Caleb May

The Reverend Pardee Butler (1816-1888)

An outspoken free-state man, Butler arrived in Atchison County in 1855 and soon found trouble. When pro-slavery men set him adrift on a raft on the Missouri River, he told his tormentors: "Gentlemen, if I am drowned I forgive you; but I have this to say to you. If you are not ashamed of your part in this transaction, I am not ashamed of mine. Good bye." He returned with his family the next year, staying to help found the Republican Party and the Prohibition movement in Kansas.

[Kansas Historical Society]

Caleb May(1815-1888) was born in Madison County, Kentucky, and had lived in Missouri before moving to Kansas Territory [Goodin, Topeka Movement, 141] He was an early squatter in Atchison County in 1854 on the bank of Stranger Creek, near the abandoned town site of Pardee. He remained there for many years before moving to southern Kansas and then to Oklahoma Indian Territory. [Ingalls, Atchison County,63] He died in Eustis, Florida in 1888. [Waters, Wyandotte Constitution, 49.]

When Atchison County township lines were surveyed in 1855, the only free- state settlement in the county had been started by May the previous October. The town of Monrovia was platted in 1856 with May as President of the town company and the neighboring town of Pardee, named for Pardee Butler was laid out in 1857. [Blackmar, History, 111] The Reverend Butler remembered his neighbor and fellow member of the Disciples of Christ (Cambellite):

"My nearest neighbor was Caleb May, a Disciple, and a squatter, from the other side of the river... Born and reared on the frontier, tall, muscular, and raw-boned, an utter stranger to fear, a dead shot with pistol or rifle, cool and self-possessed in danger, he had become known far and near as a desperate and dangerous man when meddled with. But he had been converted, and had become a member of the Christian Church, and according to the light that was in him he did his best to conform his life to the maxims of the New Testament, and conscientiously sought to confine all exhibition of "physical force" to such occasions as those in which he might be compelled to defend himself. Then it was not likely to be a healthy business for his antagonist."

In June 1855 Pardee called a Disciples of Christ meeting at May's home, where he preached the "old time Gospel." The next year, after Pardee' s involuntary exit from Atchison County at the hands of his pro-slavery enemies, the Reverend Duke Young from Missouri established the first Church of Christ in Kansas near May's home on Stranger Creek. [Hastings, Personal Recollections, Ch.1]

May had an important role in early Kansas as one of only two men who were members of all three free-state conventions, Topeka, Leavenworth and Wyandotte. [Thatcher, Leavenworth Convention, 11] William A. Phillips described him at the Topeka Convention:

"Caleb May is a character; a Missourian, tall, dark-visaged and stern. He is one of those men you would not like to meet for an enemy. He was a free- state man, of the black-law school, but had a remembrance that he had been a Democrat. He was a good and true man, however, but rigid and stern." [Phillips, Conquest, 134]

May was not averse to taking stands in the minority. At the Leavenworth Convention he protested the inclusion of "negro suffrage" because he believed his Atchison County constituents opposed it. Later, at the Wyandotte Convention, May proposed to amend the western state boundary to 103 degrees west, an extension of the New Mexico east line, making Kansas a larger state. He was prevailed upon by his colleagues to accept the present line. [Martin, Boundary Lines, 63]

Charles Clark