Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5 v. (lvi, 2731 p., [228] leaves of plates) : ill., maps (some fold.), ports. ; 27 cm.

1918 KANSAS AND KANSANS Chapter 37 Part 1




James W. Denver


[Copy by Willard of Portrait in Library of Kansas State Historical Society]

General James William Denver was born at Winchester, Frederick county, Virginia, October 23, 1817. He died at Washington, D.C., August 9, 1892, in the seventy-sixth year of his age.

In the year 1831 his parents removed to Ohio; they settled in Clinton county in that State in the spring of 1832. The children of the family consisted of four sons and six daughters, all of whom lived to become honored members of their adopted State. His father was a farmer, and the first years of his life were spent in the hard labor incident to farm life in a new country. In the winters he attended the common schools of the neighborhood. The severe labor which he was called upon to perform and the exposure incident thereto brought on a severe illness in the form of rheumatism, when he was in his twenty-first year. This became for a time permanent, and it caused him to look about for some labor of a lighter character than that on the farm. He studied civil engineering, and was for a time in the service of the county surveyor. In the spring of 1841 he went to Missouri, to seek employment in the surveys of the public lands of that State. But he failed to obtain a contract in this work, and as it was necessary for him to find something to do, he taught a school in the northwestern part of Clay county, at what was known as the Hartsell school-house; while teaching here he boarded in the family of John Eaton, Esq. He always regarded the year spent here as one of the happiest of his life. At the close of his term of school he returned to Ohio to engage in the study of law, and in 1842 began this study in the office of Griffith Foos, Esq., of Wilmington. He continued his studies here for some time, and then attended the Cincinnati Law School, from which institution he graduated in the spring of 1844. His first law office was opened in Xenia, Ohio, and he had for a partner Mr. R.H. Stone. In the spring of 1845 he returned to Missouri and opened a law office in Plattsburg, but afterwards removed to Platte City. In March, 1847, he was made captain of a company in the Twelfth Infantry Regiment, and served until the close of the Mexican War, in July, 1848; he was under the command of General Scott. At the close of the war he returned to Platte City, where he remained until 1850, when he crossed the Plains and settled in Trinity county, California. In 1852 he was elected State Senator, and during the session of the Legislature he antagonized Edward Gilbert, an ex-member of Congress; the controversy which ensued resulted in a duel. Denver designated rifles as the weapons, and Gilbert was killed at the second shot. During this session Mr. Denver was appointed by the Governor of the State to convey supplies across the Sierra Nevada Mountains for the relief of emigrants who were in deep distress. Upon his return from this mission he was appointed Secretary of State for California, and served in this capacity until November, 1855. He had been elected to the National House of Representatives in 1854, and took his seat at the beginning of the Thirty-fourth Congress, in December, 1855. He was made Chairman of the special Committee on the Pacific Railroad, and originated the laws which were subsequently adopted for the construction of that great highway. At the close of his Congressional term he was appointed Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and assumed the duties of that office in April, 1856. He made a treaty with the Pawnees during that year. In December, 1857, he was in Kansas attending to some matters connected with the administration of his office; and when Governor Stanton was removed from the office of Secretary of the Territory, Mr. Denver was appointed to that position. He assumed the duties of his office on the 21st of December, and as no Governor had been appointed to fill the vacancy, he became the Acting Governor of the Territory from that date. On the 12th of May, 1858, he was appointed Governor of Kansas Territory, and Hugh S. Walsh was made Secretary.


The election called by Calhoun on the slavery proposition of the Lecompton Constitution was held on the 21st day of December, the day upon which Secretary Denver assumed the duties of his office. It was a farce. Calhoun announced that the vote in favor of "the Constitution with Slavery" was 6,226; and the opposing vote was given by him as 569. Border-Ruffians in large numbers came into the Territory and voted. At a subsequent investigation it was shown that 2,720 fraudulent votes were cast, and it was known that many others voted who had no right to do so.

At the election provided by the Territorial Legislature, held January 5th, 1858, a fair and honest expression of the people towards the Lecompton Constitution was had. The votes cast against it were 10,226; for it in all forms there were but 162. So overwhelming was the sentiment against it and against the outrageous manner in which the President had attempted to force it upon the people, that some of the Pro-Slavery papers had turned against it. On the 24th of December (1857) a Democratic convention in Leavenworth passed resolutions denouncing the framers of the instrument, indorsing the course of Governor Walker and Secretary Stanton, and asking Congress to not admit Kansas under the fraudulent constitution. The President was fully informed of the result of the election of January 4th, the position and attitude of a majority of his party in Kansas, and of Acting-Governor Denver. The latter had written an exhaustive review of the conditions prevailing in the Territory, which he sent to the President by a special messenger; he urged the President to not present the constitution to Congress. The President replied that the letter came too late, as his message of transmittal had been already prepared and shown to the Southern Senators, and he "could not withdraw it." On the 2d of February he transmitted it to the Senate, together with the constitution. It was a bitter document, and denounced the Free-State men of Kansas and charged them with the troubles which had occurred there. This paper evidenced the subserviency of the President to the slave-power. It supported the action of the convention in not submitting the constitution to a vote of the people. The Lecompton manner of adopting constitutions has ever been in favor with the enemies of liberty.

The action of Congress resulted in the rejection of the constitution for the time being, and in the passage of the "English bill," which provided for the submission of the constitution to a fair and full vote of the people of the Territory. To induce them to vote in its favor, large land grants were set apart to the future State, amounting in all to more than five million acres. This bill was forced through Congress by bribery and other corrupt practices. But the people of Kansas refused to be bribed by the magnificent land grants promised by the slaveholders. The one thing about the bill which pleased the people was that feature which gave them an opportunity to express a final judgment against the constitution. The election under the provisions of the "English bill" was held August 2d, 1858. The total vote was 13,088, of which more than 11,000 were against the Lecompton instrument and the English inducements for its adoption.


The Marais des Cygnes massacre occurred on the 19th of May, 1858. It was the most brutal and inexcusable of all the outrages committed in Kansas by the Border-Ruffians. It was planned and carried out by one Charles A. Hamelton, who had lived, in 1857, in Linn County, three miles east of Trading Post. This point has already been noted in the early part of this work. A postoffice was established there in 1857, and called Blooming Grove. Hamelton was a well-to-do man, owned a number of slaves, was of an aristocratic and insolent bearing, and had come to Kansas to help make it a slave State. He was intolerant of the principles of his Free-State neighbors, and had little intercourse with them. On one occasion William Hairgrove, also from Georgia but a Free-State man, visited Hamelton, but was not received with that boasted Southern hospitality. Hamelton's nearest neighbor was "Broad Tom" Jackson, an aggressive, forceful, Pro-Slavery man. Hamelton had two brothers in Kansas at that time. One was a physician at Fort Scott, another, a young man, Algernon S. Hamelton, studied law with Judge Barlow at Paris, a town near the present Mound City.

The disturbances in Linn County began in a small way in 1855, but nothing of note occurred until the following year. In the fall of 1856, George W. Clarke led in about four hundred Missourians. This was the same Clarke who claimed to have murdered Barber in the Wakarusa War. He led his band of Border-Ruffians to the town of Paris, which was a Pro-Slavery settlement. There he received some recruits, after which he went to Sugar Mound. Arriving there they robbed the house of Ebenezer Barnes, and looted his store and the postoffice. After committing these outrages, the Ruffians broke up into small bands and raided the settlement, burned some houses and committed other depredations, after which they returned to Missouri.

James Montgomery


[Copy by Willard of Portrait
in Library of Kansas
State Historical Society]

James Montgomery had recently settled in Linn County. He was born December 22, 1814, in Ashtabula County, Ohio. He was a cousin to General Richard Montgomery, who fell at the storming of Quebec. In 1837 he went to Kentucky where he engaged in teaching. In 1852 he went to Pike County, Missouri, intending to go on to Kansas when it was open for settlement. In July, 1854, he explored Bates County, Missouri, looking for a location, but was not satisfied with that country. He passed into Kansas and bought a claim near Mound City. He soon became prominent on the Free-State side, and opposed James P. Fox and other Pro-Slavery men. It was not long until he was the recognized leader of the Free-State forces in Southwestern Kansas.

Clarke's party had intended to murder Montgomery, but he escaped. He determined to bring at least some portion of this band to justice. He went to the house of Captain Burnett, in Missouri. Burnett was a member of Clarke's band, and had not yet returned. He was not acquainted with Montgomery and did not know the young man he found at his house. Montgomery pretended to be from New York, and desirous of finding employment as a teacher. Burnett found him a school in his neighborhood. Montgomery taught two weeks, living at Burnett's house. In the meantime he learned the identity of many of Clarke's men. He then returned home and raised a company of seven Free-State men. He led this party to the vicinity of Burnett's house, and went into a secret camp in the timber. He disguised two of his men as Indians and had them ride over the neighborhood. Seeing them, the Missourians supposed the Miami Indians were coming in to steal horses. To take steps to protect themselves from this supposed band of predatory Indians, the neighbors met at Burnett's house, on an appointed day. Montgomery took possession of the house at dark. When a Missourian would approach, Montgomery's men would make him prisoner, disarm him and secure his horse. Burnett was treated in this way upon his arrival, having been absent from home. The guns taken from these Missourians were broken. Montgomery took $250 in money and eleven horses from the men who had thus assembled, and returned to Linn County. Montgomery justified his course on the ground that he had only secured from Clarke's raiders an equivalent for what had been destroyed by them and stolen in his immediate neighborhood. And, further, that the horses and money were given to those who had suffered losses at the hands of these raiders.

The Free-State men soon began to return and re-occupy their claims. Very little occurred about Trading Post of enough importance to be mentioned in connection with the other troubles of the border until the spring of 1858. Many of the leaders of the Border-Ruffians, had by that time been forced to leave Leavenworth, Atchison, and other places, by the triumph of the Free-State men. The Border-Ruffians east of Trading Post became threatening as early as April, 1858. The Free-State men organized a militia company, of which Mr. Tucker was Captain and James M. Sayre, Lieutenant. They armed themselves and stood ready to meet Clarke's Ruffians, whom they expected to appear at any time. The anticipated trouble did not materialize, and the company discontinued their daily meetings, to drill, on the 17th of May. William Allen of this company was acting in the capacity of spy, and he immediately disappeared when it was resolved to discontinue the daily drills. He was in possession of all the plans of the Free-State people, and these he revealed to Hamelton, who had, in the meantime, gone to live with Jerry Jackson, who had a store at West Point, in Missouri. Hamelton had left Kansas because of the increasing strength of the Free-State men, who had been constantly coming in and settling in his neighborhood. On the 18th of May, Hamelton addressed the Ruffians assembled at Jackson's store, and called for volunteers to go with him "down in the valley to attend to some devils down there." He made it plain that he wanted only men who would obey orders. That night a number of Border-Ruffians assembled at Jackson's store. They were led southward by Hamelton, who refused to reveal to Jackson his true intentions.

The 19th of May was a beautiful, clear, warm day. The settlers were at work in the fields. At nine o'clock Hamelton, with thirty-two men, crossed the Marais des Cygnes at Trading Post, coming from the south. They were heavily armed, boisterous, and abusive. They assembled at a saw-mill which was in process of construction, where they made prisoners of the workmen. From the mill they went to the post-building, then in charge of John F. Campbell, whom they made prisoner. Failing to find any other Free-State men at Trading Post, they marched north on the old military road to a point between Timbered Mound and Prairie Mound. Here they released all the prisoners except Campbell. They drove him before them to the house of Samuel Nickel. Here Hamelton dismounted, and, with a revolver in each hand, went into the house and found Mrs. Nickel sewing. Mr. Nickel was fortunately away from home, but Hamelton refused to believe this when Mrs. Nickel so informed him. A search of the house was made. One of the Ruffians, in climbing into the loft, knocked a heavy clock from its shelf. This clock fell on the baby, which was lying in a cradle. When Mrs. Nickel screamed in alarm, Aaron Cordell, one of the Ruffians, shoved his revolver against her and exclaimed, "Howl, damn you, howl!"

Map of the
Snyder Claim

Map of The Snyder Claim

Not finding Nickel, the Ruffians left the house and took the road. After going a short distance they found Rev. B.L. Read talking with two travelers, one of whom was Patrick Ross, and the other William A. Stillwell, who lived near Moneka and was on his way to Kansas City to purchase supplies for his family. These they made captive, increasing the prisoners to four, whom they drove before them a mile and a half east of the claim of Austin Wilbur Hall. Hall was absent from home, but his brother, Amos Cross Hall, was found there sick and in bed asleep. He was aroused, captured, and added to their band of prisoners, whom they marched to the claim of William Colpetzer, a mile to the southwest, and very nearly to the old home of Hamelton. Upon their approach, Mrs. Colpetzer begged her husband to escape. He was not conscious of having done any wrong, and refused to run, and was made prisoner. The Ruffians then went north to the house of Michael Robertson who had come to Kansas from Effingham, Illinois. They took Robertson and his guest, Charles Snyder. From this point they marched northwest about a mile to the claim of William Hairgrove. There they captured Hairgrove and his son Amos. This made ten prisoners. They drove these prisoners northeast in a very brutal manner. Near the Hayrick Mound they met Austin W. Hall, who was returning from Captain Ely Snyder's blacksmith shop. Hall was driving a yoke of oxen, and was suffering from inflammation of the eyes to such an extent that he could not distinguish the character of his captors. When he was added to the prisoners all were warned not to converse among themselves. One man complained that he was hungry, and was answered that it was expected that they would have fried scalps for dinner. Another requested permission to drink as they crossed a small stream, and was answered, "Wait and get it in hell." From the point where they captured Austin W. Hall, the prisoners were driven to a ravine on an elevated prairie near the Snyder claim and blacksmith shop. They were there formed in line and Captain Brockett, who had been captured at the battle of Black Jack by John Brown, was left in command. Hamelton took a number of his men and went to capture Snyder. At Snyder's shop the Ruffians met with resistance. Snyder was a strong Free-State man, something after the type of John Brown. His claim was the northwest quarter of fractional Section twenty-six (26), Township twenty (20), Range twenty-five (25), lying less than half a mile from the Missouri line. The ravine in which Snyder had his blacksmith shop is the most rugged in the region. Its direction is to the southwest, and at its head is a precipitous cliff twenty to fifty feet in height. The rock is a hard lime-stone, and is so broken that it can be ascended in several places. Its rugged aspect was in complete accord with the independent and fearless character of Ely Snyder. His residence was a cabin on the elevated prairie, some two hundred feet northwest of the fine spring at the head of the ravine. The prairie plateau circles around and makes the east bank of the ravine in which was Snyder's shop. In the head of the ravine there is a residence now. It covers the spring now known as the John Brown Spring. In a basement room some ten by fifteen feet the spring can be seen. It is in the northeast corner of the room and is walled up with stone. The water can be seen some three feet down, but it is not now used by the family.

The ravine is now much filled up about the house, caused by a stone wall about another spring lower down. The blacksmith shop was on the east or northeast side of the ravine, on the steep bank some twenty feet from the bottom. It was something I like one hundred feet from the upper or head spring. It faced north, and a lean-to shed stood on the south side of it. Hamelton and seven or eight of his men made their appearance on the flat on top of the hill above the. shop, and sent down three men to call Snyder up. They came down and said to him that a man up on the hill wished to see him. Snyder stepped out at the west door and looked up the hill. When he saw Hamelton he knew there was trouble ahead. Hamelton called out; "Now I have you just where I want you." Snyder sprang back into the shop and found one of the Ruffians standing near his gun. This fellow had entered through a rent in the wall caused by leaving off a board. Snyder struck him in the face and knocked him clear out of the shop. Seizing his gun - shot-gun - from its place near the vise-bench, he came again out of the west door. Bell, the mounted Ruffian, who had delivered the summons, was then ascending the hill towards Hamelton. Snyder fired a load of buckshot into him and his horse and retreated toward a stone wall which his son, Elias Snyder, had built across part of the ravine. This wall was just west of the springs, and east of the present wall. Snyder fired at Hamelton, wounding him, and then took refuge behind the wall. A Ruffian shot at him. The ball struck the top of the wall and burst into fine bits, many of which Ely Snyder later picked out of his hat.

Mrs. Snyder and her daughter were doing the family washing at the spring. The mother remained with her husband, and the daughter went up the bluff to the house, and awakened Elias Snyder, who was sleeping late that morning. Elias Snyder seized his gun and went out to join his father. He fired on the Ruffians, wounding one so severely that he died a few days later. As he advanced towards Hamelton, he met his father coming up the bluff towards the house, and who called out, "Give them hell, Elias!" But Hamelton was in retreat, passing north of the house back of some higher land. Looking across to the northwest, the Snyders saw a number of men on a mound on the southwest quarter (S.W. 1/4) of Section 22, and saw them start down the summit. These were the main force of Hamelton's Ruffian army with the prisoners. They came on at a signal from Hamelton, and were not seen again for some time by the Snyders, who had no idea of what was going on in the settlement except at their own claim. Hamelton had only about seven men with him in the attack on Snyder.

Within a short time the Snyders heard firing to the west of them. In a few minutes Austin Hall came through some brush to the Snyder house and told of the massacre of the prisoners. About this time Hamelton and his men were seen to the northeast passing behind a mound into Missouri.

After meeting the rough rebuff at Snyder's shop, Hamelton returned to the force left in charge of the prisoners. The prisoners had heard the firing at Snyder's farm, but could not see all that occurred there. Hamelton was furious with rage when he returned to the prisoners. Ordering them to follow, he led them to another ravine only a short distance away. He followed this ravine until it very nearly came out on the high prairie, and above where there were any bushes. The ground was smooth and covered with prairie grass. At a point where the ravine was so narrow as to compel the men to march in single file, he ordered them to halt and face east. After forming in line as directed, they occupied a space of about thirty feet. The man lowest down the ravine was Campbell. Next to him stood Colpetzer, then A.W. Hall, then the Hairgroves and Amos Hall. The order in which the other five stood is not known. Hamelton was in a fury, cursing the prisoners and his men. He separated his party, placing a line on each side of the ravine and about twenty-five feet from the prisoners. Hamelton and his brother, Algernon, the two Yealocks, and a Ruffian named Hubbard, of savage reputation, all of whom were acquainted with the prisoners, were in the party facing them. In the presence of death only one prisoner spoke. William Hairgrove said, "Gentlemen, if you are going to shoot us, take good aim." When Hamelton ordered his men to get ready to fire on the prisoners, Brockett wheeled his horse and left the line. With deep curses he said he could fight in battle, but that he would have nothing further to do with such an act as was evidently about to be committed there. Brockett's action came near causing a revolt of other Ruffians, but by threats and curses, Hamelton brought them back into line and gave the order to fire. Austin Hall afterwards said that as they fired he saw the hue of death appear on Colpetzer's face, and it came on him as an inspiration to fall flat with the others and feign death.

The horror of the massacre was too much for many of the Ruffians, who immediately galloped away. As they were leaving, Hubbard called out, "They are not all dead. Let us finish them." He dismounted, and, with one or two men, came back. They went among the victims and examined them to see if they were living. They were compelled to protest against the action of Algernon S. Hamelton who sat on his horse and fired at the dead men as they were being examined. Hubbard's party shot Patrick Ross again to make sure that he was dead. Coming to Austin Hall, they kicked him and pronounced him dead, though he had not been hit at all. Amos Hall was still breathing and Hubbard ordered a Ruffian to "put a pistol to his head. I never knew that to fail." In the effort to obey orders, the pistol was put against Hall's face and the bullet almost cut his tongue in two, but remained in his mouth. That was the last shot fired. After robbing the murdered men, the last of the Ruffians rode away. When they had been gone a few minutes, Austin Hall called to the others. Two replied, but urged him to be quiet for fear the Ruffians were still near. Crawling to the top of the hill, Hall saw the Ruffians on Spy Mound about a mile distant looking back toward the ravine. Hall then turned his attention to the wounded. Campbell gave him some messages to write to his friends, and directed where some money belonging to his employer could be found. Hall then went to Snyder's cabin, who knew nothing of what had occurred in the morning, and did not understand the nature of the firing which they heard at the ravine. The Snyders and Hall started out to get help. They soon met Mrs. Hairgrove and Mrs. Colpetzer, who, suspecting Hamelton's intentions, had hitched a yoke of oxen to a wagon into which they had put bedding and followed. The men hurriedly told them what had been done, and went on to alarm the settlers. They soon secured about twenty-five men and started to the ravine. On the way they met the two women bringing in the wounded in the wagon. The dead were then removed. They were Colpetzer, Campbell, Ross, Stillwell, and Robertson. They were first taken to a house on the north side of Timbered Mound, where four of them, Colpetzer, Campbell, Ross and Robertson were buried in a common grave. Stillwell was buried at Mound City. The five wounded recovered rapidly.

Hamelton with his men went back to Jerry Jackson's store at West Point, but remained there only a few minutes. Hamelton left and went to Westport, where he resided for some time.

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A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans , written and compiled by William E. Connelley, transcribed by Carolyn Ward, 1998.