Historical Characters

Pardee ButlerPardee Butler. Reverend Butler immigrated to Kansas from Ohio in 1854 and settled a dozen or so miles west of Atchison. His outspoken views supporting the abolition of slavery were entirely unwelcome in Atchison in 1855 and 1856, and on two occasions he barely escaped death by mobs. In 1855, he was sent down the river on a makeshift raft as a warning to like-minded individuals, and in 1856 he was tarred-and-feathered and set out upon the plains to make his way home. He refused to remain silent, preferring to preach to his congregation about the evils of slavery and write several op-eds in eastern newspapers. The town of Pardee, Kansas, is named after him, and his extensive autobiography contains incredible details of territorial Kansas.


Robert S. KelleyRobert S. Kelley. A lawyer by training, Kelley was a founding member of the Atchison Town Company, its first postmaster, and junior editor of the Squatter Sovereign, its infamous newspaper. He was active in Pro Slavery militias but inexplicably declined commandership of the Atchison Guards in June of 1856. He was a part of the mob that sent Rev. Pardee Butler down the Missouri River in August of 1855, claiming decades later that he rigged a vote to save Butler’s life.



Silhouette-question-markGrafton Thomassen. Thomassen owned and operated Atchison’s first saw mill. His slave drowned in the river in the summer of 1855 and he accused a lawyer and known Free Stater from Ohio, J.W.B. Kelley, of inciting her suicide. After beating Kelley nearly to death, Thomassen’s actions were applauded by Atchisonians and they circulated a statement of support, forcing townspeople to sign it or face mob rule.



Silhouette-question-markPaschal Pensoneau. Considered the first permanent white settler in Atchison County, Pensoneau was a French fur-trapper, trader, and interpreter who had long lived with the Kickapoo Indians. He fought in the Mexican-American and Blackhawk Wars, for which he was awarded land in Kansas Territory near the present site of Potter. His house served as the county’s first polling place, though he later moved west with the Kickapoo when their reservation was diminished.


AtchisonDavid Rice Atchison. Known as “Old Bourbon,” Atchison was the first United States Senator from western Missouri. He served as President Pro Tempore of the Senate and was a proponent of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. A lawyer by schooling, he once represented Mormon prophet Joseph Smith and later served as a general in the state militia that suppressed the violence of the Mormon War of 1838. As ardent as any Pro Slavery man in the West, Atchison rallied for Missourian emigration to Kansas and supported violent defense of the Southern cause through secret societies known as “Blue Lodges,” among other monikers. Though he was not an official founder of Atchison, he was instrumental in its creation and close friends with J.H. Stringfellow and others of the Town Company, who named the town after him. After losing his Senate seat in 1855, he turned his full attention to “Bleeding Kansas” and led troops in both the Wakarusa War and siege of Lawrence in the spring of 1856, where he personally ordered the cannon “Old Sacramento” fired on the Free State Hotel. His actions during these engagements were denounced by Territorial Governor Wilson Shannon and the bicameral Committee on Kansas Affairs.


robinsonCharles Robinson. An agent of the New England Emigrant Aid Society, Robinson helped found the Free State Party, write its constitution, and was elected territorial governor by that party. He organized the defense of Lawrence during the Wakarusa War of 1855 and negotiated the truce that ended it. The next May he fled, following the shooting of Sherriff Jones, was arrested in Missouri, and held for several months by the Pro Slavery legislature under charges of treason.




laneJames Henry Lane. Former Lieutenant Governor of Indiana, Lane also served as a member of the United States Congress and as a Colonel in the Mexican-American War before moving to Kansas in 1856. A renowned orator who was very active in territorial politics, he helped form the Free State Party, write its version of the state constitution, and was elected to the House of Representatives under it, only to be denied the seat once arriving in Washington. He subsequently went on a speaking and fund-raising tour and returned to Kansas with armed men from Iowa and Illinois, “Lane’s Army of the North.” Their route into the territory was known as “Lane’s Trail” and approximates the current path of Highway 59 from Topeka to the Nebraska border.



Silhouette-question-markPatrick Laughlin. Laughlin was an Irish immigrant involved in the organization of the Kansas Legion in the northeast part of the territory, a secret military arm unofficially supporting the Free State Party. During one of its meetings he was accused of treachery to the Legion by a man named Sam Collins, whom he shot later that night, an incident that actually took place nearer Doniphan than Atchison. Laughlin later moved into Atchison where he became a tinsmith and was widely known to have killed Collins, but was never prosecuted.


stringfellowJohn H. Stringfellow. A Virginian by birth, Stringfellow was a doctor from Missouri who helped found Atchison in 1854. He was active in Pro Slavery militias and the territorial government, serving as its Speaker of the House. His Atchison-based newspaper, the Squatter Sovereign, was as vehement a Pro Slavery publication as any in the Territory, often associated with the motto “Death to all Yankees and Traitors in Kansas!”



Silhouette-question-markGeorge Million. Million owned one of the first two tracts of land in the future site of the town of Atchison and sold his land to the Town Company, joining it in the process. He operated a ferry across the river for many years as well as several businesses in town, including the Pioneer Saloon.



jonesSamuel Jones. Appointed in the summer of 1855 by Acting Governor Woodson, Sam Jones was the first Sheriff of Douglas County. A Virginian with staunch Pro Slavery views, Jones assisted in destroying ballot boxes during the elections of 1855 and used his office to promote the views of Southerners and repress those of Free Staters. He was personally involved in both the Wakarusa War and the May, 1856 sack of Lawrence, which largely started as a result of Jones’s being shot by a Free State sniper while sitting in his tent one night. It was widely reported that he had been killed and his death became a rallying cry for Missourians intent on destroying Lawrence.



shannonWilson Shannon. Former Governor of Ohio, Shannon also served one term in the United States House of Representatives and as Minister to Mexico before becoming the second governor of Kansas Territory, successor to Andrew Reeder. Though he helped negotiate a truce that ended the Wakarusa War, his administration was marred by the violence of 1856. He resigned before President Franklin Pierce could fire him in June, fleeing as the territory descended into chaos.



brownJohn Brown. One of the most prominent figures in American history, Old John Brown was a zealous abolitionist from New York and saw himself as a key figure in God’s plan to purge the Union of slavery. He followed his sons to Kansas in 1856 and orchestrated the shocking murder of five unarmed Pro Slavery men in the “Pottawatomie Massacre” as a reprisal for the siege of Lawrence. He is credited with winning the first battle of “Bleeding Kansas” at Black Jack Springs, an engagement some believe to be the first battle of the Civil War. He then helped organize small defense companies and became a Captain in the Free State Militia. His son was the first casualty of the Battle of Osawatomie and he became known nationally as “Osawatomie Brown.”



doniphanAlexander W. Doniphan. A lawyer and western-Missouri politician, Doniphan was colonel of the 1st Missouri Dragoons in the Mexican-American War. From 1846-1848 he led his men west from Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas to New Mexico, south to the Sacramento River, and east to the Gulf of Mexico in one of the longest marches undertaken by any army since Alexander the Great. His command won the Battles of El Brazito, Monterrey, and Sacramento despite being a volunteer force that was largely distrusted by the rest of the army. In the Battle of the Sacramento River, a Mexican cannon was captured by his men, labeled “Old Sacramento,” and hauled back to Missouri where it stood silent in the armory at Columbia for nearly ten years, until it was stolen and pressed into service by Atchison’s Kickapoo Rangers in the May, 1856 siege of Lawrence. It was then captured by Free Staters at the First Battle of Franklin and used against the Missourians in the Battle of Hickory Point. Doniphan is also well known in Mormon history for his refusal to execute Mormon prisoners in 1838, including the prophet Joseph Smith, despite being ordered by Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs to do so.


pomeroySamuel C. Pomeroy. An agent of the New England Emigrant Aid Society, Pomeroy was involved in the founding of Osawatomie and served as a Captain in the Free State militia and Secretary of the Lawrence Security Committee during the absence of Lane and Robinson in May of 1856.





Silhouette-question-mark“Dutch” Henry Sherman. Actually a German by birth, “Dutch” Henry settled with his brother in a cabin where the California and Oregon Trails crossed Potawatomie Creek, before the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 officially opened the territory for white settlement. “Dutch” Henry’s Crossing, as it became known, was a rendezvous place for Pro Slavery “Border Ruffians” in the area, a way-stop and dry good store for travelers, and one of the cabins targeted by John Brown and his men in the Potawatomie Massacre. Henry escaped only because he was out on the prairie retrieving a wandering cow, but his brother William and all other inhabitants became victims of Brown’s men. There is no historical evidence he was complicit.


gearyJohn W. Geary. The third Governor of Kansas Territory, Geary was the last to be appointed by President Pierce. When he arrived in Kansas in September of 1856, he inherited a region on the brink of civil war. He acted quickly to disarm the militia his predecessor, Acting Governor Woodson, had mustered and stopped yet another attack on Lawrence. Nearly a hundred prisoners were taken shortly after the Battle of Hickory Point and held for trial near Lecompton under his authority.




Frank and Jesse James. Notorious western outlaws, the James brothers were children in a vehemently Pro Slavery household in Platte County Missouri during the 1850s. Neither are known to have raised a gun in anger until the Civil War, and in some ways, never to have surrendered them afterwards.





Andrk306414ew H. Reeder. The first governor of Kansas Territory. Appointed by President Franklin Pierce, Reeder was a lawyer from Pennsylvania, a Democrat, and proponent of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the concept of squatter sovereignty. His tenure as governor was marred by the frauds of the territorial elections of 1855.




WoodsonDaniel Woodson. In his capacity as Secretary of Kansas Territory, Woodson served as acting governor in the absence and between the terms of Reeder, Shannon, and Geary. An orphan and newspaperman from Virginia, Woodson was a strong Southern sympathizer and quickly acted to appoint sympathizers to territorial offices and sign the Pro Slavery legislature’s laws whenever he was in office. During the tumult of the summer of 1856, he relied on Pro Slavery militias to control the expanding violence, who engaged and arrested solely Free State men.