I’m currently on a big John Brown and “Bleeding Kansas” kick, so a handful of my next entries will be about a few of those sites. I obtained a map of Kansas historical sites towards the beginning of this project, and discovered that I could tackle two birds with one stone by visiting both Marai Des Cygnes and Mine Creek in one trip. I’ve read a bit about this site in a rather bad book about “Bleeding Kansas”, one that did a great job of getting me ideas of where to go and not much else sadly. As a quick stop, this site was somewhat hard to find, but well worth it if one is in the area.
Marais Des Cygnes Massacre Memorial Site, Near Amoret, MO and the Marais Des Cygnes River
According to the official Kansas website for the self-guided installation:
“Missouri border ruffians like Charles Hamilton led raids into Kansas to steal goods and harass freestaters. Linn County was the site of some of the raids, including a particularly deadly one May 19, 1858. Hamilton and some 30 other men rode through the village of Trading Post, captured 11 free-state men, and marched them into a ravine where they opened fire upon them. Five of the men were killed, five were seriously injured, and one escaped unharmed.
The community was drawn together in the face of these events even as they were unfolding. Sarah Read, wife of the captured Reverend Benjamin L. Read, set off on foot, spyglass in hand, to chase down Hamilton and his men. She came upon the victims, some still alive, and tried to render aid. Word of the massacre spread quickly and by afternoon freestaters from around the area had gathered to treat the wounded, collect the dead, and help James Montgomery’s Jayhawkers ride into Missouri in fruitless pursuit of Hamilton’s gang.
Locally, wrathful indignation accompanied feelings of shock. John Brown, arriving at the scene toward the end of June, built a “fort” some 220 yards south of the ravine. It was reported to have been two stories high, walled up with logs and with a flat roof. Water from a spring ran through the house and into a pit at the southwest corner.
The land on which the fort was built belonged to Eli Snider, a blacksmith. Later he sold it to Brown’s friend Charles C. Hadsall, who agreed to let Brown occupy it for military purposes. Brown and his men withdrew at the end of the summer, leaving the fort to Hadsall.
In later years Hadsall built a stone house adjoining the site of Brown’s fort, enclosing the spring within the walls of the first floor. In 1941 the Kansas legislature authorized acceptance of the massacre site, including Hadsall’s house, as a gift to the state from the Pleasanton Post, Veterans of Foreign Wars. In 1961 it provided funds for the restoration of the building, and in 1963 the entire property was turned over to the Kansas Historical Society for administration. A museum was established in the upper floor of the building in 1964. Today the park is operated as Marais des Cygnes Massacre State Historic Site, a drive-through interpreted setting.”
This episode is spoken about briefly in the book, War to the Knife by Thomas Goodrich – a book that seemingly has polarized some readers, but I enjoyed immensely. It seems some (going by Amazon reviews) think Goodrich treats abolitionists as “the bad guys” in the book, but honestly neither side were the fabled “good guys”. It becomes a tough ethical debate when considering the actions of men that do bad things for a good reason. Are they still good?
Another book is Bleeding Kansas: The Real Start of the Civil War, which I did not particularly enjoy, although it does talk about this event, and was a solid list of historic sites despite the sparse information on anything else.
Finally, Bushwhackers of the Border details some of the exploits of various Bushwhacker groups running in Missouri, and there is an entire chapter devoted to the Marais Des Cygnes Massacre.
This was one of the more harrowing adventures I’ve had trying to get to one of these sites – I mean nothing happened, but it seemed like I was routinely on the cusp of something. After leaving the site of the Battle of Mine Creek, Marais Des Cygnes Massacre is something like 7 miles north, so far so good. You have to cross the state line into Missouri for a brief moment and drive through a small town called Amoret, then take a series of gravel roads back into Kansas to get to the museum. Most of these were full of “DO NOT ENTER PRIVATE PROPERTY” signs and were lined with barbed wire fences – I honestly wasn’t sure if I was going to find the location or get shot by a moonshiner and left for dead in rural Kansas. Luckily the events of Wrong Turn did not materialize, and I finally made it to the outdoor museum. One can fully enjoy most of the museum without even leaving their car – I stopped a couple of times to look at things such as the memorial and the ravine used to dump the townspeople after they were shot.
I’m not sure if it’s all in my head due to the heaviness of the subject matter that made such a historical site necessary or something paranormal, but maaaan, is this place creepy. Whether or not one believes in that stuff, I still couldn’t handle the absolute stillness I felt while walking around or the strange “somebody is watching you” feeling I was getting the entire time. It would be interesting to see if anyone with paranormal activity equipment (EVPs and the like) would have any luck out there.
I enjoyed my visit to this site, and liked that it was a self-contained drive-through experience. I had not done anything like that yet, so it’s cool to see a different wat to experience a historical site. My only reservation was the fact that I was unaware that the victims of this massacre are buried at a nearby ghost town called Trading Post that is basically just a museum and cemetery. I drove by it, realized it was closed and moved on – now I’m kicking myself that I missed it. Perhaps the next time I go down there, I will make sure to stop. As I stated before, if you make this trip, I would plan on hitting Mine Creek, Marais Des Cygnes, and Island Mound in Butler, MO all at once as all three are with 15 miles of each other. Factoring in a stop at Trading Post and you would have a full historical day trip on your hands! Ghosts or sketchy gravel roads be damned – definitely check this place out.
This article is part of my summer series History Boy Summer, which you can keep up with by following this LINK.