A Much Maligned Man: Sidney Washington Creek
Born: 13 January 1832 in Liberty, Clay County, Missouri
Died: 12 September 1892 in Liberty, Clay County, Missouri
Chapter 3 in the Life of the Much Maligned Man
The last chapter covering the life and times of Sidney Washington Creek hinted at the most tumultuous period in his life – the events leading up to, including, and following the Civil War. In order to fully understand the man and his actions we must attempt to immerse ourselves into the atmosphere attendant upon his life.
The impetus for much of the violence that would ultimately erupt was presaged by the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 that called for the issue of slavery to be decided by the settlers of the recently opened land. The settlers had to determine whether Kansas would enter the Union as a slave state or a free state. This option incited open confrontations between the non-slaveholders who envisioned their property rights and future earnings would be seriously degraded by the more powerful, wealthier slaveholders whose properties would be worked by cheap slave labor. It was not viewed by many as a question of morality but of optional competition for land, farm goods, and market!
From Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bleeding_Kansas: “ Immigrants supporting both sides of the question arrived in Kansas to establish residency and gain the right to vote. However, Kansas Territory officials were appointed (1854) by the pro-slavery administration of President Franklin Pierce (in office 1853–1857), and thousands of non-resident pro-slavery Missourians entered Kansas with the goal of winning elections. They captured territorial elections, sometimes by fraud and intimidation. In response, Northern abolitionist elements flooded Kansas with "free-soilers." Anti-slavery Kansas residents wrote the first Kansas Constitution (1855) and elected the Free State legislature in Topeka; this stood in opposition to the pro-slavery government in Lecompton. The two Territorial governments increased as well as symbolized the strife of Bleeding Kansas.”
Out of this turbulence among the next-door Kansans, arose the formation of a group called the Red Legs. Made infamous by Clint Eastwood’s movie, ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales,’ the actuality of their heinous behavior has been obscured by most historians in the interest of subverting the cause of the South in the Civil War and illuminating the morality and heroism of the Union.
Treated by many researchers, authors, and historians as ‘just another name for the Kansas Jayhawkers,’ it is critical to our comprehension of the actions undertaken by family members and neighbors of Sidney Creek to recognize this group as an actual unique entity – a gang, if you will, with leadership, a credo, and loyal members. Donald Gilmore has an excellent treatise on this era and, specifically, discusses the Red Legs as a band of desperados.
“In 1862, brigade commander, General James Lane and his regimental commanders Cols. Charles Jennison and James Montgomery led a violent spree up the western border of Missouri. Lane invaded Osceola Missouri, burned it to the ground, robbed its bank, killed a number of its citizens, and looted the town and adjoining farms of everything valuable and transportable, including a large number of slaves. Following the destruction of Osceola, Lane’s regiments pushed north and destroyed Dayton, Columbus, Papinville, Morristown, Clinton, West Point, Harrisonville, and Butler, Missouri.” The Kansas Red Legs in Missouri
It should be noted that Tony O’Bryan (University of Missouri, Kansas City) dated this outrage as having occurred in September of 1861. He went on to describe the group as follows:
“The Red Legs were a somewhat secretive organization of about 50 to 100 ardent abolitionists who were hand selected for harsh duties along the border. Membership in the group was fluid and some of the men went on to serve in the 7th Kansas Cavalry or other regular army commands and state militias. They are associated with a lesser-known group that called themselves the “buckskin scouts,” and they served as an auxiliary arm to regular troops, such as the 6th Kansas Cavalry on punitive expeditions into Missouri. The legendary James “Wild Bill” Hickok, then still just a teenager, William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, and fellow Pony Express rider William S. Tough are among the few individuals known to have served with the Red Legs. Buffalo Bill Cody admitted that as a member of the Red Legs, “We were the biggest thieves on record.” SOURCE: http://www.civilwaronthewesternborder.org/encyclopedia/red-legs
Donald Gilmore pulled no punches. His description paints a picture of vicious outlaws whose violence knew no bounds:
“We need to know when the Red Legs operated, why they operated, where they operated, and what crimes they committed. But first, we need to know precisely who these desperadoes were. Because they WERE a specific group of armed, named, now-known killers, who swarmed over the western border counties of Missouri and the eastern counties of Kansas, stealing the money of Missourians, robbing their farms of equipment, livestock, furniture, crockery, gold, and jewelry. And they often killed the older men folk who tried to stop them, often hanging them by their necks upon a tree, torturing them to learn where their money and valuables were hidden or just killing them outright.”
George Caleb Bingham, the famous Missouri artist and a Union officer, in his famous painting, “Order No. 11,” shows a Red Leg in Union tunic, wearing Red Leggings, intimidating an old gentleman after murdering his evidently unarmed son. Two other men wearing plumed hats, a Red Leg practice, are evident in the same scene. A fourth Red Leg, wearing scarlet leggings, loads loot on a wagon behind the third-mentioned Red Leg. A fifth Red Leg, more casually dressed, with his white shirt open loosely at the neck, appears at the left of the painting, riding a blooded horse and carrying on his lap the plantation owner’s wife’s traditional basket of valuables, where she hid her keys and jewelry. This Red Leg thief is also wearing red leggings but no black plume in his hat. It’s George Hoyt, field leader of the Red Legs. Brig. Gen. Thomas Ewing is shown on horseback at the middle left of Bingham’s painting, fully demonstrating his connection to the Red Legs.
Bingham’s painting portrays a violent, thieving, Red Leg Hey-day
Sidney Washington Creek, if you read Chapter 1 of his story, was the third son, fourth child born to Jacob Haudenscheldt (Howdyshell) Creek and his wife Virginia Lee Younger Creek. The Younger family was headed by its patriarch Charles Lee Younger, one of the wealthiest men in Missouri at that time, holding large plantations in several locations throughout the state farmed by slaves. He also owned some of the best horseflesh in the state and was an aficionado of horseracing. He came to Missouri with his close friend, Daniel Boone, after the death of his first wife, Nancy Toney, but ultimately returned to Kentucky for a few years because the “Indians were too bad.” He would later return and establish a very successful ferrying operation, providing transport to the many pioneers flooding into the rich Missouri farmlands.
Virginia’s older brother was Henry Washington Younger who served in the House of Missouri under Gov. Reeder, Pawnee Territorial capitol and in 1859 served as Mayor of Harrisonville. Henry and wife, Bursheba Fristoe Younger were among the wealthiest of Missourians at the start of the Civil War, having amassed a fortune of about $100,000 at that time. (Assuming a steady inflation rate of 1.77% from 1865 to 2017, that would be equal to $1,438,291.87.) Henry owned plantations, racehorses, and a mercantile. He was a pacifist and attempted to quell strife - a significant fact that feeds the current of this story. For, in his role as mayor, leader of the local townsfolk, Henry attempted to avert open hostilities in his area. He and his wife hosted a number of gala parties, always keen to include the officers of the ever-present Union Army. At one of these parties a young married officer, a Captain Wiley, made unwanted and lascivious passes at the young daughter of Henry Younger. Cole, the elder brother, upheld her honor by taking the Captain outside whereupon he dealt justice via fisticuffs. This event would, ultimately, breed its own vicious and unexpected aftermath. For, the young daughter became the target of retaliation. Shortly after this event, she was violently raped by one of the Union soldiers, believed to have been Wiley himself although this fact was never firmly established by anyone other than Cole Younger.
Cole would later relate the manner in which he learned of this outrage in a rare transcription of a private conversation he held in his elder years with a friend, Harry Hoffman. Hoffman wrote up the whole story and through the auspices of our family historians, your author has been made a recipient of that tale. First, the unwanted molestation. Then, Cole’s lesson to Capt. Wiley. Then, the burning of family estates in Harrisonville and other areas of Missouri by the Red Legs. Then, Cole frustrated by the local Confederate leader, joined up with William Clarke Quantrill in his band of Raiders, along with his brother-in-law John Jarrette and a number of cousins including Sidney Washington Creek, Creth Creek, Abner Creek, and other kin. Shortly afterward, Henry Washington Younger was waylaid by a group believed to have been none other than Capt. Wiley and his band of no-goods. He was robbed, beaten, slain, and left in the dirt as retaliation. Cole heard of the outrage and visited home. There he found his young sister had taken to her room, refusing to speak or otherwise involve herself in the usual home activities. Cole’s tale:
“When I arrived home I missed my sister, who was about eighteen years old. I asked where she was and was told that she was not feeling well, and was lying down. I went up to her room. She came forward to meet me. Her eyes were swollen and I could see she had been crying. I asked her what was troubling her. At first she avoided answering. I Insisted. She said, “Brother, I am afraid to tell you.” But when I continued to press her for an answer, she told me of the brutal treatment she had received at the hands of that beast. You can imagine how I felt when she laid her head on my shoulder and burst out crying. I said to her, ‘Sister, be as brave as you can. I promise you now that captain will never bother you in the future.’ I had decided that minute to make him pay, and after he paid he would never be able to return to persecute my sister, or any other virtuous girl again.”
Needless to say, Cole and his group located the Captain and his company of fifteen Federal troops and exacted his revenge. All were open prey to his companions, save and except the man who accosted and raped his sister. He was saved for Cole who summarily executed him.
This same conversation with Harry Hoffman infuses our understanding of the era by illustrating the role the Red Legs and their atrocities played in the lives of Cole Younger and his Creek cousins, Sid, Creth, Abner, and ultimately my own 2nd great grandfather Absalom. Cole Younger’s words again, as his notoriety caused their preservation and we believe he spoke not only for himself, but for our family – including Sid:
“Jackson County, Missouri, where I was born was the very seat of the border strife between Kansas Free Staters, generally called Red Legs, and the southern sympathizers of Missouri.”
“The Red Legs were followers of Jim Lane of Lawrence and John Brown of Osawatomie, both in Kansas. From early in the Eighteen-Fifties the national political question of slavery had been boiling to the point of explosion, which happened in 1861. I was born January 15, 1844. When I was around ten years of age, my playmates and I didn’t play as many other boys throughout the land did play. We formed squads of soldiers; one side would be Red Legs; the other, as we called it, ‘South Side’. We nearly always planned it so that the South Side won. We finally had to quit the game for the reason none of the boys would take the part of Red Legs.”
“At night, when the family sat around the fireplace, the conversation always drifted to the acts of violence and destruction perpetrated by the Red Legs, and the demagoguery of Jim Lane and John Brown. Neighbors would congregate throughout that section to discuss the outrages perpetrated by these men and their followers.”
“Early In 1862, I signed up with Quantrill, thinking, as the others did at that time, that we would eventually be taken into the Confederate Army, which never happened.”
To lend balance we once again turn to the words of Donald Gilmore in his treatise ‘the Dark Underbelly”:
“The young Missouri guerrillas led by Quantrill were the only defenders of Western Missourians against the Red Legs, the Union Army, and the Union Militias. The older men were back East fighting the Yankees.”
It was in this atmosphere that Sidney Washington Creek left his little farm and young family and joined The Cause. The final chapter in his life will be related in next month’s column.
Next month, the dramatic end to the story of Sidney Washington Creek. Stay tuned.