The Kansans and Whence They Came – Introduction
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a Generation of Kansas Pioneers in Atchison, Brown & Doniphan Counties

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Source Citation:
Richard Wilson, "", The Kansans and Whence They Came, Internet: (accessed ), < >.

The story of the Kansans goes back to the very beginning of European settlement in America, nearly four centuries ago. At least four of our American ancestors were aboard the Mayflower when it landed at Plymouth in December 1620. Many more are known to have emigrated to the new American colonies throughout the century and a half that followed. At least four of these colonial ancestors helped in the fight for independence from Britain during the Revolutionary War. Many of the next generation again defended the new nation against Britain during the War of 1812. Throughout all this time and into the middle of the 19th century, more kept coming from overseas, and they kept spreading across the continent. It seems that there was always some branch of the family settling just beyond the edge of civilization. As new territories opened up, these pioneers continually ventured well beyond the original colonies in their Conestoga wagons, Prairie Schooners, flatboats, and keelboats. They rarely paused for more than a generation before they or their offspring moved on to newly available lands. They repeatedly inhabited pristine areas that had until then been a part of the seemingly endless, remote wilderness, such as Western Pennsylvania (c.1776), Kentucky (c.1779), Ohio (1795), Indiana (c.1817), Missouri (c.1820), Illinois (c.1840), and Iowa (c.1847). By the time 1854 came, Kansas would become their next opportunity.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act

The Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed by Congress on 30 May 1854, creating two new territories. This Act also controversially repealed the earlier Missouri Compromise of 1820 which had deemed that any new state that was part of the Louisanna Purchase and situated north of latitude 36°30', with the exception of Missouri, should become a free state. Its primary purpose had been to maintain a balance in Congress between Northern free-states and Southern slave-states. It should have included Kansas and Nebraska Territories. Instead, the new law called for "popular sovereignty", meaning that the settlers of a new state would have the right to decide for themselves whether their constitution would allow or abolish slavery upon its admission to the Union.

Bleeding Kansas

The passage of this Act set events into motion that would come to be known as "Bleeding Kansas". The usual settlers and new immigrants began to come to both territories principally seeking farmland. However, because Kansas bordered the slave state of Missouri, pro-slavery and anti-slavery activists also rushed to this territory hoping to influence its fate. Missouri slave owners did not want another free state on its border, and abolitionists did not want another slave state at all. Back east, many societies were organized to help "free-staters", people who wanted to abolish slavery, settle en masse in Kansas. The most notable of these was the New England Emigrant Aid Company which founded the Kansas towns of Lawrence and Manhattan. Their influx prompted pro-slavery advocates, mainly Missourians, to cross the Missouri River in greater numbers to counteract their influence. They became known as "Border Ruffians". Kansas Territory had become a battleground for both of their causes.

General intimidation and election fraud were common. On election days, hundreds of armed Missourians would cross the river and flood polling sites of counties bordering Missouri. Although non-residents, they would overwhelmingly outnumber the local free-staters, vote, and prevent the free-state locals from voting themselves. Later investigations found that in some cases, Missouri voters had actually outnumbered the Kansas voters. The conflicts between the two sides, however, often escalated far beyond this to extreme violence and murder.

In December 1855 during an event called the "Wakarusa War", a militia made up of 1500 Border Ruffians marched toward Lawrence with the intention of destroying it and camped nearby. A force of 800 abolitionists was raised from within Lawrence. There was a long stand-off, but the Missourians never attacked. In May 1856 during the "Siege of Lawrence", the same town was sacked by pro-slavery activists led by its own sheriff who had been appointed by the pro-slavery governor of the territory. Among other things, its two free-state newspaper offices were shut down. In response only days later, an outspoken abolitionist named John Brown, led a small group in killing several pro-slavery men during the "Pottawatomie Massacre". They pulled five men from their homes and murdered them with a broadsword. In August 1856 the "Battle of Osawatomie" occurred. More than 250 Missouri men battled a much smaller band of men led again by John Brown. After defeating Brown, they went on to loot and burn down almost the entire town of Osawatomie. Events such as these continued until the "Marais des Cygnes Massacre" in May 1858, which is considered the last major violent act of the period. Thirty men entered Kansas from Missouri and captured eleven unarmed free-state men near the town of Osawatomie. They were led into a narrow valley and shot. Five of them were killed. In all, more than fifty people were killed during the bloodshed of Bleeding Kansas.

It was during this early turmoil that the earliest known direct ancestor of the family migrated to Kansas. Only a year after the territory was created, James Lee Wilson, his new bride Barilla Proctor, and most of her family, arrived from Missouri to stake claims in Brown County near the northeast corner of the territory in May 1855. Although the major clashes would occur further south, their families without a doubt would have been affected by the conflict. The following passage is from the book History and Statistics of Brown County, Kansas, compiled by E.N. Morrill in 1876, which illustrates the difficult conditions under which they initially must have lived.

History and Statistics of Brown County, Kansas, compiled by E. N. Morrill, 1876.


In 1856, the troubled, excited state of political affairs prevented any large immigration to the Territory. The border counties were controlled by organized bands of border ruffians, who would suffer no outspoken free-state man to remain in the Territory; to such the very decisive alternative was given - leave or die. The infamous Richardson with his band of cutthroats made occasional raids on the eastern border of the county [Brown County], keeping the settlers in a constant state of terror. Many an old settler remembers well the long and weary nights spent in the corn fields and woods when he dared not remain under his roof. All had dogs, and the barking of these faithful guardians at night was a signal for the settler to take unceremoniously to the brush, trusting that the scoundrels who were hunting his life would have manliness to leave unharmed his wife and dear ones. Fortunately for the good name of Brown county, there were no serious outbreaks within its borders. The honest, sober, industrious citizens of both sides did all in their power to preserve the peace and prevent any violation of the law and the kindliest feelings existed between neighbors who were directly opposed to each other politically.

The second excerpt exemplifies the complexity of James' situation at the time. The Wilson and Proctor families were living in Claytonville Township which is shown in the following election results to have an almost even split between free-state and pro-slavery voters. James' father-in-law, Moses P. Proctor, became the first treasurer of the county. He won the election as a free-stater, even though he had owned slaves back in Missouri as recently as 1850. James was undoubtedly on the free-state side, since he later named a son after a Union general. Nevertheless, he must have encountered people on the opposite side of the issue almost daily, perhaps even within his own family.


On the 5th of October, 1857, the territorial election for that year was held, and as the free-state men were at the polls in full force, it is safe to say that a full vote was cast. At this election W.G. Sargent was elected Probate Judge; A.B. Anderson and Jacob Englehart, County Commissioners; Moses P. Proctor, Treasurer; Franklin O. Sawin, Sheriff, by a vote of 186 to 72 - the vote by townships being as follows:

Walnut Creek: 46 free state, 3 pro-slavery
Lochnane: 10 free state, 11 pro-slavery
Irving: 43 free state, 23 pro-slavery
Claytonville: 37 free state, 35 pro-slavery

By this vote the control of the county passed into the hands of the free-state men, and the pro-slaveryites were ever after in a hopeless minority.

Tensions began to ease after this territorywide election as it became evident that the free-staters were gaining a majority throughout Kansas. Kansas Territory was eventually admitted to the union as a free state on 29 Jan 1861.

Early Pioneers

In addition to James Lee Wilson, more of my direct ancestors had arrived in Kansas prior to statehood. One of these was Permelia Ridge who arrived from Missouri in 1859 while she was married to her first husband, William W. Hilton. She later remarried to James. Another couple was William Harrison Rutherford and his wife, Mary Ann Springer, who arrived from Illinois between 1857-1861. They were accompanied by Mary Ann's mother, Elizabeth Heidelbaugh. Christian Weik may have been here before statehood. He had immigrated from Württemberg in 1854, probably to St. Joseph, Missouri. His first child was born in Kansas late in 1861, but his exact whereabouts are unknown in the few years prior to this. There were various other relatives coming to the area in its territorial days as well. Barilla's sister married Thurston Chase who is considered to be the first settler in all of Brown County, Kansas. He had already built a cabin on his claim only three days after the Act was signed. James Monroe Eylar, a brother of an ancestor, came from Ohio in September 1854. At the age of sixteen, he lived on a claim in the midst of all that was happening to secure it for his uncles.

The War Between the States

The Civil War began less than 3 months after Kansas statehood. Following its brief period of relative peace, the bad blood of Bleeding Kansas would now resurface. Cross-border skirmishes between civilians resumed. The Border Ruffians had been replaced by "bushwhackers", which were essentially para-military groups who fought against Union troops and terrorized pro-Union civilians in Missouri. Sometimes they crossed into Kansas as well. "Jayhawkers" were Kansans who had gone on the offensive. They often crossed into Missouri border counties to terrorize civilians they believed to be Southern sympathizers, much as the Border Ruffians had done to suspected abolitionists in Kansas only a few years earlier. Parts of the Kansas military behaved in much the same way. In 1861, a particularly infamous regiment was formed by Col. Charles R. Jennison. It was officially the 7th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, but it became known as "Jennison's Jayhawkers". Its primary task was to defeat the bushwhackers in western Missouri and return order to the area. They not only engaged the bushwhackers, but they also burned the homes of hundreds of citizens suspected of aiding them, mostly in the rural Kansas City area. The higher authorities in Washington did not approve and Jennison resigned. Although still a Missouri resident, James Lee Wilson's youngest brother, William, was a volunteer in Jennison's Cavalry.

In the same year, radical Kansas senator Jim Lane organized an unofficial unit of 1200 Jayhawkers to pursue Confederate Gen. Sterling Price and his men through Missouri. Lane's men were defeated, but they still burned down almost every building in Osceola, Missouri, a town of 3000 inhabitants. They also executed several men, took 200 slaves back to Kansas to freedom, and pilfered anything else they could carry away with them. Partly in response to this, the town of Lawrence was sacked yet again on 21 Aug 1863. This time over 400 men led by a bushwhacker named William Quantrill massacred 150 men and boys during a single early morning surprise attack. Days later, the Union army, with President Abraham Lincoln's reluctant approval, issued an order for the forced evacuation of nearly four entire Missouri border counties, so that their homes could be burned to the ground. The purported purpose was to prevent bushwhackers from having a safe place to organize near the border.

Surprisingly, after all the drama that had taken place in Kansas prior to the war and all the back and forth between unofficial adversaries, there was only a single major military threat to Kansas during the war. All three of my male ancestors who were living in the state were drafted in October 1864 to defend against an impending Confederate invasion by troups led by the same Gen. Sterling Price. After working his way through Missouri, "Price's Raid" was repelled by federal troups aided by companies of Kansas farmers of all ages. Price was stopped at the border in Westport, Missouri, now a suburb of Kansas City. The only battles that took place on Kansas soil were during his retreat. The war ended in May 1865, and real peace finally came to Kansas for the first time in its eleven years of existence.

Later Settlers

By the time the remainder of this generation of Kansans began to arrive about 1870, it was becoming a much more civilized place to live. In 1860, there had been just over 107,000 residents in the entire territory. By 1870, there were almost 365,000 in the state. By 1880, the population had swollen to almost 1 million, and most of the modern conveniences of the time had become available. Wilhelm Flachsbarth was the earliest of the next wave of ancestors to arrive in Kansas. He had immigrated from Germany around 1868 and was living in Kansas by 1870. In the same year, William Rutherford's mother, Cloa Ann Deavers, arrived with one of his brothers. Wilhelm's future wife, Elise Henriette Kleinwort, immigrated from the city-state of Hamburg in 1868 and was living in Kansas by 1871 with her first husband, Michael Henninger. Aaron Randolph Eylar and his wife, Matilda Horner, arrived from Ohio in 1873. Johanna Peisker immigrated from the region of Silesia in Prussia in 1872. She was living in Kansas by 1874 when she married another immigrant from Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Christian Glamann. She joined dozens more who had come from her village to the same area. Johann Prax and his wife, Anna Maria ßler, immigrated from Bohemia in Austria in 1875 and came straight to Kansas. They too were joining dozens who had come from their village. Ann Elizabeth Bradley, was in Kansas by 1875 as well. She had come from Missouri with her parents, Leonard Keeling Bradley and Mary Agnes Hunt. John Franklin Freeman, his wife, Amanda Fase, John's parents, Samuel E. Freeman and Maria Thoman, and Amanda's parents, Philip Face and Catharine Starner, along with several of their siblings all arrived from Pennsylvania in 1877. Finally, Charles White Barber, arrived from Connecticut between 1875-1880. He joined an uncle who had been here since the Civil War.

In the end, all sixteen of my great-great-grandparents had made the journey to their new home between the years 1855-1880. They were accompanied by at least eight of their parents, many of their siblings, numerous other relatives, friends, and neighbors. All of these new Kansans settled in the northeastern corner of the state in Atchison, Brown, and Doniphan counties. None of them left. This in itself is a most surprising fact. It may seem obvious that they must have stayed, or they wouldn't have become my Kansan ancestors, but it is not. Pioneers had a habit of settling in a place for a decade or two and moving on again when the next good opportunity arose. Some of the people listed here had already done that before, and certainly many of their respective ancestors had done it as well. Many of the people who came with them moved on to other opportunities in Colorado, Oregon, or California, for example. Families would often leave behind a trail of adult children and their own families who could have become my ancestors. Yet, they didn't move on. They had become Kansans, and they remained Kansans to the end. It must be exceedingly rare for someone of my generation to be have been born in Kansas with every single one of his ancestors for four generations to have lived and remained in Kansas. I grew up in Iowa and had always considered myself to be an Iowan, even though my birth certificate states otherwise. We often visited relatives in Kansas, but I never considered myself to be a Kansan. Given what I know now, how could I not?