My recent trip out to Kansas for the National Underground Railroad Conference included a stop at the Kansas Museum of History, which as one might expect houses a wealth of treasures from the "Bleeding Kansas" era.
From the entrance of the museum - where the above picture was taken - John Brown's image is a presence. The Brown shown here is one that the average American might not recognize. Absent, of course, is the long white beard of Harpers Ferry legend. This was the John Brown of the Kansas years.
Over the last couple of months I have become fascinated with the territorial battles in Kansas, and although there were some real interesting items displayed at the museum, probably the most captivating to me was the above banner. In 1855, a recently arrived settler from Illinois, Reverend Pardee Butler, was captured by pro-slavery men and put on a quickly fashioned raft and set afloat down the Missouri River. It was assumed by the pro-slavery men that either Butler would drown or he would land somewhere in the state of Missouri and not receive a warm welcome. To insure that the Missourians who found Butler knew he was a free-state abolitionist, they attached this banner to the raft. On it is written "Eastern Aid Express" a reference to the New England Emigrant Aid Company that sent easterners to settle Kansas as a free state. It also says, "Rev. Mr. Butler agent for the underground Railroad." The picture shows a man with an African American slave woman behind him riding a horse. The caption says, "Greely to the rescue - I have a nigger." Greeley, of course, was Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune and well known antislavery man. Butler was able to guide the raft to the Kansas side of the river and kept the flag. In 1856, Butler was spotted in Atchison, Kansas. He was mobbed. Pro-slavery men whipped him and then tarred him, but not having feathers, they used cotton.
The banner was donated to the museum by Butler's son in 1927.
In Kansas they weren't just fighting with Bowie knives, Colt revolvers and Sharp's rifles; they had artillery too. I think this howitzer was captured at the Battle of Fort Titus, near Lecompton, Kansas on August 16, 1856. Don't get the wrong idea, Fort Titus was not a real fort, but rather an armed log cabin belonging to Colonel Henry Titus, a pro-slavery settler who was seriously injured in the short fight. He surrendered his men and weapons, as well as his sword, which is also in the museum. Titus's slaves were set free and told to go to Topeka. Titus soon gave up the pro-slavery cause in Kansas and joined a filibuster expedition to Nicaragua. When he returned to the United States he established to town of Titusville, Florida.
In the museum are a number of John Brown's surveying tools including this compass.
I thought this interactive exhibit was a neat way to think about John Brown and whether he was a hero or a terrorist; a topic that is still controversial to this day.
These flags are actually from Northern states that made reference to the free-state Kansas efforts during the 1856 presidential election. One of the Republican party's slogans was "Free Soil, Free Men, and Fremont;" referring to John C. Fremont, the party's candidate in 1856.
This is the flag of the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry Regiment. The First Kansas Colored was the first African American regiment recruited in the Northern states; not the more famous 54th Massachusetts. This unit fought and died in battle in Missouri even before they were mustered into federal service. They were mustered into service before the 54th Massachusetts even received authorization to begin recruiting.
Of course, I couldn't leave the museum without a visit to their store. I was unable to avoid the urge to purchase a poster of the famous John Stueart Curry image, "The Tragic Prelude." If you get the opportunity to visit the Kansas History Museum, please do. They have so many items you won't see anywhere else. If you can't make the trip there, take a few minutes to visit their website at: http://www.kshs.org/places/museum.htm