The Marais des Cynges Massacre
by William G. Cutler (1883)

The Marais des Cygnes Massacre

The following beautiful poem, written by John G. Whittier, was published in the Atlantic Monthly for September, 1858:


"A blush as of roses
Where rose never grew!
Great drops on the bunch grass,
But not of the dew!
A taint in the sweet air
for wild bees to shun!
A stain that shall never
Bleach out in the sun! "
Back, steed of the prairies!
Sweet song-bird, fly back!
Wheel hither, bald vulture!
Gray wolf, call thy pack!
The foul human vultures
Have feasted and fled;
The wolves of the Border
Have crept from the dead.
"In the homes of their rearing,
Yet warm with their lives, Ye
wait the dead only,
Poor children and wives!
Put out the red forge fire,
The smith shall not come;
Unyoke the brown oxen,
The plowman lies dumb.
"Wind slow from the Swan's Marsh,
O dreary death-train,
With pressed lips as bloodless
As lips of the slain!
Kiss down the young eyelids,
Smooth down the gray hairs;
Let tears quench the curses
That burn through your prayers.
"From the hearths of their cabins,
The fields of their corn,
Unwarned and unweaponed,
The victims were torn -
By the whirlwind of murder
Swooped up and swept on
To the low, reedy fen-lands,
The Marsh of the Swan.
"With a vain plea for mercy
No stout knee was crooked;
In the mouths of the rifles
Right manly they looked.
How paled the May sunshine,
Green Marais du Cygne,
When the death-smoke blew
over Thy lonely ravine.
"Strong man of the prairies,
Mourn bitter and wild!
Wail, desolate woman!
Weep, fatherless child!
But the grain of God springs up
From ashes beneath,
And the crown of His harvest
Is life out of death.
"Not in vain on the dial
The shade moves along
To point the great contrasts
Of right and of wrong;
Free homes and free altars
And fields of ripe food; The
reeds of the Swan's marsh,
Whose bloom is of blood.
"On the lintels of Kansas
That blood shall not dry,
Henceforth the Bad Angel
Shall harmless go by;
Henceforth to the sunset,
Unchecked on her way,
Shall liberty follow
The march of the day."

The Massacre
Kansas from 1854 - 1861 was the scene of a bitter struggle to determine whether the territory should enter the Union as a free or a slave state. The principle of popular sovereignty embodied in the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which created the territory, provided that this decision should be made by a vote of the people. Consequently, free-state and proslavery adherents became rivals for majority control, and strife and bad feelings resulted.

Numerous instances of lawlessness occurred. Men were attacked, beaten, and occasionally killed, often for no reason except their views on slavery. In Linn and Bourbon Counties, on the eastern Kansas border, raids were frequently carried on by opposing factions.

This situation continued through 1857 and 1858. On one occasion a leader of the free-state group rode into Trading Post, which had become a rendezvous for a proslavery gang, and--so the story goes--cleaned out the headquarters by dumping several barrels of corn whiskey into the road. Then he notified the proslavery people to leave the territory. No one was hurt and no property was destroyed, except the whiskey.

A leader of the proslavery faction was Charles Hamilton, a native of Georgia who had come to the border area in 1855 to help make Kansas Territory a slave state. After Hamilton and his friends were forced to leave, he is reported to have sent back word to other proslavery sympathizers "to come out of the territory at once, as we are coming up there to kill snakes, and will treat all we find there as snakes." Shortly thereafter he kept his word.

On May 19, 1858, some thirty men under Hamilton's leadership crossed into Kansas. They arrived at Trading Post in the morning and then set out on the road back toward Missouri, capturing eleven free-state men along the way. None of these men was armed, and it was said that none had taken part in the fighting. Most were former neighbors of Hamilton and had no thought that he meant to do them serious harm. However, they were hurried along and into a defile surrounded by the mounds that characterize the area. There they were herded into line, and Hamilton's men formed another line on the side of the ravine.

To his men in line, Hamilton gave the order to fire, sending off the first shot himself. The victims fell. Then Hamilton dismounted his firing squad to finish the job with pistols.

Five free-state men were killed; Hamilton and his gang departed swiftly for Missouri. Only one of them paid the official penalty for the crime; William Griffith of Bates County, Missouri, was arrested in the spring of 1863 and hanged October 30. Hamilton returned to Georgia, where he died in 1880.

Intense excitement followed the massacre. The nation was horrified, and John Greenleaf Whitter wrote a poem on the murder, "Le Marais du Cygne," which appeared in the September 1858 Atlantic Monthly.

Locally, wrathful indignation accompanied feelings of shock. John Brown, arriving at the scene toward the end of June, built a "fort" some 220 yards south of the ravine. It was reported to have been two stories high, walled up with logs and with a flat roof. Water from a spring ran through the house and into a pit at the southwest corner.

The land on which the fort was built belonged to Eli Snider, a blacksmith. Later he sold it to Brown's friend Charles C. Hadsall, who agreed to let Brown occupy it for military purposes. Brown and his men withdrew at the end of the summer, leaving the fort to Hadsall.

In later years Hadsall built a stone house adjoining the site of Brown's fort, enclosing the spring within the walls of the first floor. In 1941 the Kansas legislature authorized acceptance of the massacre site, including Hadsall's house, as a gift to the state from the Pleasanton Post, Veterans of Foreign Wars. In 1961 it provided funds for the restoration of the building, and in 1963 the entire property was turned over to the Kansas State Historical Society for administration. A museum was established in the upper floor of the building in 1964.

The Aftermath
The ravine in which the massacre was committed is one-half mile from the State line, one mile west of "Spy Mound," in Missouri, and three fourths of a mile north of "Hay Stack Mound," in Kansas. It is on the northwest quarter of Fractional Section 26, Township 20, Range 25 east. This fractional quarter section is now owned by C. C. Hadsall, who bought it of Capt. Eli Snyder and Capt. John Brown, paying therefor $550 in cash. The bill of sale was written by John Brown, dated about July 25, 1858, and reserved to Cap. Brown the right to occupy the claim for "military purposes," as long as he desired. The right to military occupancy appears to have been the only claim Old John Brown had upon the land, the right to the property vesting in Capt. Snyder.

It was here that John Brown built a cabin for himself, during the summer of 1858, after the massacre. It stood near the Snyder's blacksmith shop, in which he was attacked by Capt. Hamilton. The cabin was a two-story one, with a flat roof, 14x18 feet in size, of hewed hickory and pecan logs, about six inches in diameter, banked up with rocks and dirt to the height of four feet, as a defense against small arms, and with a stream of water running through it from a spring.

The Marais des Cygnes Memorial Association was organized May 19, 1878, with Hon. James D. Snoddy, President, and R. B. Bryan, Secretary. The object of the association is" to erect a memorial structure near the Trading Post, Linn County, Kan., at the graves of the victims of the Marais des Cygnes massacre, May 19, 1858, and in commemoration of their sufferings for, devotion to, and heroism in, the cause of Liberty in Kansas."

On the 17th of June, after the massacre, a meeting was held at the Trading Post, at which Gov. Denver was present. The governor agreed to station Maj. Weaver in the county, with a force of sixty men to protect the border. An agreement to keep the peace was drawn up and signed by both parties. Montgomery was present and made the following address:

"I have accepted the olive branch. To-day I came from home without my rifle - the first time for months. I have been charged with foulest crimes; but you all know my acts. I have done nothing under a bushel. If any man asserts that I have disturbed one peaceable citizen, I deny the charge and defy the proof. If any assert that I have abused or insulted a woman, I deny the charge and defy the proof. I have said I never would be tried at Fort Scott, and I never will. No Free State man could hope for justice there; but I trust we are now to have honest courts in our own county. If so, I pledge my honor to answer promptly any indictment. I will obey every legal process; stand my trial, and abide the issue."

Charles A. Hamilton, the murderous hero of the Trading Post, or Marais des Cygnes, massacre, upon the borders of Eastern Kansas, was the eldest son of an eminent and wealthy physician, Dr. Thomas Hamilton, of Cass County, Ga. Charles A. was educated in the High School of Cassville, Ga., and at the University of Georgia, at Athens. Dr. Thomas Hamilton being a man of large wealth, brought up his sons in accordance with his circumstances.

Charles A. Hamilton was of a reckless disposition, fond of fine stock, fast horses and horse-racing. In the year 1856 occurred an incident which changed the current of his life. This was the advent of Milton McGee, of Kansas City, Mo., in Cass County, Ga., in the interests of the Pro-slavery party of Kansas, for the purpose of raising money to make Kansas a Slave State. Mr. McGee delivered an address in Cassville, and as one result of that address, Dr. Thomas Hamilton contributed $1,000 in cash, paying the money to Mr. McGee.

The cause of the Pro-slavery party in Kansas, as represented by McGee, so enlisted the sympathies of Charles A. Hamilton and his brother, George Peter, that they immediately raised a select party of young men to go to Kansas, and devote their personal efforts to the cause. Upon their arrival in that State, George Peter established his headquarters in Fort Scott, and endeavored there to carry out a plan of proscription against such men as George A. Crawford, C. Dimon and other Free-State men.

Charles A. Hamilton settled in Linn County, taking up a claim hear the Trading Post, and after, and ostensibly because of the failure of the Lecompton Constitution, declared that if slaveholders could not live in Kansas and hold slaves, Abolitionists should not live there either, made up a list of about one hundred Free-State men, whom he proscribed and intended to massacre by installments, and on the 19th of May, 1858, commenced the execution of his plan by committing the horrible massacre which is fully detailed elsewhere in this volume.

This fiendish crime so aroused the people and the Government of the Territory that neither of the Hamiltons could afterward live in Kansas. They therefore, shortly afterward, returned to Georgia. Soon after this, George Peter removed to Mississippi, and was killed during the war of the rebellion. Charles A. Hamilton lived upon a farm in Cass County, and then in Floyd County until 1859. Becoming very much in debt, he made application to the courts for permission to take advantage of the benefits of the State Insolvent Act, and immediately after being released from arrest migrated to the vicinity of Waco, Tex.

Here remained until the breaking-out of the war, when he entered the rebel army as a Colonel, and served during the war in Virginia, under Gen. Lee. At the close of the war he returned to Texas, and about the year 1876, he returned to Georgia, settling in Jones County. From this county he was selected to the State Legislature, and toward the close of the year 1880 he died of apoplexy. His father, Dr. Thomas A. Hamilton, died at Rome, Ga., in the latter part of the year 1859. His eldest sister married Theodore Cuyler, a brother of ------- Cuyler, at one time President of the Georgia Central Railroad, and his youngest sister married John Freeman, a wealthy farmer of Floyd County. Algernon Sidney Hamilton, the youngest of the family, never went to Kansas. He was killed during the war. The whole family, father, mother, sons and daughters were far superior in mental endowments and personal beauty to the average of mankind.

The Hanging of Russell Hinds. - This act was performed on or about November 12, 1860. The hanging was done by a party of nine men, under command of C. R. Jennison, and was probably done for the purpose of terrorizing the Pro-slavery citizens of the county, as Samuel Scott, a leading Pro-slavery man, and wealthy citizen of Scott Township, was hanged by the same party, either the day before or the day after the hanging of Hinds, and an attempt was made to capture and hang John W. Garrett, of Potosi Township, about the same time. But the pretext for hanging Hinds was that he had apprehended and returned to his master a fugitive slave, for the sake of the reward ($25). The law under which he was hanged, is found in Exodus, xxi 16, "and he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death."

The hanging took place on Mine Creek, in the timber near the State line. Montgomery was not present, but appears to have approved of it, as he wrote the following note of the occurrence, and handed it to Judge Hanway for the Judge's information:

"Russ Hinds, hung the 12th day of November, 1860, for man stealing. He was a drunken border ruffian, worth a great deal to hand, but good for nothing else. He had caught a fugitive slave, and carried him back to Missouri for the sake of a reward. He was condemned by a jury of twelve men, the law being found in the 16th verse of Exodus, xxi."

A number of others were tried for the same crime of "man stealing," but as it could not be proved that they had succeeded, and as they each took an oath never again to engage in the unchristian business, they were released.

The hanging of Hinds and these subsequent proceedings created a profound sensation throughout the country. To render the fugitive slave law a nullity was denounced as the worst kind of treason; but, notwithstanding, the law became henceforth a dead letter in the border tier of counties. And in order to give the proceedings of the Jayhawkers some degree of respectability and dignity, a convention was held at Mound City, December 8, which passed resolutions justifying the hanging of Russell Hinds and Samuel Scott, and the shooting of L. D. Moore.

In returning the slave to his master, the truth seems to be that John O. Turner, at the present time a respected farmer of Linn County, was more culpable than Hinds. The slave had left his master, who lived near Pleasant Gap, Mo., and stopped at Mr. Turner's house for shelter. Here he remained two or three days, Mr. Turner trying to persuade him to return to his master, who was a personal friend of Mr. Turner. At length either with or without the assistance of Mr. Hinds, he prevailed upon the fugitive to return, and he and Hinds accompanied him to his master's house. The reward was tendered, but neither Turner nor Hinds would accept it. Hinds however, did accept $5 as a reimbursement for expenses.

Jennison's party arrested Hinds about two miles east of where Pleasanton now stands, and on the way to the place of execution met Mr. Turner, with his team and wagon about three-fourths of a mile north of his house. Jennison did not know Turner, but a few of his men did; and, being Masons, advised him by signs not to reveal his indentity (sic). Hinds, although knowing his own fate, and knowing that Turner was more guilty than himself of the crime for which he was about to be hanged, kept perfectly quiet, and so the interview between Jennison and Turner ended without the former learning who the latter was; otherwise, Turner would have accompanied Hinds to that bourne whence no traveler returns.

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