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Hannibal Courier - Post - Hannibal, MO
  • Henderson creates new country, or does he?

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  • Editor's note: Pike County author Brent Engel is writing a play about Henderson to be performed during Louisiana Country Colorfest, and is contributing monthly articles about the former senator's life and experiences.
    With his signature, John Brooks Henderson created a new nation.
    Or, maybe not. Regardless, memories of the Kingdom of Callaway are kept alive more than 150 years later after Henderson scribbled his John Hancock.
    In 1861, Missouri was swept up in the raging Civil War that had engulfed the nation.
    In August, Henderson was commissioned a brigadier general in the state militia, which was loyal to the Union. The militias were called the "Home Guards."
    "Home Guards were voluntary military organizations enrolled into companies, electing their own officers and aiding as best they could government authority," Pike County Prosecuting Attorney and Henderson friend David P. Dyer explained in his autobiography. "In Pike County, this organization was quite large, and was continually on duty, with its principal headquarters at Louisiana."
    Henderson was in charge of all Union volunteers in the county. Many were untrained.
    "It was a motley crowd of soldiers, but they were loyal to the Old Flag and their hearts beat as one," recalled Dyer, whose brother, John, fought with the rebels.
    Dyer served as a lieutenant, and described his unit's lone armament as "an ancient cannon that was more effective for noise than anything else."
    Henderson set out to whip the men into shape. Still, as a lawyer, he preferred words to bullets, and he was determined to obey the Constitution, especially the Fourth Amendment's provision banning unreasonable searches and seizures.
    "Although I shall not refrain from entering a dwelling in search of one who has taken up arms against the government, no dwelling shall be entered unless proof is clear," he said.
    Put to the test.
    Henderson's sentiment was soon challenged.
    In September 1861, his outfit was ordered to quell an uprising by Confederate sympathizers in Montgomery and Callaway counties. The general marched his troops from Louisiana to Wellsville.
    Fulton lawyer Jefferson Jones organized volunteers with Southern sympathies after hearing claims that Union soldiers were ransacking homes and farms in the area. Members of the unit were not necessarily for secession, as many others in Missouri were, but did have concerns about being invaded.
    Jones, a Kentucky native with strong political connections, was "one of the most picturesque characters who has ever lived in Callaway County," according to historian Ovid Bell.
    Jones feared a battle with Henderson's troops, and in October sent a letter under a flag of truce to the Union general's Wellsville headquarters. Speaking more like an attorney than a militia commander, Jones accused Henderson's men of illegal acts and urged the withdrawal of Union soldiers.
    Page 2 of 5 - "Your presence on our border, your arrest of our citizens and your searchings of private dwellings have produced here the uprising of our people," Jones wrote.
    Henderson replied that his men had not violated anyone's Constitutional rights, and said the real problem was Confederate sympathizers who were preying upon Union supporters.
    "No man has ever been arrested by one of my command who could claim immunity from arrest at the hands of a good government," Henderson said. "What is fact? No man has yet been punished by the government, however guilty."
    Jones maintained that his men were only defending their families and properties, and were "not assembled in the interest of the Southern Confederacy." He demanded to know the purpose of Henderson's mission to the region.
    "Without intending to be harsh you have no right to know," Henderson replied. "I now, sir, advise you and those under your command to return to your respective homes and abandon what at least seems to be an effort to sustain this rebellion against the government."
    Henderson promised that "perfect security will be accorded" to all who laid down their arms, but those who "remain under arms must abide the consequences."
    "No man has been, or will be, arrested who will stay at home and attend to his business, giving neither aid nor comfort to the rebellion against the government," Henderson said.
    On Oct. 26, Jones sent a response to Henderson in which he said that the "assurances of protection of life, liberty and the quiet tranquility of home" were appreciated and that "you will suffer no disquietude to those under me who peaceably return to their homes" upon his order to disband the following day.
    The two men signed a treaty outlining their peace. In doing so, many said that Henderson - as a Union commander for the United States - formally recognized volunteers who had no other governmental representation than themselves.
    Jones couldn't claim he was on the side of the Confederacy because a group of Missouri state lawmakers with Southern sympathies who had broken away from Jefferson City did not vote to secede until the day after the treaty was signed.
    A nation is born?
    Almost immediately, the "Kingdom of Callaway" legend began.
    Historians say Jones himself may have coined the phrase to describe the rebel county, where Abraham Lincoln got only 15 of more than 2, 600 votes cast in the 1860 presidential election.
    "Both sides kept the agreement, and thereby the county obtained a name which probably will last through the ages," Bell wrote in his booklet "A Short History of Callaway County."
    The terms "were especially fortunate for the force under Col. Jones, for his men were inexperienced in war and armed only with rifles and shotguns, and in an engagement probably would have been routed, for Henderson's men were drilled and well-equipped." Bell wrote.
    Page 3 of 5 - A colleague of Henderson's, Brigadier Gen. Chester Harding, brought men up from Hermann to Callaway County.
    Harding complied with the treaty, but called the actions of Jones' men "treasonable" and said "the whole region is thoroughly disloyal" to the Union.
    A month later, the Confederate Congress recognized Missouri as its 12th state. The action meant that Missouri had both Union and Confederate federal representatives.
    Meanwhile, Henderson caught the ire of Union brass. He denied that he had compromised with the rebels by signing the Kingdom of Callaway agreement.
    Jones returned to his farm and law practice. He would later claim that Henderson tried to renegotiate the treaty because of all the trouble it caused.
    "I told him I had no power then to make any changes and declined doing so," Jones wrote after the war.
    Whom to believe?
    The "Kingdom," as it existed, lasted only a few weeks.
    But there's still debate over exactly whom to believe. Historians say both sides probably inflated their respective roles.
    On the Confederate side, Jones was seen as a hero for having dictated terms of peace while his smaller force likely faced annihilation.
    On the Union side, Henderson was proclaimed the victor for avoiding an unnecessary skirmish by demanding that a group of rebels which included many old men and young boys be disbanded.
    In April 2013, Northwest Missouri State University master's degree candidate Andrew Saeger presented a thesis in which he said that the "most reasonable explanation" for Henderson's action had been a result of a decree in August 1861 by Gov. Hamilton Gamble, a political friend of Henderson.
    "Gamble's first official act had been to issue a proclamation promising protection and non-interference to all Missourians who did not aid the rebels, regardless of their personal thoughts on slavery or secession," Saeger wrote.
    He also says that Henderson "was simply applying the standard policy of the state government and the federal military" and "was not granting or recognizing the independence of Callaway County."
    "As much as (Ovid) Bell may have wished to believe that Henderson dealt with Jones as if he were the agent of a sovereign power, the historical evidence does not support this claim," Saeger wrote in his thesis. "Too much of a logical stretch and too much massaging of the available historical facts are required to reach the conclusion that the agreement between Jones and Henderson created an independent nation-state of Callaway County. Subsequent events further show that Henderson had no intention of making a kingdom out of Callaway County."
    Records show Henderson sent a colonel under his command to occupy Fulton. By December, Union troops had rounded up dozens of Confederate sympathizers suspected of burning bridges and interfering with railroads.
    Page 4 of 5 - Jones later claimed the letter from Henderson - his only physical evidence of the treaty - was among the items soldiers stole or destroyed when they ransacked his home.
    "A few weeks after the compromise had been effected, about a hundred cavalrymen came to my house, arrested me, searched my premises, took my arms and ammunition, since which time I have never been able to find a line touching our compromise," Jones said.
    Aftermath.
    Jones paid a heavy price for his actions.
    He spent most of the war in prison, and while he was gone, Union soldiers repeatedly pilfered his farm.
    Jones faced execution for allegedly destroying railroads. In response to a letter of complaint, Brigadier Gen. John Schofield, a friend of Gov. Gamble's who had the support of Henderson, told Jones he would get a fair trial, but added a caveat.
    "I should be gratified if you are found less guilty than I believe you to be," said Schofield, who would later lead the Army of the Ohio as part of Gen. William T. Sherman's Atlanta campaign.
    Jones was found not guilty and was ordered to take an "oath of allegiance and (give) bonds for future good conduct." He paid $10, 000, but objected to the oath on principle.
    After overseeing links for the Chicago & Alton railroad through Henderson's hometown of Louisiana in Pike County and other parts of Northeast Missouri, Jones was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives in 1874. A year later, he sponsored a joint resolution giving amnesty to outlaws Frank and Jesse James and other former Confederate soldiers from Missouri.
    Jones and his wife, Sally, had 18 children, 11 of whom survived to adulthood. He died of a heart attack on Jan. 24, 1879.
    Dyer would go on to become a Congressman, a federal prosecutor and a federal judge. In his autobiography, he relates a few of what he calls "many ludicrous and amusing incidents" that happened in Pike County at the beginning of the war.
    One of the characters he met was Union Capt. John McNulta of Bloomington, Ill. The two once ran into each other at a crossroads during a battle.
    "McNulta greeted me with great cordiality, saying 'Dyer, I have a pistol in this (right) holster and a bottle of whiskey in the other (left). Which will you take?'" Dyer wrote. "I had no hesitancy in deciding."
    Another story involved what Dyer called "a noisy secessionist" and Virginia native named Spence Norvelle, who decided to hang a rebel flag outside his Louisiana saloon.
    "Norvelle, who spoke the Virginia vernacular well, said 'You may tar my shirt, you may tar my har, but you can't tar that flag,'" Dyer wrote (emphasis by the author).
    But Union supporters prevailed, and the banner was taken down and destroyed.
    Page 5 of 5 - "No more attempts were ever made to raise a rebel flag in Pike County," wrote Dyer, who died on April 29, 1924, in St. Louis.
    Like Jones', Henderson's military career was short-lived. He was appointed U.S. Senator in January 1862, following the removal of Gov. Trusten Polk, a Confederate supporter.
    Within six weeks, Henderson was called to the White House by President Lincoln for the first of many meetings that would lead to Henderson co-authoring the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery. He died in April 12, 1913, in Washington, D.C.
    Callaway County history buffs sought a measure of acknowledgement for the kingdom in 1961, when on paper they appointed Dr. David Horton as an ambassador to the United States. The 108th annual Kingdom of Callaway Supper was held last March in Fulton.
    "There are a great many unfortunate people who had the misfortune to be born elsewhere," said Ruth Dunham Dodge, an honored guest at the 1971 dinner.
    The Kingdom of Callaway County Historical Society still flies the nation's purple flag, which in many ways resembles the Confederate banner.
    Two blue bars represent the battles of Moore's Hill and Overton's Run, with eight stars highlighting the townships of the county in the 1800s. Five jewels on a golden crown in the center represent the five major rivers in the county. The red lining of the crown symbolizes the blood that was shed by county residents in the Civil War.
    The society's website is www.kchsoc.org and the group operates a museum in downtown Fulton.

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