James Montgomery, 1814-1871
James 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
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.
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.