African-American History in Mound City
By Anyatika Timmons
African-American presence in and around Mound City began many years ago. Possibly with the Native American Indian tribes involving trade as slaves and freed people that may have traveled about on the frontier prairies.
African-Americans co-existed with Anglo Americans and were arriving with them as slaves, servants, companions, and employees. There is evidence that many religious institutions workers/missionaries that came into Kansas before 1861 to work with the Native Indian peoples brought their African-American slaves with them. Some of these did escape their masters and were taken in among the Native Indian tribes, eventually becoming free years later and resided in Kansas or moved away, as migration is a natural process of life and changing situations. One fact is for sure, African-Americans have been as much a part of Kansas soil as any other incoming peoples.
Col. James Montgomery, who worked with Harriet Tubman and who was commander of the tri-colored brigade, with his raids liberated a great number of African-American peoples that settled in and around Mound City. Villages sprang up near Montgomery’s Fort-home. The Wide Awakes who became the Jayhawkers, provided protection and lookouts for the Mound City community and area. African-Americans were sometimes referred to in those days as bi-pedal contraband. There are many stories concerning the African-Americans presence in east central Kansas before 1865 when the 13th Amendment freed slaves, becoming the law of this Nation.
This area was a place of refuge and protection; a promised land foretold in religious songs and bible stories for many African-American slaves that chose to become fugitives in order to free themselves from that “peculiar institution” and to live fully as human beings. Mound City, then called Sugar Mound, was the “Headwaters” of the western trail of the Underground Railroad. Along with the nearby community of Moneka and the efforts of the Wattles family and others, this little town was a sanctuary from sorrow and servitude; a place of comfort offered to the African-Americans by supportive considerate Anglo families and friends. Quakers, abolitionists, Jews, Native American Indian peoples, and others living about the area were involved. Free soilers whom originally cared not to allow African-Americans to live in Kansas territory were targeted by proslavers. These people were determined to expand their ideals and dependence on a slave economy. Boarder ruffians carried out actions to run the free soil settlers out of Kansas territory. Clashes became frequent. The dramas were emotional, leading to the expression “bleeding Kansas” as blood was shed by Anglo neighbors and even among members of the same family over the slavery issue. In 1854-61 between Missouri and Kansas territory some of these involved were James Lane, John Brown, C. R. Jennison, J. H. Trego, G. L. Stearns, O.P. Bayne, and many others.
During the Civil was years as north and south fought, just east of Mound City in October of 1864 a Colored militia along with Col. J. D. Snoddy and Captain S. W. Greer’s convalescent troops and volunteers protected Mound City from Col. Sterling Price’s scouts until Col. Tom Moonlight and his Union troops arrived.
Many African-Americans settled here, had families, prospered and moved on or died here. When we read an account by Helen Hackner (my great-Aunt) in “A Little History About Mound City Kansas and Our Neighbors”, we learn there were churches, business, and many families. By the 1980’s when many of our elders passed on, African-American presence had just about disappeared in Mound City except for a few families. The 1990’s has seen some African-American families move back. This little community is still a nice place to live. WELCOME HOME!
A Little History About Mound City and our Neighbors Home of the Original Jayhawker by the Mound City Historical Society.
Linn County, Kansas A History by William Ansel Mitchell
James Montgomery, 1813-1871 Manuscript by Dr. Tom Holman
Jennison’s Jayhawkers A Civil War Calvary Regiment and its Commander by Stephan Z. Starr
Kansas A Bicentennial History by Kenneth S. Davis
The Peculiar Institution-Slavery in the Anti-Vellum South by Kenneth M. Stampp