Personal Recollections of Pardee Butler
by Pardee Butler
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It is now conceded by the best informed actors in this great drama or tragedy, that Pardee Butler, as much or more than any one man, made the prohibition movement in Kansas the marvelous success it is. The generation is yet to come that will rise up to do him rightful honor.

From '54 to '60 Pardee Butler was the Moses to the church in this wilderness, and for years following he was in some sense like Paul, "having the care of all the churches." But from the beginning he was the foremost man by virtue of natural and acquired ability, although a reluctant following was often given because of former habitudes and shibboleths, socially. There were other men in different localities who battled grandly for the truth and sowed the seed of the kingdom with firm and loyal hand: Brethren Yohe and Jackson, of Leavenworth, followed by the Bausermans, Joseph and Henry, Gans of Olathe, Brown of Emporia, White of Manhattan, and others equally worthy,—all pioneers in every good sense, and now all gone to their reward, with the exceptions of Brethren Yohe and the Bausermans. Without being formally chosen Pardee Butler was the recognized leader of these sanctified few, and no home where they entered was too humble, or field where they toiled too barren, for the light of his countenance to cheer, or the strength of his arm to be felt. In the polity and development of the church, as in other fields of moral and social struggle, he was far in advance of the time; and up to the day of his death, this was one of the great burdens that rested upon his heart.

The membership coming to the Territory, and which, of course, formed the nuclei of churches, was a heterogenous compound. In many respects there was no possible assimilation; but so far as the simple tenets of the primitive faith were concerned, there was little or no difference. But as to plurality of bishops in the congregation, their tenure and jurisdiction of office, the relations of comity between sister churches, the duties and powers of an evangelist, the laying on of hands in induction into authority, instrumental music in the congregation, the Sunday-school and its organization, the order of social worship, the mid-week meeting for prayer, and numerous other matters of scriptural life, there were as many shades of opinion as there were of dialects; and the tenacity with which they were maintained, those not familiar with the time and its environments can hardly hope to know. Yet upon all these and kindred questions, Bro. Butler had singularly clear-cut and advanced opinions. He has often said to me, "How very obtuse the churches seem to be on the plain teaching of Scripture. And the preachers are equally ignorant, or else they are willing to go limping and halting, when they could as well and better be easily marching and leading their sanctified hosts to marvelous victory."

He did not feel, or even make manifest, that he recognized his greatness in these directions only as he labored to bring the congregations and their officers up to his ideals.

In the first struggles to bring the scattered congregations into co-operative unity, he was the head and heart of the movement; and through all the varied successes and failures of those non-cohesive times and men, he never lost courage or intimated aught else than the success which now crowns the work.

I regarded him as the finest ecclesiastical historian among us, and because of his knowledge here, coupled with the philosophy that grew out of it, linked to the genius of Christianity itself, he was, by educational intuition, a missionary zealot.

Carey and the Judsons, and Barclay and Livingstone, with all others of like character, were what he termed "ripe fruit" from the Good Tree. He was to the churches in Kansas what these men and women were to the people among whom they labored. Visiting every outpost, gathering the straggling sheep into folds and striving to secure shepherds for them, stripping the fleecy garments from the wolves, uncovering the sophistries of the various polytheisms, immersing the converts and exhorting the saints, the thirty-five years he spent in Kansas were years of severest mental, moral and physical labor; and from which he asked no respite until God called him.

Truthfully this Scripture may be written as his epitaph: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth; Yea, saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labors and their works do follow them."


The following tributes of friendship were published in the Atchison Champion, after father's death:



Rev. Pardee Butler, who died at his old home, near Farmington, on Saturday last, was, for a full generation past, one of the most prominent figures in Kansas history. He was a minister of the Christian Church, and located in this county early in 1855. He came to Kansas to fight slavery. He was a sincere man. He was a brave man. He had in him the stuff of which martyrs are made. He deliberately chose, on coming to the young Territory, the county in which the advocates of slavery seemed to be strongest and most violent. He made no secret of his opinions on the question of slavery, nor of his purpose to oppose the attempt to make Kansas, a slave State. He was not a fighting man, in the worldly sense of that word; but in its broader and higher significance, he was an aggressive, fearless, tireless fighter. He would not kill, but he did not hesitate to brave death. He would not shoot, but he did not quail or cower before guns, for knives, or ropes.

The Champion publishes, this morning, some extracts from its own columns, when it was a newspaper with another name and other principles, narrating some of the incidents of his early life in Kansas. They are historic. During a marvelous era they stirred the heart and aroused the conscience of the Nation. This humble preacher, coming to the Territory for a cause, and bravely enduring the pangs of martyrdom for his opinions, became, at once, the representative of millions of men. The story of his wrongs was told in every newspaper of the land, and was discussed around the firesides of a million homes. The brutal pro-slavery mob of Atchison saw in him only an impudent and absurd opponent of an institution that controlled courts, legislatures and congress; the awakening Nation saw that he stood for Free Speech, for Liberty, for Law, and for Humanity; and the indignities heaped upon him touched and stirred the heart of the North in its profoundest depths.

Pardee Butler, facing the drunken, ignorant, howling, brutal pro-slavery mobs of Atchison, must have been, to them, a unique figure. They could not understand him. The writer has heard men who were present, but not participants, when the mob had him in charge, say that the mingled hatred and respect with which the ruffians regarded him, was singularly manifest. He bore himself with quiet dignity and composure. He did not attempt to resist, nor, on the other hand, did he manifest the slightest evidence of fear. To their loud and violent threatenings, he made answer with quiet, manly dignity. It would have gratified the ruffians beyond measure if they could have induced him to recant, or to make some pledge that would compromise his frankly expressed opinions—some promise of silence concerning or acquiescence in, or non-interference with, their cherished purpose to establish slavery in Kansas. If he had yielded even so much as this, they would gladly have let him go. But never for a moment did he falter, or waver, or equivocate. He refused to make any promise. He stood upon his rights as an American citizen. He was opposed to slavery in Kansas, and intended to oppose it as long as he lived. He came to Kansas to aid in making it a free State, and no fear of personal injury would change his purpose, He was one man among hundreds, but he intended, then and at all times, in Atchison or elsewhere, to express his convictions, and with voice and vote maintain his opinions. All this he said, quietly and without a trace of boasting, but with a firmness that won from the mob a most unyielding respect.

And this saved him from a worse fate. If he had quailed or equivocated, they would have triumphed; if he had boasted or threatened, they would have hanged him. He did neither. And so they first set him adrift on a raft, and again tarred and feathered him; and on both occasions manly courage and sincere faith were victorious over brute force and mad passion.

Mr. Butler lived his life, during all the years of his residence in this county, illustrating the same lofty purposes and sincere convictions. He was not always correct in his judgments, but he was always earnest. He was interested in every good cause. During his whole life he was an ardent temperance man. He was a practical, as well as an ardent, advocate of temperance, and the organization of the so-called "Third party" prohibitionists, excited, at once, his indignation and contempt. He was one of the first prohibitionists of Kansas to distrust St. John, and to denounce him as a self-seeking, ambitious demagogue. He had no use for any man who was not entirely sincere, or who was not willing to subordinate his own personal interest for the sake of principle.

Among the free State pioneers, of Atchison County, Pardee Butler and Caleb May were first in influence and usefulness. The latter died only a few weeks ago, in Florida. The Champion made notice of his death at the time. The two men, in their personal characteristics, had nothing in common. Col. May was a man of very limited education; Mr. Butler was schooled in books. Col. May had lived all his life on the frontier; Mr. Butler came from one of the oldest communities in Ohio. Col. May believed in the weapons of carnal warfare; Mr. Butler put his faith in the power of reason. Both were men of approved and unquestionable courage, but if the pro-slavery mob had attempted to capture Col. May, a revolver, held with a steady hand, would have blazed his defiance; Mr. Butler submitted, without resistance to the mob's will. The ruffians did not understand this peaceful but resolute antagonist, but they were compelled to respect his determined purpose. When Col. May wrote to their leader a letter telling the pro-slavery rulers of Atchison that his home was his castle, and if any man attacked it, he would meet with a bloody reception, and that he (May) intended to come to Atchison whenever he pleased, and meant to come armed, they laughed at his rude chirography, and made merry over his "spelling by ear," but they understood his meaning perfectly, and knew, also, that he would do exactly what he said. And they never disturbed him. In his personal appearance Col. May was an ideal "Leatherstockings." He might have sat for a portrait of Cooper's famous frontier hero and Indian trailer. Over six feet in height, angular, muscular, somewhat awkward in repose, with cool, bright gray eyes, deep set under shaggy eyebrows, and having immense reach of arm—his was an imposing figure. Mr. Butler was a born Puritan; Col. May was a born frontiersman. [7] Mr. Butler opposed slavery on moral grounds, and because he hated injustice or wrong in any form. Col. May hated slavery, and fought it, because he believed the institution was detrimental to his own race. Born in Kentucky and reared in Missouri, he had seen the effects of slavery all about him, harming him and his, and so he hated it.

Kansas owes both of these pioneers a debt of respect and gratitude. The world was better that they lived in it. Freedom found in them devoted loyalty to her cause. They both loved Kansas, and their lives were inseparably associated with the stirring events of the most momentous years of her history. They served her well. Brave and strong and useful, they fought a good fight and kept the faith. Honor to their memory.



Formerly Pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Atchison, Kan.

EDITOR OF THE CHAMPION:—Having read, with much interest, your sketch of Pardee Butler, I am moved to lay a wreath of tribute upon the grave of the old hero. He was a man of most invincible courage. Earl Morton, by the open grave of John Knox, said, "Here lies one who never feared the face of man." Mr. Butler was a John Knox sort of man. Those who have visited him at his home of late years will remember how modestly, yet with some pride, he would tell the story of that day in Atchison when the mob started him down the river on the frail raft, and how he would exhibit the banner so carefully preserved. It would be of much interest if we could have the full story, told by himself, of the raft journey; of the after "tar and cotton" affair; and also, of the night, some time after that, when some of the very men who helped to mob him, assisted him across the river with his loaded team when he was in some trouble.

He lived to see the overthrow of the slave power, which he hated with all the intensity of his nature. He also witnessed the revolution in Kansas as to the liquor power. The files of the Champion for the spring of 1885, have an account of a notable meeting in the court-house at Atchison of the friends of law and order. The friends of the saloon, for nearly five years after prohibition was the law of the State, had ignored the law, and challenged its enforcement. This convention was the first general gathering of the citizens of Atchison County to protest against this lawlessness, and demanded that the officers of the law close the saloons. Pardee Butler was one of the leading spirits in the convention. Many will recall his fiery speech of that day. He spoke of the thirty years of his life in Kansas, and of the great events that had happened. He then denounced the actual rebellion then in existence, and called for its suppression. That convention was the beginning of the end of the downfall of the organized saloon power in Atchison.

Pardee Butler was in sympathy with good men in every good cause. While a born controversialist, and strong in his convictions, he was glad to work with Christians of any name in building up the kingdom of God in the world. He identified himself heartily with the Sunday-school work, and was anxious that everything should be done for children and youth, not only to make them believers, but good men and good citizens. I agree heartily with what Noble Prentis has recently said of him: "We knew him well in his later years; a brave and earnest man; full of ideas for making this world better, and confident that they would succeed. He has gone to the company of those who, on every field for these hundreds of years, where the battle for the sacred rights of man was to be fought out, have cried, 'O Lord, make bare thine arm!' and have bared their own."

MANHATTAN, KAN., October 26, 1888.


[1] When they were making the raft father noticed that one of the logs was sound and the other rotten. They fastened them together by nailing shakes—shingles—from one to the other. Some one remarked that the nails would pull out the first time the raft struck a snag. Then they said they would drive in long wooden pins. But father noticed that the long pins were driven into the sound log, while the ends on the rotten log were only fastened by the nails.

One of the logs of which the raft was made was much longer than the other, and on the end of the longer log they put the flag. And over the rough swift current father walked the dizzy length of that single log and took down the flag. Mother still keeps that flag as a precious relic. Several years ago one of the men engaged in that mob ran for office in Northern Kansas. His opponent borrowed the flag, to use in the campaign, and returned it in good order. But we have since learned that he had several copies of it painted, and that one of them is now in the rooms of the Kansas Historical Society, in the showcase with John Brown's cap, and is shown as the veritable flag that was on Pardee Butler's raft.

[2] The Thirteenth Kansas Regiment, which was raised in 1862, was composed of Atchison County men. They voted to request father to become their chaplain, and they sent him word, requesting him to apply to Gen. Lane for the appointment. He did so, and received a letter from Gen. Lane, asking, "How much will you pay for the place?" Father replied, "If the position of chaplain is sold for a price, I do not want it."

[3] Bro. Garrett not only gave freely of his money to the church, but he gave freely of time, and trouble, and anxious watching. He also gave liberally and constantly of provisions and other necessaries to his poorer neighbors. His brother-in-law, Dr. Moore, complained that he was spoiling the church by taking such constant care of it. "O well," said Bro. Garrett one day, "every church has to have a wheel-horse, and I might as well be the wheel-horse as any body."

[4] When father took this letter to Lawrence, he met Mr. Redpath, the Tribune reporter, who requested permission to copy it for the New York Tribune.

Before Mr. Redpath had completed his copy, the editor of the Herald of Freedom demanded the manuscript to put in type. The edition of the Herald of Freedom containing it was destroyed, and father only obtained a mutilated copy of it. But from that portion printed in the Tribune, and what was left of the Herald of Freedom, he secured a complete copy of the letter.

[5] When Col. Sumner's soldiers were asked what they would do if they were ordered to fire on the Free State men, they replied, "We would aim above their heads."

[6] When father reached the east bank it was so slippery that the oxen would not go down. So he hitched them to the back of the sled, and, with a handspike, pried it to the edge of the bank, and started it down. Of course it slid down the hill, and pulled the oxen with it.

[7] Mr. May was not the blustering rough that many people suppose a frontiersman to be. He was a quiet, hard-working farmer, kind and neighborly, but ready to defend his own rights, and those of his friends, or of the poor and down-trodden. His proverbial phrase was, "Whatever I do, I want to do it so well that the world will be none the worse for my having lived in it." His son, E. E. May, says that he used to say that he learned from his Bible to hate slavery. He could lead a prayer-meeting as easily as he could lead a regiment, and he could defend the Scriptures as readily as he could defend his home. I once heard him say that he had never kept a hired man for any length of time, but that he succeeded in persuading him to join the church before he left him. MRS. R. B. H.


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