Harrison Burson was a farmer, born in Virginia and 36 years old in 1855. He was married and listed his political party in Topeka as Whig. Burson was cofounder of the town of Bloomington, named for his former home in Illinois. [Kansas Historical Collections 12:473] His cabin was one of the first homes in the area, built on a claim about one-half mile west of the future site of Clinton, Kansas. By April 23, 1855 when Burson applied to become the first postmaster, there were 20 people in Bloomington and 50 families within two miles of the Douglas County community. [Parker and Laird, Soil of Our Soils, 23]
Clinton Lake from State Park
The town sites of Bloomington and Clinton are now within the Reservoir.
[Lawrence Parks & Recreation Department]
Governor Reeder appointed Burson as an election judge in the March 1855 bogus election and the voting at his cabin became one of the most famous incidents of that day. The three judges opened the polls on time to greet 500 or 600 Missourians "in wagons and on horseback, well armed and with banners." In command were Samuel Jones and Claiborne Fox Jackson, who had camped the night before near Lawrence. After holding a mock election of Thomas Johnson as "Governor" of Kansas, the Missourians marched up to Burson's cabin and demanded to vote. Since they refused to swear to residence in the Territory, declaring that not a requirement for voting, Burson and another judge refused to receive their votes. [Cutler, History, Territorial Part 10] John Wakefield told the Howard Committee what happened next:
"...The excitement by this time was very great, and they were threatening to kill two of the judges, Burson and Ramsay. At this time I saw a number of men with a large piece of timber to pry the house over, and also a piece of short timber for a fulcrum; and another company came with a piece of short timber to batter the door down. But before they attempted to batter down the door, Parris Ellison, one of the judges of the election, opened the door from the inside, ran out with the ballot-box in his hand, hallooing out 'Hurrah for Missouri!' He immediately returned to the house, and as he did so the mob rushed in to get at Burson and Ramsay. In a few minutes Burson and Ramsay came out where I was, and asked me what we should do. I told them that we would go down to Mr. Ramsay's house-about three hundred yards off-and I would draw up a statement of the facts, and send it off immediately to the governor..." [Howard Report,188]
The Missourians then chose two new Judges and proceeded with the election. Burson reported that 261 people voted, about three times those legally eligible. [Howard Report, P2]
Burson attended both the Big Springs and Topeka conventions. William Addison Phillps described him in Topeka as one of the "very fair specimens of the quiet members of the convention." He "spoke occasionally, but never inflicted speeches." [Phillips, Conquest, 134]
The Bloomington community split into two groups, one calling the area "Winchester" and the other calling it Bloomington. Burson stayed loyal to Bloomington He had been and incorporator, and he "apparently for some time maintained the hope that the rift would be healed." [Parker and Lloyd, Soil of Our Soils, 27] When the town of Clinton got its charter, all parties accepted its success and became citizens.