Previous Posts

Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Bit of "Bull" at Bull Creek: The Kansas Frauds of 1855

“It was all understood between the voters and the judges. When one of them would come to the window, the judge would say, ‘I think you live in Missouri, do you not?’ To which the man would reply, ‘I have a claim in the [Kansas] Territory.’ The judges would then ask them if they would be sworn that they were residents of the [Kansas] Territory, at which they would pretend to get angry and threaten to whip the judges, and refuse to be sworn. The matter, however, was all arranged beforehand. No one was sworn in that day.”
B.C. Westfall, Lawrence, Kansas Territory. May 9, 1856.

To vote is to have power. It's a chance to have our objections and our opinions heard. In light of the looming presidential elections, where now more than ever it is imperative we exercise our right to vote, I wanted to share a story that isn’t well known about how a group of men most definitely “over-exercised” their “right” to vote.

Map from 1854 showing the Kansas-Nebraska Act and how Kansas Territory
is not yet designated free or slave
 I’m talking blatant fraud here.

Some people that live in the Kansas City area or are familiar with historical events may have heard of the Oxford Frauds, a nationally-documented case of men adding votes to the ticket in order to get their way on the slippery subject of slavery. The Oxford Frauds occurred in 1857 only a spit’s throw from New Santa Fe. Oxford was a cluster of buildings located where Leawood Plaza rests at 123rd and State Line. This event is extremely important to the history of the area- and trust me- I plan to cover it. But I’m not referring to this more commonly known fraud- I'm referring to a little-known event in American history which involved none other than the pro-slavery community of New Santa Fe.

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. I may be taking you back to history class in high school- this was called the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

It seemed fair enough at the time to just let the states decide their destiny; however, we have to consider what was going on in the Sunflower State prior to statehood. Kansas, before 1854, was in the control of the Native Americans who were pushed off their lands in the east. The Osage, Pottawatomi, Kansa, Shawnee and the Weas are just some of the tribes that trapped, traded and cultivated the land. In 1854, 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.

But the New England Emigrant Society was organized by businessmen and begged men to uproot their families and move west to Kansas Territory. They needed free-state votes so that Kansas wasn't admitted as a slave state.

In many cases, these businessmen in the northeast paid up to 25% of their travel expenses in order to encourage free-state settlement.

And the pro-slavery men living on the border weren't about to let this happen.

This was the very beginnings of Bleeding Kansas and the Border Wars.

Drawing indicating the beginnings of "Bleeding Kansas" and
the infiltration of Missourians across the border
Men in Missouri- especially those in the border counties of Jackson, Lafayette, Platte and Cass -weren’t about to watch Kansas Territory turn into a free state. Some of these men, including Joel Lipscomb and Marcus Gill, had land on both sides of the state line. Walking across the border was nothing even then, just as crossing the state line today is less and less exciting when you do it every day. 

These men owned slaves. They wanted their slaves to work on the lands on both sides of the state line.

I can’t help but wonder how these slave masters, such as Samuel Wade, Marcus Gill, Richard Kirby, Joel Lipscomb and others from the area of New Santa Fe were able to prevent their slaves from stepping over the border to freedom.
1855 Free State Poster
And for the slaves, freedom was closer than even the horizon.

This question of whether Kansas Territory would be free or slave was imperative to their livelihoods. When the territory opened up, these guys formed clubs, hosted meetings and brooded about how to bring slavery to Kansas.

One solution: buy land somewhere- ANYWHERE-  in Kansas Territory.

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.

The first time they did this was in November of 1854.

Then, they did it again on March 30, 1855 – over two years before the Oxford frauds.

An important election for the House of Representatives and the members of the council was the big ticket item in 1855. Voting in men with pro-slavery tendencies would give a stronger likelihood that Kansas would be admitted as slave state.

While researching a man who lived in the vicinity of New Santa Fe and was a large slaveholder, I ran across a land record from Miami County, Kansas Territory. I was baffled before I really digested what I was reading; why would this man have a land claim in Miami County?

Map of current Miami County nothing the location
of Bull Creek
So he could vote.

Miami County (called Lykins County at this time) and Johnson County in Kansas Territory were an easy access to our pioneers of Washington Township in Jackson County. Pro-slavery men intensely believed that slavery was the center of their financial well-being. They were willing to invest in order to get the ultimate payout- Kansas as a 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 of these guys 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) was approached by one of the judges. Dr. Westfall was a resident of New Santa Fe from 1853 to 1856 and was the first postmaster of the town. At the time of this election, he was still an inhabitant of New Santa Fe, yet he was approached and quickly appointed at the last minute 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.”

Baptiste Peoria (1793-1873)
Chief of the Confederated Peoria tribe
Dr. B.C. Westfall knew most of the men who had traveled from Cass and Jackson Counties to vote. On the morning of March 30, 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. Ironically, his kinsmen were chased off their claims because of this influx of Missourians buying up land and an act passed in 1862 to try to eliminate all Indian ownership in Kansas.

.... But Baptiste helped these whites try to spread slavery.

B.C. Westfall was approached and 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.”

Ring a bell?

That’d be Marcus Gill, one of the more well-known and celebrated residents of New Santa Fe. His land comprises much of the current subdivision of Verona Hills.

Out of the 393 votes cast in Bull Creek near Osawatomie, only sixteen of the votes were from actual citizens of Bull Creek.

Some of the names on the list of voters at Bull Creek, 100% confirmed through research to be from the area of New Santa Fe, are as follows: William King, George W. Kemper, Edward McPherson, Lot Coffman, Marcus Gill, Stephen Absten, Samuel Wade, James Wade, William S. Gregory, Richard Kirby, John Wells, William McKinney, William Davis, W.T. King, B.C. Westfall, William Wade, Jack Park, and B.F. Payne. I have no doubt that this is the short list of the men who gathered in New Santa Fe and voted in Kansas.

There were many, many more.
Drawing of pro-slavery Missourians voting in the 1855 election
Image from Albert D. Richardson's "Beyond the Mississippi"

To be clear, not all of these Missourians had claims in Kansas Territory. They found it to be completely acceptable to join their friends on neighboring soil and vote- no matter how old.

One of the most notorious tales from this day involved the actions of a man from New Santa Fe.

Samuel B. Wade, about 50 years old at the time of the election, owned land hugging the state line just south of New Santa Fe. He had six slaves in 1860 and was the father-in-law of William S. Gregory, the first elected mayor of Kansas City to which Gregory Boulevard is named. . . more on their stories in New Santa Fe soon!

Sam Wade and his son, Jim, no more than eleven years old, traveled with William S. Gregory to Bull Creek to ensure slavery continued. B.C. 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!”

All the judges knew Samuel Wade and his son, yet no one objected to the vote of an eleven year-old boy.

If that isn’t enough, both J.J. Park and B.F. Payne, the two judges that lived for a time with Col. Gill, immediately left Kansas and returned to their homes in Tennessee and Kentucky.

It looks as if their time ran out. 

Maybe things got a little too heated for them when the Kansas Territory decided to look a little closer at this election fraud.
Newspaper clipping from the Kansas Free State
14 April 1855

One of the men running for Kansas House of Representatives was a man by the name of Henry W. Younger. He was a personal acquaintance of many of the residents of New Santa Fe. He had a large farm to the west of Independence, Missouri and land in Cass County. This guy was a widely respected businessman.

He lived in Missouri and, like many of the others, owned a little piece of land in Kansas.

Apparently this was enough to be elected as a representative for Kansas Territory, and that's exactly what happened… with a lot of help from his Missouri cohorts that stormed the polls that fateful March morning.

In a speech given to the Kansas State Historical Society in 1903, S.J. Shively, a man living in the area of the frauds, stated, “Henry Younger never did reside in Kansas, but was a resident of Cass County. He was the father of the noted Younger outlaws.”

Seriously?!! For real?

Not only did Henry Younger serve for two years as a representative in Kansas when everyone- literally everyone- knew he was from Missouri, but he was the father of Cole, Jim, John and Bob Younger, notoriously known for being an integral part of the James-Younger outlaw gang....?!
Henry Washington Younger


I can’t even dream this stuff up.

B.C. Westfall stated in 1857 that Younger believed that all who happened to be in the Territory on the day of the election had the right to vote.

The story goes that after two years as an illegal rep in Kansas, Henry Younger moved from Jackson County to Harrisonville in 1858 and was elected the second mayor of the town. He didn’t openly talk about succession and was seen by many, even though he owned slaves, to be pro-Union.

But the more I research, the more it's vividly clear he was voted in by Missourians as a representative in the Kansas Territory to ensure slavery continued in the westward expansion.

He believed in the institution of slavery.

In 1862, on a trip to Westport for business, Henry Younger’s stagecoach was gunned down and he was shot multiple times. He was robbed of the $1500 he was carrying. Speculation was that a Union officer was responsible for the murder.

Bob, Jim and Cole Younger with their sister, Henrietta
Courtesy of
This is the very event that is credited for turning Cole Younger 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. 

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.

Dr. B.C. Westfall’s testimony of the events on March 30, 1855 was published in hundreds of newspapers across the nation. His words painted a very grim and concerning picture of the goings-on of the western expansion.

This was a big dose of reality.

It should be no surprise that Dr. Westfall found it necessary to leave the Midwest after he told a precise, level-headed story of what he saw that day. Possibly aware that things were getting a bit dicey on the border (and certainly aware his testimony may put a big ol’ target on his back), Westfall retreated into the Wild West. He moved to Sonoma County, California  and was one of the first settlers of the area.

He even took his postmaster experience in New Santa Fe and repeated it as postmaster in Santa Rosa, California. He worked as a physician and rejoined part of his family in this beautiful area of the country.

By 1886, Dr. Westfall moved on to Hillsboro, Oregon. He suffered from paralysis and was in the care of his brother before his death.

1850s 31-star flag
The "K" represents Bleeding Kansas
Without this man’s forthright testimony, who knows what would have happened in Kansas Territory. Investigating this little-known snafu in the earliest days of Kansas only shows that some people are willing to go to endless lengths to exercise what they believed was right and just. 

And here we are today, facing an election of epic proportions. 

One large lesson I drill into my students is that we must learn from the mistakes of the past so we don't repeat them. We choose to learn from the past and push forward; history is not irrelevant. It is essential to our understanding of the bigger picture. 

This 1855 election is a friendly reminder of how far we have come as a country and how much further we need to go in order to be democratic, principled and decent to the world around us.

This country is great because we can and have learned from our mistakes.