By Diane Euston
In the mid 19th century, hundreds of slave owners purchased land snuggled on the border between Missouri and Kansas. When Kansas was admitted as a territory in 1854, they left it up to the new territory to decide if they would be a free or a slave state, commonly known as the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
It seemed fair enough at the time to just let the states decide their destiny; Kansas, before 1854, was in the control of the Native Americans who were pushed off their lands in the east. With the Kansas-Nebraska Act in full swing, these tribes were infiltrated by white settlers looking for a piece of the pie.
White settlement had started.
With an upcoming vote on the horizon, men – especially those slaveholders in western Missouri- wanted to be sure that their border companions voted a pro-slavery ticket.
This was also the very beginnings of Bleeding Kansas and the Border Wars.
Men in Missouri- especially those in the border counties of Jackson, Lafayette, Platte and Cass -weren’t about to watch Kansas turn into a free state. Some of these men- even those living near present-day Martin City- had land on both sides of the state line.
In these slaveholding men’s minds, they could vote wherever they owned land. They didn’t consider they needed to live on the land purchased -or, for that matter, have a dwelling on the land. If you owned an acre, you were able to vote… even if you were a voter in another state.
In 1855, an important election for the House of Representatives and the members of the council was up for vote. Electing men with pro-slavery tendencies would give a stronger likelihood that Kansas would be admitted as slave state.
On March 29th, 1855, men from Jackson County, Mo. gathered and headed over the state line. An article in the Kansas Herald of Freedom from 1857 proclaimed “400 to 500 Missourians armed with guns, pistols and knives came into the Territory and camped at Bull Creek, or the Potawatomie Creek.” They had participated in meetings, organized a plan of action and encamped with around 500 men in a one square mile area in present-day Miami County. Most were from Jackson and Cass Counties. Three judges were appointed ahead of time in each precinct- and these judges primarily came from none other than Missouri.
“Bull” Creek seems like a pretty fitting name.
The night before the election, one of the original judges appointed to the Bull Creek precinct in the 5th district conveniently failed to show to his location. A man by the name of Dr. Benjamin C. Westfall (1825-1886), a resident of New Santa Fe in Jackson Co., Mo., was quickly appointed as a judge in the Kansas Territory election at Bull Creek. He, too, voted and was not a landowner. While testifying in Lawrence on the shady events of the election, he stated, “… Companies were organized to go over the Territory to various places to vote, and some of my neighbors prevailed upon me to go with them to Bull Creek. . . in the fifth district. We went out on the 29th of March, probably thirty in the company I was with.”
On the morning of March 30th, the voting commenced without a single judge being sworn.
The election was held at the home of Baptiste Peoria, a prominent, wealthy Native American landholder who would later migrate to Oklahoma to join his tribe and act as chief.
Westfall reluctantly agreed to be one of the judges at Baptiste Peoria’s house. The two other “judges” were J.J. Park and B.F. Payne. Westfall’s testimony was published in an article in the Belvidere Standard in May 1856. He stated, “Park had a claim on Bull Creek, and had built a small cabin on it, but had never lived there. He lived with Col. Gill of Jackson County, Missouri.”
Col. Marcus Gill lived in Jackson Co. where current-day Verona Hills subdivision is.
Out of the 393 votes cast in Bull Creek near Osawatomie, only 16 of the votes were from actual citizens of Bull Creek.
One of the most notorious tales from this day involved the actions of a man from New Santa Fe.
Samuel B. Wade owned land hugging the state line south of Martin City. He and his son, Jim, no more than 11 years old, went into Kansas to Bull Creek to ensure slavery continued. Westfall’s testimony stated, “Samuel Wade, of Jackson, voted once for himself and once for ‘Jim Wade.’ Jim is a boy. . . I asked him why he had voted for a child? He said he had laid out a claim for him close to his own claim, and he expected he would be a legal voter sometime!”
One of the men running for Kansas House of Representatives was a man by the name of Henry W. Younger. He had a large farm to the west of Independence, Missouri and land in Cass County.
Younger served for two years as a representative in Kansas when everyone- literally everyone- knew he was from Missouri.
In 1862, on a trip to Westport for business, Younger was gunned down and shot multiple times. He was robbed of the $1500 he was carrying. Speculation was that a Union officer was responsible for the murder.
All of this started with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, giving the states the power to poll its residents on the future of the Territory. And Kansas, at least on the eastern side of the state, was being controlled by Missouri/This is the very event that is credited for turning Cole Younger, Henry’s son, into the bandit that he is portrayed in history books as being. He left home, served as a raider with Quantrill, sacked Lawrence, met Jesse James and lived a life of crime with three of his brothers in tow.
Westfall’s testimony of the events on March 30th, 1855, was published in hundreds of newspapers across the nation. His words painted a very grim picture of the goings-on of western expansion.
Diane writes a blog about the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com