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Pardee Butler Banner

Pardee Butler banner

This rare proslavery banner dates from a turbulent era of the state's history--"Bleeding Kansas."

Imagine you are adrift on the Missouri River, floating on a crude log raft. The men who placed you there expect you to die. The current is swift, and the river is filled with driftwood. You do not know how to swim. Why have you been cast adrift? Because you spoke out against slavery.

This was the experience of Rev. Pardee Butler, who moved from Illinois to Kansas Territory in 1855. He believed Kansas should be a free state, but he settled in one of the more prominent proslavery areas in the territory.

Pardee Butler, circa 1870

Outspoken on Slavery

After building a log cabin on a claim along Stranger Creek near Farmington, Butler traveled to Atchison. He intended to board a steamboat to Illinois to bring his family to Kansas. On August 17, 1855, while waiting to board the boat, Butler expressed his antislavery views. Later that evening, he was confronted by a group of men who tried to get him to sign a statement in support of slavery.

When Butler refused, he was dragged to the Missouri River where the group threatened to drown or hang him. Instead of actually committing the act of murder themselves, the mob decided to set him adrift on the river, believing he would not survive the ride. They also told Butler that Missourians would try to shoot him from their side of the river bank.

A few logs were lashed together, and an "R" for "rogue" was painted on Butler's forehead. A banner was attached to a branch on one of the logs, declaring "Greeley to the Rescue" (a reference to Horace Greeley, the anti-slavery editor of the New York Tribune). The banner also declared Butler to be an agent for the Underground Railroad.

Close-up of the bannerAfter he was set adrift, Butler used a penknife to cut off the branch and use it as an oar. He managed to dock on the Kansas side of the river a few miles below Atchison and, eventually, made his way to Illinois as planned. Upon his return to Kansas Territory, Butler was attacked again for his beliefs. This time he received 39 lashes by whip. The Atchison mob wanted to tar and feather him but, lacking feathers, used cotton instead.

Butler survived his ordeals and died peacefully on his Farmington farm on October 19, 1888, at the age of 72. The banner was kept by the family as a memento.  It was donated by his son, Charles Pardee Butler, to the Kansas Historical Society in 1927. It is on display in the main gallery of the Society's Kansas Museum of History.

There is a postscript to Butler's story. One member of the mob that had set Butler adrift ran for office in Nemaha County in 1861 (the year the Civil War began). His opponent seized the advantage by using five copies of this banner in political rallies to demonstrate the man's poor character.  The proslavery candidate lost the election. One copy of that banner was given to the Society in 1881.

For more on Bleeding Kansas, see the online exhibit Willing to Die For Freedom.