February 4, 1865 – Letter to Governor Murphy on Conditions in Crawford County, Arkansas
VAN BUREN, ARK., February 4, 1865.
His Excellency Governor MURPHY:
SIR: Permit the undersigned committee of the loyal citizens of Crawford County, farmers and mechanics, and acting in their behalf and by their authority, to state to Your Excellency the deplorable condition of the country by reason of the persecutions, robbing, and plundering generally committed by the officers, soldiers, and their associates and camp followers now and for the twelve months last past. We have been robbed and personally maltreated to an extent unparalleled; at any rate not exceeded in all Christian history. They have taken from us everything of value, and we have no redress for these and other and multiplied wrongs. These men are protected and encouraged in committing robbery and other outrages by certain officers holding administrative power here and at Fort Smith. They knock down and maim our citizens in the streets of the town of Van Buren, and commit other indignities. It is impossible to obtain redress. It is impossible to keep a horse, a cow, an ox, a piece of meat, or a bushel of meal, unless so far hidden as to defy their search, and we are debarred from entering complaint against them for any of the above-named offenses, for they threaten our lives for so doing. The present assistant provost-marshal here is one of their own creatures, as most other of his predecessors have been, and it is, indeed, of no use to complain. It is of no use for us to complain to the authorities at Fort Smith, for no attention is paid to us there whatever. These bad men have been retained around certain headquarters for the last twelve months and are a terror to our people. They can commit any offense they choose with perfect impunity, even to the extent of taking our teams and provisions in the streets of Van Buren and personally abusing and maltreating our citizens in the broad light of day, and they have been to our houses in the neighborhood at night committing unheard-of atrocities. It is the universal opinion among citizens that certain officers are interested and copartners with them. The evidence warrants the conclusion. The same are at this time engaged in hunting what few horses and cattle we have left to us in the bottoms. They hitch them out in the brush, or yard them, until they get the requisite number, and then drive them off toward Kansas. We are powerless and feel alarmed for personal safety. Every facility seems to be given to these abominably wicked and dangerous men by the provost-marshal here, who is a brutal man in his actions and treatment of our citizens. Such, governor, is a faint and insufficient outline of the manner in which people here are treated, and we implore you to lay the subject of our complaint before the commander of the Department of Arkansas, and failing in obtaining redress we earnestly hope you will entreat the President of the United States to interpose his authority in our behalf. Hundreds of our fellow-citizens have been compelled to leave the country for the North after having been made miserably poor and helpless, thus leaving what was once their comfortable homes. We prefer to remain in our own country, where there exist so many remembrances of former contentment and prosperity. It is wrong that we should be driven away and be made to leave the graves of our relations, our fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters, and our children. Our enemies, or those who ought to be our friends, treat us as if we had no right here, and they tell us to go away. There must be a change here to insure our safety. We do not speak of even a moiety of our sufferings at the hands of these officers, soldiers, and their camp followers.
Our citizens meet together and talk in whispers of these enormities, being afraid to offend and wondering what will come next. We appeal to the proper authorities for mercy and protection, and at the same time we have to request that our names shall not be exposed in connection with this movement for amelioration, for we are in the hands of unscrupulous men, who, we believe, would take our lives for our temerity, as they often threaten to do if we expose them or complain. If there is not a change soon to our advantage and to the advantage of decency and morality we shall be compelled to leave the State. We have forborne to trouble you in this matter before, hoping that General Thayer himself would wake up to a sense of the sinfulness of such conduct as we protest against, but we have lost all hope in him. It is the firm belief of all people here, so far as we can judge--and there is no doubt as to the sentiment of the people--that so long as these Kansas regiments remain here it will be impossible for any commander to create a much better state of things. The soldiers are too far demoralized, and the truth is that they have learned too much from many of their officers. There is one other thing, Your Excellency, that is of great importance to us. Nearly 100 men (our best men), to be increased to upward of 200, have signed a paper agreeing to form a colony in the bottom near Van Buren for agricultural purposes the present year, provided they can obtain adequate assurances of protection against the wickedness of these soldiers and others. They feel that they can protect themselves against rebel marauders if the powers that be will allow them to bear arms in self-defense. They think they can furnish their own families in this way, and perhaps to some extent a supply for Government troops also, in corn, forage, &c. So earnest do they feel in this matter that they sent a committee to wait on General Thayer, at Fort Smith, to ask his approval of their plan, but he gave them no encouragement whatever. Last year he (General Thayer) recommended our farmers to purchase broken-down Government horses wherewith to replace those they had previously lost, and to tend their crops. The farmers acted upon his recommendation, but in every instance these horses also were taken from them so soon as they got in condition for service; nor was it possible to reclaim them. Every possible obstacle and device is thrown in the way of a man's reclaiming and getting back his property, and it is now utterly impossible to do it in any instance. We earnestly entreat Your Excellency, we implore you, to take immediate measures for our relief and for the relief of our suffering families and for obtaining authority from General Reynolds for us to colonize in the manner proposed, and that we may be protected from bad men of the Army of the Frontier, and to be allowed to bear arms for our own protection against all marauders and plotters against our property, our peace and security, and as in duty bound we will ever pray.
We are, governor, your fellow-citizens and obedient servants,
WM. F. OWENS,
Committee on the part of the Citizens.
P. S.--We respectfully ask that we be permitted to purchase from Government a few commissary supplies till our crops are matured. We can pay for them.