In early 1864, Susan Staples, an Independence widow, wrote to her sister about her troubles, from sickness in the family to ill treatment by the Federal military in the area. She particularly notes the brutal actions of 5th Missouri State Militia Col. William Penick, a former St. Joseph druggist and radical Union man who liked to say Jackson County could be tamed “if hemp, fire and gunpowder were freely used.” The murdered Dr. Lee, actually Pleasant Lea, was whom Lee’s Summit may be named for.
Here she writes her sister Mary from Independence. (The letters appear as written.)
Mo Feb 1
My Dear Sister,
With a heavy, heavy, heaviest and broken spirit I attempt to write you a brief letter. You should not think hard of me for not writing to you oftener for if you knew the trials under which we labor you would not expect me to write. This leaves my family well with the exception of colds. Mother’s health is not very good. She is fleshier than common but complains a good deal. She has quite a hard time as her servants are all in Coopper (Cooper County?). Felix’s health is better than it has been. The Doctors say his lungs are ceriously effected. He is using Cod Liver Oil and has been since last fall. …
Mary, I suppose that you have herd of Mr. Field’s death. He died on the 17 of Oct. His death was of a very distressin nature. That awful Cancer killed him. It eat his face from his cheek bones clear down to his breast bone entirely up. It destroyed his upper and lower jawbone entirely. It also destroyed his swallow. He did not swallow one bite nor speak a word for nine days and nights. He was buried in Independence. …
Col. Pennic’s Command is stationed at Independence. He deals very strict with southerners. He has a great many female prisoners and says that he is going to bannish every lady that has husbands in the Southern Army or with the bushwhackers. He has already bannished sevral. I will tell of one or more Mrs. Tal Parrish, Mrs. Cox, the widow Haller, the widow Bagby, and a great many more. He hung a southern man the other day in old Billy Liggitt’s Barn. He has hung Sam Wear and several others. He has made every Lady that has been in town for the last three months take the Oath of Allegiance. His men burned 15 houses last Friday and says he intends to burn every house that a bushwhacker has ever been in. These houses were in Dr. Lee’s neighbourhood. The Federals killed Dr. Lee.
Oh Mary it is useless for me to try to tell you what Jackson County has to endure on paper but if I could only be with you a few days I could tell you something. The negroes have all left in a great measure and those that has not is so impudent that there is no living with them. Good of every kind are extremely high. Tom and I went to Kansas Citty last week. We found goods equally as high there as here but a better assortment. We have all been so dreadfully Jayhawked that I cannot tell what is to become of my children but as God has prommised to feed the young ravens who cry to him for help I hope he will in mercy remember my poor Fatherless Children….
My love to Mrs. Robbert Mason and receive a double portion for yourself. You must try and come down this spring. Write to me and believe ever to be your devoted Sister untill death.
Susan A. Staples