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Massacre of Marais des CygnesAs early as 1856 trouble arose between the free-state and pro-slavery settlers in Linn County, Kansas when a large body of southerners marched through the area destroying what little property there was and capturing the free-state settlers who were not fortunate enough to get out of the way. One of the men who escaped, although vigorously pursued, was James Montgomery, who became the acknowledged leader of the free-state men in the county. Various outrages continued until 1857, when General James H. Lane assembled a company to intimidate the pro-slavery men of Linn County and the adjoining counties of Missouri.

He established headquarters at Mound City and for a time quelled the forays, but after his force was disbanded trouble broke out afresh and it was then that James Montgomery took the field in defense of the frightened free-state settlers, and ordered the pronounced leaders of the pro-slavery party out of the county. Many of them obeyed the summons and moved with their families to Missouri.

Around Trading Post, Kansas, located on the Marais de Cygnes River, a bitter pro-slavery settlement had grown up, the leader of which was Charles A. Hamelton. The post thus became the rendezvous of the abolition haters not only for the immediate vicinity but for the territory across the line. Montgomery was determined to break up this gang. He began by emptying the contents of several barrels of whiskey on hand at the "doggery," and leaving a notice for the ruffians to quit Kansas Territory. Hamelton and some of his neighbors left the territory. Subsequently they called a meeting at Papinsville, Missouri to incite the men to an invasion of Kansas. Hamelton addressed the meeting and with a unanimous vote, it was decided to invade the territory and exterminate the free-state settlers in Linn County.

When the party arrived at the line between Missouri and Kansas a halt was ordered to make final arrangements. One of the men named Barlow, who had spoken against the invasion at the meeting, again did so, and this time with better effect. They were on the border of the hated but also dreaded Kansas, and Barlow assured them that the crack of the Sharpe's rifles might be expected from Montgomery's men at any minute. A panic seemed imminent, but at the summons of Hamelton about 30 of the most resolute rode after their leader and reached Trading Post on the morning of May 19, 1858, where they captured eleven free-state men, nearly all of whom were known to Hamelton or some member of his party. They were not known to have taken any active part in the disputes, and having been neighbors of Hamelton they had no suspicion that he meant to harm them, especially as they were guilty of no offense but that of being free-state men.

 

The eleven victims were driven at a rapid pace into a deep ravine, where they were lined up facing east. Hamelton then ordered his men to form in front of them and fire. One of the men turned out of the line and refused to do so, but Hamelton brought the remainder into line and fired the first shot himself. Five of the men where seriously injured, one escaped unharmed and the rest murdered.

 

The community quickly came together, and after finding the victims, tried to render aid. As word spread, Montgomery's Jayhawkers pursued Hamelton to no avail. A few weeks after the massacre John Brown arrived and built a two-story log "fort", about 14 x 18 feet, which he occupied with a few men through the summer. In December he made a raid into Missouri in which eleven slaves were liberated and one man was killed.

 

The land was later sold to Brown's friend Charles C. Hadsall, who agreed to let Brown occupy it for military purposes. Brown and his men withdrew at the end of the summer, leaving the fort to Hadsall, who later built a stone house adjoining the site of Brown's fort.

 

Although a reward was offered for Hamelton's capture, he managed to avoid it. After the Missouri Border War, he returned to his home State of Georgia, where he was quickly stripped of everything by his creditors due to heavy debt, then wound up in Texas. In 1861, he moved back east where he raised a regiment in Virginia under Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and served as Colonel. After the Civil War he went back to Georgia where he died some years later.

 

 

 

News of the Massacre horrified the U.S., with John Greenleaf Whittier, a famous poet, penning the poem "Le Marais du Cygne", which appeared in the September 1858 Atlantic Monthly publication.

A BLUSH as of roses
Where rose never grew!
Great drops on the bunch-grass,
But not of the dew!
A taint in the sweet air
For wild bees to shun!
A stain that shall never
Bleach out in the sun!

Back, steed of the prairies!
Sweet song-bird, fly back!
Wheel hither, bald vulture!
Gray wolf, call thy pack!
The foul human vultures
Have feasted and fled;
The wolves of the Border
Have crept from the dead.

From the hearths of their cabins,
The fields of their corn,
Unwarned and unweaponed,
The victims were torn,
The whirlwind of murder
Swooped up and swept on
To the low, reedy fen-lands,
The Marsh of the Swan.

With a vain plea for mercy
No stout knee was crooked;
In the mouths of the rifles
Right manly they looked.
How paled the May sunshine,
O Marais du Cygne!
On death for the strong life,
On red grass for green!

In the homes of their rearing,
Yet warm with their lives,
Ye wait the dead only,
Poor children and wives!
Put out the red forge-fire,
The smith shall not come;
Unyoke the brown oxen,
The ploughman lies dumb'.

Wind slow from the Swan's Marsh,
O dreary death-train,
With pressed lips as bloodless
As lips of the slain!
Kiss down the young eyelids,
Smooth down the gray hairs;
Let tears quench the curses
That burn through your prayers.

Strong men of the prairies,
Mourn hitter and wild!
Wail, desolate woman!
Weep, fatherless child!
But the grain of God springs up
From ashes beneath,
And the crown of his harvest
Is life out of death.

Not in vain on the dial
The shade moves along,
To point the great contrasts
Of right and of wrong:
Free homes and free altars,
Free prairie and flood, -
The reeds of the Swan's Marsh,
Whose bloom is of blood!

On the lintels of Kansas
That blood shall not dry
Henceforth the Bad Angel
Shall harmless go by;
Henceforth to the sunset,
Unchecked on her way,
Shall Liberty follow
The march of the day.

Marais des Cygne Massacre MonumentThe State of Kansas later appropriated $1,000 for a memorial monument, which was erected at Trading Post, beneath which rested the ashes of four of the victims.

Today, the massacre site continues to display Hadsall's stone house, which contains a museum on the upper floor operated by the Kansas Historical Society.

The site is located five and one-half miles northeast of Trading Post, Kansas on U.S. Highway 69.

 

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated June, 2017.

 

About the Article: Most of the above text is based on information in the book Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Volume I; edited by Frank W. Blackmar,  A.M. Ph. D.; Standard Publishing Company, Chicago, IL 1912.

 

 

Also See: Kansas-Missouri Border War

 

 

 

 

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