The Kansas Territorial Capital’s location bounced around Kansas for seven years. The Territorial Capital Trail tells a story of insider trading and ballot-box stuffing. Follow its trail from Fort Leavenworth twice to Pawnee, Shawnee Mission twice, Lecompton, Topeka, Lawrence, Minneola, and finally Topeka again.
The trouble in Kansas began with Stephen Douglas, who wrote the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Illinois Senator hoped for two benefits. 1) He wanted to stop the fight over slavery. 2) Douglas wanted to provide a path for a Transcontinental Railroad. He thought it should run from Chicago to the West Coast. Coincidentally, Douglas owned riverfront property in Chicago.
But his hopes failed. The act didn’t unite the country. Instead, it ignited a guerilla war, Bleeding Kansas. In turn, Bleeding Kansas fueled the American Civil War. And Douglas would never see the Transcontinental Railroad. Exhausted from campaigning for President and battling disunion, Douglas died in June 1861. His death came two months after the country went to war against itself. The Transcontinental Railroad began construction in 1862 and finished in 1869.
Some of the destinations hosted me, but all opinions are my own.
Related: The Kansas-Nebraska Act defined Kansas’s northern boundary, and the Cast Iron Monument defined its northeastern point.
Fort Leavenworth, the first territorial capital
President Franklin Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act on May 30, 1854. Nebraska’s more northerly location limited slavery’s chance. However, Kansas was not so lucky. The long Kansas-Missouri border opened Kansas Territory to invasion.
Territorial Gov. Andrew Reeder arrived in Kansas on October 7, 1854. The fort provided offices across from the old military prison. He lived in The Rookery at Fort Leavenworth. Reeder remained at the fort for only two months before moving to present-day Shawnee.
How to visit the Kansas Territorial Capital Trail: Visitors must follow a procedure for entry because the fort is an active military post. The Rookery is No. 18 on Fort Leavenworth’s Historic Wayside Tour. The fort tore down the former governor’s office in 1893. The garrison replaced it with Pope Hall. Pope Hall burned in May 1957.
A turbulent election season
The territory built a Governor’s Mansion for Reeder at present-day 10910 W. 60th St., Shawnee.
Visiting the Kansas Territorial Capital Trail: Look for the historical marker, but remain off the property.
Nearly two months after Reeder arrived, Kansas Territory held its first election for Congressional Delegate. Pro-slavery Missourians poured into the state to vote illegally. Estimates put voter fraud at 61 percent.
Reeder held a second election on March 30, 1855. This time, the citizens elected their Legislature. Unfortunately, this election also included massive fraud. Twice as many ballots filled the ballot boxes as residents filled the state. Understandably, the free-state supporters called the Legislature the “Bogus Legislature.”
Reeder first threw out the most fraudulent districts’ results. Then he held another election in May to combat the fraud. He also moved the capital to Pawnee, next to Fort Riley. Pawnee was more than 100 miles west of the Missouri line near present-day Junction City.
The slavery supporters hated Pawnee because it was so far from their Missouri support base. Plus, the legislators had another concern. The election process had been dirty, but Pawnee wasn’t free from corruption’s stench. Instead, Reeder owned land in Pawnee and benefited from its selection as the capital.
Also, Reeder had failed to prepare Pawnee for its status as the Kansas territorial capital. The legislators had to sleep in tents because hotels were few. Even worse, the capitol building was unfinished. When the Legislature arrived, no floor separated the first floor from the second, and the building was open to the sky. Frantic work added the floors and roof, but no one installed doors.
Pawnee, the four-day territorial capital
The Legislature was outraged. Plus, the cholera epidemic at the fort terrified them. They wanted to leave. The pro-slavery Legislature stayed in Pawnee from only July 2-6. Adding to the chaos, some seats had two claimants, one from each election. The slavery supporters had a simple solution. They rejected the free-state candidates.
In other business, the Legislature established counties. Davis County surrounded Pawnee, named for then-Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. Then, the legislators moved the capital to the Shawnee Methodist Mission over Reeder’s veto.
How to visit the Kansas Territorial Capital Trail: To visit the First Territorial Capitol State Historic Site, you must enter Fort Riley. Read the procedure first.
Roxie’s reliable report: Slaveholder Davis despised Pawnee. He sent surveyors to prove Pawnee was on the fort’s property. The survey proved that Pawnee wasn’t on the fort’s reservation. Davis didn’t care. Instead of following the survey, he ordered the Army to raze the town. Only the capital building survived. It became a museum in 1928.
Davis later became the Confederacy’s President. Since Davis had betrayed his country, the name became unpopular. After the Civil War, Davis County became Geary County in 1889.
Shawnee Mission, the second unofficial territorial capital
The Bogus Legislature reconvened at the Shawnee Methodist Mission on July 16. They adopted the harsh Missouri slavery laws. And, on August 8, they chose Lecompton as the permanent Kansas territorial capital. Eight days later, Pierce dismissed Reeder at the Legislature’s request.
Reeder refused to go quietly. Instead, he helped lead the free-staters. They formed an opposition government.
Visiting the Kansas Territorial Capital Trail: The Shawnee Indian Mission in Fairway is now a state historic site.
Topeka sets up a government
Lecompton began functioning as the Kansas territorial capital on October 20, 1856. However, the free-staters rejected the new capital location. Thus, they decided to form a government in Topeka. They wrote a constitution and held an election. The free-state voters approved their constitution and elected state officers, including Gov. Charles Robinson.
Despite the free-state concerns, the national government opposed the Topekans. On January 24, 1856, Pierce said the Topeka government was in rebellion. Five years before the Civil War started, two rival governments fought for state control.
Six months later, Congress rejected the proposed Topeka Constitution. The House had approved it, but the Senate rejected it by two votes.
On Independence Day 1856, Col. Edwin Sumner led his troopers into Topeka. He intended to disperse the illegal Legislature. He called his responsibility “the most painful duty of my life.”
How to visit the Kansas Territorial Capital Trail: Topeka’s Constitution Hall is under restoration. A mural at the side depicts the dispersal.
Lecompton writes a constitution
In January 1857, the official Legislature authorized a constitutional convention. They scheduled an election for six months later. The free-staters boycotted the election, but they joined the October 5 election for the territory’s Legislature. The free-state voters won.
Visiting the Kansas Territorial Capital Trail: Constitution Hall is now a state historic site. To learn more, walk the Historic Walking Tour.
On December 7, 1857, when the free-staters took over the Legislature, they convened in Lecompton. But they didn’t stay. Instead, they adjourned to Lawrence’s Babcock & Lykins Building on Massachusetts Ave.
How to visit the Kansas Territorial Capital Trail: During Quantrill’s Raid in 1863, the bank building burned to the ground. Use Lawrence’s Historic Sites of Quantrill’s Raid self-guided tour.
However, the new free-state majority had boycotted Lecompton’s constitutional convention. With predictable results, the Lecompton Constitution supported slavery. With the free-staters again boycotting, the ratification election was also predictable. The pro-slavery voters approved the Constitution.
Minneola, the 24-hour capital
The free staters’ rejection of Lecompton attracted opportunists. Perry Fuller and his associates bought 14.5 sections in northeast Franklin County. After their purchases, they printed maps of beautiful Minneola, the new Kansas metropolis. To entice legislative interest, they donated land and town company stock to the Legislators. These incentives persuaded the Legislature to approve Minneola as the next Kansas territorial capital.
Gov. James W. Denver vetoed the bill, but the Legislature overrode him. Minneola’s promoters had six weeks to ready their Kansas territorial capital. Like Reeder before them, Fuller and his friends failed.
On March 23, 1858, the Legislature came to Minneola. Over 24 hours of debate, all the places that desired to be the capital fought against Minneola. Minneola lost, and the Legislature left for Leavenworth. Minneola lived on for a time as the Franklin County seat, but eventually, Ottawa won that battle. Because the Legislature had removed the town’s mainstay, people moved the buildings to other places.
Visiting the Kansas Territorial Capital Trail: Minneola was one mile east of Centropolis at the Stafford and Iowa Road intersection. (Present-day Minneola, Kan., is in Clark County.) The Franklin County Historical Society in Ottawa has the door of Minneola’s Governor’s Mansion in its collection. The would-be state capitol moved to Second and Main in Ottawa. The building later burned.
Roxie’s reliable report: Gov. Denver lent his name to the Colorado State Capital.
Lecompton on the national stage
Even though the ratification process was tainted, President James Buchanan submitted the Lecompton Constitution to Congress. After much wrangling and an infamous brawl, Congress decided to admit Kansas to the Union if a popular vote approved the slave-state Constitution. On August 2, 1858, the territory rejected Lecompton. The territory’s voters ratified a free-state constitution two months later.
Because of its dubious ratification, Lecompton became a rallying cry. When challenger Abraham Lincoln debated Sen. Douglas across Illinois, “Lecompton” came up 55 times. The media across the country followed the debates, spreading the news about Bleeding Kansas.
Topeka wins the state capital
In a four-person field, Lincoln won the 1860 Presidential election. The events in Kansas had helped split the parties, preparing Lincoln’s way. A month after Lincoln’s election, South Carolina seceded from the Union. More states followed. By January 1861, many Southern Senators had departed Washington. The Southern Senators’ departure enabled the Senate to approve the Wyandotte Constitution. On January 21, the Senate approved Kansas’s entry into the Union. Kansas became a state eight days later when Buchanan signed the bill.
The state has celebrated Kansas Day on January 29 since Paola began the tradition in 1877.
The Wyandotte Constitution had made Topeka the temporary state capital. In a later election, Topeka defeated Lawrence to retain the capital. Cyrus K. Holliday helped Topeka’s cause by donating 20 acres for the new capitol building. Until the state moved into its new capitol building, Topeka used its former free-state capitol building.
Visiting the Kansas Territorial Capital Trail: Tour the Kansas State Capitol.