. These thought themselves justified in recovering stolen horses and other property. Other acts of retaliation occurred. In several instances the opposing parties came into collision, and violence ensued. For some time, therefore, after the attack upon Lawrence, an irregular strife was maintained, and a bitter remembrance filled each man’s mind, and impelled to daily acts of hostility and not unfrequent bloodshed.

T. H. Gladstone, (edited by F. L. Olmsted, New York, 1857), 22–66 passim.

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Chicago: Thomas H. Gladstone, The Englishman in Kansas; or, Squatter Life and Border Warfare, ed. F. L. Olmsted in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1903), Original Sources, accessed September 28, 2023,

MLA: Gladstone, Thomas H. The Englishman in Kansas; or, Squatter Life and Border Warfare, edited by F. L. Olmsted, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 4, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1903, Original Sources. 28 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: Gladstone, TH, The Englishman in Kansas; or, Squatter Life and Border Warfare, ed. . cited in 1903, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 28 September 2023, from