Kansas Territory ~ Conflict for Freedom

If you recall from my previous post, the Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed the settlers in Kansas and Nebraska to decided through ‘Popular Sovereignty’ whether they would be free or
slave states. But before they could become a state they first had to adopt a state constitution. A task not easy in the best of circumstances, but with the added issue of slavery to the table the whole thing became a whirlwind of chaos, a downright nasty cyclone like nobody had really seen. It also set the stage for what would become known as the War between the States.

Imagine with me if you will for a moment, a great wall, much like the one in China with thousands of people standing with bated breath, waiting for it to crumble. Of course, and remember I’m a born and bred Kansan, the Missourians weren’t waiting, they were snickering as they climbed over the wall and once there they set up their little camp fires, relaxed against their bedrolls. They’d be ready to elect ‘pro-slavery’ officials who would create a favorable state constitution.

The ‘pro-slavery’ faction relaxed even more when Andrew H. Reeder was appointed territorial governor of Kansas in June 1854. An avid supporter of Democratic Senator Stephan Douglas from
Illinois and his popular sovereignty policies, pro-slavery advocates
cheered the appointment. What the pro-slavery party hadn’t counted on
was Reeder’s determination to hold up  the idea of popular sovereignty
and maintain a middle ground.

The concept of Popular Sovereignty was a good idea, but. . . pro-slavery advocates weren’t taking
chances, especially with the influx of Northerners into the territories. You see, it
didn’t take long for ‘anti-slavery’ factions to set up emigrant societies. Soon these societies began to pop up all over New England. Some of these societies helped fund the emigrants move by selling shares at twenty dollars a pop in exchange for their name in the paper. Here
is a link to a letter written by Lyman Beecher to fellow ministers asking for their help. You may recognize him as the father of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Thomas Webb and Edward Hale  produced
literature on various things such as when to travel, the costs, what to
expect as far as farming and Indians.

Back to our elections: When an election was scheduled for the Kansas Territory
Legislature in March 1855, the good ol’ Bushwhackers and many boys hired from one of the southern states, crossed the territorial line and pretended to be Kansas settlers in hopes to elect
representatives with pro-slavery sympathies.

Reeder wasn’t blind to the voter fraud and refused to certify the votes and called for a new election. It’s believed that nearly 4500 out 7000 votes were from non-Kansas settlers, and that was just in one town. One specific incident included a ‘pro-slavery’ advocate some called ‘bogus’ Sheriff, Samuel J. Jones. Supposedly he entered an election and gave the election officials five minutes to leave or be killed.

A Free State reporter had this to say about Jones, “the immortal bogus Sheriff Jones, a tall, muscular, athletic loafer, with a cruel Mephistophelean expression, clad in the Border Ruffian
costume-blue military overcoat, large boots, skull cap and cigar in mouth.”

He’s not somebody I’ want to mess with.

In the summer of 1855, nearly a year after his appointment, Reeder moved his executive
office in Leavenworth, KS, situated near the Missouri border, to Pawnee, KS, a small town nearly one hundred-twenty miles away. Now, I’m not sure why he chose this town other than one, it was far from Missourian interference, and two, it was close to Fort Riley, which was necessary to keep a capitol safe from the so-called savages settlers feared.

On July 2, 1855, Reeder called to order the First Territorial Legislature (also known as the Bogus Legislature) in Pawnee, KS, the appointed territorial capitol. On July 4, against their governor’s wishes, the legislature voted to reconvene at a new territorial capitol and, on July 16, the capitol was moved back near the Missouri border in a place called Shawnee Mission, KS, where the legislature adopted the slave laws of Missouri.

By the end of July President Pierce dismissed Reeder as territorial governor. Of course it had nothing to do with Reeder’s political policy at fair voting and everything to do with some sort of illegal activities concerning land speculation.

Between the years of 1855 and 1859 Kansas had written and voted on four different constitutions and had five different capitals.

I’d love to tell you that the conflict between the Free-Staters and the pro-slavery factions was contained only within the governing bodies, but as we’ll see next month that was not the case.


Kansas Rattlesnakes

Then I had my first introduction to rattlesnakes. I was sitting in the door, and the children were playing just outside when I heard that horrible rattle. I did not have to be told what it was. I grabbed the children into the house and put them up on the bed, and took hold of a board, as it was all I could get hold of. By the time I had done that it was inside the house and running across the floor. I kept striking at it and missing it for quite a while; I felt I must kill it or some of us would be bitten. At last I killed it, although I nearly killed myself. Then I told the children that I would never live in a place where the rattlesnakes came into the house, that we would get to the timber where their father was and tell him so. Well, we had not gone a hundred yards when we saw another one, stretched out sunning itself, so we passed by on the other side, but we had not crossed the field until we say the third one, all of them large. The one we killed had seven rattles; that is as large as they generally are on the prairies. Although that was our first sight of a rattlesnake, it was not our last. For a number of years, they were plentiful. They were round about us, sometimes under our feet, sometimes gathered up in a bundle of something we were handling, sometimes in our houses. The strangest part of it was that none of us were ever bitten.

I’m telling you up front there is no way on God’s green Earth I’m getting close enough to a rattlesnake to snap pictures. Not even through a glass window.

So for sanity’s sake, y’all can go here Great Plains Nature Preserve.

Kansas is home to three different species of rattlesnakes. One is found in the eastern half of the state. One is found in the eastern and central part of Kansas, and the last one is found only in the western part.

If you choose to use a rattlesnake in your book, then you need to be sure what part of the state your story is set.

Since my story is set in the eastern part of Kansas we’ll look at the Timber Rattlesnake first and then the Massasaugas (what a name). And wouldn’t you know that the Timber, the largest of the rattlers, would be found in my neck of the woods.  *shivers*

This one’s coloring is kind of a dull gray, but you can see the chevron markings.

This next one is vivid and you can clearly see the stripe down the center of its body. As far as rattlesnakes go, its kind of beautiful (never thought I’d say that)!

According to the Great Plains Nature Preserve, this baby is in need of conservation. Now, I’m all for conservation as long as its not in my backyard. If it comes down to me or the snake, the snake has got to go.

This next snake, the Massasaugas, is found throughout eastern and central Kansas. It also happens to be the smallest of the trio.

Again, this one has some beautiful coloring. They also tend toward browns, which I think would a little more difficult to spot in and amongst the brush. I think if I had a choice, I’d rather come across this one. It’s smaller than the Timber and easier to see than its brown sibling.
I can also say that this little rattler is doing just fine in the conservation area.
The last of Kansas’ rattlers can be found in the western half of the state, and for that I’m very grateful.

As you can see by his coloring he probably blends in nicely with the prairie landscape, even more so than the Massasauga. 
The Prairie Rattlesnake is also doing fine in the whole conservation area.
And, just in case you think these creatures are small, let me put it all in perspective for you.
The Massasauga, which is the smallest of the rattlers, measures up to 33 1/2 inches. Yeah, I’m thinking that’s a bit too long myself, but compared to the Prairie and the Timber, it’s a piece of cake. The Prairie, the one that takes up residence in the western half of Kansas measures up to 57 1/8. I suppose you’re wondering what the Timber measure in at. No? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway, if I don’t you’ll google, so I’ll save you the trouble. 63 1/2″! The record for the Timber is 74 1/2″