Bleeding Kansas: Making the Trip to Osawatomie

Prior to the American Civil War of the 1860s, my hometown state of Kansas was the site of a contentious battle regarding slavery. The first political election for the territory of Kansas was made in 1855.  The result of the election was a pro-slavery determination for the territory which sparked several years of border skirmishes.  These fights between pro-slavery and anti-slavery groups near the Missouri border caused the territory to be known as “Bleeding Kansas.”

bleeding kansas
Google Images.

At this time in 1855, over 5,000 Missourians that were pro-slavery crossed over into Kansas territory to vote in the election which caused some politicians to refer to the election as fraud.  However, the vote was kept.  Several months afterwards, abolitionist groups established the Free State militia force.  One such abolitionist and preacher was John Brown who later led the infamous raid on Harper’s Ferry in Virginia in 1859 prior to the Civil War.

john brown1
Google Images.
john brown
Google Images.
harper's ferry
Google Images.
Google Images.

By May of 1856, a group of Missouri raiders led by Quantrill sacked and burned the Free State supporter town of Lawrence founded by Massachusetts abolitionists.

quantrill's raid1
Google Images.
quantrill's raid 2
Google Images.

Today, if you visit Osawatomie in east central Kansas, you can see several John Brown historical sites. We recently saw the site of the Battle of Osawatomie between Missouri forces and Free State Kansas territory forces. At this site, is the Adair Cabin, one of only a few Osawatomie original buildings that survived the ransacking.

If you travel further south along the Frontier Military Route, you will see the site of the Marais de Cygnes Massacre, another border skirmish that occurred near the Travel Post.

Google Images.

Further south of that is the Civil War era Fort Scott military fort.

Incidentally, Osawatomie also happens to be the place where the conservative Kansas Republican Party was established in 1859 during the “Bleeding Kansas” years.  The Kansas Republican Party was created by Free State abolitionist sympathizers.

Prison Break

There’s this guy that was born in my hometown in rural Kansas. He was born in April of 1912 in Pittsburg. It’s a small college town with only about 20,000 residents and not of any huge significance to the world. A lot of people around here don’t know about him now. So many years have passed. He was considered a career criminal starting at the early age of 16 arrested for grand larceny. At 17 he attempted and failed to rob the Dr. Pepper Bottling Works in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was sent to the state prison in McAlester, Oklahoma.

He was a smart guy and performed several prison breaks and more crimes until he was sent to Leavenworth in 1935. And from there, he went to the most notorious prison of all, Alcatraz. He was “considered vicious and in need of maximum security and discipline.”

This man was named Theodore Cole and with his accomplice, Ralph Roe, became the second prison break attempt in the vivid history of Alcatraz. He broke out of Alcatraz sometime around December 16, 1937 and the warden recounted, “The prisoners were counted at 1 pm and again at 1:30, when Roe and Cole were found to be not at work. Somehow, in that half-hour, they disappeared into a fog which made it nearly impossible to see any distance.” (Warden James Johnston, December 17, 1937)

They started their breakout by studying the routines of the guards and discovered that one particular guard was more lax than the others on watch. They used a stolen hacksaw blade to saw through the iron bars of one of the blacksmith shop windows were they worked. They replaced the missing pieces of metal with grease and shoe polish. They were speculated to have created floats from lightweight fuel cans. They planned to squeeze through the window, drop to the ground, cut the chain link fence surrounding the area, and make a mad dash over the cliff to the water.

On the day of their escape attempt, there was a deep fog over the San Francisco Bay area. They did manage to make it to the water and disappeared. They were never found but many speculated that they did not survive the waters. Still, others insisted as late as 1941 that the two were living comfortably in South America and were wealthy criminals there. The FBI continued to search for Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe up until the 1960s.

Did they survive? The truth is still out there.

Native American Day in Kansas

This month, on September 26th, we celebrate Native American Day in a state named for the Kansa Native American tribe.  They inhabited the northwest corner of the present state of Kansas and were also called the south wind people.

Ten tribes were known to originally occupy this region:

Arapaho               Comanche

Kansa                    Kiowa

Missouri               Osage

Otoe                      Pawnee

Cheyenne             Wichita

When Kansas later became considered Native American territory in the 1820s and closed to settlement, other eastern tribes were forcibly moved to this region:

Cherokee            Illini        Potawatomi       Shawnee

Chippewa            Iowa      Sac and Fox      Wyandotte

Delaware             Kickapoo              Seneca

In June 1825, the Kansa Native Americans handed over 20 million acres of their territory.  The Osage Nation soon followed suit.  Many Kansa Native Americans were later forced to move to reservations in Oklahoma in the late 1800s.

In 1854, Kansas and Nebraska were opened to settlement.

Today, there are 4 current tribal reservations in Kansas:

The Kickapoo tribe near Horton, Kansas

The Ioway tribe of White Cloud, Kansas

The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation near Mayetta, Kansas

Sac and Fox Nation in Brown County, Kansas

(This information was provided by

The 2 most famous pre-Civil War Kansas battles with Native Americans occurred at Solomon Fork in 1857 and at Crooked Creek in 1859.  During the Civil War, some Kansas Native Americans joined sides with the Confederacy and raided free state settlements.   Another raid that occurred near Beaver Creek in Sherman County, Kansas became known as the Kidder Massacre.  This later led to the Battle of Beaver Creek in 1867.

Kansas is known to be home to a great Native American Cheyenne leader called Black Kettle who advocated for peace with the settlers but later resisted encroachment.  In November, 1868, despite posting a white flag of surrender and peace, Black Kettle’s village was destroyed by U.S. soldiers led by General George Armstrong Custer.  Black Kettle and his wife along with over 150 other village members were killed.  Later, in June of 1876, General Custer would meet his own demise against the Northern Cheyenne and the Lakota Sioux in the last stand in the Dakotas territory known as the Battle of Little Big Horn.

Today, if you want to see some interesting Native American history,visit Lawrence to see Haskell University Cultural Center and also the KU Natural History Museum.  Topeka also has great Native American exhibits at the Kansas History Museum.