A Western Paul Revere

While looking for something else a few days ago I came across a story in a 1912 edition of the Keokuk Daily Gate City that explained how Union forces won the northernmost battle of the Civil War west of the Mississippi River. The story involves a mad ride through the countryside to warn of impending attack and a small town’s action against a stronger enemy. Unlike the story that turned Paul Revere’s truncated ride into an epic apocryphal poem, this story is a first-hand account of a wild adventure that changed history west of the Mississippi River.

Athens, Missouri (It’s pronounced AY-thens there) was a town of about fifty about the time of the Civil War, backed up against the Des Moines River that forms the notch in our border in the far northeast corner of the state.  It’s pretty much a ghost town now, with a state historic site nearby commemorating the Battle of Athens. Athens doesn’t even show up on the maps anymore (the one above is from Google). Go up to the northeast corner of the notch, just east of Highway 81 about seven miles (as the crow flies) southeast of Farmington, Iowa, where the DesMoines River forms the state boundary and imagine a dot there and you’ll pretty much know where Athens was.

About 2,000 Confederates under Colonel Martin Green tried to capture Athens from the Home Guard Troops under Col. David Moore who occupied the town. Normally he would have had 500 men but he was down to about 330 because some of his troops had been allowed to go to their homes in the area. Green surrounded the town on three sides and attacked on August 5, 1861.

But Moore’s men turned out to be better armed, with rifled muskets and bayonets while Green’s force was poorly equipped and was mostly untrained recruits. When the Confederate attack wavered in the face of better-than-expected defenses, Moore led a bayonet counter-attack that forced the Rebels to flee, never again to threaten an invasion Iowa.

A key part of the story is how the Union forces came to be better armed. And that is where the seldom-related (for many years, apparently) story of General Cyrus Bussey, then a cavalry Lieutenant-Colonel of the Iowa Home Guard begins.  He told it to Phillip Dolan of the New York World and it was reprinted in the Keokuk newspaper on January 1, 1912.

Listen my friends and you shall hear of the daring ride of Cyrus Bussey, and how it changed Civil War history in northeast Missouri and in Iowa.

“Because I was a Democratic member of the Iowa State Senate and supported the measure to appropriate $800,000 to raise troops in Iowa for the preservation of the Union, Governor Kirkwood named me his aide-de-camp on his staff, with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel of Cavalry. That was May, 1861. I was twenty-eight years old with no military education or training.

“I lived in Bloomfield, twelve miles from the Missouri border. My messenger reported to me that the Confederal Gen. Martin Green was organizing a brigade on the border to invade Iowa. I applied to Governor Kirkwood for arms but he had none.  The Battle of Bull Run had given the southerners big encouragement and there was great enlistment in northern Missouri for the Confederate army.

“I went to General Fremont in St. Louis and asked for arms. He had none.  I said, ‘Give me 100,000 rounds of ammunition.

“What will you do with ammunition without guns?”

“I replied ‘I don’t know but I’ll feel better if I have ammunition.’

“He gave me 50,000 rounds and right away it was loaded on a steamboat and sent up the Mississippi River to Keokuk, Iowa.

“The next night about midnight my messenger came to my house in Bloomfield and reported that Gen. Green was shoeing his horses and would start the invasion of Iowa within thirty-six hours with 1,500 cavalry.

“I went at once to a livery stable and asked for a horse and buggy. At 4 o’clock in the morning they brought to my house a rig —a two-wheeled sulky—and in the shafts was a mustang and three men were holding him, for he was really a wild horse just taken from the herd. It was the only horse they could give me.

“I got up in the seat, took the reins, the men let go and the mustang plunged off.  Away I went behind that wild horse toward Keokuk, forty miles to the eastward. For fourteen miles he tore over the road, over the hills, up and down and through streams with never a let up; a hundred escapes from imminent wreck we had.

“We approached the home of Mr. Bloom, a friend of mine. Here the road led down to a ravine and Mr. Bloom’s cattle filled the road, lying down. Straight down the road, galloped the horse, straight at the herd of cattle. One wheel struck a cow, the shock took the horse clean off his feet, threw him into the air and down he landed on his back in a ditch with the sulky on top of him. I was flung twenty feet.

“But good fortune was with me. The sulky was not broken, and better still, the horse was still full of life and his legs uninjured. Swiftly, Mr. Bloom and his hired man helped me to hitch up again, and away we went, the horse wilder than ever. At the Pittsburgh ford he plunged through the Des Moines River, half a mile wide, and a mile and a half further, came to the town of Keosauqua. Here I tried to stop him but he would not stop. I guided him around the square in the center of the town. Round and round he raced three times, and then a crowd of the town’s people stopped him and I got out. I left him there for good. I took the train for Keokuk and reached that place.

“I notified the authorities of Keokuk to barricade their streets against the coming of Martin Green. One of the railroad officials came to me with a bill of lading showing 1,000 guns in transit, shipped by the war department to Col. Grenville M. Dodge at Council Bluffs, for the regiment he was raising there and these guns had just arrived in Keokuk and were about to go out on the west bound train. I felt that Providence was with me. I seized the guns and the train.

“I found the ammunition which General Fremont had sent, and by more wonderful good fortune, the cartridges were exactly right for the caliber of the guns.

“Immediately I gave 100 of the guns to Gen. Belknap, afterwards secretary of war, and 100 to H. J. Sample. I got on the train with 800 guns. At Athens, Mo., Col. David Moore was in camp with 300 loyal Missourians armed with a few shotguns. I gave him 200 rifles. A few miles further up, I left 100 guns with Capt. O. H. P. Scott.  At Keosauqua I left 200 guns. The other 300 guns I took to Ottumwa, hired a wagon, and hauled them to Bloomfield, my home, where three companies were promptly raised, and I immediately started back to Keokuk.

“On the way, I received a message from Col. Moore telling me Green’s forces were advancing on him and a battle was momentarily expected. A special train brought a detachment to his aid.

“Moore had barricaded the streets of Athens. Green attacked him but the resistance was so strong that Green retired. For two days my Home Guard continued to arrive at Athens. Then Col. Moore, in command, followed the rebels into Missouri. They never came back to Iowa.

“Having seized the guns without warrant—ordinarily a great offense—I started to get my action legalized. Gen. Fremont said to me, ‘You have rendered a very important service. You have shown fitness for command. Next day he appointed me Colonel and authorized me to raise a regiment of cavalry. In ten days I had 1,100 men in camp, mustered in as the Third Iowa Cavalry.

“But I have never ceased to wonder what would have happened if that wild mustang had not landed on his back in the soft ditch and thus saved his legs to carry me on.”

And that’s how Moore’s men at Athens became better armed than the  much larger force of Confederates and how a little battle in a now-gone northeast Missouri town stopped a Confederate invasion of Iowa.

The battle was the beginning of a distinguished military and civilian life for Bussey. He was Grant’s chief of cavalry at Vicksburg and commanded Sherman’s advance guard at Jackson Mississippi.  He became a wartime Major-General in 1865. For a short time after the war he was a commission merchant in St. Louis and New Orleans before becoming a lawyer. During the Harrison administration (1889-1893) he was Assistant Secretary of the Interior.  At the time of the interview he was described as “a spare, medium-size man, showing few marks of his long life of great activity, he is mentally keen and keeps the dry humor of an Iowa pioneer.”

He died in 1915 at the age of 81.  He and his wife are buried in Arlington National Cemetery under an imposing monument.

The Paul Revere of the west, he was—except that, unlike Revere, he was propelled by a wild mustang and he completed his mission.  And he changed the history of the Civil War west of the Mississippi.

(The picture is from History of Iowa from the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century (1903)

How a Possum Stopped Radicalization 

We’ve seen something such as this before:

A political party seized by a charismatic leader with radicalized followers at a time of national division sees voter suppression as one of the keys to maintaining its power and threatens to drive the other party into oblivion.  But the party develops an internal fracture between the radical wing and the more traditional element and there are fears that IT will be the party going into oblivion.

From this contentious time there emerges a possum and over time, it rescues both parties.

This was the political situation in Missouri fifteen decades ago.

During the Civil War, the interim government—Governor Price and several members of the legislature had fled to Arkansas to set up a government in exile that finished the war headquartered in Texas—Radical Republicans left in control in Missouri adopted a loyalty oath to make sure Missouri would have only Union-loyal officials in charge.  The Radical movement had begun about the time the Republican Party began in the mid-1850s, their name coming from their demand for immediate end to slavery. During the war, they were opposed by the moderate wing of the party led by Abraham Lincoln, who had run fourth in the 1860 election in this state, as well as by Democrats, who were more oriented toward southern sympathies.

The Radicals confirmed their control of Missouri government with the election of Governor Thomas Fletcher in 1864, thanks in part to the organizational skills of St. Louis lawyer Charles D. Drake who in 1863 argued for a new state constitution and disenfranchisement of all Confederate sympathizers. Carl Schurz, a future U.S. Senator and a leader of Missouri’s German citizens, called him “inexorable” and said Republicans “especially in the country districts, stood much in awe of him,” which might sound familiar today.

Radical Republicans pushed through The Drake Constitution, named because of his influence, in 1865. It contained a harsh loyalty oath that basically denied citizenship rights to anyone who would not pledge that they had given no support to the rebellion. Regardless of loyalty during the war, even if a person were a Union General, citizens could not vote, practice a profession, or serve in positions of public trust unless they swore to that oath. Drake and his Radical Republicans produced a list of 81 actions that defined disloyalty. For six years the Drake-led Radicals controlled politics in Missouri and Drake became a United States Senator.

Missouri’s moderate Republicans were reeling during those years and Democrats feared for their own party’s existence.  And this is when the possum was born that saved both political groups.

Drake’s Radicals began to see rising opposition from those who called themselves Liberal Republicans—remember this was 1870 and the two words, “liberal” and “Republican” were not an oxymoron.

The Liberals had had enough of Drake and his Radicals by the time the State Republican Convention was held in Jefferson City on August 31, 1870.  The Committee on Platforms filed two reports, a majority report from the Liberals favored immediate re-enfranchisement of former Confederates.  The Radical, minority, report favored a statewide vote on the question. With former Confederate supporters banned from voting, the outcome of the election pretty clearly would have maintained Radical Control.  When the convention adopted the Radical position, about 250 Liberals walked out and nominated their own ticket with Benjamin Gratz Brown its candidate for Governor.  The Radicals nominated Joseph McClurg for a second two-year term.

Democrats, still weak shortly after the U. S. Supreme Court threw out part of the loyalty oath, decided not to put up a statewide ticket.  William Hyde, the editor of The St. Louis Republican, a Democratic newspaper despite its name, is credited with creating what became known as “The Possum Policy.”  Instead of running its own slate, the Democrats threw their support behind the Liberal Republican candidate, Brown.

Walter B. Stevens, in Missouri, the Center State, 1821-1915, records an exchange of telegrams after the State Democratic Convention decided to support Liberal Republicans in which former U. S. Senator John Brooks Henderson—who did not run for re-election after voting against convicting President Johnson of impeachment charges—told Brown, “The negroes of this state are free. White men only are now enslaved. The people look to you and your friends to deliver them from this great wrong. Shall they look in vain?”

Brown wired back, “The confidence of the people of this State shall not be disappointed. I will carry out this canvass to its ultimate consequence so that no freeman not convicted of crime shall   henceforth be deprived on an equal voice in our government.”

The Democrats’ “Possum Policy” helped Brown defeated McClurg by about 40,000 votes, effectively ending the Radical Republican reign in Missouri.

The Liberal Republicans, created for the sole purpose of ending radicalism within the party, could not survive on their own. Governor Brown’s Secretary, Frederick N. Judson, reflected, “A party based upon a single issue, called into being to meet a single emergency, could not in the nature of things become permanent…and though its party life was short, it is entitled to the imperishable glory of having destroyed the last vestige of the Civil War in Missouri. A nobler record no party could have.”

National Democrats failed to follow the Missouri party’s “Possum Policy” and in 1872 nominated a presidential ticket of Horace Greeley, the New York newspaper publisher then in failing physical and mental health, and Benjamin Brown of Missouri—-a move that antagonized the national Liberal Republican movement and led to a crushing defeat for Democrats as Liberal Republicans opposed to the Grant administration had no place to go and so supported it anyway. With that, Liberal Republican movement died nationally.

In Missouri, the re-enfranchised Democrats elected Silas Woodson to succeed Brown as Governor, beginning Democratic control of the governorship until Republican Herbert Hadley was elected in 1908.

Missourians adopted a new constitution in 1875, throwing out the punitive Drake Constitution.  It lasted until our present State Constitution was adopted in 1945, the longest-standing constitution in state history.

Republicans paid a price to overcome the radicalization of their party 150 years ago but paying that price made sure that the rights of thousands of people were no longer endangered or no longer remained limited.

Being out of power did not and does not mean being without influence. History tells us we became a better nation because political courage manifested itself at the right time within the Republican Party.  In the long term both parties saved themselves.

We are not advocating that the Republican National Committee adopt a “possum policy” in 2022 or in 2024 to stamp out radicalization within the party nor are we saying splitting the party will be the solution now that it was then. But history reminds us of the dangers of radical politics and the sacrifices that have to be made, sometimes on both sides of the aisle, to make sure it does not overwhelm us.

Better names

If we are to remove the names of traitors from our military bases—and we should—whose names deserve to replace them? The issue requires some thought and some understanding of the purposes of the bases.

Rudi Keller is a longtime friend whose company I used to enjoy during my days as an active member of the Capitol press corps. Not only is he a fine reporter, but he is an excellent historian. During the Civil War Bicentennial, Rudi wrote hundreds of columns about life in central Missouri during the war. The columns were turned into two books, one covering 1861 and the other 1862. I hope that someday, somehow, his work covering other three years of the war are published.

Rudi is now the news editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. He still finds time to write news stories and some opinion pieces published in the Tribune and in other Gatehouse-owned newspapers. A couple of weeks ago he offered some “humble suggestions for new base names,” a response to suggestions our military bases named for Confederate officers should get new, more honorable names. His ideas are worthy of consideration by the people who have the power to make changes.

Last Thursday, U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley voted against an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act directing that new names be chosen for bases honoring Confederate military heroes. The amendment targets 10 military bases — all in states that initiated a war to preserve the right to own another human being.

In a statement to reporters, Hawley played the history card. We’ve seen it before, used to defend everything from flying the Confederate battle flag at the South Carolina capitol to keeping statues of violent racists in places of honor.

“I just don’t think that Congress mandating that these be renamed and attempting to erase that part of our history is a way that you deal with that history,” Hawley said.

Well, as the Tribune’s resident expert on the Civil War, I would recommend that Hawley ask his colleague, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, for some books on the generals whose names adorn some of the nation’s most important military installations. Blunt, you see, was once a high school history teacher and is a trustee of the State Historical Society of Missouri.

Blunt is not advocating for the names to remain on the bases. In fact, he suggested to reporters that renaming some or all would be appropriate.

“If you want to continue to name forts after soldiers, there have been a lot of great soldiers who have come along since the Civil War,” Blunt said, according to CNN.

Blunt noted that Braxton Bragg, whose name is on the largest military base in the world, was “probably the worst commanding general in the entire Confederate Army. He’s an interesting guy to name a fort after.”

But in case Hawley is too busy to read some books, here’s a short list of reasons why renaming those bases is a good idea. As Blunt noted, some of them have less-than-inspiring records of military achievement.


We’ll start with Fort Lee in Virginia, named for Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Lee was an audacious, enormously successful commander and an inspiration to his troops. He was scrupulously honest, a brilliant engineer and he had a lasting impact on higher education after the war with his reorganization of what is now Washington and Lee University.

But instead of fighting for the nation that had given him an education, employed him and made him prosperous, he took up arms against it. That, in the Constitution, is the definition of treason.

Lee’s greatest military achievements were as an enemy of the United States. If he had been any more successful, the property occupied by Fort Lee would not be in the United States.

Fort Lee is a training center. How about Fort Steuben, for Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben? A Prussian officer, he served in the Revolutionary War teaching basic military drill, tactics and discipline.


Fort Hood, in Texas, is named after John Bell Hood, an aggressive commander who destroyed through incompetence the last effective Confederate Army fighting west of the Appalachian Mountains.

Fort Hood is the army’s base for deploying heavy armored forces. How about renaming it Fort Patton, after the aggressive World War II Gen. George Patton? At a crucial moment of the war, he spearheaded an armored drive to defeat the last Nazi offensive in western Europe.


Fort Benning in Georgia is named for Henry L. Benning, a competent fighter who served under Hood. Benning was never a grand strategist and never held an independent command.

Fort Benning is where the U.S. Army trains its airborne troops and is the home of its infantry school. How about renaming it for Gen. Anthony “Nuts” McAuliffe? He was the commander of the 101st Airborne Division when it was surrounded at Bastogne, Belgium and acquired his nickname from the one-word answer he gave when Germans demanded his surrender.


Fort Gordon in Georgia is named for Gen. John Brown Gordon, who was an aggressive and audacious commander but who, after the war, opposed the Reconstruction policies that gave civil, social and economic rights to freed slaves. He is believed by many to have been the leader of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia, although he is also on the record as having made some statements of benevolence to the people freed by the South’s defeat in the war to preserve slavery.

Fort Gordon is the Army’s center for signal and cyber security. Perhaps a better name would be Fort Lowe, for Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, who organized the Union Army Balloon Corps, which provided aerial reconnaissance of Confederate positions reported by a telegraph wire from a platform tethered up to 500 feet above the ground.


Fort Bragg, North Carolina, is named after Braxton Bragg, as Blunt noted, one of the South’s least successful generals. On two separate occasions, Bragg had major strategic victories within his grasp but failed at the moment of execution.

Perhaps a fitting name would be Fort Washington, in recognition of the fact that George Washington led a meager, ill-fed and ill-clad force in the Revolution. The name applied to the world’s largest base would celebrate the power of what Washington started.


Fort Polk, Louisiana, a joint readiness and training center, is named for Gen. Leonidas Polk, who did not survive the Civil War. As a military leader, he made a major strategic blunder early in the war that cost the Confederacy the chance to turn Kentucky to its side.

As a readiness center, perhaps it would be better named for Gen. George Thomas, who held his command in readiness at Nashville during an ice storm and struck at Hood when the weather warmed, scattering the rebel army and ending any substantial resistance in the war’s western theater.


Fort Pickett, a Virginia Army National Guard installation, is named for George Pickett, who gave his name to the famously futile Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. If the military wants a symbol of bravery in the name of a forlorn hope, perhaps it could remain Fort Pickett.

I offer the name Fort Johnson-Brown, for Gen. Hazel Johnson-Brown, the first black woman to become a general in the U.S. Army and, in retirement, a professor of nursing at George Mason University in Virginia.


Fort A.P. Hill, an Army training and maneuver center in Virginia, is named for Gen. A.P. Hill, who died in the last days of the war after a distinguished battle record. Like Lee, Hill was educated by the United States at West Point and turned on the loyalties of a 14-year U.S. Army career to take up arms against his country.

It could be renamed Fort Sherman, for Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman. While Gen. Ulysses Grant was piling up casualties in Virginia in 1864, Sherman mainly used flanking maneuvers to drive Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston back almost 100 miles to Atlanta.


Fort Rucker, Alabama, is named after Gen. Edmund Rucker. A cavalry leader, Rucker was a competent commander and after the war, a business partner of Nathan Bedford Forrest, first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Fort Rucker bills itself as the home of Army aviation. How about naming it Fort Doolittle, for Jimmy Doolittle, who commanded the daring raid in which B-25 bombers launched from an aircraft carrier to bomb the home islands of Japan in early 1942? The raid did little damage but it did bring a big morale boost to a nation reeling from the Pearl Harbor attack and notified the Japanese that the U.S. had immense power to strike out.

If anyone is squeamish about the name Doolittle because it sounds like the camp for slackers, it could be Fort Wright, for the Wright Brothers, who built the first successful airplane and sold the Army its first air machine.


And we come to Camp Beauregard, established as a training base during World War I and now operated by the Louisiana National Guard. It is named for Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, commander of the forces that opened the war with the bombardment of Fort Sumter.

Beauregard won the First Battle of Bull Run, a battle he easily could have lost, but had few additional successes. His forté was dreaming up grandiose plans for a vast, strategic move with himself in command.

The camp is one of the oldest ones in existence from World War I. Might I suggest to the fine state of Louisiana one of their own, Natalie Scott, as the new namesake?

Known to be one of only three Red Cross workers to serve in World War I and II, Scott returned home from World War I a heroine. She was the only American woman to earn France’s highest medal for courage, the Croix de Guerre.

The current names are legacies of a time when racism turned those men’s traitorous conduct into a romantic legend of an honorable defense of home against invaders.

Time has consigned that legend to the ash heap of history and the base names should go with it.

Thanks, Rudi.


Why not Benedict Arnold Army Base?

One of the issues growing out of the protests after the death of George Floyd is whether military bases named for Confederate Civil War figures should be re-named.

Their cases are different from discussions of whether Thomas Jefferson’s statue should remain at the University of Missouri or whether statues of other historical figures should be taken down because they were slaveholders in a time and in places where slavery was considered a normal part of culture.

Let’s consider Fort Lee, Virginia, originally named Camp Lee in 1917 to honor Colonel Robert E. Lee of the United States Army, a hero of the Mexican War. The camp became a permanent military outpost, Ford Lee, in 1950.

Robert E. Lee might be the poster child for the movement to sanitize our history. Boston College historian Michael McLean has written, “Robert Lee was the nation’s most notable traitor since Benedict Arnold.” He was a hero of the Mexican-American War that brought us California and the states of the Southwest. “But when he was called on to serve again—this time against violent rebels who were occupying and attacking federal forts—Lee failed to honor his oath to defend the Constitution. He resigned from the United States Army and quickly accepted a commission in a rebel army…”

Did he ever show any remorse about his choice?

General Armistead Long, who wrote The Memoirs of Robert E. Lee in 1886, quoted Lee saying shortly before his surrender in 1865, “We had, I was satisfied, sacred principles to maintain and rights to defend, for which we were in duty bound to do our best, even if we perished in the endeavour.”

This great-grandson of one of Sherman’s soldiers at Vicksburg sees Lee—and other Confederates whose names are on current military bases—through eyes that are distinctly different from the great-grandsons of Lee’s soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia and leans toward a harsher assessment of Lee and the others than do some friends who admire him.

NPR’s Scott Simon commented on June 13, “Those bases were not founded in the wake of the Civil War, when President Lincoln encouraged national conciliation.” They weren’t opened until the nation geared up for World War I. Simon cited Civil War historian Harold Holzer saying the Army gave states “naming rights” to the bases in exchange for states giving the land to the federal government.

Simon went on, “Brigadier General Henry L. Benning was acclaimed as ‘Old Rock’ by his men. He once had two horses shot out from under him in battle. Harold Holzer calls him ‘a pretty formidable military commander. That is, effective in the war to perpetuate slavery. More to the point, he was a virulent white supremacist who issued incendiary warnings about the so-called dangers of having free black men outnumbering white men and threatening the purity of lily-white womanhood.’

“Harold Holzer says Braxton Bragg, ‘may have been the worst commanding general in the Confederacy. He was a bad strategist, an inept tactician whose usual order was to charge straight ahead…He did absolutely nothing to establish a claim to a place in national or even Southern memory…I just find it mystifying,’ he says, ‘that two iconic American army installations should have been named in honor of a racist and a screw-up.’ Braxton Bragg, we’ll add, may have qualified as both.”

He also cited English Professor Elizabeth Samet, who teaches at West Point and who favors re-naming the bases because they originally were named “to erase the true history, that the Confederacy fought the war to retain slavery.” She thinks the bases should be re-named to honor true heroes of various races who have fought for and died for our country.

President Trump seemed to miss the point when he said the bases “have become part of a Great American Heritage…The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds…” The grounds of those bases, however, are hallowed because of the heroes who trained there, not because of the names on the base entrance signs. The “heroes” he vows to protect took an oath upon their enlistment to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…”

It’s basically the same oath created in 1789 and taken by other people such as Braxton Bragg, Henry Benning, Robert E. Lee and about a half-dozen others—all of whom deserted that oath and waged war against the constitutional system they had promised to protect.

If we evaluate prominent figures as historian Jon Meacham suggested in our last post, on the basis of whether their lives’ goal was to “form a more perfect union,” these figures fail badly.

…They were devoted to ending the constitutional experiment in the idea of Jeffersonian, however imperfect, however incomplete, idea of equality. And if anyone doubts—and there may be a few and they’re probably sitting there seething right now—if you doubt what we’re saying about what the Confederacy was about, go to your—what George W. Busch used to call “the Google machine” and look up the Cornerstone Speech by Alexander H. Stephens, the Vice-President of the Confederate States of America. It is a speech that he gave in Savannah, Georgia that says, “The cornerstone of the Confederacy is the preservation of slavery.”

And once the battle against slavery was lost, then the cause of white supremacy took over. So those figures are part of that…History is history. That is what they were about. So why should we commemorate that? That has nothing to do with the sacrifices and the grace and grit of the men and women who have trained at those facilities. Nothing whatever.

They should remain on pages of our history books, not on the entrance signs at places where we train soldiers to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” a sacred promise these men broke.

Next week: A friend with good ideas about better names.

Tea party politics, 1860

One in ten people living in Missouri in 1860 was a slave.  A total of 24,302 slaveholders owned 114, 931 slaves.  Thirteen percent of Missouri families had at least one slave.  The division within the state on the issue of slavery played out in different ways.  The situation was serious enough that national news correspondents came here to witness it.

A seeming innocent request by a church congregation to borrow the Senate Chamber for a few hours turned into an example of the conflict within Missouri and among Missourians as the nation trembled at the precipice of a Civil War. It began because a church wanted to hold a tea party.

The Senate Journal for March 5, 1860 is the usual dry record of procedures.  “On motion of Mr. Scott;

Resolved, That the use of the Senate Chamber be granted to the Methodist Episcopal Church on Tuesday evening, the 13th inst., for the purpose of giving a tea party for the benefit of the church.”  The motion was approved with only two or three barely audible “no” votes.

But some people started thinking about that resolution overnight and the next morning “Mr. Thompson moved reconsideration of the vote granting the use of the Senate Chamber to the Methodist Episcopal Church on Tuesday, the 13th inst; Which motion was decided in the affirmative…”

A correspondent for the New York Tribune watched what the journal does not record:

This morning, Senator Thompson of Clay moved a reconsideration on the ground that the Methodist Episcopal Church is Anti-Slavery, and an enemy to “the institutions” of the state. This brought out Senator Scott, in one of the finest vindications of political and religious freedom it has been my fortune to listen to in the State. It is more valuable, coming as it did from a most decided advocate of Slavery. It is impossible to do it justice in a hasty sketch.

He said he hoped the resolution would not be reconsidered. He remembered no instance in which the chamber had been refused any other denomination. It was true the Methodist Episcopal Church was thoroughly Anti-Slavery. They had the constitutional right to be so, as much as he had to be Pro-Slavery. His right to be Pro-Slavery and theirs to be Anti-Slavery, had a common origin in the inalienable rights of man beyond the just control of human governments. He believed Slavery to be a moral, social and political blessing—best for the white man and best for the negro—and he was not afraid of Anti-Slavery sentiments or Anti-Slavery arguments in the churches or out of them. If Slavery was right, it would be maintained. There was no danger in error, when truth was left free to combat it.  He asked for himself the common rights of a citizen, of a freeman, and was willing to grant them to all others. Was Slavery so weak that it must be maintained by proscription? by a violation of the constitutional rights of our citizens? The denial of freedom of thought and religion? If so it was time it was out of the State. He was not willing to make the admission, and was sorry that anybody else was. Proscription would defeat its own purposes. The freedom of thought and discussion could not be crushed out by it. The Christian Religion had reached us through the proscription of ages, standing the test of infidel oppression, and arguments supported by local tyrannies and temporal persecutions. The Reformation swept over Europe like a tornado, unappalled by the terrors of the Inquisition. Even Mormonism flourished as long as it was animated by the fires of proscription. Driven into the Wilderness, a desert state astonished the world at the base of the mountains. Another example was the proscription of the Catholics by the Know Nothings. The charge of proscription broke up the organization. Many who were in it were now proscribing the Methodists.  Were the lessons of experience lost upon them? Would they never learn them? The Methodist Episcopal Church was one of the oldest and most numerous denominations in the country. Founded by the great Wesley, thoroughly Anti-Slavery, its discipline had undergone no change for three quarters of a century. It was now what it had  been before the division of the Church, when its members from all parts of the Union worshipped at the same Anti-Slavery alter [sic].  He was willing that they should worship God as of yore, according to the dictates of their own consciences, unmolested by the hard hand of proscription. He believed them to be obedient to the Constitution and the law. If not, he did not doubt the power of the State to bring them to punishment. To exclude them from the Senate Chamber for their religious opinions, learned from Wesley, the founder of Methodism and steadily maintained through the long history of the Church, was indiscriminately granted to all other denominations, was an attempt in violation of the Constitution of the United States, to prohibit the free exercise of religion, and in violation of the Constitution of this State, a denial that all men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; an attempt, by human authorities to control and interfere with the rights of conscience, and to give preference to sects and modes of worship. He was sorry that such a wrong should become by anybody, but not surprised that it should be asked in e name of Democracy, which had long since lost its original meaning, and become synonymous with despotism.

Senator Parsons, a determined advocate of Slavery, rose to reply. He is a great, big, stalwart, black-featured specimen of humanity, whose contour and manner irresistibly suggest “Border Ruffian.”  There were some strange things in his speech. He astonished the Senate with the statement that, ‘Bishop Andrews “was driven out of the church because he wouldn’t sell a slave girl he had got by his wife to a stranger.” Whether the statement was intended to carry with it the idea that the Bishop inherited the slave girl was left to inference. But with or without inference it was a rare item of intelligence, and could only have been dug out of the voluminous church controversy by the most laborious and profound research. It has established the Senator’s character as a well-informed man, and hereafter his statements will be received with universal credence.

Senator Halliburton followed on the same side. He, too, had made a discovery. The Senate listened in breathlessness. The Senator read from a scrapbook he held in his hand the astounding intelligence the Methodist-Episcopal Church was Anti-Slavery. He seemed to have just discovered it in some concealed book of church history, and put it in his scrapbook, that the world might not lose it. Where in the world he got the information, whether in the Discipline, or whether he stumbled upon it in some profound research into church history, I do not know; but that he has it, and in a way that the world can never lose it, there can be no doubt. The fact is, I heard it myself, and the Church need no longer deny it. The Senator stoutly insisted the Anti-Slavery sentiments of the church were not religious, but political, and on that account, they ought to be excluded from the chamber.

Senator Scott said if this were so, it was nonetheless proscription. Under the Constitution and laws of the State, there were two modes of emancipation—one, to emancipate on compensation to the owners, as had been done in the West Indies; the other to amend the Constitution, and pass a gradual emancipation act. Anti-Slavery citizens had the same right to insist on the measure as he had to oppose them. It was simply a question of freedom of opinion and discussion, and he was sorry to see any advocate of Slavery to defend by proscription of any kind, religious or political. It was the worst possible defense for Slavery, and would do more to break it up than anything else.

The discussion shows the character of Slavery. It originated in wrong, and must be maintained in the same way. It cannot bear discussion, and hence, its advocates want to suppress it. I need hardly add that the resolution was reconsidered and laid on the table. This is the institution which the Constitution totes into the Territories under the Dred Scott decision; and if it cannot be toted out again, no Christian denomination can have a tea-party there without indorsing [sic] Slavery.

About three weeks later, the March 28 journal recorded:

“Mr. Goodlett offered the following resolution: Resolved, That Mr. Wm. E. Dunscomb, Commissioner of the Permanent Seat of Government, be and is hereby authorized to grant to the ladies of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, the use of the Senate chamber on the evening of the 10th of April next, for a charitable purpose.”  The Senate passed the resolution a few hours later.

The Methodist Episcopal Church South favored slavery.

The Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist Churches split—the Presbyterians in 1838, the Methodist Episcopals in 1844, and the Baptists in 1845 with the Southern Baptist Convention being formed and later becoming the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

And who were these men whose actions in March of 1860 reflected the growing divide in our country?

Senator John Scott was from Buchanan County. He was elected to the Senate to replace Robert M. Stewart when Stewart was elected governor.

Senator James T.V. Thompson probably was one of the first 75 residents of Liberty.  He was part of the Confederate Senate that met in Neosho and passed an act of secession. He called himself a “an old-fashioned states’ rights Jackson Democrat” who donated the ground on which William Jewell College was built.

Senator Wesley Halliburton moved to Randolph County from Tennessee in 1823. He helped write the state constitution of 1875, which lasted for seventy years until it was replaced by a constitution that his grandson, Senator Allen McReynolds, helped write. He was one of the incorporators of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railway Company, the only railroad that did not go bankrupt in the early days.  His southern sympathies led to his arrest by federal troops at the start of the Civil War. He was one of the first men arrested in northeast Missouri and was imprisoned in Quincy, Illinois until he was ordered released. He founded the first newspaper in Milan.

Senator Mosby Monroe Parsons was a Jefferson City lawyer who commanded a Confederate brigade in Sterling Price’s army.  He was among the rebels who refused to surrender at the war’s end and went to Mexico where he was among a half-dozen American Confederate soldiers killed by Mexican troops in August, 1865. His family home at 105 Jackson Street is one of the homes the city has taken over under a widespread eminent domain action so it can be made habitable again. It’s one of the city’s oldest homes.

Senator M. C. Goodlett, whose resolution allowing an event by the slavery supporting branch of the Methodist church, was a slave owning Warrensburg lawyer.  He went south with Governor Jackson.  On October 12, 1861, Goodlett introduced the bill in Missouri’s rebel senate to “dissolve” Missouri’s ties to the Union.  He apparently moved to Nashville, Tennessee after the war where his wife became a co-founder of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

The Methodist Church, South returned to the fold in 1939 to form the Methodist Church although some congregations held out and formed the Southern Methodist Church.  The main Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren in 1968, which is why you’re most likely to have a United Methodist Church in your town.

A church tea party that never was, was much more than the Senate Journal tells us. But the names recorded in that dry journal record come to life in a reporter’s observations and in the historical records that tell us something of what we were and who we were as the people as a terrible war was about to engulf our state.

Tennial Time, Boat Edition

Bi and Cen.

The new year starts an ten-year run of tennials.   Between now and August 4, 1828 we will observe a series of 200th and 100th anniversaries:

2019 is the first of the bicentennials.  We doubt that anybody was here to see these two events.  It was two years before the legislature decreed this area become known as the City of Jefferson City. On May 15, 1819 the steamboat Independence under Captain John Nelson became the first steamboat to challenge the dangers of the Missouri River .  It arrived at the now-vanished town of Franklin on May 28. It got as far as the community of  Chariton, near the mouth of the Chariton River, called by some “Missouri’s gran divide” because streams east of it flow towards the Mississippi and those to the west flow into the Missouri or into its tributaries.

A month later, on June 21another steamboat, the Western Engineer, left St. Louis.  The boat had been built for an exploratory expedition organized by the U.S. Topographical engineers and led by Major Stephen Long.  It was the first steamboat to make it all the way across Missouri, wintering at Fort Lisa near present Council Bluffs, Iowa on September 17 before going back to St. Louis in the spring.

Steamboating seems to be slow developing on the Missouri, perhaps because it took time to develop boats strong enough to run the great river.  Five boats were regularly running the river in 1836.  But travel on the river was assuming such importance a short time later than when the original government building in Jefferson City burned in 1837, a new capitol put up on the first hill to the west was built facing east. Travelers coming upriver, therefore, saw the new capitol’s impressive face as they approached.  In 1839, James Crump, built a stone building to serve as a landing point for riverboats. The upper story became a hotel popular with river men and legislators.  The building, known locally as “Lohman’s Landing,” still stands, one of the few early nineteenth century river port buildings remaining. Today it’s part of the state museum system and has been renovated to represent the kind of general store that a riverboat landing structure might have been.

May Stafford Hilburn wrote in the local Sunday News and Tribune, in 1946 that, “In 1840 fruit trees were shipped into Jefferson City by boat and sold for twelve and one-half cents each. In 1840 Captain Dunnica, a pioneer builder of the city, reported that “the Steamer Camden on key passage down the Missouri struck a snag and sunk in eight feet of water. Ship and cargo were a total loss. In 1841 a stranger who came into Jefferson City by steamboat wrote home to a relative in Lancaster Pa., this statement: ‘The boating trade of the Missouri River is increasing annually. This insures a ready market for all produce of every kind.’”

James E. Ford, who wrote a history of Jefferson City and Cole County eighty years ago, said, “In 1841 twenty-six steamboats were engaged in regular trade on the Missouri River. These boats made 312 arrivals and departures at Glasgow with freight and passengers.  The Iatan, regular packet, made twenty regular weekly trips from St. Louis to Glasgow. About forty-six thousand tons of freight were transported during the year 1841, according to the Columbia Patriot.”

The St. Louis Western Journal observed in 1842, “Two years ago it was considered foolish and dangerous to navigate the Missouri River at night, and the time by steamboat from St. Louis to Jefferson City was forty to forty-eight hours. Just one year ago thirty-six hours was considered a speedy trip. In 1842, the trip was made in twenty-four hours by several boats. The steamboat Empire made the trip last week in twenty-two hours and fifteen minutes. Now Jefferson City, one hundred and fifty miles distant from St. Louis, is within a day’s travel.”

But steamboats transported more than politicians and trade goods.  Sometimes they transported death to Jefferson City.  City Clerk James E. McHenry recalled in 1893 that when he was fourteen years old in 1849:

“On a bright May morning, I sauntered down to the river to see if there were any boats in sight, when I was surprised to see the James Madison lying at the wharf, apparently deserted.  She had no steam up, no one on board, and the passengers with their baggage lying around loose on the levee, some were vomiting and all looking forlorn and distressed. I learned the boat had arrived sometime the night before, from St. Louis, with a number of cases of cholera, had docked and abandoned the trip; her Captain and other officers had deserted the Monroe and struck out across the river for their homes and firesides, leaving the poor sick passengers to take care of themselves.

When the citizens learned of the situation, they organized and took charge of the sick passengers, gave the dead and dying all of the attention possible. After a few days I ventured uptown—we lived at the foot of Richmond Hill on Main street. I found the town a deserted, desolated looking village. There was no business in the stores, no wagons on the streets, and but few people and they were gathered in little squads talking low and looking scared and anxious. The only places doing business were the “groceries,” as saloons were then called.  After going uptown and seeing the hearse constantly on the move, going and coming, the doctors hither and thither, and the good citizens bracing himself at the “grocery,” I picked up courage enough that day to take a peek into the Episcopal Church. I saw men in all stages of the cholera; some vomiting in the first stage, some in agony of pain, some dying and some dead. I became an errand boy, going after soup and medicine for the sick. The James Monroe landed here on that May morning with 75 people on board, now only two of whom escaped death by cholera. Most of them were California emigrants. The Captain and other officers who deserted their posts, we learned afterwards died either before or after they reached home.”

On August 26, 1854, the steamboat “Timour” (number 2) was tied up at the Edwards wood yard about three miles below Jefferson City when it exploded.  Former State Treasurer Phil E. Chapell, then a barefoot boy just turned 17, was standing on the Jefferson City levee waiting to be rowed across the river, when he saw and heard “a loud report as of a tremendous blast, and the boat was enveloped in a great cloud of steam and smoke.  In a moment the cloud had blown away but alas! The boat had disappeared. The ferryman and I at once realized what had occurred, and jumping into a skiff, rowed as rapidly as possible to the wreck…We were the first to arrive, and what a horrible scene met our gaze.  All of the boilers of the boat, three in number, had exploded simultaneously, wrecking the entire forward part of the boat, and causing the hull to sink after of the forecastle. The shrieks and groans of the dying, and their piteous appeals that they be put immediately out of existence to end their sufferings were heartrending, and resound in my ears to this day, although more than a half-century has passed.  Many lives were lost—how many was never known, as many bodies were blown into the river and never recovered. Those still alive were so badly scalded as to have but little resemblance to human beings.”

The New York Times on September 6 carried a report from the St. Louis Democrat that, “There had been no record of deck hands kept, and, doubtless, there are some who have been blown into eternity whose names will never be heard again, and whose fate will always remain a mystery within the circle of relatives and friends from which they will be missed. We have learned that the complement of hands which the boat had in leaving this port was 45 or 47, and that of these but 25 have returned.”

By then, however, a competitor was making its way toward Jefferson City and it eventually would kill steamboat traffic as it is fondly remembered. In fact, a Cincinnati newspaper reported two of the Timour’s boilers had been thrown onto the nearby railroad tracks by the explosion. The third was blown into the river and some pieces of the boat were found a mile away.

The Pacific Railroad planned to start began passenger and freight service from St. Louis to Jefferson City in November, 1855, prompting this ad from the Jefferson City Inquirer on November 10, 1855.

June, 1861 brought not death, but a military invasion. When Confederate-leaning Governor Claiborne Jackson hurried back to the capital city after negotiations with federal officials in St. Louis failed to produce a promise the U. S. Army would stay out of Missouri, and fled to Boonville with several state lawmakers in tow, the Army was in pursuit.  General Nathaniel Lyon and his troops disembarked from the steamboat Iatan (a replacement of the earlier one that helped open shipping on the river) east of the penitentiary, marched behind the prison to Lafayette Street, then marched through town to occupy the Capitol. A special correspondent for the St. Louis Missouri Democrat described “an enthusiastic reception from the loyal citizens, headed by Thomas L. Price…(They) marched in good order through the city, cheered at several points, and finally occupied Capitol Hill, amidst tremendous applause.”  Price had been the city’s first mayor and long remained a prominent civic leader.

Long-time Jefferson City banker and politician Julius Conrath remembered a happier experience in about 1868:

“I can remember as a boy of about five years seeing my first circus.  It came up the river on a steamboat and landed at what was called the levee, or Lohman’s landing, at the foot of Jefferson Street. A large crowd and especially the small boys went down to see it unload…

“In those days Jefferson City boasted a wharfmaster who was one of the city officials. He had charge of all loading and unloading of steamboats.  Steamboats were plentiful on the river then, and three or four passed up and down every week.  Every boy in town knew every boat by its whistle. In summer time, as soon as we heard a boat whistle we grabbed a basket filled with peaches, apples or grapes, or whatever fruit might be in season, and rushed to the levee and sold our wares to the passengers for in those days many passengers traveled by boat.”

But the days of the steamboat being a lifeline to Jefferson City were numbered, as they were for communities along the Missouri River.  By the 1880s, the railroad had reached the farthest most point on the river served by steamboats.

It was a glorious era, however. But it was a dangerous one.  The average lifespan for a steamboat on the Missouri was only about three years.  It’s estimated more than three-hundred steamboats sank between St. Louis and Kansas City.

In 2019, we’ll observe the bicentennial of steamboats on the Missouri River, kicking off what we are calling the “tennial era” in Missouri.  We’re thinking of the best way to commemorate our steamboat history.

Appointment King

Governor Parson is making a new place in Missouri history for himself with each appointment of someone to an otherwise elective office at the top level of state government.   By the time he appoints a new state treasurer, he will have appointed three of the remaining top five state government officials and four of the top six jobs will be filled with people who were  not chosen by a public vote to fill those offices: governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer.

But this is not the first time most top state offices have been filled by people not elected to those positions. But the only other time involved war/

As Missouri was being sucked into the Civil War, pro-South Governor Claiborne F. Jackson called a convention of 99 men to decide if Missouri should join the confederacy.  He was shocked to find that not a single secessionist was elected.  When he fled the capitol in the face of advancing Union troops in June, 1861, twenty members of the convention went with him.

The executive committee of the Convention of 99 met in Jefferson City in late July and called for remaining members of the convention to reassemble.  On July 30 the remaining convention members declared all existing state offices vacant.  It then installed former Missouri Supreme Court Judge Hamilton Gamble as the provisional governor and appointed other Union loyalists to other state offices.  All seats in the legislature were declared vacant and the convention members became the acting government.  The constitutional propriety of all of these actions has been a matter of speculation from that time to this but as historian Duane Meyer, the author of the standard Missouri history book used for decades has noted, when the U. S. Army is present to make sure the actions of the governing group are carried out, the niceties of the law or the constitution are secondary. Meyer wrote that the state convention

obviously …had no authority to take such actions (as vacating offices), since Governor Jackson was the popularly-elected chief of state. However, in the time of war, legality is frequently supplanted by expediency, and in so acting, these Missouri politicians established an illegal provisional government to fill the breach left by the secessionist exiles…In retrospect, we must admit that the actions of the state convention were unprecedented, brash, and illegal. However, since federal troops in Missouri upheld the actions of the convention, no one could argue.

Former Congressman Willard P. Hall of St. Joseph was appointed Lt. Governor and succeeded Gamble when he died at the end of 1864.  The office, incidentally, remained vacant until Lt. Governor George Smith was elected in the election of 1865.  Former Congressman Mordecai Oliver of Richmond became Secretary of State until ‘65’s elections.  When Treasurer Alfred W. Morrison refused to take a loyalty oath after being caught by federal troops while he was fleeing with thousands of state dollars in his pockets, he was replaced by artist George Caleb Bingham.  When Attorney General J. Proctor Knott refused to take the loyalty oath he was replaced by Aikman Welch of Johnson County.

William S. Moseley of New Madrid County took the loyalty oath and remained as state auditor.

So during the Civil War when the remains of the Convention of 99 replaced the legislature, FIVE  of  our six state officers were not elected by the people to their positions.

We’re waiting for the Missouri Supreme Court to rule on whether Mike Kehoe can continue to occupy the Lt. Governor’s office and Eric Schmitt won’t be the new Attorney General until January.  But it appears Governor Parson will be remembered as the governor who appointed three top state leaders and this will be a time when four state leaders are serving in offices they were not elected to fill.

The nice thing about the current situation is that it hasn’t taken a war to create it.

The portrait

To be candid, we had something more interesting than this planned for today but decided to wait a little bit before posting it. Instead we are focusing on a tempestuous teapot of an issue.

Post-Dispatch reporter Jack Suntrup asked a few days ago if there will ever be a portrait of Governor Eric Greitens hanging along with portraits of Missouri’s other governors at the Capitol.  The answer is, yes, there should be one.

The hanging of official portraits has been an irregular sort of thing.  Several recent governors’ portraits were missing until the Missouri Academy of Squires (as we remember the story) paid to have them painted.  Matt Blunt’s portrait does not appear between the portraits of Roger Wilson and Jay Nixon. Neither he nor anybody else has commissioned one.

There are no doubt some who think the circumstances of Greitens’ departure should prohibit his portrait from being placed in the building.

We respectfully disagree.

Refusing to allow a Greitens portrait amounts to trying to erase history.  He was elected.  He did serve.  He quit.  We cannot deny that by some arbitrary decision that his portrait doesn’t belong among portraits of statesmen.  And spies. And traitors. And drunks. Human beings are elected to the governorship.

Let’s consider Trusten Polk, Sterling Price, Claiborne Fox Jackson, and John Sappington Marmaduke for example.

Polk, who served the shortest time as governor, became a U. S. Senator and was expelled from the Senate for disloyalty at the start of the Civil War when he cast his lot with the South. His portrait is in the collection and we’ve never heard anybody suggest it should be removed.

Sterling Price was a Confederate general during the Civil War and once led an army that threatened to try to capture Jefferson City by force of arms.  His portrait shows him wearing his Confederate uniform.  We’ve not heard anybody say he shouldn’t be recognized.

Claiborne Jackson was the governor who fled from Missouri when a U. S. Army general rejected his efforts to keep federal troops out of the state. Jackson set up a Confederate government in exile in Arkansas, where he died. He, Price, and Polk had taken oaths to defend the United States Constitution but then took up arms against their state and nation.

John S. Marmaduke is somewhat different.  He was a Confederate general who was nevertheless chosen by the people twenty years after the end of the Civil War to be the Governor of Missouri.  Haven’t heard any objections to his portrait being at the capitol.

James Wilkinson, twice a Revolutionary War General who was involved in shady deals and kicked out of the Army later became a general again and was involved with Aaron Burr’s plot to foment a western frontier revolution. He was a spy for the Spanish government when he was the governor.

Robert M. Stewart was known for his drunken escapades, one of which involved riding his horse into the governor’s mansion and feeding it from a sideboard that is in the present mansion.  He was a bachelor who sometimes employed female prisoners to work at the mansion. No, we don’t know what they did while they were there.  But nobody has suggested that character issues should keep his portrait from being provided.

Guy B. Park, a product of the Pendergast political machine of Kansas City, was just a Platte County Circuit Judge three weeks before his election as governor.  When the Democratic candidate died, Park was plucked from his bench, put at the top of the ticket, and won by a big margin.  His ties to Boss Tom Pendergast were supposedly so strong that the mansion became known as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

But his portrait is in the capitol.

These and other governors were humans, political animals of one stripe or another, who did what they had to do to get elected and to serve, or get elected to a lower office and move up to the governorship when the job became vacant for one reason or another.

The portraits are not intended to provoke unwarranted admiration for the men who have held this office. They are there to mark Missouri history.

So it is with Eric Greitens. He deserves some wall space because he was elected to fill some office space. Somebody, some day, will paint his portrait.  There won’t be a historical gap in the images of our governors.   People can look at his portrait as they look at the portraits of other governors and perhaps wonder what he did.

Or, most likely, they’ll glance at it and then move on to something more interesting—the big map of Missouri soils or the stagecoach or the big kettle used by the Boone family to boil salt water.

One word changes understanding of the past

—and could change the future.

The scenario is a familiar one.  A tumultuous time.  A government in chaos. The prospect of internal conflict intensifying.  A crucial meeting to forestall collapse and civil war dissolves in anger.  The federal army takes control of the capital city hours after the leader of the government flees. An interim government, backed by the military, is installed. Popular elections are suspended. Imagine that you live in the capital. Imagine that you see the federal troops marching through your city and seizing the capitol.

That’s Jefferson City, Missouri in 1861 and for the first time in American history the United States Army has invaded the capital city of a state of the union and made it an occupied town.  An amphibious landing, no less.

But where did they land?  Not an important question then.  But it is now.

Conventional wisdom has held that the landing was at the foot of Lafayette Street, the street that is between the federal courthouse and the front of the old penitentiary.

I’ve been looking at some historic images of part of the area now known as the “Missouri State Penitentiary Redevelopment” project. The state has agreed to transfer thirty-two acres of the old pen to the city, which hopes to develop the area for hotels, office buildings, entertainment venues, auditoriums, museums, boat landings and marinas, and other uses.

In the process it has occurred to your faithful observer of this past and present that one word has been misunderstood for decades in the history of Jefferson City.  Herewith we will explain how the correct interpretation creates an important historic site of state and perhaps national significance within that redevelopment project.

I call it “Lyon’s Landing.”

Negotiations to restrict federal troop movements in Missouri as the nation plummeted toward the Civil War broke down in St. Louis between Union General Nathaniel Lyon and Governor Claiborne F. Jackson with Lyon proclaiming, “This means war.” Jackson and his entourage hurried back to Jefferson City by train, burning the Gasconade River bridge behind them and ordering loyalist troops guarding the Osage River bridge to disable it. The legislature was called into an overnight session, and the governor, lieutenant governor and some lawmakers fled to Boonville.

Lyon, in St. Louis, had quickly started loading two-thousand troops on four steamboats—the Iatan, the City of Louisiana, the A. McDowell, and the J.C. SwonWithin forty-eight hours, some of those troops were pitching camp at the Capitol.

Harper’s Weekly of July 6, 1861 recounted the arrival:

“On the morning of the 15th, ten miles below Jefferson City, General Lyon transferred his regulars to the IATAN, and proceeded with that boat, leaving the SWAN to follow in his wake. As we approached the city crowds gathered on the levee and saluted us with prolonged and oft-repeated cheering. Colonel Thomas L. Price (no relative to the rebel, Sterling Price), a prominent Unionist of Jefferson City, was the first to greet General Lyon as he stepped on shore. A bar has formed at the regular landing, and we were obliged to run out our gang plank below the penitentiary, at a point where the railroad company has placed a large quantity of loose stone, preparatory to forming a landing of its own.The steep, rough bank prevented the debarkation of our artillery, but the infantry scrambled up in fine style. First was the company of regulars formerly commanded by General Lyon, but now led by Lieutenant Hare. These were sent to occupy a high hill or bluff near the railroad depot and commanding the town. They went forward in fine style, ascending the steep acclivity at the ‘double-quick step.’ In one minute from the time of reaching the summit they were formed in a hollow square, ready to repel all attacks from foes, whether real or imaginary. Next came the left wing of the First Volunteer regiment, under Lieutenant-Colonel Andrews, five hundred strong. These soldiers were formed by sections and marched to the tune of ‘Yankee Doodle,’ with the Stars and stripes conspicuous, through the principal streets to the State House, of which they took possession amidst the cheers of the people of the town.

“After some delay in finding the keys, which had not been very carefully hid, Lieutenant-Colonel Andrews with a band, color bearer, and guard, ascended to the cupola and displayed the American flag, while the band played the ‘Star Spangled Banner,’ and the populace and troops below gave round after round of enthusiastic applause. Thus was the ‘sacred soil’ of Missouri’s capital invaded by Federal troops, and the bosom of ‘the pride of the Big Muddy’ desecrated by the footprints of the volunteer soldiers of St. Louis. She rather seemed to like it.”

A disgruntled apparent Jefferson City resident later complained in a letter to the St.Louis Daily State Journal about conditions in the city under the occupation, “They landed below the town at the State Prison….”    He signed his letter “American.”

It is that word “below” that has led to a misunderstanding of this historic event.  The usual assumption has been that “below the penitentiary” and the note that the troops “went up the road fronting the penitentiary” means the landing was at the foot of Lafayette Street from a location geographically lower than the penitentiary location.

But the word “below” meant something different to river travelers then. It meant downstream from.

For example, the steamboat Timour No. 2, blew up near Jefferson City August 26, 1854. A contemporary newspaper account said, “The boat was wooding at the time she blew up, at Edwards’ wood-yard, a short distance below Jefferson City.” (The original Timour  had been one of twenty-one steamboats destroyed in the Great St. Louis Fire of 1849.)

A study of some illustrations from Harper’s Weekly of July 6 and October 19, 1861 indicates the most likely place for the invasion was to the east of the penitentiary, in the cut between the present penitentiary property and the bluff known as Miner’s Hill where the Department of Natural Resources has its headquarters, at the end of a continuation of the present Chestnut Street, which a map (below) shows did not exist at the time of the war.

The illustration showing the Iatan unloading troops (above) with the penitentiary up and to the right of the boat, places the boat in the cut to the east. The troops are shown marching ashore and curving to the right, heading to the end of Lafayette Street.

The October illustration (right) shows troops unloading from a train (the eastern bridges having been repaired by then) with soldiers standing atop Miner’s Hill to the east of the penitentiary.  The drawing shows a building in the lower area west of the bluff that also shows in the image of the Iatan’s unloading.

So it appears the landing/unloading site was at the foot of what is now Chestnut Street. Two other images tend to confirm that.

An 1865 map of Jefferson City’s defenses done by the War Department’s Office of Chief of Engineers shows Lafayette Street curving behind the penitentiary and its brickyard to a place that approximately matches where soldiers are shown marching up the hill in the July 6  Harper’s drawing.  In this map, Chestnut Street does not yet exist. Today, it continues down the hill toward the river.  Had it existed in 1861, there would have been no need for the troops to follow the path they are going in the Iatan picture.

Confirming the location of that path is an 1869 “Bird’s eye view” of Jefferson City, then a town of about 3,100 residents (not counting the soldiers).

At the far left edge of the city is seen the penitentiary. The draw that is the continuation of Chestnut Street today is visible.  And the path also can be seen connecting the end of Lafayette Street with the area shown in the Harper’s drawing as the disembarkation point for the troops.

Chestnut street exists in the 1869 illustration, but only as a link between High Street and the city cemetery.

Understanding that “below the penitentiary” or “below the town” means downstream changes the understanding of that historic event.

Why is this discovery important to the city’s redevelopment of the penitentiary area?  Because it now adds a possibly important historic element to the redevelopment area.  The entire riverfront of the site from the extension of Chestnut to Lafayette is now the invasion path followed in the first takeover in national history by the United States  Army of a state capital.

Lyon’s Landing Historic Site. Could it make a difference in how the site is redeveloped?  Could it mean new funding for part of that redevelopment?   Could the designation have an impact on the ultimate development of the rest of the area to the east where DNR now has its headquarters?

Others have those answers.  We’ve just corrected the historical record—because for a reason we cannot explain, a new understanding of the word “below” popped into our mind a few days ago.






It’s important to not get ahead of ourselves at a difficult time like this.  But some people who know that we dabble in Missouri history have asked if a Missouri governor has ever been impeached and removed from office.

The answer on impeachment is “no.” The answer to removal is “yes.” Herewith, we tell the tale.

Understand that impeachment is not the same as removal.  Impeachment is the filing of charges against an office holder by the legislature.  The removal trial is conducted by the Missouri Supreme Court.  In the 1930s, under a different State Constitution, the House impeached State Treasurer Larry Brunk.  At that time the trial was handled by the Missouri Senate, of which Brunk was a former member.  Two-thirds of the senators had to vote to remove him.  The Senate failed to get that two-thirds with some people saying it just could not remove a former member from a statewide office.  True or not, Brunk completed his term.

That circumstance led to a change in procedure when a new constitution was adopted in 1945.  It leaves impeachment to the House but the trial will be conducted by the Missouri Supreme Court.  The process has been used only once, in 1994-1995, when Secretary of State Judi Moriarty was removed from office.  The Supreme Court had to have a special witness box built for that occasion because the Supreme Court hears arguments only from attorneys. There was no testimony until this case came along.

The only governor removed from office in Missouri was Claiborne Fox Jackson in 1861. Jackson lied during his campaign by pretending to be against secession when actually he was plotting to take Missouri South. When he was sworn in, he immediately asserted that Missouri’s lot was tied to the fate of the seceding states.  The legislature refused to vote on secession and instead called for a special convention to be convened to determine the proper course of action. About six weeks after Jackson took office, the convention of ninety-nine men met to chart a course for the state. Jackson had been stunned when he saw no avowed secessionists were in that group, which voted strongly to stay in the Union.  He then declared Missouri would be an “armed neutral” if a civil war broke out.

When President Lincoln called for seventy-five thousand troops to defend the Union after the attack on Fort Sumter, Jackson replied, “Your resolution, in my judgment, is illegal, unconstitutional, and revolutionary in its object, inhuman, and diabolical and cannot be complied with. Not one man will the State of Missouri furnish to carry on any unholy crusade.”

By now, Jackson was clandestinely plotting with Jefferson Davis to move Missouri into the Confederacy. His big target was the St. Louis federal arsenal. He went so far as to ask Davis to send some cannons that could be used to seize it and ship its weapons to the Confederacy. But federal troops moved first.

Then-Captain, later General, Nathaniel Lyon, who was in charge of the arsenal, smelled out the deal and rounded up the troops Jackson was planning to use for the attack.  He also rejected Jackson’s efforts to keep federal forces out of Missouri, remarking that he would see every man, woman, and child in the state dead before he would let Jackson and friends cut a deal that would prohibit federal troops from entering the state. Lyon gave Jackson and his military aide, Sterling Price, an hour to get out of town.

In a late-night session at the Capitol, Jackson asked legislators to follow him to Boonville where Missouri volunteers were going to take a stand against the Union Army.   A couple of days later, Lyon and the Union Army took Jefferson City, and stabilized the situation by leaving a small unit of troops in charge of the town while Lyon got back on the boat and led his men to Boonville for Missouri’s first out-and-out-battle of the Civil War.  Jackson and Price were soundly whipped and headed south to the safety of Arkansas and a link-up with Confederate troops there.

A majority of the Convention of ninety-nine did not join Jackson and Price.  Although Jackson would maintain that he was running a government in exile, which soon declared it had seceded, he never had a quorum of the duly-elected legislature.

The Convention, back in Jefferson City, re-assembled in July and declared the office of governor to be vacant.  Former Missouri Supreme Court Judge Hamilton Gamble was installed as the Provisional Governor. Other statewide offices were declared vacant, too, and filled with loyal Unionists among whom was the famous artist George Caleb Bingham, who became Treasurer.

The legality of the convention’s actions is not above question.  But it was protected by a Union occupational force that wasn’t going to tolerate challenges to the convention’s authority.

We do not know specifically what Jackson swore to when he was sworn in as governor.  The 1820 Missouri Constitution, which was still in effect, does not contain any oath language for the governor or for the legislature.  Our present Constitution reiterates language from the 1875 Constitution: “I do solemnly swear, or affirm, that I will support the Constitution of the United States and of the state of Missouri, and faithfully perform the duties of my office, and that I will not knowingly receive, directly or indirectly, any money or other valuable thing for the performance or nonperformance of any act or duty pertaining to my office, other than the compensation allowed by law.”

That language only applies—in the Constitution—to members of the General Assembly. It is, however, the same language we have heard on a dozen occasions when governors have been inaugurated.  Pretty clearly, Jackson had violated his oath of office to “support the Constitution of the United States and the State of Missouri,” and thus was subject to actions removing him from office.  The legal standing of the Convention of 99 to do so has been argued, but wartime expedience prevailed.

Jackson died in 1862 and his elected Lieutenant Governor, Thomas C. Reynolds, became the leader of the self-proclaimed government in exile—which wound up headquartered in Marshall, Texas.  He was with Price on the 1864 last-gasp attempt to regain Missouri for the South, hoping that Price’s army could seize Jefferson City and he could be sworn in as the legitimate governor, probably swearing to support the Confederate Constitution. But Price decided not to attack the capital city after surrounding it—he’d already had one catastrophic fight at Pilot Knob—and he moved on.  Reynolds was irate but no amount of screaming and cursing could change the course of Price and his increasingly bedraggled troops who went on to a three-day fight at Westport before scrambling back to Arkansas, badly mauled by the Union Army.

And that’s the story of the only time a Missouri Governor was ever removed from office.

The office of Governor of Missouri has not become officially vacant since Mel Carnahan’s plane crash in 2000.  What happened then raised some questions about gubernatorial succession that remain unanswered.  We’ll have another history lesson next week.