Wakarusa War

The Wakarusa War was a skirmish that took place in Kansas Territory during November and December 1855 as part of the Bleeding Kansas violence. It centered around Lawrence, Kansas, and the Wakarusa River Valley.


The events that led to the Wakarusa War began on November 21, 1855, when a Free-Stater named Charles Dow was shot by a pro-slavery settler. Violent reprisals on both sides led to escalating tension. On December 1, 1855 a small army of Missourians, acting under the command of Douglas County, Kansas Sheriff Samuel J. Jones, entered Kansas and laid siege to Lawrence.

During the siege, the main body of the invaders were encamped on the Wakarusa bottoms, some six miles from Lawrence. The invading army numbered nearly 1,500 men. They were indifferently armed as a whole, although they had broken into the United States Arsenal at Liberty, Missouri, and stolen guns, cutlasses and cannon, and such munitions of war as they required.

In Lawrence, John Brown and James Lane had mustered Free-State settlers into a defending army and erected barricades. No attack on Lawrence was made. A treaty of peace quelled the disorder, and its provisions were generally accepted. The only fatal casualty occurring during the siege was of a Free-State man named Thomas Barber, who had come to the defense of Lawrence. His death was memorialized in a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier named Burial of Barber.

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