Jim-Lane Wild Hair Hero

The most hated man in Missouri


During the Bleeding Kansas era and continuing until the end of the Civil War, James Henry Lane was both a Kansas hero and the most hated man in Missouri.  Lane came to Kansas shortly after the territory was opened by the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1954.  Settling in the abolitionist town of Lawrence, Lane soon saw that he could make a name for himself by becoming a voice and proponent for the Free State movement in the Kansas Territory. 

Lane was not a fervent advocate of the abolitionist movement, instead he did not really care one way or the other about slavery.  He is quoted as saying, “I look upon this [slavery] question just as I look upon the horse or the jackass questions.  It is merely a question of dollars and cents.  If Kansas had been a good hemp and tobacco state, I would have favored slavery.”

In 1855, Lane was elected as president of the Territorial Kansas Free State.  This legislature was not the official governing body in Kansas at the time as Pro-Slavery men controlled the state government at this time.  By 1859 the tide had turned, and the Free-State men had taken control of the government.  Kansas gained statehood in January 1861 and James Lane was elected one of its first senators.  At the outset of the Civil War, Lane added “General” to his title.

After the inception of the Civil War, Lane was tasked with organizing a company of “Volunteers”.  This unit would go on to be known as Lane’s Brigade.  This unit saw very little true “military” action in the Civil War.  Instead, Lane took his “jayhawkers” into Missouri to raid towns and farms where known pro-slavery men lived.  Over the course of the fall and winter of 1861, Lane’s Brigade is said to have burned and plundered between 1600 – 2400 Missouri farms.  For more on Lane’s activities during Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War, pick up a copy of my new book, Moonlit Mayhem:  Quantrill’s Raid of Olathe, Kansas, wherever books are sold.  Save $5 with the code JOCOMOON if you purchase your signed copy at www.jonathanjonesauthor.com

One could argue that the tactics used in the raid on Lawrence in August of 1863 were introduced, on a much smaller scale, by General Lane in Missouri in the winter of 1861.  In fact, Lane himself is said to have been one of the targets of the Lawrence Raid, but he escaped by running from his Lawrence residence in his nightshirt and hiding in a ravine behind his home.  The number of casualties attributed to Lane’s Brigade is difficult to determine as Lane often had Missouri prisoners dig their own graves before their execution.  In addition, many Missourians perished due to exposure after their homes were destroyed as winter approached.

Lane was always known as a bit mentally unstable.  In spite of this, he was a fabulous speaker who could whip crowds and troops into a frenzy with his words.  His popularity began to fade a bit when he was elected to his second term in the U.S Senate in 1865.  During this election he had promised as many as seventeen men the same government position if they supported him.  Obviously, after the election, he had a problem.  He solved this problem by telling these men that they were crooked for agreeing to support him in return for the office.  As a result of their dishonesty, he would give the position to none of them. 

 Lane returned to Kansas under a doctor’s care in 1866.  On July 1, of that year, he went for a carriage ride with his brother-in-law on the outskirts of Leavenworth.  At one point the carriage stopped, and Lane stepped out, drew a small pistol, and shot himself in head.  He survived for several days before succumbing to the injury.  James Lane died on July 11, 1866 and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Lawrence, Kansas.   



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