By Diane Euston
When Don Peters received a phone call in December 2014 that a log cabin was hidden underneath an abandoned house north of Freeman, Mo., he jumped at the chance to save it. And now, almost three years later, Peters is convinced this cabin is much more than just a lovely piece of pioneer history. He believes that it could be the site where two central infamous figures in the Kansas-Missouri Civil War conflict stayed and discussed Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence and one of the war’s most controversial orders.
And if he’s right, this little log cabin would be a significant rediscovered piece of Civil War history for the ages.
Called the “Sloan-Tribby” cabin, the 18×20 foot structure was introduced to Peters, the former executive director of Cass County Historical Society, when he met with a man who had recently bought 80 acres of land north of Freeman. Before the new owner bulldozed the structures on it, he contacted history experts about what he believed was underneath the abandoned house on the land.
A log cabin enthusiast, Peters was perfect for this new project. He dug deep into the records to learn more about the history of the land and the family attached to it. This cabin is the fourth log cabin he has saved. He believes it to be a huge part of local history.
Peters claims the cabin, from its construction, was built in the late 1830s or early 1840s. “Albert Sloan cleared the land and built this log cabin,” Peters explained.
Sloan, born around 1805 in Barron County., married his first wife, Elizabeth in Indiana, and by the 1830s, he and at least one of his brothers settled in what is now Cass County. He patented 240 acres of prime real estate in 1845. As with many early settlers of the western portion of Missouri, it is likely that Sloan was a “squatter,” meaning he had settled on the land well before he had purchased it from the government. His first wife died that same year, leaving him with six children.
Two years after his wife’s death, Sloan married Serepta White and had nine more children. By this time, tensions in the area ran high due to frequent raids by Kansas free staters and the Missouri bushwhackers. The nearest town was Morristown, now erased from the landscape and close to where Freeman is today. An account from 1862 states that Jayhawkers completely destroyed the town, leaving only five buildings standing.
With the border towns under continuous fire and overtaken by Confederate sympathizers in the area, it is likely that Sloan, a staunch Unionist, decided it was time to abandon his farm and cabin. Records clearly indicate that he sought refuge in Miami County, Ks.
Sloan moved back to Cass County after the Civil War and before his return to Paola, Ks., where he died in 1893. His daughter from his second marriage, Katie Tribby, took over his farmstead with her husband, Mark, where it remained in the family for many years.
Peters began to gingerly tear away the more modern frame house and exposed a perfectly in-tact log cabin. As he examined the structure, he noted some interesting anomalies. “There were no bullet holes in it, and I could find no evidence of fire damage,” Peters noted.
It is quite uncommon to find a structure this old completely unharmed by the border warfare. Tom Rafiner, historian and author of two books, Cinders and Silence and Caught Between Three Fires, explained, “A number of cabins that survived in the area during the Civil War were used by Union companies as stations. The houses that did survive outside of the Pleasant Hill or Harrisonville military posts were used by counting parties or patrols sent out. They grabbed a hold of a cabin to use.”
Contemplating why this log structure remained untouched even after Gen. Thomas Ewing, Jr. unleashed one of the most controversial orders against citizens is the big question. His order came after William Quantrill and a group of guerillas rode into Lawrence, Ks. and killed about 200 innocent men and boys on August 21, 1863. Ewing, then in charge of the area and stationed in Kansas City, had received pressure to enact an order that would stop the guerillas and squash out their allies along the border.
Ewing, according to several documents, chased after Quantrill and ended up near Morristown where Quantrill’s guerillas had re-entered Missouri. This was near a fork of the Grand River four miles from the state line. Ewing met up with Sen. James Lane.
Lane had been a primary target of Quantrill’s when they sacked Lawrence, but he escaped through a cornfield in his nightshirt. At this meeting, Lane insisted something should be done and criticized Ewing for his unwillingness to use extreme measures to muffle Quantrill. They went to a cabin nearby and discussed what would become Gen. Order No. 11 and stayed the night there.
“How many log cabins could possibly have been standing at this point? This cabin– the Sloan-Tribby cabin–was. That, we certainly know,” Peters persisted.
Just days later on August 25th, 1863, Ewing signed Gen. Order No. 11 from his Union headquarters in Kansas City. The order demanded that all citizens, no matter their allegiance, in Jackson, Cass, Bates and part of Vernon counties evacuate. Civilians were forced to leave everything behind and could stay at a military station only if they swore their loyalty to the Union.
Could Gen. Order No. 11 have been birthed at this log cabin recently saved by Peters? His claims certainly have historians listening and discussing the possibility. Historian Tom Rafiner stated, “[Peters] makes a compelling case. Ewing and Lane’s meeting place is definitely in that area. There is a reasonable chance that this is the place.”
After the order was enforced, the area became known as “The Burnt District” due to the fact that it was a no-man’s land after the evacuation. Houses were burned to the ground after they were looted for their goods. There are very few surviving structures pre-Civil War in the Kansas City metropolitan area due to Ewing’s decision to depopulate the area after the Lawrence Massacre.
Yet, as Peters points out, the Sloan-Tribby cabin stands with no damage.
Historians still are waiting for the “smoking gun” in order to definitively state whether this cabin is, in fact, where Ewing and Lane had their meeting the night of the Lawrence Massacre. In the meantime, this historic log cabin will have a permanent home in Belton for everyone to visit and explore.
Shane DeWald, Parks Director for Belton Parks jumped at the chance to have the Sloan-Tribby cabin as a part of their facilities. “We took it to the Park Board, and everyone rallied around it,” DeWald stated.
Today, the cabin sits protected in a warehouse, each board carefully numbered and waiting for reconstruction at Belton’s Memorial Park. According to DeWald, they hope to have the cabin up by June 2018. Until then, they hope to raise awareness of this cabin and generate financial support to reconstruct it.
Even if it’s “just” a log cabin, it holds importance because it was one of the very few on the western border that survived the Border Wars and the Civil War.
Peters is waiting for someone to prove him wrong about his assumptions of the significance of this cabin. He proclaimed with excitement and a twinkle in his eye, “If this is what I think it is–and all my research shows true–this cabin is the Appomattox of the West.”