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Examiner
  • Ted Stillwell's Portraits of the Past: The fugitive governor of Kansas

  • During and just prior to the Civil War, Kansas City was the scene of intense excitement. In fact, when you consider that John Brown began his harrowing career on the Kansas Border, it appears that this vicinity was the real cradle of the War of the Rebellion.

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  • During and just prior to the Civil War, Kansas City was the scene of intense excitement. In fact, when you consider that John Brown began his harrowing career on the Kansas Border, it appears that this vicinity was the real cradle of the War of the Rebellion.
    At that time, the old Gillis House Tavern down on the levee was the leading hotel in Kansas City, and many exciting stories are connected with its history. An early settler, describing this historic tavern said "From my second story front room, it was interesting to watch the arrival and departure of steamers, and it was no unusual thing to see 50 to 60 armed Southerners arrive and to hear their cry, ‘Death to all Yankees!’ Daily mutterings of war and strife came to our ears, and our Yankee hotel was constantly threatened with destruction. Consequently, we slept nightly with revolvers under our pillows and a Sharp’s rifle close at hand."
    It was in this hotel that Andrew Reeder, the Free State governor of Kansas, was hidden at the time of his famous escape across the border in 1856.
    While the Congressional Committee was in session at the Free State capital of Lawrence in the early part of May, 1856, Governor Reeder was summoned to appear as a witness before the court then in session at Lecompton, the Pro Slavery Capital. Believing this to be a mere ruse to get the governor away from the committee, and also having fears for his personal safety, the governor refused to go unless sufficient assurances were given that his life would be protected, and that he should be at liberty to again return to the committee. This request they could not, or would not grant, whereupon the governor declared in no uncertain terms that "the first man who laid his hands upon him did so at the peril of his life." So, finally, the U.S. Marshal and his posse left for Lecompton with their mission unaccomplished.
    In the meantime word had reached Lawrence of a contemplated invasion of the Kansas Territory by the Missourians, and that it was their fixed determination to kill Governor Reeder if they could get hold of him. Reeder, feeling his life to be in imminent danger, laid plans for an escape to safety. So, when he suddenly disappeared, his whereabouts remained a mystery for two or three weeks.
    The Free State party reported that he made his escape through Iowa. Some surmised that he had gone down the Kaw River disguised as a woman, others that he crossed Missouri on horseback, and the most ridiculous of all stories was that he had been sent down the river in a coffin. All agreed though, that he had gone to parts unknown, while in reality he lay concealed in the very midst of his enemies in the land of the Border Ruffians, in a house threatened daily with destruction. The governor had reached Kansas City during the night darkness and remained hidden in the Gillis House Tavern until a further escape could be safely affected.
    Page 2 of 2 - This commenced days of fearful anxiety, because the first room in which he was placed was found to be unsafe, because the room opposite was occupied by those who were his enemies. Several days passed before a successful means of escape was planned for the prisoner. Disguised as an Irish "Paddy," with pipe in mouth, and assuming an air of perfect independence, he sailed forth from his place of concealment. Reaching the river successfully, under cover of darkness, a skiff was procured and the governor with an aide drifted down the Missouri, and after several narrow escapes from detection, the fugitive Governor reached Chicago and safety.
    Ref: 1900 edition; History of Kansas City by William Griffith
     
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