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Lecompton, Kansas: A Legendary, Forgotten Town

Borrowed Guns Cover 1 (2)I’ve been asked by a few people why I chose Lecompton, Kansas, to be the setting of my second book, and the simple answer is: my publisher, Rebecca Vickery at Western Trailblazer, asked for a follow-up effort. I was not planning on writing a second novel, figuring on being a one-and-done author after Borrowed Guns, so when asked for a new effort featuring the same two main characters, I balked by saying I didn’t have any ideas for a story. This was the truth as I am not a very imaginative person, and I also made it clear at the end of the first book there were no further adventures involving the two.

Rebecca then suggested taking an incident mentioned in Borrowed Guns, and making a short story out of it (does a hundred and fifty-five thousand words qualify as short?), featuring one of the characters. Lucky for me, I set that event twenty years earlier in the historically important city of Lecompton, just south of a rowdy little town called Rising Sun.

Rising Sun completely disappeared from the Kansas landscape within a few decades of its founding, unlike the more politically significant city of Lecompton across the Kansas River to its south, which has endured until this day. With the population hovering around six-hundred in 2014, Lecompton is still a proud little town, never having forgotten the major role it played in precipitating the election of Abraham Lincoln, in turn leading to the secession of the southern states, and ultimately, the Civil War.

Elmore Street, Lecompton-The Wall Street of the West_blog

Elmore Street, Lecompton: The Wall Street of the West

Following the opening of Kansas Territory, scores of Northerners and Southerners flooded the area in attempt to promote their ideological vision for the future state. Lecompton was the first official capital of the Kansas Territory and was originally founded as a pro-slavery settlement, boasting two newspapers, both in favor of making Kansas a slave state. By 1855, enough Missourians had crossed the border to illegally vote in a pro-slavery legislature which took up residence in Lecompton. Abolitionists in Topeka answered this chicanery by drawing up their own free-state constitution for Kansas, but President Franklin B. Pierce threw his support behind Lecompton, declared the Topeka government in rebellion and rebuked the Topeka constitution, ending its debate in the Senate.

Rowena Hotel, Lecompton Kansas_blog

Rowena Hotel, Lecompton, Kansas

Basking in Pierce’s support, Lecompton legislators drafted their own pro-slavery constitution and submitted it to a vote by the populace in 1857. To make certain it passed, the ballot box was again stuffed with pro-slavery votes from residents of Missouri who crossed the border to vote. The trickery was discovered when an informant saw the candle box containing the fraudulent ballots being buried by two legislative clerks. Upon investigation by the sheriff, it was later found, and a legitimate election was scheduled to be held. Two other constitutions were proposed prior to the new vote, with the free-state constitution winning the election, and all three sent to Washington to be debated on by Congress.

SouthOfRisingSun_blogIt was during this debate that the fight mentioned in the South of Rising Sun broke out on the House of Representatives floor. President James Buchanan, a pro-slavery advocate, urged the legislators to adopt the original Lecompton Constitution, but it was eventually by-passed in favor of the free-state constitution, paving the way for Kansas to enter the Union as a non-slavery state in January of 1861.

The Lecompton Constitution was mentioned thirteen times in the famous Lincoln-Douglas Debates of the 1858 Illinois senatorial campaign. Democrat Stephen Douglas, who ran for president against Abraham Lincoln in 1860, refused to support the Lecompton constitution when it was being debated in Congress, arguing that the citizens of each territory should be allowed to decide the slavery issue by their own vote. Douglas’s outright refusal to support the Lecompton Constitution so enraged Southern Democrats that they split from their Northern counterparts and ran their own candidate for president against Lincoln and Douglas. In addition, a fourth candidate entered the race, and with the vote split four ways, Lincoln won the election with only thirty-three percent of the vote, and the rest became history.

Constitution Hall Lecompton Kansas

Constitution Hall, Lecompton, Kansas

The story is somewhat more complex than the distilled version I have related, but it would require an entire book to elaborate all the intricacies of the politics involved, and I have no intention of going down that path. It does, however, lay to rest the argument that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights.

Today, not a single trace remains of Rising Sun, but visitors to Lecompton (originally called Bald Eagle) can tour the Territorial Capital Museum and Constitution Hall and learn about the fascinating story behind this small but historically important Kansas town. Since doing extensive research for South of Rising Sun, I’ve become engrossed by Lecompton’s past and its role as “the birthplace of the Civil War.” Did you know Lecompton was also home to one of the biggest gunfights in the West? But that’s another story.

To discover more about Lecompton, visit LecomptonKansas.com.

I’ll give an e-book of my latest historical western, South of Rising Sun, to ten readers who leave a comment about the setting, Lecompton, Kansas. The winners will be announced Sunday evening (Aug. 30).

 

John-Old West Pic B&W jpgJ.D. McCall grew up in Kansas during the time when Westerns were king on television and at the movies. Living in a state that was home to such places as Abilene, Dodge, Wichita, and many other of the wickedest cattle towns ever found in the West, he was never far from Kansas lore, which included the legendary figures of Earp, Hickok, Masterson, and Cody. Not surprisingly, he has retained a great affection for that part of American history which was once the Old West. Born too late to be a cowboy, J.D. makes his living in this modern day as an industrial hygienist in the field of occupational health and safety. He continues to reside in the city of his birth, Ottawa, with his wife and three children.

Visit J.D. at his website. Find all of his books on his Amazon author page.

 

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22 Comments

  1. Alway interesting to read what happens in certain area’s of the United States before, during and after the civil war. Kansas is one state with alot of unknown history. Kim

    1. Hi Kim,
      My apologies for not responding sooner. I was out of town when the blog ran. I’ve always said Kansas was the most “western” of all the western states. Hope you enjoy reading South of Rising Sun.

  2. Living in Nebraska I think I would like to – tour the Territorial Capital Museum and Constitution Hall and learn about the fascinating story behind this small but historically important Kansas town.
    Very interesting to learn more about my neighbor 🙂 Thanks for the interesting post J.D.

    1. Hello DK,
      My apologies for not responding before now. I was out of town when the blog ran. Lecompton has a nice little museum, and there is certainly a lot of the state’s early history tied up in it. Hope you’ll stop by. If you are interested, my website has an article on Lecompton’s Great Shootout you might find interesting. Hope you enjoy reading SoRS.

  3. I had never heard of Lecompton until your post. I checked out the website and am impressed that they had brick sidewalks and stone curbs and gutters by 1888. Interesting, too, that they took buildings from other the town to replace the ones in Lawrence destroyed by raiders. What a super history-rich place this is, and what a great resource the website is.

    Thank you!

    1. Howdy, Nancy.
      My apologies for not responding sooner. I was out of town for the last three days. Lecompton is a well kept secret that more people should know about. It’s rather sad how a city which seemed destined for greatness saw it’s fortunes slip away, but that’s what happens when you start out on the wrong side of the country’s most pressing social issue of the day. Hope you enjoy reading more about Lecompton with you copy of South of Rising Sun.

  4. I think that I would very much like to travel to visit the area that you have mentioned. Lecompton sounds very interesting and I will be looking for your books.

    1. Thanks, Connie.
      Perhaps someday you’ll have the opportunity to visit Lecompton. I hope you’ll enjoy your copy of South of Rising Sun.

  5. Hi JD so good to see you here. I am California through and through but have Kansas ancestors. Great post.

    1. Hi Tanya,
      I wouldn’t be surprised if almost everyone west of our state doesn’t have Kansas ancestors, lol! After all, anyone who went west in the early days likely went through Kansas to get there. Hope you aren’t being affected by the drought in California. Thanks for dropping by, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading South of Rising Sun.

  6. Being a Northerner, I think they left this out of our history books! This is fascinating to me. I don’t think I have ever heard any of this.Indeed it is a very complicated tale, but well told. Thank you wetting my appetite, J.D.

    1. Howdy, Rosie.
      They never taught Kansas history in school throughout my educational years. When I started researching Lecompton, I kept getting excited about all the things I learned, but when I tried to share them with my kids, the kept telling me “Yeah, Dad. We already know all this stuff.” I asked them how they would have known some of these arcane facts, and my son pulled out an inch-thick text book of Kansas history that they use in high school. Glad to see they have corrected that oversight. Thanks for commenting and I hope you’ll like South of Rising Sun.

  7. Interesting piece of history!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Cheryl. My apologies for not responding sooner. I was out of town when the blog ran. Enjoy your copy of South of Rising Sun.

  8. Thank you for your interesting post. I am always amazed when names of places are changed to honor a person. From Bald Eagle to Lecompton, wow!

    1. Hello, Melanie.
      Judge Lecompte was a pro-slavery citizen of Kansas, I believe, so I’m unsure he deserved the honor, not to mention Bald Eagle is a more picturesque name. Thanks for stopping by. Hope you will enjoy reading South of Rising Sun.

  9. Thank you for the introduction to Lecompton and for sharing its fascinating history!

    1. Hi Britney.
      Glad you enjoyed the article. Lecompton is an obscure but important part of our national history. I certainly hope you’ll enjoy reading more about the adventures of Marshal Alistair B. Taggart in the city of Lecompton when you get your copy of South of Rising Sun I’ll be sending to you.

  10. Hi JD! Welcome to P&P! Great to have you. Love your post. I’m always looking for those little tidbits of history to add to stories. This is so interesting. So many things happened in Kansas. The state seemed to attract all the worst kinds of people. I’d love to visit up there.

    Wishing you tons of success with your stories!

    1. Thanks, Linda.
      I’m tickled to be here and grateful to be a guest on Petticoats and Pistols. We’d love to have you visit us some day here in Kansas. We did attract some unsavory characters, but we also played host to most of the legendary western figures of the day, more so than any other western state. Thanks again for having me.

  11. Know I read your interesting post. So many small communities have such interesting histories. It seems I fell asleep before I posted my comment. Unfortunately, not the first time that has happened. I look forward to your post on one of the biggest gunfights in the West.

    1. Thanks, Patricia. Lecompton is an interesting town, but the one I wish I knew more about is the town of Rising Sun. Not a trace of the rowdy little settlement can be found today, not even a foundation. If you read this post and send an email to mccall_john at sbcglobal dot net, I’ll also send you a free copy of South of Rising Sun in ebook form. Just let me know.

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