Posts Tagged With: Underground railroad in Nebraska

The Nebraska Path to Understanding the Underground Railroad

Discovering that the small Mayhew Cabin is not actually in its original location (due to a highway being built) was surprising.  Learning that the current “cave” tunnel was not even in existence during the time of the Underground Railroad was almost disheartening.  I almost wondered why one would even visit this site that is shrouded in mystery as many of the details of its part in the Underground Railroad cannot be confirmed.  Until I heard footsteps …

Mayhew Cabin Cave

Underneath the original Mayhew Cabin through the cellar door you can climb into a cave.  One that has been reinforced for safety and connected with a long winding tunnel to allow you to exit.  I was sitting there waiting for my children to come back.  My oldest had come down and offered to find the others.  He started by looking through the cabin.  Once I heard him walking around above me, the need for this place made me sense.  While I knew who was above me, I was instantly filled with an unexplainable fear.

Mayhew Cabin looking up from the cave

The vent may have not been there originally, but it did add to the realism of the experience.

My imagination took me to a place in time over 150 years previously.  Being down in the cave, I suddenly realized what being a fugitive must have felt like.  To hear the heavy thud of footfalls above that might mean discovery.  Was the person friend or foe?  One providing safety or capture that would lead to death or an even worse fate?  Having to hide to preserve your very life and the life of your children must have been incredibly frightening.

My children seemed to “get” slavery for the first time.  They pretended to hide from me the slave owner.  As we were the only visitors at the time, this worked, and thankfully they let me in on this game eventually.  This cabin, cave and tunnel helped history come to life for my family!

Mayhew Cabin children in tunnel

As you walk along through the damp and drafty tunnel, rooms have been chiseled out giving you an additional feel for what a fugitive would have experienced.

Mayhew Cabin tunnel room

Beside the tunnel, the interior of the museum also gave us glimpses of slavery life.  Including a black curtain closet with a plank ceiling where you could pretend to hide from the slave owners.   While I was talking to the museum docent, my boys managed to silently hide there before I finally found them!  They also have a wagon showing a “slave” escaping in a wagon.

Mayhew Cabin slave wagon

Can you see the “person” hiding?

They also have shackles that you can try on to experience the misery of not being free.  Do you like my son’s attempt at a mournful expression?

Mayhew Cabin Slave

While perhaps this is not the largest or most polished of the recreated Underground Railroad Stations, at the Mayhew Cabin and John Brown’s Cave they do an excellent job at helping to bring history to life, especially for children.  In addition, you can watch a short video, filmed by a Mayhew descendant, about the history of the cabin.

Mayhew Cabin movie

To learn more or to schedule a tour, please visit the Mayhew Cabin website.  Note: this is one of the many fine places to visit in Nebraska City.  To learn more about other Underground Railroad significant locations across the United States, please visit the Network to Freedom website.

Categories: Family Outings, Nebraska History, People Behind the Place, Pioneer Country, Region or City | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Underground Railroad in Nebraska

Upon examining slavery in Nebraska, one would naturally conclude that this issue did not have an impact.  After all, the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves happened on January 1, 1863.  The Civil War officially ended in April 1865.  Nebraska became a state March 1, 1867.  With statehood not even happening until after the slavery issue had been resolved (at least on paper although possibly not in practice), what difference did slavery really make in the 37th state?  More than one would realize.  Especially when you factor in that Nebraska had been an official territory since 1854.

Dividing the land was directly determined by slavery arguments.  Hoping for possible political  and personal gain and to end the perpetual debating, Senator Stephen Douglas proposed that territories being annexed into the United States should determine their slave status.  Thus the Kansas-Nebraska Act was formed.  Pro-slavery citizens and Abolitionists  descended upon the territories, resulting in  heated arguments and a new nickname, “Bloody Kansas.”  These new sections of land were cause for debate for everything from railroad routes (free soil or slave land) to immigration of citizens from Eastern states.  This so-called compromise had further pushed a divided nation toward war.  You can read more about all of this on the excellent site, Civil War on the Western Front, where I did compile much of this information that I could no longer personally remember from my own study of U.S. History and from my tour that is mentioned below!

How does all of this specifically affect Nebraska?  Well, being further south, most Kansas adapted the bent toward slavery.  Except for on the fringes, much of Nebraska was against slavery.  A few of these Nebraska territory settlers had brought along slaves.  Of the 15 slaves found in Nebraska during the 1860 census, ten of them lived in Nebraska City.  To be involved with fighting against slavery, one had to be a bit discreet.  After all, Southern sympathizers were obviously a part of the community.  Why was far off Nebraska Territory even a part of this issue?  Fifteen slaves is not exactly very many.  Yet the Underground Railroad did come this far West because of the neighboring state of Missouri.

Mayhew Cabin Lane Trail map

In 1820, the state of Missouri had entered the Union as a slave state, with Maine being free.  Due to their Southern and Northern locations. this made sense.  When thinking about the need for slaves, often only cotton states come to mind.  Yet at the time of the 1854 Compromise, Missouri had had 24 years of welcoming slave owners.

The Nebraska Territory shared a part of its Southeast border with Missouri.  An escaping slave could follow the Missouri River up past the Nebraska towns of Little Nemaha and Camp Creek.  Once arriving at Nebraska City, the fugitive could cross into the free state of Iowa, then gradually head to Chicago and blend in there a bit easier before fleeing to Canada.  Exactly how many slaves used this route is impossible to determine.  Observing the map, one can see that this escape route must have been used by groups of Underground Railroad passengers.

While the math may initially not add up, slavery did affect Nebraska.  I am grateful to Bill and to the Mayhew Cabin for enlightening me on this issue.  If you click on the link, you can learn more about this location’s part in the fight against slavery.  Even better, please go visit the Mayhew Cabin in Nebraska City in person.  The admission cost is low, and the self-guided tour will impact even little visitors.  All four of my children LOVED exploring the site!  In fact, I plan on writing my next post about the impact this visit had on our own personal understanding of the Underground Railroad.

 

 

Categories: Causes Across Nebraska, Pioneer Country, Region or City | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stopping Slavery in Nebraska: Nebraska City and the Mayhew Cabin

Mayhew Cabin Exterior

Built with stacked logs, the snug cabin is certainly not much to look at.

Mayhew Cabin Collage

Looking at the interior, comfortably housing one person almost seems like a stretch, much less the four people who stayed here.  After relocating from Ohio, the Mayhew family called this log cabin near the Missouri River home.

Nebraska City, part of then Nebraska Territory, was just starting to grow. Because of being located near Missouri,  the town had one feature that set them apart from the other area locations.  Slaves.  Ten of them were noted on the census.  This did not set well with Mrs. Mayhew.  Or especially with her brother, John Kagi, who dwelt with them for several months.

About this time, Kagi became a companion of John Brown.  You may recognize him as the one who eventually led a raid Harper’s Ferry to make a statement against slavery.  This event was a precursor that helped to catapult our nation into a Civil War.   Before all this, Kagi was an active abolitionist and was doing what he could to help end slavery, including using his sister’s cabin as at least a temporary Underground Railroad Station.  This is where his association with Brown causes history to be a bit fuzzy.

Some newspaper clippings tell of Brown visiting this site himself.  Others imply that only Kagi was acting as the Underground Railroad Conductor.   The name game does come into play here, and possibly the wrong man was given the credit.  Rather than being called Kagi cave in honor of the man who definitely found himself at home there, the more notorious man gets the name of the cave.  Was Brown ever even in Nebraska?  No one is completely sure.  Why?  Being involved with the Underground Railroad was not exactly something a person would announce at the town square.  Even after the Civil War, Southern Sympathizers were still around and many just wanted to move past the heartache.  Either way, proof does exist that a group of at least one dozen slaves passed through the cabin at one point, at least long enough to eat breakfast.

Mayhew Cabin John Brown's Cave Monument

The exact details of what all happened are definitely sketchy.  Yet I still feel that my knowledge of the underground railroad increased by visiting the Mayhew Cabin and John Brown’s Cave.  Understanding the impact that Nebraska had on this network is also interesting.  Tomorrow I plan on telling a bit more about this place, and the lessons that I learned.

Why is this timing of this post significant?  I mentioned in my post yesterday that June 19th happens to be an important holiday.  Especially for the ancestors of slaves in this country.  Juneteenth is the celebration of the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas.  This celebration of freedom has caught on and spread to other states.  Including Nebraska who hosted one event in Omaha earlier this week and will have celebrations in Lincoln and in Nebraska City tomorrow.  The latter is the place where I will “take you” again tomorrow, exploring anew the part that Nebraska played in the Underground Railroad.

 

Categories: Annual Events, Causes Across Nebraska, Nebraska History, Pioneer Country, Region or City | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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