By Alice A. Minick. Read at the Annual Meeting, January 15, 1896.
Mention of the Underground Railroad (U. G. R.
R.) in Nebraska, or in any other state, immediately suggests to
the mind the thought of Captain John Brown, whose name is
inscribed on every historic record which pertains to the great
national wrong of slavery, up to the time of his "public murder" at Harper's
Ferry, December 19, 1859. John Brown was the inspiration of the abolition
party. He clasped the hand of oppression, and united it with freedom, - his
life was the prophecy of freedom, and his death its benediction.
The U. G. R. R. was humane in its object, was created from a deep abstract principle, which rests in patriotism in governmental affairs, and is the moral element in human and divine rights. In reviewing carefully the movement of the abolition party reformers who put their souls and lives into the movement, I can see no place where the true governmental principle of justice and the divine principle of personal liberty crossed,
though to an unsympathizer, or careless observer, it
might appear to the contrary.
The prime object of the movers along the line of the U. G. R. R., both north and south, east and west, was the emancipation of the slaves from an unholy bondage, to assist them to their God-given rights, in defiance of the human authority that overshadowed them; this assistance to be rendered when necessary, at all hazard, and at any and all times. The bravest and most loyal blood flowed in the veins of those abolition forerunners; like all reformers, they were dubbed as fanatics and lunatics, when, in fact, they were radical enthusiasts upon the subject of patriotism. Who could doubt the loyalty of men as brave as John Brown, Lovejoy, or Gerrit Smith, or Fred Douglass, or Wendell Phillips, and scores of other reformers whose souls were enlisted in the work, - that struck the key note, that sounded the death knell of human slavery?
John Brown was a Christian gentleman, not a rough, as he is understood to be by many who have not studied his biography. He was educated for the ministry, was a tanner by trade. He was at one time a large wool dealer, then a farmer; his methods were practical in every respect. In person he was a tall, well developed specimen of manhood, five feet eleven inches in height, with keen black eyes, and when I saw him in 1859 he wore a heavy beard, which was streaked with grey; he impressed one as a man of strength. He represented a line of sturdy and noted ancestry; he is described as the seventh John Brown along the genealogical line. He was married twice and became the father of twenty children; he possessed the will to do what others knew should be done but had not the moral courage to do, for he declared he had been engaged in railroad business on a somewhat extended scale, and said: "I have been connected with the business from my boyhood and never let an opportunity slip." This line of work was carried on more extensively than was generally understood at the time, or is yet understood, since it was conducted under various names. It was known in some sections as The Subterranian Pass Way (S. P. W.), "Free State League,"
and "League of Freedom," all of which implied one and the
same thing, known in the west as the Underground Railroad (U. G.
R. R.) I am to deal more directly with the U. G. R. R. in Nebraska
- which was a short line, comparatively, both in distance and time
of operation. The Nebraska line was directly under the management
and leadership of John Brown, whose home was temporarily in
Kansas. He often passed over the route, personally accompanying
the fugitives as far as Springdale, the Quaker settlement in Cedar
county, Iowa, which was one of the stations on their way to
It is authoritatively stated that seventy-five thousand fugitives were in Canada West at the time of the Chatham gathering, which was an abolition convention called by John Brown in 1858. One colored woman, Mrs. Tubman, is reported to have assisted several thousand fugitives to escape, she having been a refugee, and one Win. Lambert is reported to have helped within a period of thirty years, thirty thousand slaves to freedom. It is reported that the Ohio-Kentucky route served more fugitives than others in the north. I make mention of these facts to show something of the magnitude of the U. G. R. R. and its functions in the fulfillment of the prophecy which declared that this should be the land of the free and the home of the brave.
The original name of the Nebraska line was known as the Kansas-Nebraska and Iowa Underground Railroad. It was a continuation of the Missouri and Kansas line. Its terminus was Springdale, Iowa, the center of the Quaker community above mentioned. Falls City, in Richardson county, was the first station in Nebraska. Nemaha City, Nemaha county, and Nebraska City, Otoe county, the main crossing of the Missouri river, - these comprised the Nebraska stations, and extended from them to Tabor, Iowa, then to Springdale. The Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa line was well organized. It was later known as the Nebraska U. G. R. R. The money used was raised by subscription, mostly among its members, and the road was worked by its members, who were abolitionists. The members took their turns, and used their own methods of transportation from one station
to another. Sometimes they were annoyed and their plans
frustrated by some disloyal members, who could be tempted to try
and make money by returning the slaves to their masters and
obtaining the reward. If they succeeded they crossed the river at
Rulo, in Richardson county, Nebraska, opposite Missouri. Between
bloody Kansas on the south and the border ruffians, and Missouri,
a rank slave state, on the east, there was imminent danger and
risk connected with the undertaking, but a goodly number of
abolitionists at each of these points influenced public sentiment
far enough to prevent outbreaks or serious disturbance, more than
the occasional occurrence of disloyalty of some of its members,
which Judge Reavis, of Falls City, describes by an incident which
took place, in which he says: "As I now remember, there were about
one-half dozen operators on that road in and about Falls City,
having a station about a mile north of town, at the house of a man
by the name of W. W. Buchanan. This man Buchanan got into some
trouble with the fraternity and was dismissed from their service.
Charles Strong, of Nemaha City, and some two or three others,
whose names I do not recall, came into Falls City some time during
the year 1859 or 1860 and, among other things, charged him with
slipping runaway darkies over into Missouri for the purpose of
getting the reward offered for their recapture. There was some
foundation for the charge, and it came pretty near costing
Buchanan his life, as Strong, Chamberlain, Jamieson, and some
others, whose names I have forgotten, were not only indignant at
the conduct of Buchanan, but they distinctly told him that a
repetition of it would bring about his personal destruction. There
was one ridiculous circumstance connected with this that might as
well be told, and I think the circumstance led to the suspicion
that Buchanan was not all right. One of the runaway slaves had
been lodged at Buchanan's house, to be forwarded on his course to
Mt. Tabor, Ia., and was a little above the average negro in point
of intelligence. This negro became suspicious that everything was
not all right and broke away from the men who had him and escaped
south across the Nemaha river into
an Indian reservation. The Indians, of course, had the
notion that a black man was property among the white men and the
next day they came to town driving the negro before them and
wanted to sell him for flour. In the meantime one of the men who
had been trying to ship the negro into Missouri came into town and
charged that the fellow was a runaway slave and that he must be
returned to his master. There were more abolitionists in town than
pro-slavery men, and the darkey was kept in a blacksmith's shop
and was eventually dressed up in blankets belonging to Judge
Dandy, the late United States district judge of the district of
Nebraska, and was finally smuggled out of town and sent on his way
to Canada. There was not the slightest danger that the negro would
be returned to slavery, as there were too many abolitionists in
town who would have engaged in conflict rather than allow it. But
the difficulty was gotten over by the ingenious device of making
the negro appear like an Indian, and he passed out of the shop
close to a pro-slavery. man, who never knew the difference.
Sewel Jamieson, of Falls City, long since gone to his rest, was an active member; also John Burbank and his brother Joseph, Judge Dandy, and Wm. McFarland, to whom I am indebted for items of interest and who assisted companies to escape on three different occasions. Nemaha City was the central point, where were several stations; one just north of town on the farm of Houstin Russel. Although a Missourian, he was a radical abolitionist. He took care of more fugitives than any other agent at Nemaha. It was there I received my initiation into the order under promise to keep still. I had gone to the Russel home to visit a daughter; she was going to the cave to get vegetables for the meal and invited me to go with her. On entering the cave, I found myself in the midst of colored people of all sizes, men, women, and children. All I could see was red lips, white teeth, eyes, and black faces; frightened is no name for the sensation I experienced. Should I run, scream, or fall down? The more frightened I became the more they showed their white teeth. I begged the girl to help me away, for I could not rise on my feet.
These were the first colored people I had ever met, and
to a northern child it was an experience. This was early in the
operation of the Nebraska line, for in the next two years I
overcame all my fears of colored people. Hezekiah B. Strong, of
Nemaha City, was a member and he often helped the fugitives on
their way. My father, David Lockwood, kept a station just west of
town. There was also a vacant house in town where they were housed
when there was a large number together. I remember waking one
morning and smelled cooking at an un-seasonable hour, and on
investigation found my mother preparing an early breakfast for
three fugitives. One of the number was a tall, stalwart darkey,
Napoleon by name. He was more intelligent than the average slave.
He said he intended to return for his family as soon as he could
earn some money. My father warned him against it, and advised him
to leave his family in the hands of Providence, at least while so
much danger threatened. After the three had been warmed and fed
they retired to the attic for the day. Napoleon tied two brooms
for my mother that day out of some broomcorn that had been stored
there. The next night my brother, Eugene V. Lockwood, took the
colored gentlemen in an emigrant wagon to Nebraska City. Some
months after this Napoleon did return to Missouri with his heart
full of love for his family, and determined to take them to Canada
with him. He went to the farm house of his wife's owner and under
curtain of night stole close to the house with the hope that his
wife might come to the door; then be crept close to the well curb
where she might come to pump water and breathlessly waited. How
his great heart must have beaten, and every moment an hour, while
undergoing this suspense. Then there came the sharp crack of a
pistol - a flash - and a bullet had pierced Napoleon's heart, and
he was dead. Many pathetic incidents were enacted during the two
years that the U. G. R. R. was in operation in Nebraska, but none
of them touched my heart as did this one.
John Brown's last appearance in Nebraska was early in February, 1859, and in fact, as far as I am able to find out, these were
the last refugees he assisted to escape, for soon after
he made his way from Springdale (where his men had been drilling
and his guns and ammunition were stored) to Harper's Ferry. This
trip has been described by George B. Gill (who was Brown's
faithful friend and adviser, as reported in the American Reformer
by Carlos Marlyn.) He appeared in Nemaha about February 3, 1859,
with thirteen fugitives in emigrant wagons. They camped at the
station house in Nemaha, which was furnished with a stove and
benches; a colored cook prepared their meal. It was no secret then
that John Brown with fugitives was in town, where they remained
two or three days. His company consisted of men, women, and
children. George B. Gill accompanied, him and several other white
men. This must have been the camp that Mr. Gill alludes to as
being on the Otoe reservation, since it was just across the line,
and there were no stations on the reservation. The weather was
cold, roads rough and hubby. I can now see that group as they
surround the wagons preparatory to starting. A number of citizens
had assembled, some out of curiosity, others to assist them out of
sympathy. They left Nemaha peaceably and without molestation, with
the beat wishes of many people. These were the last fugitives that
I ever saw, for soon the battle cry sounded and the attention of
loyal citizens was turned in another direction.
Mr. Gill says: "It is not generally known, but it is a fact, that there were from 1856 to 1858 more slaves in Nebraska than in Kansas. Most of the Kansas slaves were conveyed to the North Star section soon after. The first attempt to cross the Missouri river by the new route was made by the Massachusetts party, under the charge of Marlyn Stowell, of which I was a member. We were the advance guard in July, 1856, of Jim Lane's hastily gathered command. The Nebraska City ferry was a flat boat worked by a southern settler named Nuckolls, who had brought slaves there and who declared we should not cross. Three of us, who were mounted, rode down, called, and got the ferry over on the Iowa or eastern side of the river with Nuckolls himself in charge, and we held him there until our little company of sixty-
five young men, with three wagons, were ferried over.
These incidents are only mentioned to show the nature of the
obstacles. Mr. Nuckolls yielded to our persuasive force, aided by
that of his neighbors, many of whom were free state in sympathy,
and perhaps even more by the profit he found by the large ferriage
tolls we promptly paid."
I cannot close this chapter without making especial mention of James H. Lane, who was active in those days. He must have been out on one of his recruiting trips when I first met him in June, 1856, camped on the bank opposite Nebraska City three days with two or three hundred other people, who were waiting for the high waters caused by the June freshets to recede sufficiently for safe crossing in a rickety flat boat and by the aid of careless, half-drunken seamen. Mr. Lane was one of the high waterbound party held there nearly one week. He frequently visited our camp, for he found my father's family in sympathy with his work. I scrutinized him in childish curiosity, for to see Jim Lane was to see it noted personage, who had been mad and talked about in our New York home, his name being always associated with the Kansas troubles. He was socially a pleasant, congenial gentleman. He was tall, slender in build, with a smooth face. and blind in one eye. I could not pronounce him handsome; he was of a restless, nervous temperament. We crossed the river on the same boat, only part of our family going at the same time. My father met Mr. Lane many times after this. He believed that Lane would be the colored people's Moses, for up to this time little had been heard of John Brown in the west, as he was actively engaged in the rescue work in the east. Lane was organizing against the border ruffians in Kansas, while John Brown's work from beginning to end was the emancipation of the slaves. Aaron Dewight Stevens was known as the fighting free state leader at Topeka, and to him was also intrusted the defense of the open road to Nebraska. John Brown carried on a dual duty after his appearance in the west, that of collecting arms, drilling his men at Tabor and
Springdale, at the same time engineering his U. G. R. R.
lines in various places in the country east and west.
There is no way of arriving at a correct estimate of the number of slaves that were assisted over the Nebraska line, but it is safe to say that there were several hundred. The work taught those who were held as slaves in Nebraska territory that they were on free sail, of which they soon took advantage.
One of John Brown's principles was loyalty to government while he believed there was no wrong in helping the slaves to what naturally belonged to them - freedom. He believed in preserving the Union, and was opposed to taking of life and destruction of property at all times, save only in self defense. These principles stood for those of every true abolitionist. They believed that a government fostering and protecting a wrong of so great magnitude would go down in filth, or it would extricate itself through great loss; and they were right. Nebraska has a clear record. She is free from the blot of legalized slavery. This was done by the heroic acts of the few who bore aloft in the time of danger freedom's banner. Although bills were introduced into the legislature by Marquett and Taylor in 1860 to abolish slavery in the territory of Nebraska, these were political methods introduced to test party strength. Legalized slavery did not exist; however, the bills passed over the governor's veto and went into effect May 1, 1860.
I will add here that there were stormy times in Nebraska. Those who have come here of more recent date and enjoyed the fruits of those days can scarcely understand all that the U. G. R. R. implies. The country sparsely settled, no comfort, very little to eat, and that plain food, and money scarce. Cold winters followed by droughts, ague and fever, which accompany new countries, were of frequent occurrence. Means of transportation were limited to Indian ponies or ox teams; all strangers, and they many times homesick and discouraged; war threatening, and harder times, if possible; blood-thirsty ruffians on our borders; with all of these surroundings and many more discouragements, the thought of carrying on a systematic assistance for
the deliverance of thousands of slaves required, first,
patriotism, then nerve and energy, such as only great emergencies
These reminiscences have been carefully collected together with my own recollections extending back to my twelfth year of age.
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF MAJOR W. W. DENNISON.
By I. A. Fort
intentions, got together a mob of low white men, and a
few deluded Indians, who, presenting themselves at the major's
dwelling, demanded him to deliver up the government money which he
then held in trust for the payment of Indian annuities, assigning
as a reason for this lawless conduct that Major Dennison was about
to go south, being a southern sympathizer, taking with him said
public funds. A base and groundless calumny, as after events
clearly proved. These lawless men further threatened to burn the
dwelling of the agent, and even the whole of Nebraska City, if
their demands were not complied with which threat so intimidated
Some property holders in the city that they appointed a committee
to wait upon him and request that he give up the government money
then on deposit in Mr. Ware's bank. This request was, of course,
indignantly refused. Finally these miscreants, threatening death
to the intrepid defender of his trust, seized and bound him,
making him a prisoner in his own house, around which they placed a
guard of unprincipled men. To all these threats of violence and
death Major Dennison replied, with an undaunted courage born of
stern integrity and upright principles, "I prefer death before
All the available troops at Fort Leavenworth, the nearest garrison, having been called to Washington to assist at the inauguration of President Lincoln, none could be obtained to quell these disorders, and the governor's authority proved powerless to stay the lawless proceedings. Under these circumstances, his friends urging upon the major the duty he owed to his family and himself to protect his life and honor, advised him to leave the territory, which he did early in 1861, proceeding to Richmond, Va., where he was joined by his family some months later.
The government funds remained in the bank until after the arrival of a newly appointed agent, to whom the boxes of specie were delivered with their seals unbroken and their contents intact.
This incident is given as an illustration of the moral strength and force of character possessed by Major Dennison. At no period of his life did he show more magnanimity of soul and
heroic courage than when, almost alone, he defied the
threats and violence of an unprincipled mob.
He took no part in the civil war, his physical condition proving a sufficient exemption from military duties, but through the influence of friends and in recognition of his personal merits, he was given a position in the Confederate treasury department at Richmond, thus securing to himself and family a necessary maintenance until such time as they fondly hoped to return to their western home. But, alas for human hopes and expectations! death claimed his wife in 1862, and his own health rapidly declining, he died in Richmond, on the 16th of July, 1863, at the early age of forty, leaving behind him two orphan daughters to mourn their irreparable loss.
Major Dennison was a man of sterling worth, of spotless integrity, a loyal citizen, and a polished and courtly gentleman, whose untimely death was lamented by hosts of friends north and south, and whose memory is held in benediction by those who loved him.
PRESIDENT'S COMMUNICATION, 1897.
Read before the Society at the opening of the Twentieth Session, January 12, 1897.
WASHINGTON, D. C., January 8, 1897.
Mr. Jay Amos Barrett, Librarian State Historical Society, Lincoln, Nebraska,
DEAR SIR: I very
much regret my inability to be present at the coming session of
the State Historical Society. But particularly do I lament the
fact that I shall not be there to meet the surviving members of
the first territorial legislative assembly who will at that time
convene within our lecture room. It. will be very appropriate, it
seems to me, on that interesting occasion to see what sort of
history has been made during the last fifty years in regard to
It has been recently declared that under the gold standard the poor are invariably oppressed and made poorer and the rich favored and made richer. It has been declared with wonderful effrontery that the American people have been crushed in their enterprises and industries by the single gold standard. Even from citizens in high positions have come utterances like the following:
"The promulgation of the gold standard is an attack upon your homes and your firesides and you have as much right to resist it as to resist an army marching to take your children captive and burn the roof over your head."
In view of these wild and false statements, why not look over the economic and social improvements which have come about under this terrible gold standard during the last fifty years?
In that time has not imprisonment for debt been abolished?
In that time have not laws been passed exempting homesteads
and large values in personal property from execution
against debtors who are the heads of families?
Have not liens been provided for mechanics and laborers by which their wages may be secured upon the property in which they have put forth their efforts?
Have not poor persons been permitted to sue in the courts, state and national, without the payment of costs or the giving of security for costs?
Have not laws been passed providing for the appointment of attorneys to defend without compensation, poor persons in the criminal courts and, in some instances, in the civil courts?
Have not laws been so constructed that courts are directed to enter judgment in favor of the laborer who has to bring suit to, recover his wages or enforce his rights against a corporation for a stated sum to recover his attorney's fees?
Have not the hours of labor to make up a day been declared by law as to the public service and on public works?
Have not the wages of labor been made preferred claims in the administration of estates, and in some cases are not wages made preferred claims generally?
Have not laws regulating passenger and freight rates on railroads and other lines of transportation, and also the charges of public warehouses and elevators been instituted during the last fifty years?
In the same time have not national and state commissions been created to supervise railway traffic by which charges are supposed to have been reduced two-thirds or more?
Have not statutes reduced the rates of interest in nearly all the states and extended the time for the redemption of property after the foreclosure of mortgages or deeds of trust?
In that half century have not railroads been required to fence their lines or pay double damages resulting from failure to fence?
Have not railroads in that period been also required to furnish safe places and appliances for their workmen?
Have not manufacturers and mine owners been required to
provide places and machinery for the safety and comfort
of their employee?
Has not the incorporation of labor organizations been authorized in that time by law and Labor Day been made a national holiday?
Have not commissioners of labor, state and national, been appointed to gather statistics and as far as possible to ameliorate the condition of the working classes?
Have not the laws provided against poor men being blacklisted or threatened by postal cards, as to the collection of debts alleged against them?
Have not the public mails and post routes been relieved by law from the carrying of lottery schemes and other fraudulent methods of getting money from the unsophisticated?
Have not the postages been reduced so that, under the operation of the present laws, the people get the county newspapers free of any carrying cost?
Has not slavery been abolished in that time?
Has not the condition of labor been elevated and improved?
Have not foreign laborers been forbidden to come into the United States under contract, and Chinese emigrants shut out?
Have not boards of arbitration, state and national, for the settlement of labor disputes, been created?
In that half century have not homesteads aggregating more than three millions in number been given gratuitously to those who would enter upon them and cultivate them?
In the same time have we not given away a million or more of farms in the United States under the operation of the timber culture law?
Have not free public libraries been established by statute in nearly every state and county of the east and north and in many of the western and southern states?
Have not institutions for the blind, feeble minded, the insane, and deaf and dumb multiplied in every commonwealth of the United States?
Have not institutions for caring for the sick, the aged, and
the distressed been improved and increased in numbers a
thousand-fold during the last fifty years?
During what other half century has any nation shown a pension list running to $160,000,000 a year to provide for its veteran soldiers?
In what other country have so many millions of dollars been expended for free public schools and universities in the last fifty years?
And who brought about these beneficent institutions which look after and care for those who are unable to care for themselves?
Were they not the higher class of citizens - the intelligent, the wealthy - who conceived and constructed these homes for those who otherwise might have no homes?
Are not these evidences of a bountiful, abundant, and a generous charity visible in every state and county and city of the American Union? And, this being the ease, with what truth, with what good common sense, and with what justice can any public man endeavor to array the poorer against the richer citizens of the republic? How can anyone declare, in the face of all these gigantic facts, that the old standard has cursed and shrunken the civilization of the last half century in the great republic of the western continent?
In the records of all the centuries since man began a historic career where can fifty years be found during which the cost of production of staple foods for the human race has been so much reduced?
What other half century can vie with the last half of this in bringing to the great mass of mankind increased comforts and luxuries at constantly lessening cost?
During these fifty years have not the dynamos of most of these power agents, which before the beginning of 1850 had been concealed from human vision, been developed and made to work for the advantage and benefit of the American people?
And under the gold standard, since 1850, has not the population of the United States more than trebled and its wealth multiplied itself nine times?
If the preceding 200 years had recorded
on a phonograph all of the inventions, improvements, and
laborsaving machines for production and distribution, would they
have equalled the showing which the last twenty-five years can
But leaving the United States east of the Mississippi river, how has Nebraska been shriveled and tortured under the gold standard since civil government was first established within its boundaries?
Who present of the members of the first legislative assembly of the territory of Nebraska can recall the physical conditions by which that deliberative body was environed in January, 1855?
Was it not more than three hundred miles to a railroad? Were there more than two thousand men, women, and children resident in all the seventy-six thousand square miles which make up-the area of this commonwealth?
And yet in forty-two years have not the material, mental, and social conditions-under the gold standard of value - advanced from the crudities, discomforts, and discouragements of the furthermost frontiers to the environments, comforts, conveniencies, and luxuries of modern civilization in all the older settlements. of Nebraska?
And will not the acre of land, which would buy but a dollar and a quarter in gold in 1856 now purchase from ten to a hundred dollars of the same coin?
And cannot money, which in 1856, '57, '58, '59, and '60, and even down to 1867, which loaned in Nebraska upon farm mortgages for 12 per cent. per annum, now be borrowed for 8, notwithstanding the alleged appreciation of the dollar?
And cannot railroad bonds, issued upon lines in Nebraska which originally bore 8 per cent., now be floated at 4?
And are not wages more now than forty-two years ago?
And with interest lower, wages higher, and the values of all real property enhanced ten-fold during the forty-two years, how can a truthful man, a sincere lover of big facts, declare that the gold standard has been and will continue to be a blighting curse upon the people.
J. STERLING MORTON.
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