While the exact history from a primary source may be lost, I have read about two different creation stories of slave escapes up the Kansas Underground Railroad. The interesting fact is that both involve the names John Armstrong of Topeka Kansas and Dr. Ira Blanchard of Tabor Iowa. Both stories indicate that the abolitionist John Brown worked with John Armstrong and Dr. Blanchard to take freedom seekers north on the Lane Road, previously used by Free State settlers traveling to Kansas though Iowa. They all agreed this road or trail would make an excellent Underground Railroad path to freedom in Canada. Many free state farmers had built cabins and created homesteads along this path. Brown was known to have good connections with the citizens of Tabor evidenced by the fact that Tabor’s southwest Iowa location was a major transit point for Free State emigrants bound for Kansas Territory in the summer of 1856 along this Lane Road. The Rev. John Todd, a Congregational minister and avid abolitionist allowed John Brown to store two brass cannons in his hay mow and 200 Sharps rifles were cached in his cellar. John Brown would eventually transport the 200 Sharps Rifles east to Virginia where he expected to inspire and arouse Virginia slaves to rise up against their slave masters after his raid on the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry in 1859. The Rev. Todd wrote of Tabor’s collaboration with Dr. Ira Blanchard of Percival, the free African American John Williamson, and Rev. George B. Hitchcock of Lewis, in conducting escaping slaves north and east across Iowa. This began as early as 1854, and continuing until the Civil War.
In the first story John Brown reportedly helped three slaves escape from Missouri and he left them in Topeka with John Armstrong. David Bristow writes that John Brown helped three slaves escape from Missouri and deposited them with John Armstrong in Topeka. Armstrong had either made or purchased a farm wagon that had a false bottom. he hid the freedom seekers inside this secret compartment and traveled north on the Lane Road from Topeka to Nebraska City, NE to cross the Missouri River and proceed on to Tabor. The story goes that a group of horsemen halted Armstrong in the Nebraska City area and searched the wagon, finding nothing. When Armstrong arrived at the ferry crossing, it was winter and the river was clogged with large ice flows. Armstrong was forced to put his pistol to the head of the ferryman in order to get across. He left his cargo with Dr. Ira Blanchard in Iowa. Dr. Blanchard connected with other Iowa abolitionists and sent his passengers on to Illinois.
The second story was written by John Armstrong himself after the Civil War ended. He alleged that a slave woman named Anne Clarke had escaped from some slave hunters after they got drunk. She encountered a local doctor and asked for help. This man took Anne to John Armstrong’s house where he hid her in a large sugar barrel he kept in his basement. As soon as possible, Armstrong took up a collection from other town abolitionists. They built a wagon with a false bottom stocked it with provisions and headed north on the Lane Road. The rest of his first person account is much like the other story for example running into a group of horsemen who searched the wagon. He took her north to Dr, Ira Blanchard in Iowa. I did note that he used the word slaves instead of slave. He did talk abut meeting a well known associate of John Brown named John Kagi at Nebraska City, NE. He did not talk about receiving three slaves from John Brown and taking them north on the first run.
Small differences in the story and most folks agree that John Brown, John Armstrong and Dr. Ira Blanchard were responsible for creating the first Underground Railroad path out of Kansas, across Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and around Lake Michigan to Detroit for the easy crossing to Canada.