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Pardee Butler

Portrait of Pardee Butler

Abolitionist, minister, Atchison County pioneer.  1816-1888

The Reverend Pardee Butler came to Kansas Territory from Illinois in the spring of 1855, settling along Stranger Creek near Farmington, Atchison County. He was a minister in the Disciples of Christ Church and had served as a pastor in Ohio and Iowa.

After building a log cabin on the land, 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. Butler later recalled that he said to his tormentors: "Gentlemen, if I am drowned I forgive you; but I have this to say to you. If you are not ashamed of your part in this transaction, I am not ashamed of mine. Good bye." After 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.

Despite his troubles, Butler brought his family to Kansas, but he did not return to Atchison until April of 1856. Before he could conclude his business, he was accosted by pro-slavery men and was threatened with hanging. The mob settled for tar and feathers.

He did not abandon his abolitionist work, but the coming of calmer times to Kansas saved him from additional violent experiences. He helped organize the Republican Party in Kansas, was important to the development of the Christian Church in the West and was a leader in the Prohibition movement. He was widely recognized in the state until his death on his Farmington farm on October 19, 1888.

Entry: Butler, Pardee

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 2003

Date Modified: June 2011

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