From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.

Letter From the West

Men of Education in Demand

Fourth in a 5-Part Series

(originally published in KC STAR)

The following are among the letters written to his father in Massachusetts by John J. Ingalls, on his arrival in Kansas Territory. Ingalls later served a s a senator from Kansas.

Sumner, Kansas Territory

Friday, Nov. 5, 1858

Dear Father -- The city of St. Joe, instead of being directly opposite this place, as suggested in your letter of the 15th, is about 18 miles north in an airline and 35 by the river. The immediate vicinage of a large and long-established place, however, would be detrimental rather than advantageous, I think, as Elwood, in this territory, occupies the same position in regard to St. Joe that you attributed to Sumner, and is one of the slowest places in the West.

The opposite shore of the Missouri here, as fas as the eye can reach, which is several miles in each direction, is a dense, unbroken growth or forest, with only one home visible in the while expanse, and that a small cabin immediately upon the bank of the river. My window is just about on the level with the tops of the cottonwood trees which cover the "bottom," and I look over them, as over a table, to the "bluffs" three clothed with maple, beech, oak, and other varieties of eastern woods.

The scene is monotonous but not without its relieving lights and shadows. Nature is fond of compensations.

It gives me pleasure to find that I have no need to import my friends. I have met with nothing but kindness and good will in the whole course of my recent experience. Perhaps it arises from the fact that I am the only free-state lawyer in the county -- a county which was, and still is the focus of border - ruffianism and proslavery propagandism. I am gradually working into business, and seem to see a good prospect ahead.

Dolts Unlimited

Men of education and ability are scarce and in demand. Offices are filled by dolts, and posts of honor and profit by irresponsible persons, because there are more positions than there are worthy candidates. As the gentleman wrote to his ambitious friend in Illinois, "There is an excellent chance for you, for very mean men get into office out here."

The great difficulty at present is a want of money. There seems to be almost no currency at all, and how people live is a mystery to me. Some building is in progress, but improvements generally are a standstill, and a great many laborers consequently thrown out of wages. In one instance it was worse than a standstill, a newly-erected brick store on the levee having tumbled into a ruin, which needs only the attraction of moonlight and climbing ivy to be quite romantic.

Out of one client I get a disk made for my office; out of another, a tailor, I get my old manufactured into an excellent sack cloth, which is the most extraordinary of garments for comfort, if nothing more.

Game of all kinds is very abundant. Two wild turkeys were shot from the dining room window a day or two since, and we had them cooked for dinner. Their flesh though tender and of fine fiber, has not as much richness and delicacy as our domestic fowl. The defect may perhaps be in part attributable to the cooking.

Wild ducks and geese come stringing across the cloud every hour; prairie chickens walk round the paths in search of food; a deer was killed crossing the river a short time since; and a she grey wolf as large as a mastiff poked its gaunt head into a kitchen door and then escaped before the inmates could send a bullet after her.

There is a singular absence of many of those articles here which I supposed would be very plenty, such as milk, butter, cheese and fruit.

They are all scarce and dear. The cows are branded and belled and turned loose upon the unfenced prairie, to be reclaimed only when the owner wants some beef. It seems a little curious that milk should be 12 cents a quart, butter 40 and 50 cents per pound, when hay and pasture can be had for the taking.

New England farmers soon lose their characteristics in this paradise of indolence. My latest dates from the East are Oct. 23. With regards to all, very truly, your son,

John J. Ingalls

Nov. 6.

I was chosen president of a political meeting last evening and am to attend the territorial convention at Lawrence next week. J.J.I.


Sumner, Kansas


Nov. 17, 1858

Dear Father -- I sent you a letter day before yesterday, I think, and one to Moms yesterday. The mails are somewhat tedious, but not absolutely unsafe, so far as I can ascertain. Letters are seldom lost, though frequently delayed to a most unreasonable time.

I did not go to Lawrence as I anticipated. The weather was rather bad and I somewhat unwell. It happened quite fortunately that the convention adjourned subject to the action of the executive committee, without transacting any business whatever. The two subjects proposed were to consult whether the Free-State party should go into a distinctive Republican organization at once, and whether immediate steps should be taken to gain admission into the Union as a state. I think the public sentiment is negative on both these points.

Some parties are quite anxious for speedy admission from the fact that measures are actually on foot to secure the division of Kansas into two parts -- the western, containing Pike's and Spanish Peaks, with their treasures of gold, to be organized into a new territory, in which the old struggle between freedom and slavery may be renewed.

That it will ultimately be separate there can be no doubt. It is 700 miles long -- and impracticable distance through which to transmit the feeble vitality of a state government.

The reports from Pike's Peak continue favorable. Parties report gold in abundance, plenty of water, large forests of white pine, and a climate temperate and healthy. The prospect of large and wealthy emigration is good.

About the last of December and January the Eastern papers will begin to be flooded with letters and suggestions from the West as a stimulus to emigration. I see the working of the machinery well here and am urged to put my shoulder to the wheel.

Colonel Phillips, of Fitchburg, president of some railroad thereabouts and a man of money, who has been here several days, has just left for Boston via Hannibal & St. Joe railroad. If you have an opportunity I wish you would see him and get his ideas upon the state of things here.

He is a sagacious man and thinks exactly as I do about the West. He took rather a liking to me, I think, and communicated with me at considerable length upon confidential matters of business between himself and parties here and elsewhere.

Quite Entertaining

The means by which all these thing are engineered are quite entertaining to a novice like myself, having as I do every opportunity to observe the workings of the machinery. As this latter affair is not an entire certainty as yet, it may be well not to mention it as such, though the prospect is a very excellent one.

I have neglected to ask you in my previous letters if you were aware of the process by which these western towns are built and the modus operandi therein? It is interesting and a singular commentary on the audacious enterprise of the age. I sometimes wonder if the Plymouth Company and the Massachusetts Bay Company of two or three centuries ago were organized like these western corporations. We may become historical yet.

The weather is beautiful. The temperature has moderated to an invigorating mildness, the light snow is rapidly disappearing beneath the combined influence of the sun, wind and "jumpers," which last are a rude attempt to realize the idea conveyed to the mind of a civilized being by the term "sleigh."

Upon two long poles, which serve for shafts and runners, a rough framework is erected, upon which a crate or drygoods box is dangerously situated. The horses here being mostly unused to anything but the saddle, plunge and run furiously in harness, whereby a gallop over the prairie in a "jumper" is dangerous enough to be very exciting.

There is a singular peculiarity about the winds here. They blow with a steady, unbroken trade-wind regularity, deprived of the blasts and gusts to which we are accustomed by the seaboard.

Everything in a business way continues dead--very little if any activity in real estate, just trade enough to meet the demands of the stomach. Everybody waiting "till spring opens" and emigration sets in. I have got business enough on hand to yield me $200 or $300 some time but it is no use to take any steps at present.

I am recovering from the effects of my exposure the other day without serious inconvenience.

With regards to all at home,

Very truly your son,

John J. Ingalls



Sumner, Kansas Territory,

Dec. 22, 1858.


Dear Father -- Your letter of the 7th, advising me of the forwarding of the books, etc., on the 4th, came duly to hand yesterday. I have written to Fifield, ordering the same sent on at once. They should have sent to Leavenworth, as the express runs to that place all winter.

St. Louis is not very 'near by," as you suggest. Letters and packages come from Boston to St. Louis in about four days, and from there here in from eight to 10, so that the distance is only little more than one-third, as far as time is concerned. The real distance is by river about 550 miles; by land something less.

Last evening I had the honor of presenting to the citizens a draft of a charter for the city of Sumner, which is to be engineered through the next legislature. It met with their approbation, as it could not well otherwise do, inasmuch as none of them knew anything about such things, and I read it with such immense rapidity that one section must have been erased from their memory by the incursion of the next.

The charter is short, and as simple in its provisions as is consistent with working capacity. No officers salaried at present; nothing for ornament said everything for utility. After examining several charters and consulting various gentlemen in their respective cities, we adopted the last city charter of Lawrence as the basis of our own.

It was a laborious, thankless job, and I am glad it is done. I have secured myself from any participation in the trouble of organizing by inserting a provision that no person shall be eligible to election to any office unless he shall have resided in the territory at least six months next preceding the election.

The Pike's Peak fever rages furiously here, and parties are organizing in all parts for emigrating early in the spring. they are getting up a company here in which they agree to transport and feed persons to the gold-bearing region at the moderate price of $50 per head. The trip will take from 20 to 30 days.

One party started in January with provisions and goods to take advantage of the needs of the early emigrants. The papers are filled with letters and reports, many of them bearing evidence of their fabrication in the names which purport to authenticate them. There are some most unscrupulous endeavors being made to influence the travel to the different points. How much is truth and how much is fiction it is impossible now to determine.

The weather continues very pleasant, but extremely muddy. My health is good, the only discomfort to which I am subjected physically being the toothache, which annoys me at the most unseasonable hours. Not having slept much for a night or two nor eaten much in several days, I trust you will excuse the negligence of this letter and believe me, with regards to all at home,

Very truly, your son,



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