Capt. Thomas Bickerton of Lawrence.
I am a native of Maine. Aged 40 yrs of age. I am a widower. Have no children: both wife & children dead. Died before I came here. Having no ties to bind me anywhere, concluded to come to Kansas. I am a machinest by trade. I followed the Sea from the age of 13 up till about 30 yrs. Of age. I then went into the machine shop of Ross Winans of Baltimore after having worked one year at Simpson’s at suction pumps. After having worked at Winan’s 15 mo. I talked of leaving & was told if I would remain I could have work as long as there was work to be had & at
regular wages. In the summer of 47 I went to Portland to work in the Machine Shop of the Portland Co. The shop not being ready I went mackerel catching for 7 weeks & did well. I then went on to Boston as the Portland Co was not ready & went to work in the Boston & Worcester machine Co. Shop: worked until 49 & then went round Cape Horn to California. Left in May, 49 & arrived at San Francisco in Octr. 49. I went into a Co & put $150. in the vessel: this I recd back from the sale, & so my passage cost only labor of working it. Went straight to the mines. Made $900 the first winter: got the rheumatism working in the river Yuba: worked cutting a canal across a bend of the river: The water is very cold, snow water from the mountains: We would work in it until our legs were blue. Finally I got to having pains in my loins & the company broke up & I worked around a while afterwards, but thinking I was likely to be sick concluded to return home before my money was run out. Returned by the Nicaragua route. Remained at Grenada 6 mo. At one time I could scarcely walk across the floor. At this time I carved figureheads made sails: carved figures for the Churches. Afterward when I got so I could go about I shot birds & preserved them. sent them to the Fremont Temple Boston where they got burnt up. Afterwards commanded a little schooner on Lake Nicaragua: employed by Dr. Segur. At that time there was no Transit Co. of any note. Reached Boston in July 51. Went to work again at Locomotive works. In fall of 52 married & had twins. My wife died in fall of 53 – one child was still born. The other died in summer of 54 – After my wife died I went to Portland where my child lived with its grandmother. Then I taught drawing of Evenings & worked at my trade of days. After my child died I could not contain myself & so in March 20 1855 I started from Boston with a company for Kansas. We came up the Missouri & on the way talked of the Election coming off & said if we were in time we should vote. Arrived at Kansas City 3rd April.
We came up to Lawrence. My claim is just one mile South of Wakefields. At that time there were no houses. We had been told we could get work here. I bought some stuff at St Louis & made a tent on the boat. I persuaded some of the others to do so & helped them. Four of us picked out claims adjoining each other 7 miles from Lawrence. All were married except myself. Two had brought their families. The one who did not, became discouraged & went back. I had only $88.00. I let one family who had no tent stay in mine until they could get a house built & helped them build it of wood logs. After their house was up I took my tent on to my own claim. We helped each other the best way we could; we were all poor. I charged nothing for what I did for my neighbors & would not have taken any thing. I bought a bag of [xxx] [xxx] bread & a spade to cut the turf with & went to work & made a sod house with walls 2 feet thick & a sod chimney. The way I made my house was this. I stretched a line & laid up the sod as a mason would lay up bricks. I cut my sod by line & measure very exact, dividing the sod into 1 x 2 feet & laying them up so as to break joints one course of sod crosswise & the other lengthwise & after getting up a couple of feet I drove hickory nitches about 2 feet apart first sharpening the end. I laid round sticks of hickory about 3 ½ or 4 in diameter on top of the sod walls & pinned them fast: these sticks when they formed or supported the gable ends were laid in a series side by side 2 ft in width forming at one end the top of the fire place & over the door. The only trouble is the mice dig hole in it. This house is good now after standing 20 months while others have fallen down: it is warm & comfortable. The floor is of clay. I wet it & sprinkled it over with ashes & hammered it down hard. The roof is double pitch with a ridge pole & covered with clapboard about 3 ft in length rough split, from 7 to 3 in width. these were laid lapping. I hired a man to break up 6 acres of ground & planted with corn chopping it in with an axe I went & bargained for stuff enough to make pickets & drove them into the ground: pickets about 5 ½ ft long.
driven in about a foot & about a foot apart (too wide though) I then split out thin rails, rived out & split with a “fro” which I nailed on to the top. I with a spade mellowed up the ground & planted potatoes one bushel. By this time I had got through my money & I thought now something must be done. My things would grow without me I knew & I had my ground fenced so the cattle could not get in. I heard there was work to be had up at Ft Riley & so to get there I dug a cellar for a neighbor [xxx] to & baked some bread & put it in a bag & with a shirt or two, blanket & coat buckled it on my back & started telling my neighbor Barber (Robert) (Thomas was [xxx] ) – to look after my things that if I got good pay I would stay till later in the fall. I traveled 30 miles the first day which was in the month of August, & slept at the Baptist Mission. The next night I slept in a hay stack at an indians on the Vermillyon. The next night at Juniata on the Big Blue & the next day in the afternoon I was at Ft Riley. I worked here until the 15th of Novr. for government. I applied to Mr Sawyer boss over the whole. He asked what I could do. I told him any kind of machine work. He said there was nothing of that kind to do. I said I see you are quarrying & tackling for derricks. I am a sailor & can do that. He said there was nothing of that kind to do. I then said I must have work of some kind as I was out of money. He sent me down to the Mill to Mr Merryman. I took the place of fireman to the engines. The engine had not been put up right. They did not understand metallic packing & the valve was not set right. I took hold & made it all right. This saw mill was on the Republican fork. There was another mill on the Smoky fork. At that one they run the engine night & day with 2 engines. They neglected to oil the valve & it cut into the face of the cylinder wasting more than ½ of the steam: so they shut down & were going to give up altogether. A man by the name of Vogdis was boss over the mill under Sawyer. Sawyer told him a man had come to him saying he was a machinist go to him & see if he can do anything towards fixing it. I went over & found they had a spare valve so I went to work & chipped down the face of
the cylinder & filed it level & smooth & fitted the valve. It took me 3 days & I got $3.00 pr day for this. I then went back to my work, first having set the engine at work with plenty of steam: it was not necessary now to keep up such tremendous fires as no steam was wasted. Vogdis brought Sawyer to look at it saying it had never gone so well since he had know it.
Afterward Vogdis came over & said Sawyer wanted me to take charge of one watch at $90.00 pr month & rations. I arrive at Lawrence in Nov. with $108.00 pd all my debts & returned to my house. I then went up to Benicia & worked 3 days at a mill. I then went home again and learned that trouble was threatened at Lawrence so with my revolver I started down to town. Here I learned that Lane wanted somebody to go down to Kansas City & bring up a brass howitzer. A young man named Sumner David Ruffians (afterward shot) and another Ruffian, a cousin I believe to David went with me. These fellows came very near getting us all into trouble. They wanted to shoot hogs on the road & in one instance another man’s dog, which would have attracted attention to us & caused us to be watched.
After getting the cannon too they wanted to go up by way of Westport & across the Delaware ferry. I opposed this & crossed near Kansas City over to the Wyandotte side of the Kaw pretending to go to Atchison. Our mare was blind & in getting off the flat boat got into the water. I knew it would not do to unload or we would be exposed at once, so I sung out to the Missourians & indians who had gathered on the shore to take hold of a rope fast to the waggon & haul it up the bank which they did. We travelled all night. The others wanted to stop until morning but I told them it wouldn’t do: and it was lucky we went on for we had’nt been in Lawrence more than ½ an hour before the enemy had their lines stretched right across the river & across the road we had come over. A troop of cavalry from Lawrence were sent up to guard us in. They met us down by Sicoxies. Ruffians saw them coming & thought they were Missourians. I was riding along on the waggon, bobbing & bobbing
my head with sleep for you see we were all tired, slept none all night. Says Ruffian, says he, here comes horsemen, what are we to do? Says I, pull your revolvers & let em have it: because if they take us, were sure to be hung & we may as well kill all we can before we go. But as we got nearer I saw some faces that I knew & it was all right. As we were coming into Lawrence the people all set up a shout for the Cavalry. We poor fellows who had done all the work, they never noticed at all. Well its all the same thousand years hence.
Testimony continued of Thos. H. Bickerton. Friday Decr. 12, 1856
When I arrived with the howitzer Thos. Barber, Robt. Barber & Thos. Pearson were just going out home to get some wood & water for the women folk & to return. Thos. Barber had no arms. Robt. borrowed my navy revolver saying I would not need it. I then went into the trenches, throwing up breastworks to defend the city. I had no gun but wanted one the worst king: there were plenty of others in the same fix. Lane wanted an artillery co. formed & they placed me in command. After this peac of Shannon’s fixing up I left for home & boarded with Robt. Barber after the murder of his brother. The weather was so awful cold people could do nothing except get out a few miles. Troubles came in the Spring again & ground that had been ploughed the year before remained unplanted, so that in this vicinity not over ¼ was planted compared with what would have been done. My corn stand in the field had to be left out all winter & plenty of others like me. One half of this was lost by prairie hens & in various [xxx]. The garden seed sent from the East was too old & came to nothing. In the Spring I hired good ploughs [xxx] to dig out of this falls crop. Then we were going first rate, this [xxx] in August, I had corn & chickens & potatoes & beets in the garden. I had come down & sold a load of corn that day the corn which had stood out all winter & [xxx] [xxx] from Lawrence
Grover called out that there was a job under weigh that night, that these fellows at Franklin were getting too strong & would soon be so that we could do nothing with them unless they were routed now. I should have previously stated that in the Spring of 56 that is in May of this year, Jones came in to make arrests & the people all agreed that arrest might be made, but our arms would not be given up. They were talking of boxing up the Howitzer. The Howitzer was in the cellar of G. W. Hutchinson’s house at this time. John Hutchinson & Col. Topliff were present at this time. They were the ones who proposed boxing it & to have my artillery co. to defend it with small arms: seeming not to be afraid of firing on the Marshall with little weapons, but that it would not do to use the cannon against him: just like a Nantucket boat steerer who always wants to hit a whale easy lest it should madden him. I told them that if I [xxx] be left in charge of that thing that I would have it loaded & primed & all ready with a watch in my hand & the Co. in there: and that I would lay a [xxx] train under the floor in the clay: so if the Marshall came & knocked at the door I would [xxx] [xxx] in [xxx] [xxx] & see if there is anybody [xxx] [xxx] & take them: but we are a private co. & there are [xxx] private [xxx] [xxx] mustn’t touch them: and if he & his [xxx] should attempt to create any disturbance, we would just fire [xxx] [xxx] saying gentlemen you cant [xxx] the whole street is undermined! & so in the confusion & dirt & smoke kicked up by firing the train, we would escape out of the back door with the Howitzer: & These [xxx] as they rushed up into the street were to be popped off by one man from the [xxx] [xxx], none of our folks being out of their houses.
They agreed to adopt this. My artillery Co number about 18 men all well drilled so that we could fire 5 times in a minute & told them of our arrangement, & told them I didn’t want anybody to come unless they were willing to fire upon Marshall or even the Pres. of the U.S. if they came there to disturb us: That we were to go into the arrangement with the understanding that we were not to be beat: it was conquer or die: so we got 9 out of the whole lot. After this arrangement was all made [xxx] [xxx] Roberts met us the next morning & told us it would be resisting the U.S. authority & they (the Safety Committee) had concluded not to resist them. When I heard that says I gentlemen I’ll go out home: you can give up the howitzer
just as well without me as with me.
After I left the howitzer was taken to the next house, portions of the foundation wall remained & the cannon secreted there, the wall being just up again. This howitzer was a few days afterward delivered up to Sheriff Jones by Genl. Pomeroy who ever since has gone by the name of the “Safety Valve.”
The [xxx] were very much [xxx] at the corner of the Safety Committee & [xxx] to me to take the howitzer & go off South & establish [xxx] [xxx] this was impossible for much of [xxx] [xxx]. The Hotel was destroyed 21 May 1856. After this the county was chock full of these devilish fellows going about & helping themselves to horses saying they were ordered by Shannon to take our horses for the use of the Sentinel troops of which they were a part. They were bound to destroy Walkers house: he had wind of & sent to the neighbors who all met there: Walker had some of the men stationed in the ravine. By & by, about 12 0’clock in the night, these devils came along all in a body & rode right up to Walkers house: as soon as they began to dismount one man began to fire on them. One horse was killed, but none of the ruffians who all fled at the first fire except several prisoners who were taken. In the morning they were let go: these fellows of course became [xxx] [xxx]. That’s the way our people always did. Shannon’s & these fellows came in a few days to Walkers house & compelled Mr. Walker to remove. Walker concealed himself at my house: his house was left as a trap for a time to catch [xxx] [xxx] & subsequently [xxx] at the time of Wakefields [xxx]. Shannon with the U.S. went about robbing our people of their arms: This was the time Shannon went to Mrs Hazleton’s & threatened that “if she didn’t tell where her husband was he would cut her damned heart out of her” This [xxx] [xxx] so drunk as to be scarcely able to speak. We were after this left in comparative peace until the assembly of our Legislature at Topeka. Marshall Donelson read the Pres. Proclamation to the people outside who told him they had nothing to do with it. We suspected a Mr James Fenton a Methodist preacher who was a member of the Legislature of being [xxx] & so a com of 3 was appointed to wait on him to request him to go in & take his seat: but he would’nt “saying he had heard the Pres. Proclamation & that was enough for him”. This fellow has since been found guilty of handing in the
names of our free State people to the Judiciary to get out writs against them. He has been recently waited on & whipped & 10 days given him in which to leave the county. He entertained Titus & went [xxx] pointing out free state people & [xxx] Hazletons house.
As I was saying, I was half way home after selling my corn when Grover rode out on the California road after me. My artillery co. was in existence but we had no cannon. Grover said there was a 6 pounder up at Franklin & we must have it to operate on Titus’ house.
Robert Barber & Thos. Parker were with me or rather I was with them as I had no team of my own: so I left there & came back on foot to Lawrence with Grover. I met Wm. Hutchison when I came into town who told me to come up stairs with him & he would show me a man from the States named “Cook.” I went up & who should I see but Lane. This was the 11th of August. The Franklin affair was kept secret from the people: they thought when they saw us going that we were going out by the Church to drill by moonlight. When we got up near to Franklin who should come along but this “[xxx]” on horseback & made himself known to the boys. They were very much [xxx] with seeing Lane & seemed now to think that everything would go right.
[a hand drawn diagram showing position of Block house, Post office, hotel, stable and men]
We were there firing away for several hours uselessly. Lane occasionally sent to know what we were doing & told us to blaze away. Finally I got tired of lying there especially as I had nothing but a pistol. So I went over to Cracklin behind the stibb & told him something must be done as it was useless to waste ammunition any longer. I proposed getting some hay & setting fire to them. Caleb Pratt and Fuller volunteered to go with and each with an armful of hay. So we
went around to the end of the hotel on the [xxx]thinking there were no windows
there where they could see us. But just as we got within reach of their guns
they begun to fire on us. So we got a wagon from a neighbor & filled it
& dragged it to the front of the P. O & set fire to it. We had to draw
the wagon up instead of pushing it ahead of us. Pretty soon after the fire got
going we heard a great cry from within of “quarters, quarters.”
I called out to our men to stop firing. I asked for some one to go with me &
[xxx] in the door. Fuller told me to lead & he would follow. When we burst
in the door we found the soldiers had run through the hotel& escaped mostly.
Mrs. Grove whose husband kept the P. O. begged “Oh! don’t shoot
my husband, don’t shoot him!” One of our men exclaimed “He
deserves to die, he’s a great villain!”
“I know it & that’s just the reason I don’t want him shot!” We didn’t intend to do any violence to him as that kind of work was always done by the other side.
Our men I am ashamed to say were so eager over the way in gutting Craves store that I could hardly get any of them to help me in taking the cannon out of the blockhouse which was the first thing I asked. The P. O. was not disturbed. The P.M. opened it for me & watched by my request to see that nothing was disturbed. I went in only to see if any arms or powder was there. Found no cartridges & only 5 balls. Got the cannon on to its carriage & brought it to Lawrence: Placed it in a cellar in the face of the hill at Mr Rice. Mrs Rice, her husband & the two or three others I found with him, made them hold up their right hand & all swear not to divulge what they had seen that [xxx]. I [xxx] went to work & made a [xxx] for a ball & in there was no lead in the place & we had no way of making them of [xxx] we had to take [xxx] tape of the Herald of Freedom.