Kansas pioneer. 1834-?
Even by 21st century standards, Julia Stinson made great accomplishments in her life. Being part French and part Shawnee Indian, she was quite successful in her family and business life—and even saved the first governor of Kansas from demise.
Stinson was born in 1834 at Shawnee Methodist Indian Mission where she was raised and educated. It was there that she met Thomas Stinson and was married on Thanksgiving Day in 1850. A photograph taken on her wedding day is believed to be the first photographic portrait taken west of the Missouri River. Her husband was adopted into the tribe and the couple received a land grant of about 800 acres from a treaty between the U.S. government and the Shawnee Indians.
The Stinson's made their home on the land they acquired through the Shawnee settlement. Julia Stinson claimed a relationship to the Shawnee warrior Tecumseh. Shawnee Indians supposedly kidnapped her grandfather who married a cousin of Tecumseh. This is how the future town earned its name. The couple built a home there, established a profitable trading post and ran a post office. The Stinson family was financially successful, and later constructed a stone house to replace their original log home.
Julia was known throughout the West for her hospitality, as territorial governors and members of legislatures who met in Topeka often visited the Stinson home. Despite the rewards of success, there was much controversy over slavery at that time. Julia was a proslavery supporter and it was common for prominent Shawnee Indians (mostly mixed blooded) to own slaves. After the Stinsons married, they owned at least two slaves, Jennie and Moses, according to Julia. There is even a bill of sale for one slave bought by the Stinsons from Julia's brother. Being a merchant family, the Stinsons needed to keep some sense of neutrality between the supporters and non-supporters of the slavery issue. Despite Julia's proslavery stance, the family tried its best to maintain alliances with nearby antislavery supporters. Julia's close relationship with Andrew Reeder, first territorial governor of Kansas who supported the antislavery cause, is a good example of her ability to keep friendships with people from both sides of the fence.
Reeder made his headquarters in the free-state settlement of Lawrence. When he went west on state business, he stopped at the Stinson home. One evening while staying at their home, he and Julia were playing chess when they heard gunshots coming from the road. There was an angry proslavery mob of about 300 who came into the yard, drunk, demanding Reeder. The mob threatened to burn the house and lynch Reeder for his antislavery beliefs. Julia went to the door and pleaded with the mob to wait until the next morning, which they agreed to.
In 1914, at the age of 80, Julia gave her version of the story.
Governor Reeder was here visiting us one evening, we were playing chess when a mob came up and wanted to get him and ride him on a rail. We put away our game and I tried to talk to the men. I tried to flatter them a little so they would leave us in peace. I told them that the Governor could not help where he was born, and that being born in Pennsylvania he was of course an abolitionist. The crowd were all border ruffians who had come over to vote, Missourians you know. I told them to be quiet and lie down and then see what they wanted to do in the morning.
Under the cloak of darkness, Julia disguised Reeder in women's clothes and they escaped the sleeping men. They rested at a spring where they waited for her husband, who had left to get Reeder's rig and driver.
Finally they did quiet down and then along toward midnight we got the Governor's carriage hitched up and took him out and up the hill behind the house and out that way to a road where he could get away," Julia said. "The men were very angry in the morning and threatened to ride my husband on a rail. But I told them that I would have to ride behind him. I talked to them for quite a while, and asked them to be good, that I was trying to cook breakfast for them. I told my girl to make biscuits and cook meat for them all.
Reeder escaped all the way to Illinois disguised as a woodchopper. It was thanks to Julia's help that Reeder was able to get away safely.
"By talking with the men I got them good natured and they ate breakfast," said Julia.
The Stinsons had several children but only a few of them lived to become adults. Julia's husband died in 1882. He and his deceased children were buried in Tecumseh and were later moved to Topeka.
The Stinson home in Tecumseh still exists, but is privately owned. Several structures, including the house, are still standing.
View the money belt and scales used by the Stinsons at their Uniontown trading post.
Entry: Stinson, Julia
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: August 2004
Date Modified: March 2013
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.