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Confederate forces burn Humboldt, Texas

Posted on Friday, October 13, 2017 at 11:41 am

The burning of Lawrence, Kansas in 1863 by Quantrill’s raiders has always been the highlight of Kansas history during the Civil War. However, Lawrence was not the first town burned during the war and little attention has been gleaned in the history of the war in Southeast Kansas, especially in Humboldt, Allen County, Kansas. Humboldt is located about 95 miles southwest of Kansas City.

Perched on the cliffs of the Neosho River, Humboldt was settled in 1857 by German immigrants through the financial support of the abolitionists of the Massachusetts Immigrant Aid Society of Boston. In 1854 Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska act which opened settlement to Kansas and left the decision to the voters to determine if it would be a slave or free state.

At the time the Kansas Territory was under the control of Southern sympathizers and on its eastern border the State of Missouri, a slave state and on the south by Indian Territory of the Cherokees and Creeks, who were also slave owners. The border wars were triggered by the settlement of Kansas and a hotbed of turmoil.

The abolitionists literally came in and overthrew the territorial Federal government, which would be considered an act of treason and established a new government. To make matters worse these same men were forming railroad companies and establishing their sights on running railroads from Lawrence, Leavenworth and other northern locations to the Gulf of Galveston Bay, Texas. They made little secret of their intentions and ran ads in northern Kansas newspapers of their intentions in 1854 of using southern commodities to purchase at a cheap rate for their venture to be shipped to many destinations through these connections to the western building of the transcontinental railroad that was already in the process of being built through to Kansas in its northern counties.

Humboldt was strategically chosen for its central location to Indian Territory and treaties were already being made with the Cherokee Indians to run through their lands long before the war. The ads were very specific about obtaining cheap lumber from Arkansas which was also had southern leanings.

There is little doubt this further infuriated the South after being exploited by these same northern men and when Kansas became a state on January 29, 1861 it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and we all know what happened next. It is my conjecture that Kansas entering the Union as a free state was the final catalyst that triggered the war in April. These plans made it imperative they didn’t lose the war, it meant millions of acres of land were up for grabs and tons of money to be made.

Kansas Senator, James Henry Lane, is a well known dubious character in Kansas history and was among those who participated, including well -known Jayhawker, Charles R. Jennison, in all of these actions for personal gain. Also involved was John Brown, Jr., son of old John Brown of Harper’s Ferry fame and Daniel Anthony, brother of Susan B. Anthony. Lane was friends with some of the early settlers of Humboldt and is well known for his “Jayhawking” into Missouri which eventually led to Lawrence being burned in 1863, but it wasn’t the first town to be burned, Humboldt was raided and burned in 1861 by Confederate forces. Two of the main characters he was friends with in Humboldt were Orlin Thurston and Watson Stewart, both early settlers in Humboldt. What I thought was so interesting is why this small hamlet in no man’s land was chosen as a target by the Confederate forces. What reason could there be for these attacks to a seemingly innocent population here. In the last few years I have uncovered previously unknown details about some of the citizens of Humboldt which eventually led to its demise on the evening of October 14, 1861.

Before any troops were mustered officially in Kansas, Lane took it upon himself to appoint Orlin Thurston as a Colonel for the 7th Kansas State Militia made up of men from Allen and Woodson counties in 1861. The reason it makes it so difficult to track the men involved is because there are no official records for these militia regiments in the Federal or Kansas records, therefore hiding their involvement in the Jayhawking with Lane and Jennison.

My first discovery was a discharge of another early settler in the German settlement, Charles Fussman. He was a tinner by trade and had positioned himself with a business on the corner of the town square at 8th and Bridge Streets. His business and home were burned to the ground. This discharge reads as follows:

7th Regiment Kansas State Militia
enlisted 31 Aug 1861

This certifies that the within named Charles Fussman a private of Captain Dornberg Company (who was a doctor here) of the 7th Regiment of Kansas State Militia who volunteered at Humboldt in Allen county State of Kansas August 31, 1861, to repel an invasion of Kansas by General Rains and is now honorably discharged by reason of the retreat of the secession army. The said Charles Fussman has pay due from that time to the present date. There is due him from the U.S. the sum of six and 50/100 dollars.

Given in duplicate at Barnesville this 14th day of September 1861
Orlin Thurston, Col. Commanding
James H Lane, Commanding Kansas Brigade

Barnesville, Kansas is in Bourbon County close to Ft. Scott, and east of Humboldt about 40 miles, was the site of military camps for stretches of time during the war. The first mention of a camp there came from a report written on September 4, 1861, by Sen. James Lane. This was during the time Lane had evacuated Fort Scott and moved his forces to areas north of that post. A post was established at Barnesville. Lane wrote to Capt. W. E. Prince, then commanding Fort Leavenworth, “I am holding Barnesville . . . with an irregular force of about 250 men, stationed in log buildings, and am now strengthening their position with earth entrenchments.”

The book “Jayhawkers: The Civil War Brigade of James Henry Lane” by Bryce Benedict – 2012, reveals the Battle of Drywood, Missouri. “pg 74 Jayhawkers

Lane dispatched a rider to Jennison with orders to bring forward his men from Barnesville, Kansas. Jennison arrived Monday morning, all the available cavalry from the regiments of Montgomery, Weer, and Johnson were already out in pursuit of the raiders, together with Moonlight’s howitzer and Harris Greeno’s company of home guards. The rebels were overtaken inside Missouri at Drywood Creek.
pg 76
Although Lane lacked the authority to do so, he called for the Kansas militia to take the field. Colonel Orlin Thurston’s Seventh Regiment Kansas State Militia, from Allen and Woodson counties, responded.”

The Battle of Dry Wood Creek (also known as the Battle of Big Dry Wood Creek or the Battle of the Mules) was fought on September 2, 1861 in Vernon County, Missouri. Federal losses were 14 men. Missouri State Guard losses were 4 killed and 16 wounded, all in Brigadier General James S. Rains’ Eighth Division, Missouri State Guard. The battle site is just south of Deerfield, Missouri, on Highway 54 between Nevada, Missouri and Fort Scott, Kansas.

In the memoirs of Major Watson Stewart of the Kansas State Militia he reports in his many articles published in The Humboldt Union newspaper in 1876 revealing the same story, but he didn’t tell what they had been doing previously nor what was going on later with plundering, killing, and burning of towns in Missouri. He puts it off to the fact Humboldt was burned due to the burning of Osceola, Missouri, but it was going on long before that happened. Of course the victors never tell the whole story nor do they admit to any wrongdoing.

“For our better protection, we organized ourselves into companies of Militia, and armed ourselves as well as we could. General Lane, was, during the latter part of the summer, busy organizing the Militia of the state, for its protection; the Militia of our county were under the command of Colonel Orlin Thurston, of Humboldt.

“About the first of September (1861), Ft. Scott was threatened with a raid, and Colonel Thurston was ordered there, with a portion of his command. Those in the south part of the county were left, as a protection to their homes. Before reaching Ft. Scott, the order was received to go to Barnesville, a point on the State Line, to act as picket guards, while the main force fortified a point about six miles back, which was called Ft. Lincoln, this point General Lane designated as the “Key to Kansas.”

There, most of the men of Humboldt were holding the “Key” while a band of Rebels came in by “another door” and sacked their town. This was on the afternoon of September 8, 1861. There was one company of Missourians, under Captain Livingston, and one of Cherokee and Osage Halfbreed Indians, under Captain Mathews.

They passed about a mile east of us, on their way to Humboldt, and we did not know of their presence until after their departure. But few men were in Humboldt, and the town fell an easy prey to their hands; they did not kill anyone, but robbed the stores and private houses of such things as they could carry away. They hastened off, making a few calls on the way, as they returned south. On the following day as many of the settlers as were at home pushed after them with as much dispatch as was possible.

On reaching Lightning Creek, we were joined by a force of regular volunteer soldiers from Ft. Scott, under command of Col. Jas. G. Blunt, afterwards a Major General. We placed our force under his command, and we were led along down the Neosho river, hoping to find some of the Rebels at or about the residence of Captain Mathews.

He was living on a fine ranch, just where the town of Oswego has since been built; he had a half-breed Osage Indian wife, and had a lot of fine horses and other stock.

However, we found that he was not here, but had gone on further south, and that his men had scattered.

This move, we were making in the night time, and with great caution, having with us a guide who was well acquainted with every trail, much of the way being through dense woods; passing on down the river, we obtained information that a part of the raiders were at the house of a Cherokee Indian, about three miles below where the town of Chetopa now is, and just over the line into the Indian Territory; we reached the place just about daybreak, and surrounded the house. Having discovered us, two of the occupants broke out into the bush and escaped; one, we took prisoner; Captain Mathews himself, with a double-barreled shot gun in his hands, ran out of the house and was shot down.”

“The people of Humboldt now took extra precautions to prevent another raid. They kept one company of Infantry in town, and they were building a fortification around O’Brien’s mill; and one company of cavalry was kept out, for most of the time, as scouts, in the direction of the Indian Territory.

On the 14th of October, (1861) this company of cavalry returned from a scout of several days to the south line of the state, reporting that no sign of rebels had been seen. This report quieted all fears, at the time, and the people were wholly off their guard when, later in the evening, a force of three or four hundred rebels, under Col. Talbot from Arkansas, of the Confederate Army, came dashing into the town and easily captured the place, taking most of the Militia force prisoners. One man, in attempting to get away on a mule, was shot and killed. Captain Livingston, who was with the former raid, was also in this party. After setting fire to nearly every house in town, and robbing them of such things as they could carry away, they liberated the prisoners and returned south with all possible dispatch, small detachments calling, as they went, on most of the settlers on their routes.

We learned of this raid upon Humboldt just about sundown, and we expected a visit from them on their return, probably some time during the night; and, from the fact that since the former raid, General Lane’s forces had captured and burned Osceola, Missouri, and on the south line of the State, in Cherokee County, a reputed Southern sympathizer running a small store, had been robbed and murdered by some irresponsible persons claiming to be Union men; and, from the further fact of my own part in the pursuit of the former raiders and the killing of Mathews; I did not feel like trusting myself in their hands.”

Another character of Humboldt was the first sheriff, Josiah Clark Redfield. One of his descendants has searched endlessly for his civil war record to no avail and writes “And a mystery remains: the aunt mentioned above (alert at 81) insists that Josiah served during the Civil War. Yet he was sheriff in Allen County throughout the war, and searches at the National Archives have been negative. On the other hand, his two brothers, Richard R. Redfield and Orrin S. Redfield (who also followed him to Kansas after the war) both served in the Civil War, and their records have been obtained from the Archives. Did Aunt Dana have the family mixed up? Perhaps. Or perhaps Josiah was simply a Jayhawker, without formal enlistment. These are the things that make searching for your roots never ending!”

Josiah was found to be involved in several dubious land deals while he was sheriff with the land office register, Jonathan Coleman Burnett, whose sister, Kate Burnett, saved the land records during the burning. The land office had been moved to Humboldt from Ft. Scott due to the dubious relationship with Lane of these men. This led to the discovery in a probate file of a man named Pleasant Turney who had come to Allen County in 1860 from Arkansas and purchased a farm on the Allen/Woodson county line about 5 miles west of Humboldt. After the burning he left to go back to Arkansas, joined the Union forces and died within six months. He had left a written agreement for the care of his farm to a neighbor, Jesse Webb, to continue building fences and maintaining his store of goods in his absence. None of his family lived here, but after the war one of his single daughters, Sarah, showed up in 1866 to discover that the farm was no more and there was no estate to settle. She discovered that Redfield and Burnett had confiscated the property with their cronies in Topeka accusing him of being a Confederate and under the confiscation act stole his property and sold it on the courthouse steps in which they both purchased it for a song. By 1872 after she sued them she got her father’s farm back from them. While digging through his probate file I discovered about 40 pages of testimony of the man he left the property in care of and the neighbors and discovered that Jennison and his men were here raiding the farm in the early months of 1862 stealing everything they could get their hands on. They had been sent here to “cool off” their jayhawking antics because they were causing a major embarrassment to the Union army. At the same time, John Brown, Jr. was here and writing letters to his wife witnessing the execution of a deserter who had stolen Daniel Anthony’s horse trying to escape from the camp as a prisoner in the southern part of Humboldt after he had stabbed another soldier in a ruckus.

In the diary of Confederate John W. Fisher, Company C, 10th Missouri Cavalry State Guard, 8th Division, 2nd Lieutenant, who was at the burning, tells his side of the story. His father-in-law was the well- known Confederate Colonel Thomas H. Rosser, who was given a sword by General Sterling Price for his dedicated service in Missouri. Colonel Rosser was in command of infantry and artillery in the battles of Carthage, Springfield, Lexington and Drywood in Missouri. In his letters to his wife, Bettie, who was residing in Westport, Missouri at the time, writes: “Preston, Mo Oct 13, 1861 My dear wife I promised you to write a diary for your perusal at when we meet so I will commence this morning. I wrote to you day before yesterday from our camp at Carthage, where we arrived that day, about 150 of our Regiments [10th Cavalry, Missouri State Guard] started from there last night for Humboldt, Kansas for what purpose I do not exactly know, we arrived at this place, some 7 or 8 miles from our camp about 10 ½ Oclock and after feeding our horses we spread our blankets on the ground and our saddles under our head we were soon enjoying ourselves with a good nap,
this morning, Sunday, is a beautiful day, and we are all saddled up waiting for another detachment of men from Col [Sanford J.] Talbots Reg. [11th Cavalry, Missouri State Guard] consisting of 160 men who start with us for Kansas this morning, we may have a hard time of it as it is reported that there is a force of 500 men with 4 pieces of Cannon at Humboldt and several detachments at LeRoy, Emporia and Cofachique, if they are there they will give us “fits”, but our cause is just and the God of battles has been with us in every fight yet and with Him on our side we are sure of success may he be with us and prosper us. I heard the Governor Jackson [Claiborne Fox Jackson] make a speech night before last in which he said he intended to burn Kansas from one end to the other.

Osage Catholic Mission, Osage Nation Oct 14 1861 After leaving Preston we started for this place it is about 55 miles, we traveled all day until 9 oclock at night when we stopped and slept until 2 oclock when we started and arrived home about 7 oclock this morning, while marching yesterday we saw two men who were very much surprised at our appearance and as soon as we come in sight of them they ran off as fast as there horses would carry them I suppose they were Yankees we have seen no houses where owners were in them since we left Missouri every body has left where we stopped to eat our dinner yesterday at a Man’s house (Hoover) we found the greatest quanity of very large water melons, more than our 300 men could destroy but we all ate as many as we could hold, the priests at this mission gave us all our breakfast of Coffee and Bread and biscuits and a fine meal it was to tired soldiers who had been marching nearly all night, they gave myself, Col. [William H.] Erwin and one or two others a large slice of apple pie, after eating breakfast, I went into their Chapel which is arranged very nicely inside with good pictures, the inside was fitted up by Indian workmen and it would do credit to any kind of workmen, I saw one picture in needlework done by an Indian girl which is one of the finest pictures I ever saw, it was “The Crown of thorns” it was as beautifully executed as could be done by any lady, we start in few minutes for Humboldt out in the prairie on Neosho River 20 miles from any where.

Oct 15.1861 We started for Humboldt about 10 o’clock and traveled along slowly, I stopped to see an Indian village which is a very curious sight to one who never saw one, it is laid out like a city with streets running parallel to each other, the houses one built of small poles, both ends stuck into the ground similar to an arbor, these were about 20 feet long 12 feet wide and 8 feet high. I suppose there were upwards of 100 but there were no Indians in them as they, the Osage, have all gone on a buffalo hunt we arrived to within 4 miles of Humboldt about 4 oclock when we took a dutchman prisoner who reported that there was a force of about 300 men there, we then formed and started to go in on the south side of town, we arrived just in the edges of the town a little before sundown while the people were eating their suppers, our Regiment [10th Cavalry, Missouri State Guard] took the East side and Col [Sanford J.] Talbots the west we all started on a charge yelling like Indians and rode right into the town without their soldiers firing a shot at us, we took them so completely by surprise and they were so frightened that they left as soon as they could get out, we took some 45 or 50 prisoners and I believe some 3 or four of them were Killed who would not stop our men did not fire a gun, we then broke into all the houses searching for men and for what ever our men wanted, we did not hurt any lady or take anything from them, but we took every thing that we needed out of the stores that we could Carry and then set fire to the town and laid it in ashes leaving two or three houses for the women and children, I got me a shirt and two Comforts and a shawl two over coats (which I gave to our boys) a fine piece of satin for a vest a Can teen; tin cup 4 knives & forks and two tents and could have gotten any amount of other things if we could have found their wagons, we burnt up two mills and a large lot of flour perhaps 300 sacks about 5000 lbs Bacon and and amount of other provision that we could not carry away Humboldt was a very pretty town nearly as large as Paola and prettier, there were some fine houses in it, a large hotel nearly as large as Morris’ Mill I hated to see the town destroyed but that is the only way we can get rid of them and it was what the governor [Claiborne Fox Jackson] sent us there to do, the women said they thought it was hard but it was just, as their men had been doing the same in Missouri. I think it is hard too and I do not approve of it, they were all very badly frightened supposing us at first to be Cherokees, but after they found us out they were not so badly frightened, they did not have your spunk however and did not abuse us any our men assisted them in getting their things out into the square before we set fire to the town and treated them very kindly, after we got ready to start we released all the prisoners without injuring one of them, we left there about 9 o’clock that night and started back to camp we traveled all day yesterday until 11 oclock last night and camped on Cherry Creek about 20 miles from here.”

There is little doubt there were many men who resided in Humboldt who were involved in the jayhawking of Missouri towns with Lane and Jennison. As time passes tidbits seem to fall at my feet with another piece of the puzzle when I least expect it. That’s the beauty of taking a look at the real history of our country from the true actors who created it and not the ones who try to cover up the truth of it all. And after the war it didn’t stop there, they continued with their lust for power and money and left our town bankrupt, and without a city government for over 20 years by their scandalous deals in building the railroads here and stealing the funds. Nothing has really changed and it doesn’t seem as though we have learned anything. Lest we forget.

Humboldt is a unique town in small-town America that still thrives graced with historic buildings on the town square, two museums, a working blacksmith shop started in 1876 on the National Register of Historic places, a vintage woodworking shop, and a 12 site tour of Civil War sites. New sidewalks surrounding the town square graced with vintage lamp posts are almost complete. Old buildings are currently being restored for space for new businesses.

The South Wind Bike Trail starts at the north edge of town and can be ridden to the northern cities in Kansas. Camping facilities are also available. Further lodging plans and development are in the process.

Humboldt’s rich civil war history is re-enacted every three years sponsored by the Humboldt Civil War Days committee. An official string band performs civil war music featured with a “caller” for vintage civil war dancing at the Friday night dance and the re-enactments occur on Saturday, with a 12 site tour of the civil war sites on Sunday. We welcome re-enactors to join us in our re-enactment in the fall of 2018. Our dance is held annually and will be on Friday, October 13, 2017 at B & W Trailer Hitches dining hall at 7:00 p.m. Come one, come all. For information you can contact Carolyn Whitaker by email at Be sure to include in the subject line Civil War Days.

-By Carolyn Whitaker
Humbolt, Kansas Historian