Beecher Bible and Rifle Church

I did my first talk about the Underground Railroad without the use of any video from my film. A nice group of about 30 people attended. The talk was part of a day long program at the Capt. William Mitchell farm at the Mt. Mitchell Heritage Prairie. I learned a few things myself. During my research for the film, I knew a few Freedom Seekers were transported as far west as Wabaunsee County (just south of Wamego, KS). I did not research into this far western segment of the freedom route. I do know if the area north of Topeka and Lawrence was being searched by slave hunters, the Underground Railroad people knew and sent trains west before they turned north to Nebraska.

Capt.  William Mitchell emigrated to Kansas with other Abolitionist from Connecticut in 1856. They arrived in Lawrence and were enclouraged to settle in that area. They continued west and found fertile bottom land in Wabaunsee County. The Old North Church in New Haven, Connecticut had raised money to buy Beecher’s Bibles, as Sharpes rifles were called, to arm the settlers. In Kansas, they started a Congregationalist church called the Beecher Bible and Rifle Church. Capt. Mitchell was an Underground Railroad Station Master and allowed Freedom Seekers to stay at his farm.

I found a great historical fiction titled, Dawn of Day, that tells the story of this area. Another good book is also a historical fiction book, titled Wagon Train  To Freedom. This book, by Todd Midfelt, is based on a first hand account of the Rev. John Stewart and Charles Leonhardt and others taking 19 Freedom Seekers north to Iowa and East to Illinois. I cannot find this book online for sale, but the above Mt. Mitchell Heritage Prairie has copies. Click here for more information. The Leonhardt book, The Last Train, has never been republished. Click here to see the original document at the Kansas State Historical Society.

3 thoughts on “Beecher Bible and Rifle Church”

  1. Gary,

    Regarding the Charles Leonhardt manuscript, The Last Train: Several years ago author and fellow historian, Todd Mildfelt and I spent several months transcribing that manuscript. At the time we were working on a draft for a joint article about John E. Stewart and “The Last Train.”

    Since that time Todd has published the wonderful children’s book: “Wagon Train to Freedom” about the 1860’s UGRR trip and I have been doing in depth research about John E. Stewart and the African-American “passengers” who rode “The Last Train”.

    I am currently in the process of getting Leonhardt’s manuscript, “The Last Train” ready to re-publish in book form. Also included in the book will be a separate biographical section containing fascinating new information discovered about Stewart and the former slaves who were on that 1860s UGRR journey. Will let you know as soon as the book is available–hopefully before the end of the year.

    1. Thanks Judy, I will look forward to that book. John Stewart was one of the more colorful characters involved with the Underground Railroad. I learned that Wagon Train to Freedom can be found for purchase at the Kansas Museum of History, 6425 S.W. Sixth Ave in Topeka, KS. Is there a story about John Stewart in Washington D.C. acting as a bodyguard for President Lincoln as the request of Jim Lane? An entire action film could be made about each one of these characters.

      1. Gary, I suggest you contact Todd Mildfelt to find out what information is available about John Stewart’s time in Washington, DC. in the early 1860s.

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