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Lawrence - From Ashes to Immortality

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Lawrence, Kansas 1908

Massachusetts Street 1908 Postcard


Before Lawrence even existed these rolling plains were home to Native Americans for thousands of years. The Kanza, Osage, Wichita, Kiowa, Kiowa-Apache, Comanche, Pawnee, Cheyenne and Arapaho were the most prominent indigenous nations in the area.


But, as the new America began to push West in the 1820s, traders and explorers started to travel the western  trails of what would become known as the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails. These paths had long been used by the Indians between camping and hunting sites. Explorers, trappers, traders, soldiers and settlers began to follow the Indian paths to the West with earnest. The settlement of Lawrence, which would not be formed for another thirty years, was located between the Oregon> and Santa Fe Trails.


The KansasTerritory was opened to settlement on May 30, 1854 by the Kansas-Nebraska Act. According to the concept of "popular sovereignty," settlers could decide whether to admit their territory as a slave or free state. Soon, New England abolitionists began organizing emigrant aid societies to encourage like-minded citizens to settle in the new territory. On August 1, 1854, Twenty-nine northern emigrants, mostly from Massachusetts and Vermont, were the first to arrive in Lawrence, Kansas, named for Amos A. Lawrence, a promoter of the Emigrant Aid Society. A second party of 200 men, women and children arrived in September. Lawrence is one of the few cities in Kansasfounded purely for political reasons.


On October 16, 1854, the first anti-slavery newspaper was established in Lawrence to voice the sentiments of the New England Emigrant Society. The newspaper, called the KansasPioneer, enraged the pro-slavery supporters. The name of the paper shortly changed to the KansasTribune.


The first school taught in Lawrence was commenced January 16, 1855, by Edward P. Fitch, who came from Hopkinton, Massachusetts. Located in the back office of the Emigrant Aid Building began with about twenty students.




On December 1, 1855, a small army of Missourians, acting under the command of "Sheriff" Samuel J. Jones, laid siege to Lawrence in the opening stages of what would later become known as "The Wakarusa War." However, the intervention of the new governor, Wilson Shannon, kept the proslavery men from attacking Lawrence.


But, later when a young man, who had come to the aid of the Free-Staters, rode off to his home about six miles west of Lawrence, he was met on the way by a group of pro-slavery men from Lecompton. Though the man never even drew his weapon, he was shot in cold blood by the pro-slavery faction. His body was returned to Lawrence where the entire citizenry followed it to its burial, in the presence of his young wife and children, in Pioneer Cemetery. This event, more than any other, hardened the Free-Staters to the realization that they had come, not simply for an election to determine whether Kansas would be free or slave, but to fight a war over the issue.


Eldridge Hotel, Lawrence, Kansas

The historic Eldridge Hotel in Lawrence was burned twice during Bleeding Kansas days. It has been rebuilt and renovated several times and continues to serve guests today. Kathy Weiser, March, 2009. This image available for photo prints & commercial downloads HERE!


On May 21, 1856, a motley group of some 700 armed proslavery enthusiasts raided Lawrence, the stronghold of the abolitionist movement. They burned the Free State Hotel (now the Eldridge Hotel), smashed the presses of two Lawrence newspapers, ransacked homes and stores, and killed one man. The event became known as the "Sacking of Lawrence."


Lawrence also acted as an important stop on the Underground Railroad, helping escaped slaves reach freedom safely. Anti-slavery Jayhawkers from Kansas frequently clashed with pro-slavery Bushwhackers from the neighboring slave state of Missouri. The Missouri/Kansas border war grew in 1861 after war broke out and Kansas chose to become a free state. Lawrence became the continuing  scene of several bloody encounters and the state would become known as Bleeding Kansas.


The worst of these occurred in 1863, when William Quantrill assembled a group of 400 men in Missouri and rode into Lawrence, a town long hated by Quantrill and his men. Home of the demagogic antislavery Senator, Jim Lane, it was also a stronghold of the Red Legs, Union guerrillas who had sacked much of western Missouri. An attack on this citadel of abolition would bring revenge for any wrongs, real or imagined that the Southerners had suffered.


Continued Next Page


Lawrence, Kansas in 1867

Lawrence, Kansas in 1867. This image available for photo prints & commercial downloads HERE!



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