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Stu Finley: a Western Story
Yeah, I knew Stu Finley in Wichita when he was a deputy marshal. Stu was a good looking guy, in a craggy sort of way with rusty brown hair and cool blue eyes. He was usually clean shaven and looked ready for anything. He was a pretty fair man on the draw, too. I know I wouldn’t want to go against him. When he met Rachael things changed a bit. She was against guns cause she come from a church that's against them. Now Rachael was a pretty gal with long dark, brown hair that she wore in braids down her back. She mostly looked cheerful and wore cheerful cotton dresses in light colors. She usually looked rather fetching when she wore her favorite blue and white sunbonnet. Anyhow, they was courtin’ and she put it to him that the guns and violence had to go or she would. He was truly in love with her and said he would give it a try and he resigned his position as a lawman. Although he gave up his job as deputy, he did keep his Colt revolver for self-defense and a rifle for hunting. Rachael didn’t seem to have a problem with that. I guess as long as he wasn’t making his living with a gun, it was okay.
They both had a lot of friends and their wedding got to be a big thing even though everyone had to leave their weapons at the door. Stu had saved a bit of money and in the fall of 1854 they moved to Lawrence. As well as being against guns and violence Rachael was against slavery. The territory was on the side of slavery but some anti-slavery elements were moving into Lawrence. She wanted to be with that element.
Stu's narrative what happened in Lawrence:
Rachael and I had joined the folks in Lawrence about a year before the trouble started. Lawrence was largely settled by anti-slavery people in 1854, which was the reason that my wife wanted to go there. My feelings weren't as strong as hers, but the idea of people being forced to work for someone else without even getting paid for it sort of went against my grain as well. Since I gave up being a lawman, I needed some way to make a living until we got established. There were two newly started newspapers in town The Kansas Pioneer and the Herald of Freedom. I went into the office of the Herald and asked for a job. There was only one man in the office and a young girl. The man asked me what I knew about newspapering. I had to admit that I didn’t have any experience but I could read and write and willing to learn.
“Do you realize it could be dangerous? Can you handle a weapon, if necessary?”
I say sure to the weapon part but said “How can writing for your paper be dangerous?”
“You don’t understand the situation is. This paper is for the cause of freeing slaves. There are people from across the border in Missouri who don’t like that. They want to keep slavery as the law. I’m afraid war might even break out over it.”
“Well,” I said. “My wife Rachael is for the anti-slavery part but not the violence part.”
The publishers name was Carl Hanson. I signed on with him as a reporter and he told me to wander around town and see what bits of things I might learn. He also gave me a list of people to talk to. The girl was his daughter Josie who helped him with chores around the shop. She had learned to set type although it would take her time to pick up speed at it.” Anything you write up, give it to her to set if I am not here,” he said.
Rachael found some work as a maid at the Free State Hotel.We were pretty happy with life in Lawrence and I found that newspaper work was congenial for me. In some ways it was like being a deputy. In both jobs a guy had to wander around town, keep alert for anything unusual, make friends with the people, talk and get information. That being done, back to the office and write up whatever you found. As a lawman, sometimes you were the news. All in all it seemed pleasant enough and occasionally challenging.
Well it was pleasant until the sheriff from Douglas County in Missouri led a bunch of Missourians into Kansas to attack us. His name was Jones, Sheriff Samuel L. Jones. That led to John brown and his anti-slave people to put up barricades against them. But the attack we expected didn’t happen. The two sides made a treaty and signed it and then the Missouri bunch left. But Sheriff Jones along with other Southern sympathizers went on harassing us. I say us because by now I felt I had a stake in the place. They decided that both papers and the Free State Hotel were what they called ‘nuisances.” Like what right did they have? Finally something more happened. It was on April 12, 1856 that Sherriff Jones was shot. Not killed, mind you. Just shot. He was trying to arrest settlers’ and about a month later, he gathered up a posse of 800 deputies against Lawrence.
Reasonable people would have thought it time for the southern people to leave Kansas to go about our own business. Wouldn’t you know though that the Federal Marshall claimed that we got in the way of serving warrants against the Free State Legislature, which was set up to oppose the pro-slavery territorial government. They had a grand jury that proclaimed the Free State Hotel was actually a fort.
Not sure what kind of a reporter I was that day. I got wind of it all but never got a chance to print it—not until it was over with. I went back to the newspaper office. Just in time to see several men breaking up the equipment. Hanson was clearly outnumbered and his daughter was trying to save some of the type she had set up. The five shots in my Colt would hardly hold them off long but I could help Hanson get out. I told the girl to get behind me and Hanson grabbed the rifle that was near his desk. “Tomorrow’s another day. You can’t save your equipment but we can get more later.
“Listen Stu. They’ll be after the hotel. You better get over there and see that your wife is OK.
I got over there as fast as I could. Rachael surprised me because when I got there she had a rifle in her hands and looked determined to use it if she had to. “She had the gun pointed at a man who had a gun and was trying to get into the safe. ‘This town is my home and my family’s home,” she said. “Now you take you guns and your pro-slavery people out of here.”
“I pulled my Colt from its holster and fired a shot above his head. “
“Don’t shoot. I’ll get on my way, but you folks better get out too. Those men outside intend to bring this hotel to the ground.” He left.
Next we heard what sounded like a cannon. Out the window I could see the cannon ball had missed the building and dug into the walkway. That was followed by a volley of shots but not much effect. We slipped out of the building because sooner or later they were going to do it some harm. From a safe distance we watched as they rolled out kegs of gunpowder. They exploded with a whale of a noise but it didn’t do much to the building. The finally managed to destroy the building by fire.
Rachael’s shoulders sagged. “What have I done, Stu?” I made you give up your law job because of the guns and now you find me with a gun in my hand?”
“It’s OK,” I told her. “Next time though, get a gun with a firing pin in it.”
Copyright 2012 Don Hoglund
Location of Lawrence, Kansas
© 2012 Don A. Hoglund