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Samuel J. Crawford

Samuel Crawford

Politician, governor. Republican. Born: April 10, 1835, Lawrence County, Indiana. Died: October 21, 1913, Topeka, Kansas. Served as third governor of Kansas from January 9, 1865, to November 4, 1868.

Born in Lawrence County, Indiana, on April 10, 1835, Samuel Crawford moved to Kansas in 1859. During the Civil War he attained the rank of Brevet Major General and won the gubernatorial election while on active duty.  

Samuel Johnson Crawford was born April 10, 1835, near Bedford, Lawrence County, Indiana. The son of William Crawford, a farmer, and Jane Morrow Crawford, his grandfather, James F. Crawford, served as a Revolutionary War soldier. He was educated at local country schools and read law at Bedford. He later attended the Law School of Cincinnati College and graduated with a law degree in 1858. 

Crawford arrived in Kansas Territory on March 1, 1859, to begin a law practice in Garnett. On May 18, 1859, he participated in the organization of the state's Republican Party in Osawatomie, Kansas. On October 12 of the same year he was a delegate to the Republican state convention in Topeka. At the convention state officers were nominated as required under the Wyandotte Constitution. On December 6, 1859, at the age of 29, Crawford was elected to the first state legislature. 

The first session of the legislature did not convene until March 26, 1861, after Kansas had been admitted to the Union. As it closed the country was engulfed in the Civil War. Crawford resigned his legislative seat to become a captain in the Second Kansas Volunteer Infantry and participated in the Southwest Missouri campaigns led by General Nathaniel Lyon; he played a crucial role in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. In March 1862, Captain Crawford was assigned the command of Troop A, Second Kansas Cavalry, and soon afterward the full command of a battalion in the same regiment. In the Second Kansas Cavalry he participated in missions with General James G. Blunt in southwest Missouri, Arkansas, and Indian Territory until the early fall 1862. At the battle of old Fort Wayne, he led his battalion in the charge and captured an entire Confederate battery of artillery. On March 12, 1863, he was promoted to command the Second Kansas Cavalry and joined General Blunt at Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, for an expedition southward through the Choctaw Nation. This campaign ended with the taking of Fort Smith, Arkansas; Colonel Crawford was heroic in the capture of many prisoners, wagons, horses, a Confederate paymaster, and $40,000 in Confederate money.

On September 8, 1864, while Colonel Crawford was still in active service, he was nominated for governor of Kansas. Granted a leave of absence on October 1, upon his arrival in Kansas he learned of Confederate General Sterling Price’s massive raid through Missouri and he reported at once to the staff of General Samuel Curtis. Crawford participated in every battle of this campaign from Westport, Missouri, to Mine Creek, Kansas. For his bravery and meritorious service on the field of battle he earned the rank of brevet brigadier general on April 13, 1865.

Crawford was elected governor over the Republican Union candidate Solon O. Thacher. James McGrew of Wyandotte became his lieutenant governor. He began his term as the third governor of Kansas on January 9, 1865. He enjoyed immense popularity, particularly during his first year as governor, from both the citizenry and the press because of his distinguished war record. While he was governor the Civil War ended, the state’s population doubled, and 36 counties were created, one of which was Crawford County. Of national interest was Crawford’s appointment of a successor to re-elected Senator James H. Lane, who had committed suicide from severe depression. He named Edmund G. Ross, a fellow soldier and war hero. Ross later cast a crucial vote for acquittal in the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, much to Crawford’s surprise.

Crawford married Isabel Marshall Chase on November 27, 1866; they had one son and one daughter. He was the first governor to be reelected to a second term, gaining more votes than National Union candidate J. L. McDowell. He chose Nehemiah Green, who he had first met at the Republican Party convention in September 1866, for his lieutenant governor. In Crawford’s address the legislature he said, “Ours is a government of the people and when their wishes are made known via the ballot box it is our solemn duty to comply accordingly therefore, we will do our duty to serve those who have chosen us to serve.” During his second term the Kansas Legislature elected two United States senators. There was also debate over eliminating a reference to sex and race in election eligibility criteria during Crawford’s second term. While there was not widespread opposition to expanding the vote to include African Americans and women, white male voters would not approve any such change to the policy in 1867. New laws to permit counties to vote bonds for new railroad construction, to allow state taxes to build state buildings, to support forestation in Kansas, and to establish a state geological survey were passed during his administration.

In 1868 Crawford sought the Republican nomination for the U. S. Congress and failed. He did receive permission to recruit the 19th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry for service under General George Armstrong Custer. More than 1,300 men were recruited in three weeks. The regiment was organized to confront the resistance of Plains Indians to settlements on the state's western frontier. Crawford opposed the treaty making procedure for buying the Cherokee Neutral Tract and the Osage lands. His protest, along with the hostility in the lower house of Congress, led to an end of treaty making. Crawford had been concerned due to the increase in violence during his last two years as governor as a result of white settlement and railroad construction on the plains. He wanted to remove all Indian tribes from Kansas reservations. Crawford resigned his governorship on November 4, 1868, the day after the general election, to take command of the Kansas regiment as its colonel. Some were critical when he left his 21-year-old wife and four-month-old daughter to join his regiment. He joined General Philip Henry Sheridan in the campaigns; the troops marched 2,200 miles in four months without ever achieving their goal. His post ended on March 2, 1869.

Crawford returned home from the western front and moved his family to Emporia, Kansas; there he practiced law and became a real estate promoter. During a time of political corruption, he joined a Republican reform faction known as the “purifiers” and as a candidate in 1871 he was defeated in his run for U. S. senate by Alexander Caldwell of Leavenworth. In 1872 he won the presidency of the State Liberal Republican purifier convention. This splinter party fused with the Democrats in 1872 but lost. Crawford was then politically inactive until 1876 when he became the independent Greenback candidate for Congress. He moved most of his law practice to Topeka and also maintained an office in Washington, D.C. On 5 March 1877, Crawford was appointed by Governor George Anthony as Kansas state agent to prosecute the state’s claims against the federal government for a percentage of the amount received. Topeka continued to be his home, but he spent much of his time in Washington, D.C.; at his farm near Baxter Springs, Kansas; and on summer vacations on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts. In 1878 he was the unsuccessful Independent candidate for a non-existent “ghost” seat in Congress running on the assumption that Kansas needed an additional seat because of its population explosion.

His memoirs, Kansas in the Sixties, were published shortly before his death and attracted attention as a snapshot of conditions in early Kansas history. His only daughter, Florence, was the wife of Governor Arthur Capper. George Marshall Crawford, his only son, was a prominent newspaperman and publisher of the Topeka Capital.

Crawford died at the age of 78 on October 21, 1913, in Topeka, Kansas, and is buried at Topeka Cemetery. 

Entry: Crawford, Samuel J.

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: June 2011

Date Modified: February 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.