Anarchy in Kansas 123 years ago – Kansas State Quarter Coin

Today, the Kansas State Quarter Coin remembers the events of February 1893 when the governor overstepped his legal boundaries.

The St. Joseph [MO] Gazette printed articles about the challenges at the Kansas capitol.


Topeka, Kan., Feb. 16. —The crisis in the warlike situation about the state capitol reached its climax at noon today, when 500 deputy sheriffs under command of Sheriff Wilkerson marched up the east side of Kansas avenue all armed, and gathered in front of the Copeland hotel a block from the capitol, and Sheriff J. M. Wilkerson then announced that he would forcibly take possession of the capitol building at 1 o’clock.

This sensational action was taken in pursuance of the following letter to the governor, written at midnight as follows:

To the Governor:—I, as sheriff of Shawnee county, am charged with the duty of preserving the peace within the territorial limits of this county. I am advised that you have called upon the military power of the state to preserve the peace in this county. I wish to inform you that this action on your part is without my consent or concurrence and is wholly unnecessary as I have at no time intimated to you that I am unable to preserve the peace within this county. I now wish to inform you that I am fully able and prepared to enforce the laws and preserve peace and order and it is my intention so to do. Very respectfully yours, Wilkerson, Sheriff.

At 10:30 o’clock, Sheriff Wilkerson appeared in the lobby of the Copeland house and read a proclamation stating that he believed that the peace of Shawnee county was about to be broken and as peace officer of the county he commanded that all citizens come to his aid in preserving the peace. He opened an office in the reading room of the hotel and within half an hour 200 men had signed a document pledging themselves to support him. Two other recruiting stations were opened at 11 o’clock and 1000 men had been sworn in before noon. Each was given the badge of office and ordered to remain within calling distance. A. B. Campbell, adjutant general under Governor Humphrey, was chosen chief deputy.

The matter of arming the posse presented serious difficulties. It was decided that it would be dangerous to place firearms in the hands of so many men and the sheriff finally hit upon arming his men with baseball bats. A thousand bats were not to be had, but half that number were obtained. The other 500 men were armed with heavy sticks.

At 1 o’clock it was expected the deputies would move into the capitol, but after a consultation with County Attorney Ben Curtis, the sheriff decided to wait an hour or so and see if any effort was made by either side to break the peace.

The crisis raised by Sheriff Wilkerson’s action was so critical a one and one so filled with embarrassment that the Populists decided not to meet it.

At noon the governor held a conference with the Populist house members and various leaders of the party. The governor said that the militia could not be depended upon to carry out his orders, that the resistance of 125 men composing the force of deputy sergeants and 100 provisional troops (all that could be depended upon) would be useless before the sheriff’s posse of 1000 men. It was decided to hire a hall downtown for the Populist house and there the meetings of the Populist house will be held until the trouble is settled.

This action is looked upon by some as a “bluff,” but it is generally regarded as the logical outcome of the sheriff’s action in summoning his posse to maintain the Republican position.

All night last night the capitol, both inside and out, resembles nothing so much as a fortress in the midst of a siege. The Republican sergeants-at-arms, under command of ex-County Attorney R. B. Welch, barricaded all the doors and kept strict guard on the inside and militiamen were encamped in the square, while pickets with bayonets fixed guarded every entrance and kept people from the vicinity of the hall.

Early in the evening Governor Lewelling and his private secretary went to the house, were admitted and courteously received. The governor made an appeal to the Republicans to give up the hall, but refused to make any pledge and his mission was fruitless.

Ex-Governor Osborn also appealed to the Republicans to put an end to the hostilities but he had no better luck than the governor.

The scheme of the Populists to starve out the Republicans failed utterly, provisions and later gasoline stoves being hoisted up to the windows by friends on the outside, the militia offering no objections.

Governor Lewelling, by his course, had committed the executive arms of the state to the defense of the Populist house, but he hesitated to exercise it. The determined attitude of the Republicans revealed to him clearly that if he pushed the authority of the militia to the extremity blood would be shed, and he did not want to assume any such responsibility. In consequence, the mental strains and loss of sleep gave him a worn and haggard look. Asked at 1 o’clock how the situation looked to him, he said: “Well, I don’t like it. Things are not going just to suit me.”

Asked to explain, the governor said: “No, I won’t explain. I don’t want to discuss this thing in the public prints. There have been already too many inflammatory resolutions and violent speeches. I don’t want any bloodshed, and I hope nobody will precipitate any such calamity. No, I won’t talk to you on the subject. Let’s wait awhile.”

Asked if there was anything in the story that the senate and Populist house would hastily pass some necessary bills and adjourn the session, he said: “Yes, there has been such talk by both responsible and irresponsible men.”

“But what do you think about it, governor?”

“I have nothing to say on the subject just now.”

Speaker Dunsmore said that the Populist house would continue to hold sessions in the basement of the state house and later if the trouble be not settled soon another hall would be hired. He said the house had no longer anything to do with the scheme to recapture the hall, that was now wholly in the hands of the governor and what he proposed to do nobody knew.

At noon sixty-five Populists arrived on the Santa Fe from Lawrence. A sheriff’s posse of twenty men met them at the depot and ordered every man to be disarmed. Only a few revolvers were found.

The members of the Populist house will hold a meeting tonight in the unfinished south wing of the capitol. It is understood they will recommend that the governor formally dissolve the state legislature.


Colonel J. W. F. Hughes, commander of the Third regiment, state militia, who had persistently refused to forcibly take possession of Representative hall, was suspended by Governor Lewelling at 9 o’clock this morning by this order:

State of Kansas, Office of Adjutant General, Topeka, Kan., Feb. 16 —Special Order No. 14 —To Colonel J. W. F. Hughes, Commander of Third Regiment, K.N.G., Topeka, Kan. Sir, Your are hereby relieved from further services to the state of Kansas as such commander. H.H. Artz. Adjutant General. L.D. Lewelling, Governor.

Colonel Hughes said: “I am suspended because I have refused to take forcible possession of representative hall. When Governor Lewelling told me to go up there with my troops and take possession at the point of the bayonet and at all hazards, I told him he might as well tell me to burn the capitol. It couldn’t be done without killing many citizens of Topeka. There are a lot of young men in representative hall who will resist any attempt to oust the Republicans. They are armed, and though the force of troops is sufficient to drive them all out, it would be a massacre.”


Eventually peace reigned again.

From the Kansas House Journal of February 24, 1893, the gentlemen recognized Colonel Hughes and his brave stance against the governor.


Whereas, The constitution of the state of Kansas provides that “the military shall be in strict subordination to the civil power,” and further, ”The Governor shall be commander in chief and shall have power to call out the militia to execute the laws, to suppress insurrection and to repel invasion;” and

Whereas, The Governor has no right to call out the militia for any other purpose than as stated in the constitutional provisions herein named; and

Whereas, On the 15th day of February, 1893, the Governor of Kansas did, in violation of the law, call out the militia of the state, and did, in violation and in defiance of law, issue an order to Col. J. W. F. Hughes, commanding the militia of Kansas, directing and commanding said Col. J. W. F. Hughes to take his troops and forcibly eject the legally-constituted House of Representatives from its hall; and

Whereas, Col. J. W. F. Hughes, inspired by patriotic sentiments, knowing full well that such an order was trampling underfoot the constitution and laws, “making the civil power subordinate to the military power,” did refuse to obey said illegal order, and did, by his firmness, wisdom and patriotism, prevent anarchy and bloodshed: therefore, be it

Resolved, That the thanks of this House are hereby extended to Col. J. W. F. Hughes for his brave, wise and manly course in refusing to obey said illegal order; and that by his patriotic actions in that matter he deserves the thanks of all law-abiding and peace-loving people of the state of Kansas.

Resolved further, That a copy of this resolution, duly enrolled and certified by the speaker and chief clerk of this House, be presented to Col. J. W. F. Hughes.


The Kansas State Quarter Coin shows with images of Lewelling and Hughes.

Kansas State Quarter Coin