Do you have difficulty in imagining what life must have been like in Kansas Territory during 1854 through 1861 when all the conflicts that would later erupt into our Civil War were developing on a neighbor to neighbor basis?
If you do, then witnessing a performance by the Lecompton Reenactors may aid you in understanding this most confusing period in American history. The Lecompton Reenactors is a volunteer group into a love affair with making Kansas territorial history come alive for entertainment and education. In concept, it is a hobby for people who are both talented actors and historians. The reenactors enjoy the respite from their usual vocations of preacher, lawyer, retail sales clerk, newspaper columnist, bank president, administrative judge, fire captain, engineer, dentist, farmer, college history instructor, college history professor, governmental administrator, disability caretaker, and museum administrator. More than thirty performances of three original plays written by J. Howard Duncan: Prelude to Civil War, Kansas Territory and Bleeding Kansas, are given each year by the Lecompton Reenactors, nearly all of them open to the public without charge. Most shows are given to schools, historical groups, or at community celebrations. Our current schedule of appearances is listed on this website.
Even though the tumultuous history of Kansas territory is recorded in various surviving documents, it is hard for the modern person to feel the intensity of this struggle. The surviving words and statements when read seem devoid of the passion and high political rhetoric that must have accompanied their original utterance. In their plays about the Kansas territorial period, the Lecompton Reenactors breathe life and vitality into that history. It becomes easier for the viewer to image the passion and intensity of the emotional, political, and moral chasm which was splitting our nation and catapulting the union in the 1850s towards Civil War. The authentic costuming and accoutrements of the Lecompton Reenactors and their theatrical efforts do much to aid the viewer's imagination.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 opening the territory to settlement resulted in a race between the free staters and abolitionists of the North and the slave holders of the South to see who could bring in the most voters to determine whether Kansas would be a free or slave state. Not content with voting fraud and intimidation, the partisans turned to violence, murder, and the destruction of homes. Lecompton, Lawrence, and Topeka in the north and Osawatomie, Fort Scott, and Linn and Franklin counties to the south, as well as the rest of Kansas Territory, became the focal point for national and international news, thus earning the territory the moniker, "Bleeding Kansas."