“Monsieur Bernard, what I judge is infecting my State is not so much an invasion of Unionists,” Lafayette stated, his words catching the attention of his neighbors. Seeing them turning to face him, he stepped away from the hubris South Carolinian, slipping rather naturally into orator mode. “Face it gents are we not a State born of the very same venerated nation, our Grandfather’s fought to create? However, as Missourians are not our hearts aligned with those of our Southern Sister States?” As he spoke, he nodded, placing a hand over his heart and the group automatically nodded back.
“And why should we not be?” Lafayette went on, “Many of us have famillies within those honoré States. Nonetheless, is not each of you still proud to call yourself Americans? Monsieurs, the true crisis at hand is outside influences, we ourselves have brought down upon our heads. We have done this by indulging in contracts with banks, railroads, and industries owned by unseen, anonymous men. There stands our true menace.”
Warming to the topic, he smiled, for hidden inside him was a thespian that enjoyed breaking free whenever he addressed a crowd. “Missouri should be left to stand on her own. We the people of Missouri should be allowed the freedom to make our own decisions. It is true, we are of Southern lineage. However, are not our views often separate and autonomous from those of the Deep South? In addition, do our Southern Sisters, repeatedly, neglect our proposals on the floors of Congress? Hellfire, does not the entire eastern seaboard treat us as if we are naïve children? They do this, because, they do not understand us. We are neither Northern nor truly Southern. We live in a Western State. We are Westerners and as such, we have our own ideation. Is not our way of life, even a good deal of our beliefs, unlike those of any other State? It is by this rationale, I say we ought to be left to fashion our own personal libertés. And, these libertés must remain untarnished, by the subsequent influences and ideology brought about by men who cannot fathom what Missouri stands for or, for that matter, what it means to be a Western man.”
The group before him cast quizzical glances to one another. More than a few were not sure which side of the fence Lafayette stood and several of them did not understand half of what he said. However, to the last they agreed no other State had taken the time to understand them.
Lafayette let his words seep in until he saw the crowd slowly nodding. Having almost won them over, he spread his hands wide, as if to show them the light. “Y’all want to know how I feel. . . I feel I am a patriot. I believe in liberté wrought by our forefathers. Furthermore, I trust an even-handed compromise can consistently be reached by enlightened men.” Wetting his lips, preparing to finish his speech when he was interrupted by a soft, drawling voice from the back of the crowd.
“Your rhetoric sure does hum like a fine politicking speech.”
Lafayette froze. He knew the voice.
It was Jackson Ericksen. The Eriksen’s farm backed up to Sienna, just as he and Jackson’s birthdays backed up to each other. They had been pals for as far back as he could recall. Even not being able to see him, Lafayette could conjure up his friend’s stormy, blue eyes which Jackson used to study a person clear through before he would deign to speak to them. Not that a person ever truly got a clear view of Jackson’s eyes, since his wheat colored bangs habitually hung in his face, lending him an impassive air. There was an understated quality to Jackson from the way he walked to how he dressed.
Others often mistook it to mean he was soft, at times even badgering him into fistfights; not one of those fights had Jackson failed to win. The second his hard left hook contacted with an opponent, they started rethinking the notion of him being soft right quick. More than once, Lafayette had seen him finish a fight in three or less punches. Most recently was this past spring, when his own little brother had deemed his horns had grown long enough to shove Jackson out of the way.
Jackson had flattened Thaddeus, in one blow. He was the only man to ever do so. Moreover, he was the only man; Lafayette would leave standing for doing so. He was a good man and a better friend. So why, of all present, was he inviting Lafayette into verbal swordplay?
“Besides Lafayette, if we were not to indulge in outside contracts, enabling us to push our economic growth; would we not then resemble the backward barbarians the Kansasans and their Northern friends have unfaithfully labeled us?” Jackson asked.
“You are correct. However, it is imperative for us to be more selective of the contracts we sign with conglomerates outside our borders. If we continue, passin’ our finances and political structure to men of different ideology, in exchange for growth, all of Missouri is bound to become enslaved to outside leadership.”
Orville Riggs inched out, where he could see Lafayette and Jackson, “Sam Hill, if’n the pair of you ain’t speaking like some mighty, high-polished barristers. Why do y’all not aim a bit straighter at the point? Seems the only words, I have understood were Missouri and slavery.” Orville said, catching the eyes of men, he knew to be slaveholders, like his self. And with a lopsided smile, he strode toward Lafayette, who was staring at him in shock, because neither he nor Jackson had mentioned slavery.
All of a sudden, Lafayette realized if he did not step aside, the big ox would be standing right on top of him. But, he moved too slow, for Orville already had one of his large arms wrapped about his shoulder and flourishing a huge grin, he stole the stage. “You see, Gents, our real problem, by God, I do mean our real problem lies with those damnable Jayhawkers. They are filthy dogs who storm our border for no other purpose than looting. They come over here; their minds are ripe-full of plans for murder. I would bet each of you is familiar with their claims; of how they are walkin’ in God’s shining light and all they do is in the name of freedom and liberty. Bullshit! What they are really chanting is, ‘War! War to the knife and the knife to the hilt!’ And, it is we Missourians they are stickin’ their knives in. Now, what you got to say to that?” He chortled, releasing his hold on Lafayette to fold his arms across his bulging chest.
“Orville, I say they are yellow, two-faced liars! You are correct. They are up and raiding our State... hell, our homes, to line their own pockets. We all recognize it ain’t anything except zealotry and greed that brings them riding across our back forties. I tell you...” Lafayette paused, wondering if his next words would cast the oil into the fire. “There are currently men throughout this nation, who are using the fervor of their own dogma as a free pass to lay down a personal form of justice. I say, it is immoral!”
Jackson asked, “Are you saying guarding your home is no more than a false fervor?”
Lafayette thought he was almost free and Jackson speaking up again, made him feel like his friend had punched him where he was put together. “Non! Every man has the right to protect what is his.”
“Exactly, and that is why I am signing up with Jo Shelby’s Unit,” piped in Mitchell Seaborne.
Every face turned to Mitchell, who was quiet as a mouse and somehow even managed to look like one with his dusty, gray- brown hair, small sharp nose, and eyes that never quit moving. The concept of the meekest of them joining a military unit sparked everyone’s attention.
“You heard me.” Mitchell said, standing straighter, staring into the eyes roving over him. “There is a group gathering against just them type of people Crowe is talking about. And me, I am signing on to ride with ’em. Going down to Springfield tomorrow, I am.”
“By golly! Good for ya.” Rance McGreen cheered. “Would not have thought ya had it in ya, damn proud of ya, Seaborne.”
Rance McGreen was a farmer by trade, which in the past, rarely left him time to attend harvest socials as he did not own a single slave to assist with his crops. However, that had not stopped a band of Freestaters from burning his farm. Enraged, he threw down his scythe and picked up a pistol.
Rance was known for his aggressive treatment of Kansasans. Given the chance, he was proud to tell of being one of the eight-hundred loyal Southerners who made up Senator Atchison’s posse, which invaded Lawrence back in ’56. Atchison claimed they would set justice back on the straight and narrow. All they did was stir Jim Lane and men of his ilk, up like a big old hornet nest. Making both abolitionists and Freestaters alike, so humming mad, they swarmed the border taking vengeance on any they crossed. Never caring one lick, for a person’s politics, their age, or if they had anything to do with border patrolling.
The shouting circle closed tighter about Mitchell Seaborne and Lafayette saw it as his chance to meander away. Having managed to bully-bust himself free with high-dollar rhetoric, he felt he should escape while ahead. Best of all, he had told the truth without having to touch on his deeper convictions; which would be nothing if not unpopular.
Jackson ambled over, bumping into Lafayette, “Everything’s changing too fast. Is it not, Lafe?” he asked, the bitter smirk he was wearing smearing his gentle looks.
Gnawing on the corner of his lower lip, Lafayette nodded; more than anything, he wanted to rip Jackson for calling him out into fire. After a full minute’s consideration, he decided he did not feel like arguing with his pal, “you plannin’ to ride on down to Springfield?”
“Glory be! Why would I do that? You know my way of thinking: lawlessness contributes to lawlessness.” Jackson answered and with a casual practiced air pushed his long bangs from his face. “I have no plans on attaching myself to a troop. What about you?” He asked, avoiding looking at his friend. Still, he was mightily curious, as Lafayette had kept his opinion regarding enlisting close to the vest.
Taking a few steps from the cheering and hollering group, Lafayette muttered, “I ain’t got any intentions to join.” Cutting his eyes across the yard toward the front gate, wishing he could simply escape. “Like you, I have been able to bow out of invites without losin’ face. Not sure how much damn longer I can keep dodging ’em though.” Before speaking further, Lafayette turned to look Jackson straight in the eyes, “I find these home guards nauseating; all of ’em. They ain’t nothing more than semi-organized lynch mobs.”
Jackson remained silent.
Lafayette could not read any disapproval from him. Sighing with relief, he turned
to watch the others bantering for war, thinking. ‘I did it. I finally said aloud, how I do not believe in huntin’ Free-Staters, abolitionists, or whatever the supposed enemy is called.’ Standing there, Lafayette felt Jackson scrutinizing him, “Tarnation, we have grown from boyhood with most all of ‘em,” he said, hitching his chin toward the group. “It turns my insides knowing they are ridin’ the border.”
“I concur,” Jackson said, removing a cigarillo from a small, silver case and taking time, to draw a hot flame into the tobacco. “We know their families... been in their homes, eaten at their tables, and laughed with their sisters.” Jackson took a deep pull on his smoke. When he spoke again, his voice was a mere whisper, “They all appear different somehow.”
“Mmm Hmmm, I would like to think we could all stay as we have always been. But it is a childish notion. Every man here is reared with manners and religious morals. I suppose... if they feel it is their purpose, well, I pray their upbringings beget a voice of reason to their patrols. Still, I am unable to shake the notion of how damn wrong it is to storm the border for the singular purpose of harassing another State’s citizens. I understand they are doing the same to us, still hellfire, any way you look at it, none of this will make the situation any better.”
“I am of the same mind, Lafe. I believe none of this will bring about the results... they are all hoping for.” Jackson said, pointing at their friends with his c cigarillo.
Inhaling the sweet smoke drifting around them, Lafayette asked. “May I have a smoke?”
Lighting one from his own, Jackson passed it over without comment and the two of them stood companionably smoking. During which, Lafayette’s dark eyes took on a faraway gaze as he considered what they had said. At last, he broke the comfortable silence. “It is hypocritical of me to condemn a single one of ’em. For I too am of the opinion some of the Northern States are being given a far more lenient bend of justice, and it damn well ain’t fair. Seems to me, if’n we do not stand up and soon, then we will all be overrun. Makes me confused how I feel about myself.” He turned the cigarillo between his fingertips blowing on the cherry until a chunk of soft, white ash fell from its tip.
“Sounds like there is a part of you considering joining?”
Lafayette shook his head. “I do find the crutch of being educated is there are
Times, I understand the darker shadows of politics far too well. Way I see it, if South Carolina keeps riling her sisters, ain’t a one of ‘em goin’ to settle down, unless each of’em is allowed to follow their constitutional rights as written in the tenth amendment. With their sine qua non, it ain’t the place of an outside government to squash the rights of a State and its citizen’s therein.” Lafayette’s voice turned cold. “We are a democratic society. Should not criminal transgressions be handled in a court of law? Who the hell declared the point of a revolver as a way to bring about justice? Besides, what kind of equitable justice is that anyhow?” Sighing, he let his building steam loose with a large exhale of tobacco smoke. “People just need to let the law do its damn function.”
“I will not dispute a word you have said.” Jackson replied. “Although, Lafe, you mark my words, this whole scene and I am not speaking merely of our personal border difficulties, but the whole barrel is fixing to blow up and bring this nation to war. A time will come when you are going to be forced to choose where you will stand.”
“Have you made your choice?”
“Yup,” Jackson said, throwing his cigarillo to the ground, grinding the life out of it beneath his boot heel. “When the South secedes and there ain’t gonna be no ifs. So, when the South secedes and Missouri follows. I will enlist with the Southern forces.”
Lafayette nodded. ‘Hmm, Jackson’s talked of nothing else other than becoming a doctor these past years. Here he is studyin’ alongside Doctor Mathews, yet, he is sayin’ he will go to war. How could I have misread him so? Suppose this is another damn flawless example of how the world about me is changin’.’ Chewing on his lip, he peeked at Jackson from the slant of his eye. ‘If he is of the opinion joinin’ the fight is the right and honorable choice, well, it seems Jackson ain’t fully considered the pain war will bring. Then again, maybe he has, and figures it is where his skills will be needed.’
While they chatted, Valentine McCane took it on himself to stroll over. Smiling at them, Valentine played out his words as if he was testing Lafayette. “Well, Fate, you got any high soundin’ notions about Jim Lane and his followers?”
Lafayette pulled, long and hard on the cigarillo, keeping his eyes on Valentine without bothering to hide his contempt. ‘Seems getting’ older has not brought on the least bit of change in Valentine. He is still the same bully, flannel mouth, I knew as a garçon.’ Blowing out his smoke, Lafayette spit on the ground between them, his nose wrinkling. “Valentine, as I have reiterated many a time to you, my name is Lafayette. Not Fate, Fay, or anything else you toss about!”
Valentine glowered back, his muddy eyes flicking to Jackson, who he
knew used a shortened version of Lafayette’s name. “Mighty vainglorious, ain’t you?”
Lafayette’s right hand curled into a fist. A smile tickled at the corners of his mouth, recalling the numerous gatherings Thaddeus had dived feet first into Valentine. Staring at Valentine, he found an entirely new appreciation for his little brother’s lack of composure when it came to dealing with bullies. Flicking the butt of his smoke between Valentine’s feet, he replied, “My right to be so, if I wish,” while thinking, ‘this would, most likely, be a poor time for me to fall to Taddy’s way of behaving.’ Peering over at Valentine, he asked almost cordially, “So, what new intelligence has been goin’ round regarding Rooster Jim’s activities?”
“Hellfire, Lafayette, what rock you been crouchin’ under? The Kansasans have been crossing the border like they is playin’ hopscotch.” Valentine sneered from under his peach fuzz mustache.
“Damnation, them crossin’ ain’t anything new?” Lafayette replied, stomping on the smoking cigarillo butt. “Besides, I ain’t had time to crouch, let alone ride around gatherin’ back-porch talk. What with Gabe doin’ business in Kansas City and Taddy down with the ague, hell, I have been so busy, most times; I ain’t aware what day it is. So, since you are all-fired up to gust on, keep right on blowin’, and fill me in?”
Jackson’s brow puckered, he rubbed at his face, saying, “Lafe, you know Jeremiah Burke?”
Valentine scowled at Jackson.
“Of course; he and his live over in Bates, near Mount Pleasant.”
Jackson nodded, “it is going round how Captain Birmingham led the band who raided Jeremiah’s place. The Burke’s put up a good fight, did not make a difference. There was plain too many of them. They were turned out of their home and it was burned. Everything; the house, barn, outbuildings, even the fences.”
“But not before they robbed the place bare.” Valentine said.
Rance having joined them, added. “The sad truth is all that is left was the chimney just like my place.”
Jackson caught Lafayette’s eye, “Since you are bound on justice being the correct path. I am sure you do not need to be told about John Doy.”
Lafayette’s lips twisted into a tight, bitter smile, ‘Why in the hell does it feel like Jackson is settin’ me up to get into a fight?’ But, remaining aloof, he answered, “I am familiar with Dr. Doy. He is the abolitionist from Kansas who was caught breakin’ the law. Our courts convicted him of slave stealin’ and he is to serve time in the State Penitentiary over in Jefferson City. I read of his trial and his pending transfer, made me proud how Missouri has stuck by the judicial system and not irrational mob mentality.”
“That is fine, except a gang of Free-Staters stole him away from jailer Brown at rifle point. I gather they all felt it was a fine rescue. Because, it is said he was escorted into Lawrence on the wings of a hero’s welcome.” Jackson stated, watching Lafayette, to see if he grasped the point yet. When he saw his friend’s face twist like he had gotten a mouthful of something dirty; he knew he had.
Valentine fell to parading in front of the group like a prize rooster, “Yes Sir, they are thumbin’ their damn noses at our judicial system. I say, it is high time we return to Lawrence to hunt us some abolitionist scum, and maybe we ought not be too gentl--”
Lafayette strolled away, not wishing to partake further in the rapidly rebuilding war talk. He did not need to hear more, to understand how shaky the truce of ’58 had become, especially with the men of his generation being so keen to dip their hands in blood. Throwing one last glance over his shoulder, he headed for the picnic hoping to find cooler minds. If not, he would search up Josephine and they would pull out for home.