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James Montgomery, 1814-1871

Materials relating to James Montgomery

Photograph of James MontgomeryJames Montgomery, one of Kansas’s most famous (or infamous) jayhawkers, was born in Ashtabula County, Ohio, on December 22, 1814. He received an excellent academic education before moving in 1837 to Kentucky where he taught school and became a minister in the “Campbellite” church. In the early 1850s Montgomery moved to Pike and then Jackson counties in Missouri, where he lived with his second wife until soon after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.

Montgomery purchased a claim in Linn County, near Mound City, Kansas Territory, and quickly became a recognized leader of the free-state movement. When many free-state settlers were driven off of their claims along the Little Osage River in 1856, Montgomery refused to go. Instead he organized a company of men in 1857 to protect the free-state minority of southeast Kansas and to harass proslavery settlements in Kansas and Missouri. Among some, including territorial officials, Montgomery gained a notorious reputation; one such detractor wrote Governor John W. Denver from Fort Scott on May 16, 1858, regarding “Montgomery and his murderers, & robbers.” He believed “if the officers of the law will arrest Montgomery & his men . . . we will have no trouble in keeping the peace among our people in this region.” But Montgomery remained at large and active through the summer of that year, signing on with Shubel Morgan’s [i.e., John Brown’s] Company in July. While this type of activity abated for some months in 1859 and 1860, shortly before the Civil War officially began in April 1861, Montgomery and Charles “Doc” Jennison renewed their earlier activities and reportedly began “operating a ring of ‘desperate jayhawkers’ engaged in regular robbing. Stolen mounts were recognized up in Iowa, and jocular people said that the pedigree of every good horse was ‘out of Missouri by Jennison.’” Not surprisingly, Montgomery himself took exception with this negative characterization: “The Government,” he wrote George L. Sterns on December 12, 1860, “has taken great pains to make the country believe that ‘Montgomery and his band’ do not belong to the people.” But a “Mass Meeting . . . held at Mound City” the previous week proved otherwise. “The meeting was large, and the Resolutions passed unanimously. The action of Montgomery and his band, was not only endorsed, but declared to be ‘the act of the people.’”
With the coming of the war, Montgomery joined the regular service, being elected colonel of the Third Kansas Volunteer Infantry, a part of James H. “Lane’s Brigade.” When the Third, which gained quite a reputation along with the rest of the brigade for its jayhawking, was consolidated with some other units to form the Tenth Kansas Volunteer Infantry in April 1862, Montgomery remained the regiment’s colonel. In early 1863, however, he transferred to the Second Regiment, South Carolina Colored Volunteers, and helped fill its ranks with black recruits. Throughout 1863 and part of 1864, Montgomery practiced his brand of Kansas warfare in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. In 1864 he resigned his commission, returned to Kansas, and ended his military career as colonel of the Sixth Kansas State Militia, which was active in October of that year during the threatened invasion by General Sterling Price. After the war, Montgomery returned to his Linn County farm, where he died on December 6, 1871.

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Blackmar, Frank W. Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History. Vol. II. Chicago, IL: Standard Publishing Co., 1912.

Dirck, Brian. “By the Hand of God: James Montgomery and Redemptive Violence.” Kansas History 27 (Spring/Summer 2004): forthcoming.

Hutchinson, William. “Sketches of Kansas Pioneer Experience.” Kansas Historical Collection, 1901-1902 7 (1902): 395-96.

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This file was last modified September 12 2013 04:09:26 PM.