Saturday, August 12, 2017

The naming of Butler County, Kansas

Kansas was quick to build one-room school houses to educate its children. Butler County was the same.

Homestead claims were generally 160 acres and four families could be found in a square mile. Large families created a need for one-room schools and it was a common sight in the 1860's and 70's to see children walking barefooted or riding a horse bareback, a mile or two to school. At first, the school house walls were simple plaster, stone, or log. Later, when time and money allowed, formal structures were built and the wall were papered with wallpaper. Always, one would find hanging an American flag, a map of the United States, and a picture of the first president of the United States, George Washington, along with one of the late Prsident Abraham Lincoln.

Nowhere, would one find a picture of Andrew Pickens Butler.

The Kansas Territory was battleground for Abolitionists and slaveholders. Conflicts erupted between Free-staters and Border Ruffians, so that between 1854 and the beginning of the Civil War, Kansas Territory was known as Bleeding Kansas.

Andrew Pickens Butler, (US gov. photo)

Butler County, being in the southern regions of Kansas Territory and primarily a reserve for the Osage and Cherokee tribes avoided most of the troubles associated with Bleeding Kansas. An odd settler and his family entered the area prior to the Civil War, but it was not until after the war that real settlement took place. Chelsea was the county seat before it was moved to El Dorado.

Butler County was named for Senator Andrew Pickens Butler of South Carolina (1796 - 1857), who co-authored with Stephen A. Douglas the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Butler advocated on behalf of slaveholders and states rights. The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the repeal of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 set the stage for Bleeding Kansas and eventually, the Civil War.

Butler is also best remembered for an event that took place in his absence. In May of 1856, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, gave a speech titled the "Crime Against Kansas", abusing Butler personally, along with Senator Douglas, and the entire state of South Carolina. The speech can be found online.

In temperatures exceeding 90 degrees, the six foot two inch Senator from Massachusettes waxed on and on, as most senate speeches of the time did. In part he called the Senator from South Carolina a Don Quixote, a deluded knight believing himself chivalrous who is in bed with a harlot called slavery. Senator Douglas, he called, a squire, Pancho to Butler's Don Quixote.

Two days later on the floor of Congress, fellow South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks, a relative of Butler, beat Sumner on the Senate floor with a gutta-percha cane while fellow South Carolina Rep. Laurence Keitt brandished a pistol and held off other senators from coming to Sumner's aid. Sumner survived the attack but it was 3 years before he could return to the senate. Brooks was tried in the District of Columbia for the assault and convicted, then fined $300. Brooks resigned his seat in congress and re-elected by an enthusiastic South Carolina electorate who sent him canes to replace his broken and shattered one.

It was the "Bogus Legislature," of 1855, Kansas Territory's first governing body, which was given the right to name many counties on behalf of southern politicians. Thus, Butler was given its name, but also  Davis, Wise, Lykins, Douglass, Jefferson, Calhoun, Bourbon, Breckinridge. Franklin. Weller, Anderson, Dorn, McGee and Godfrey counties. Many of these names were later changed, but some remained.

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