William R. Griffith

William R. Griffith (1820-1862)

A free-state man through and through, he still opposed Montgomery's guerilla tactics in Bourbon County.

William Riley Griffith was born in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, the son of United Brethren minister. He attended public school near Lafayette and graduated from Asbury University in 1847. He married that year and was made the first president of the new Otterbein College, a United Brethren school in Ohio. In 1850, Griffith moved to Westmoreland College in Pennsylvania, another church related academy, where he stayed for five years. He became "infected with the wild and weird contagion" for Kansas in the spring of 1855, and settled his family on a farm on the Marmaton River in Bourbon County, five miles from Fort Scott. Although he was in the minority as a free-state advocate in the county, he was steadfast. He was a delegate to the Topeka Constitutional Convention and was a member of the Free-State Central Committee. [Cutler, History, Shawnee County, Part 24]

Although he helped obtain rifles for the Free-State Militia in 1858, Griffith opposed James Montgomery's guerilla raids in Linn and Bourbon Counties. Although other leading Republicans in Linn and Bourbon Counties countenanced Montgomery's actions, Griffith agreed with his friend Thomas Ewing that:

"...the Republican party of Kansas, however, can not continue to sustain Montgomery and his associates. They must stop shooting and hanging men by mob law, henceforth; or they will be condemned by every Republican in Kansas, who loves peace better than riot, and who dares speak his mind." [KSHS, Thomas Ewing, Jr. Collection]

In December 1858. Griffith chaired a Free-State mass meeting seeking the restoration of peace in Bourbon and surrounding counties The body pledged itself to swift punishment of violence and lawlessness. [Cutler, History, Shawnee County, Part 24] The following June, Griffith was elected to the Wyandotte Constitutional Convention where he opposed annexing southern Nebraska to the Platte River line. He believed that would endanger Kansas' chance of statehood and delay Nebraska's chance, as well. [Gower, Big Kansas, 1ff.]

Griffith was elected as the first State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1861. In that troubled time, he was unable to obtain more than twelve incomplete reports from county superintendents and was thus unable to make his 1861 state report. He served only a year until his death in office in February 1862 after an illness that baffled his doctors. [Throckmorton, Kansas Educational Progress, Section1]

Charles Clark