“Battle of Indianola”
August 30 th 1856
On this 30 th day of Aug. 1906, at 9:34 a.m., exactly to the hour 50 years ago, I stood with Sharpe’s rifle in hand, awaiting the signal for battle.
The following extracts from my old diary of 1856, with notes, will explain:
“Thursday Aug. 28 1856. Foggy and warm. I was hauling wood and saw C. C. Leonard. He asked me if I wanted to go to Lawrence to fight. I told him no, as I had a sore foot. [Pull] 125 men passed thro’ Indianola going to Lawrence. A member of the Stubbs Company here, and ate melons. The men who passed are armed one half Sharpe’s rifles, other half muskets with bayonets. Lew Harris, Old Alley, Fulton and John Young, armed, and were going to capture the Free state crowd. Fure. Mr. Cole has a notion of going. I fixed up my sore foot. It feels better. Can’t find my good pants. Eliza (sister) hid
them. She don’t want me to go to Lawrence.
Friday 29. Cloudy. Thunder. Mr. Cole gave out going. Ankle lame, yet. I will not go all alone. I to my claim and made a road. Stores shut up in Indianola. Fleshman was robbed of guns, and a horse. P.M. I to my claim and cut grass. I saw Dick Murphy. He says Lew Harris and Johnny Young have bought out bandrupt Capt. Wm Alley. [xxx] home. A small train camped on ridge, or prairie, north of our house. At night there was firing in Indianola, and the women and children were scared and staid in our house all night. Are all going to leave the territory. I with shotgun and slept as usual in the stable loft, to guard the horses. (I was no good for that. Too sleepy-headed.)
Several of the horses belonging to the train had strayed out of sight, and the men feared they were stolen. They told a fearful tale of woe. One of them said that a party of men surrounded his house, a few nights before, and began shooting off their guns. “At first”, he said, “there were a few scattering shots, then they came faster
and faster, till you couldn’t count em.” He said his claim was south of the river, and if he could get out of Kansas he would bid it a final farewell. We supposed him to be pro-slavery, Most likely. One of the women was nearly hysterical with fear, where they sought shelter in our cabin from the firing in Indianola. She said to my aunt: “I’ll stand right here in your door, and fight for my children till I die!” She was assured that the children were in no danger. Now amid all these surroundings I fell asleep, almost as soon as my head rested on the new mown hay. My journal states that at 11 o’clock I was awakened. My first misty rememberance was of a man standing on the ladder outside, while he reached in through the opening, and was shaking me vigorously. Then I heard a monotonous flow of big long words that could only eminate from the [XXX] Dick Murphy, and when the sentence: “Consequently, we must a-ar-rm ourselves,” fell upon my drowsy ear, I was
wide awake. (Murphy represented us in the free state Legislature, was well informed and delighted in high sounding words.)
There with much circumlocution, he informed us that the Fiederling boys had just been robbed of their guns by the pro-slavery crowd in Indianola; that Dan Downey had witnessed it all, and had then notified Murphy of the seizure. “And so,” said Dick, “I cause and reported the matter to Captain Cole, and as you are my superior officer,” (I was Orderly, and Dick was second sergeant of the “Indianola Free-State Guards”,) “I shall place myself right behind you, and follow wherever you lead.”
This was indeed very serious. If not prevented, every free-state man in the neighborhood would be disarmed, and left to the mercy of our enemy. I clambered down the ladder, and found Dare. Downey waiting for us. We returned to the house, where I secured my squirrel gun, Sam Jamison’s Sharpes rifle, cartridge box, shot-pouches powder horn, etc., and we three started for Indianola.
My uncle’s sprained ankle was much worse, and he could not go on foot, as we were all obliged to do, in this case. It was a still starlight night.
When we reached Fiederling’s house, where the two young men “batched”, Murphy pounded on the door, and after satisfying the inmates that we were friends, were admitted by Frank. He had struck a light, and was talking and gesticulating excitedly: “What could I do – What could I do, where all dem fellows came in and took our guns away, right here in dis room?” he cried out.
“We’ve come to try and get them back again,” I ventured to say. “Ah! Is dat you?” he inquired, as he lifted his candle, and peered in my face. “I didn’t know you at first.”
I then showed him the rifle and shot fun we had bro’t for himself and Peter. Frank had received us in the scantiest of night attire. With a bound, he came down on the floor with his bare feet, and
shouted: “There’ll be blood spilled in this town before morning!” He began dressing in the utmost hast, muttering threats, and maledictions in his broken English.
His brother had been suffering with ague, and was having a chill when we entered. He seemed to take a more sensible view of the situation than any of us, and protested: “Frank, your life is worth more than the guns. You might get killed. Better you let the guns go.”
“Get out of that bed! Get up I tell you!” roared Frank, seemingly beside himself with rage.
Peter obeyed, but before he could dress himself, Dick Murphy persuaded him to go back to bed again, as he was not in a fit condition to go out in the night air.
I never saw a more belligerant man than Frank Fiederling. He had served in the Bavarian army, and was a soldier from top to toe. Bluff in speech and quick in his movements. He took my rifle; Dick
carried our double-barreled shot-gun, and of course I held on to the Sharpes’ rifle. I think Downey had a gun of his own. Robert McNown had a claim just east of town. He was an avowed abolitionist, and was fearless in expressing his sentiments. Held a commission in our company, and owned a splendid stub and twist shot gun, and a new Bolt’s Navy revolver. It was decided to go to his place first.
As we rallied out on the street, we were joined by a disreputable looking fellow, who insisted on going with us, in spite of Murphy’s protests, who seemed to know him.
After we had explained the matter to McNown, he seemed almost as indidnant as Frank himself had been. It took him but a few moments to arm and equip, then stepping outside the cabin door, he remembered that his pistol had been loaded a long time, and fired off all six of the charges. (The night was still, and I afterwards learned that these shots gave the campers near our house
and extra thrill of fear.)
As Mack was reloading, he gave some directions to his oldest boy, who occupied a bed in the corner. Three other little fellows were with him. If they were alarmed, they did not show it.
There we struck out for Tom Jenner’s. We found him full of enthusiasm for the cause. He even went so far as to suggest shooting the pro-slavery offenders on sight. But this drastic method was not agreed to. We suggested that his brother, Dr. Jacob F. Jenner, should come along, but Tom considered it would be best to leave the doctor behind. Like the Fiederling boys, the Jenners were Germans. Their hired man, a little black eyed fellow named Fisher, gladly fell in with us.
Then we recruited Mr. Frouts, and I think one or two more at Kansopolis. Frouts proposed having a block-house built there, and in case of any future out-breaks of pro-slavery men, it would be easy, he said, to collect our adherents by means of a big bass
drum at the fort, which could be beaten at the first alarm, and arouse the Free state settlers all over the neighborhood. This scheme found little favor with most of us. It might have helped boom Kansopolis, but from a military point of view it was defective. We waited a short time, while some spare guns, and ammunition were collected.
“I’m the Bull of the woods,” quoth the gentleman who had followed us from Indianola, “and I’ve seen more more service, and been in harder fought battles, than any other man here present.”
“What battles were you in?” inquired Mr. Frouts.
“Cerro Gordo; the bloodiest battle of the Mexican war, sir. Yes, I’m the Bull of the woods, and I want you all to know it.”
Then he reached for one of the extra guns. “Be careful there, be careful”, cautioned Murphy. The fellow drew back, and looked at Dick inquiringly. Then he made a second attempt.
“Don’t touch them; you’d better not,”
said Murphy, stepping up alongside. The ex-soldier with a maladiction turned away.
We next visited Mr. Harding. On the way through the woods, Tom Henner said to me in an undertone: “De sooner we gets rid of de Bull of de woods, de better.” I agreed, but I didn’t see how we could go about it. [Plirry] Harding conferred with us, but neither he nor his brother James, felt called upon to turn out. A young Irishman, Dick Russel, I think was there, but he didn’t show up. Not long before, he had made a trip to the Missouri river, and was taken by a party of Border ruffians, who insisted on his telling what his “sentiments” were.
“Why gentlemen,” replied Dick, “I haven’t got any sentiments, I’m nothing but an Irishman.”
Disappointed in getting three good recruits, we headed down Soldier creek for the home of Vincent Cole. He was a corporal of our military company, and C.C. Leonard,
who was living with him, was our 1 st Lieutenant, so we felt pretty sure of getting them. Cole’s cabin was in the woods, close by the creek. As luck would have it, one of our party thinking his gun might be damp, fired it off, as we entered Cole’s yard. Without thinking, I fired my Sharpe’s rifle at a big burr-oak tree, and most of our men followed our example. It was very unwise. The troubles in the territory were now at their very worst. Men were taken from their homes and butchered, by both parties. On this very morning of the 30 th of Aug. 1856, John Brown was to fight his famous battle of Osawatomie. Such a fusillade as ours, in a man’s doorr yard at daylight even in time of peace, would be sufficiently terrifying. Can it be wondered at that we were not welcomed with open arms. The only wonder is that we escaped being fired on. We were told afterwards, that
Mr. Cole, suddenly roused from his slumbers by our firing, naturally supposed we were Border ruffians and on the impulse of the moment sprang from his bed, and swam across Soldier creek.
It was now getting quite light, and finally our summons was answered by Lieut. Leonard. But instead of taking command, as he was entitled to do, he gave us to understand that he didn’t propose to go with us at all. We sat down and after a long wait, Mr. Cole came out to us. On hearing our grievance, and request for help, he picked up his axe, and between chops, remarked: “Well, if I go at all, I intend to have my breakfast first.”
This called our attention to the empty condition of our own stomachs and as Corporal Cole didn’t invite us to share his rations, it was decided that we should all return to our homes, and after fortifying the inner mean, rendezvous in the Indianola woods east of
town. Fiederling, Murphy, Downie and myself, left our arms with McNown, as we were obliged to go thro’ Indianola to reach our homes. Near our house I met one of the campers.
“Did you find your horses?” I asked. He looked at me suspiciously.
“What horses do you mean?” After I had satisfied him who I was he grew confidential. “Yes we found the horses, and we are going to get out of this part of the country just a soon as the Lord will let us. Why I heard a bid lot of shooting early this morning and I expect some dreadful work is going on.”
I told the frightened man, that no harm was done by the firing, but my assurance did not seem to lessen his terror (We did not know that the battle of Osawatomie was at this very moment making history for itself.)
After breakfast, my uncle buckled a sword, he had borrowed from Murphy, about his wast, and as
he was too lame to walk, mounted a horse, and we proceeded to the rendezvous. A number of new recruits met with us. Among these, Wm E. Bowker, and Edward Plummer of Indian Cr. They had no guns, and I think Plummer had told my uncle not long before, that he had never fired a gun off in his life. There were two extra guns, that found serviceable. Bowker was given a rifle; and an old single barreled shot gun, minus a ramrod, fell to the lot of Plummer. There was some trouble in finding another gun with a ramrod long enough to load it. Fisher officiously volunteered to attend to all these details. As he poured a lot of gunpowder in his hand he remarked: “I’ll put a socking good load in her.”
As he handled Plummer the gun and ammunition, he advised him to stay alongside the man with the long ramrod, in the coming battle, or he might not have a change to fire more than the one shot. He must have had a good gut, to be
willing to enter battle so handicapped, but Plummer was one of those quiet, steady boys that often make the best of soldiers.
“the Bull of the woods” did not put in an appearance. A happy riddance. But we waited in vain for sergeant Murphy. Downie came, secured his gun, and executed a flank movement to our left. The rest of us, moved forward to within 100 yards, and east of the Indianola bridge.
Here we halted at the road side. We were thirteen fighting men all told, and believed that we out-numbered the Pro-slavery party. Frank and Pete Friederling were both promptly onhand armed and equipped. They could serve as guides in the absence of Murphy.
There was a council of war, and privates as well as officers took part. It was decided to send in a summons for a return of the captured guns, before opening the engagement, (22.067) and Captain Cole was selected for that duty. Before
going he unbuckled his sword and I fastened it around my own waist for safe keeping.
There we waited by sitting on the ground just to the left of the old military road. But little was said. McNown was near me, and as I glanced at his new Navy revolver, I remarked:
“If Mack gets killed we’ll all be trying to get hold of that nice revolver.” McNown gave a short laugh as he replied:
“Why look here, I was just this minute thinking myself that if Reader should happen to get knocked over, there’d be a big tussel for that Sharpe’s rifle.”
But I had an inward feeling that there would be no fight that day, and expressed it by saying:
“I don’t believe any one of us is going to have his dinner spoiled for him today.”
Just then we heard the tramp of horses, and several of us sprang to our feet. Two or
three horsemen came by from the east. One was Jim KuyKendall, a very active pro-slavery man, and a noisy agitator. He was eldest son of old Judge Kuykendall of Calhoun; was a lawyer and fluent debater and was disfigured by the loss of an eye. As they rode silently past; Jim furtively scanned us with his solitary optic, and cast many a backward glance until a bend in the road concealed them from us.
“What in the world did you let those men go by for,” now exclaimed several of our party from the brush. “Don’t you know they’re going to help those fellows at Indianolda?”
“I’ll bet Jim Kuykendall and his brother had their six shooters in their pockets,” said another, “you fellows in the road ought to have stopped them!
But was too late to mend the matter now, and as our position was discovered by the enemy, we decided to move forward
and take possession of the bridge over Soldier Creek. At the east end of the bridge; just south of the road was Lawrence Murphy’s whisky saloon. Here we halted, and McNown said he would go across the bridge to the Milne Hotel, about 100 yards away, and allowed me to go with him.
McNown went inside, while I remained on the porch where I had a good view of the enemy, about 150 yards to the south west. Mr Captain Cole was on his horse earnestly talking to some of them, while others were walking about and excitedly flourishing their arms. Perry Fleshman had a musket with fixed bayonet, which he secured to handle as if it were a pitchfork. Some were in the log buildings but most of them were in the street. I stepped up to a porch post, and resting the Sharpe’s rifle against it, tried to see what kind of an aim I could get on them. A big man
named Wells, who had been staying at Milne’s for some weeks, was behind me, looking out the door.
“Do you think you could pick them off at that distance?” he asked. Before I could answer, some body cried out: “Look out there, what your doing. If they should see you, they might let flicker at you.”
I turned and saw young Fuller of Muddy Creek, who had just come to town on business. He was Free-state, but declined to have any part in our present difficulty. As for Wells, he was “on the fence,” and counted for nothing.
We saw Geo. Young riding out from the group of proslavery men, in our direction. Old man Murphy was following him, on foot. McNown and I went out, and met them.
“Why, hello Mack, what are you going to do with that gun?”
longingly inquired. Mr. Young.
“We intend to defend our rights,” replied McNown, “When a man’s house is broken into at night, and his arms taken from him, I think its high time we should do something.”
“This matter is gong to be settled” said young. And there’ll be no shooting, and nobody will be hurt.”
We had started for the bridge, and just then old Murphy (who was tipsy as a lord,) spied the sword buckled around my waist. He immediately seized it with both hands, and cried: “That’s Richard’s thword – pull it off, pull it off!”
I tried to shake the old man off, but he clung to me like the “Old man od the Sea,” insisting that he must have the sword then and there, and finally I unbuckeled it, and let it go. Without unsheathing it, he ran or staggered up to George Young,
and gave him a punch with the end of the scabbard, accompanied with a lot of drunken jabber. Young looked down at him, and with a laugh wrenched the weapon from his hands, and holding it aloft with its hanging straps, cried out to some of our men, who were now crossing the bridge in our direction.
“there’ll be no fight – They’ve surrendered – They’ve given up the sword!”
It was a happy turn, and young was soon smoothing waters to a peaceful issue. In the mean time I turned to Murphy and inquired why Sergeant Murphy had left us in the lurch. The old man was short of stature and had a funny lisp. Raising himself on his toes, as he clung to my arm, he answered in a loud stage whisper:
“Ah but Richard couldn’t come! Richard’s very drunk!”
Captain Cole now rode up, and after receiving his sword from Geo. Young, stated to us that the Fiederling boy’s guns would be returned to them, and that our services nto being further needed, for that time, we could return to our homes.
And so a bloody battle was probably averted; but retribution followed swift and sure, for Indianola was sacked, just 10 days afterwards. Within a day or two I met the Hon. Richard Murphy, 2 nd Sergeant Indianola Guards, etc, etc. He was profuse in his excuses for not joining his company, Saturday morning at our rendezvous.
“I’ll tell you just how it happened. When I got home that morning, I found that some campers had given me father a drink of whisky, and the old man was as tight ______ as _____”, (Here the sergeant lowered, and softened his voice as he added after a pause;) “hell. He wanted to go with me, but the thought of his appear
ing before you all in that condition, was more than I could endure. So after awhile I got him in the house, and fastened him in. But there was a spade in the house and he got ahold of it, and be George if he didn’t break down the door, and get out to me. Then I knew I couldn’t meet with you at all, and have you hear the old man’s abusive language. Dam’d if it didn’t un-man me, and after he started for town, I went out into the brush and cried half a day.”
As the gallant sergeant told me his tale of woe, he blinked his eyes, doubtless to shed a tear or two, but it seemed that he had wept the fountain dry, “out in the brush”. It was all so ludicrous, that I could hardly keep a straight face, but I managed to tell him that so far as I was concerned, it was all right, and especially so, since there was no fight.
Three years afterwards Murphy was drowned in the Red river and Frank Fiederling in Soldier creek near the Indianola bridge. Fisher may be still living, otherwise, I am the sole survivor of our little party of 13. Of the Proslavery crowd, opposed to us on that 30 th day of 1856 August 1856, all are dead, with the possible exception of Cherokee Riley, and young Kuykendall. In another fifty years, these events will be of the long forgotten past.
December 7, 1906