2004 Kansas Chautauqua biographies

David Matheny as John Brown

John Brown

(David Matheny)

John Brown. The mere mention of his name incites characterizations that range from abolitionist martyr to crazed murderer.

When a friend of scholar David Matheny’s mother found out he planned to portray Brown in a chautauqua a number of years ago, she warned him against it.

“He was just so reprehensible,” she told him.

David Dickerson as David Rice Atchison

But those who admired Brown’s goals — to abolish slavery — tend to look past any blood that might stain his hands.

Matheny won’t try to lure anyone to Brown’s side during the Bleeding Kansas Chautauqua, but he has prepared a balanced presentation of the abolitionist’s life through years of research.

Brown moved to Kansas in 1885, fueled by his Calvinist upbringing to fight on behalf of the free state cause. Brown is perhaps best known for leading a midnight raid on slavery sympathizers at Pottawatomie Creek in retaliation for the May 1856 sack of Lawrence. The Pottawatomie raiders killed five men, sparking the Battle of Black Jack.

Brown spent the next several years searching for money and weapons for his war on slavery. His 1859 attack on Harpers Ferry — during which he intended to apprehend a government arsenal — ended in his capture and execution.

Matheny portrayed Brown — and several other historical figures — in Kansas chautauquas in the 1980s. He taught for 10 years at Texas Christian University and was a communications professor at Emporia State University. Matheny, now retired, lives in Texas.

Charles Everett Pace as Frederick Douglass

— Mindie Paget

David Rice Atchison

(David Dickerson)

David Dickerson admits that even he didn’t know much about David Rice Atchison when he agreed to portray him in the Bleeding Kansas Chautauqua.

He doesn’t expect audiences to be familiar with the pro-slavery Missouri legislator either.

Diane Eickhoff as Clarina Nichols

Part of the reason Atchison has spiraled into obscurity, Dickerson explains, is that both his boyhood home in Kentucky and his adult home in Missouri burned, destroying many, if not all, of his records.

So Dickerson has recreated Atchison’s life based, in large part, on an understanding of his basic beliefs: that the white and black races should remain separate and that slavery was necessary to maintain stability in a nation he yearned to see expand.

Atchison served Missouri for 35 years as a soldier, legislator, judge and senator. In an effort to bring Kansas into the Union as a slave state, he led Missouri border ruffian raids into Kansas, including the 1856 surprise attack on Lawrence.

But Atchison also resorted to means other than violence to defeat the abolitionists. He led several groups of pro-slavery Missourians into Kansas Territory to stuff ballot boxes and tilt legislative elections in their favor.

Dickerson is a human resources director for a contractor in the Ozarks. He has nearly 20 years of acting experience in feature films, soap operas and commercials, and he portrayed photographer Mathew Brady in the Missouri-Illinois Chautauqua.

Richard Johnson as Abraham Lincoln

— Mindie Paget

Frederick Douglass

(Charles Everett Pace)

Frederick Douglass has been called the most famous African-American of the 19th century.

Fred Krebs as Stephen A. Douglas

He turned an early drive to read and an escape to freedom into a lifetime of advocacy.

Douglass was born in a slave cabin in 1818 near the town of Easton, Md. After being separated from his mother and abandoned by his grandmother, he spent much of his childhood in Baltimore as a houseboy with Hugh and Sophia Auld, relatives of his master.

Sophia Auld taught him the alphabet, and after her husband made her stop, Douglass traded food for lessons in reading and writing from neighborhood children.

He returned to the plantation where he was born at age 15 but escaped five years later — in 1838 — by impersonating a sailor.

After reaching freedom, Douglass moved to New Bedford, Mass., attended abolitionist meetings and became a lecturer for the Massachusetts Society.

He wrote the first of three autobiographies in 1845. White abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was his mentor.

Douglass also began publishing his own newspaper, The North Star, in 1848, and remained a strong supporter of women’s rights, in addition to the abolishment of slavery.

After the Civil War, Douglass continued to fight for the rights of women and blacks. He died in 1895.

Douglass is portrayed by Charles Everett Pace, an instructor of anthropolgy and American studies at Centre College in Danville, Ky. Pace has appeared several times with the Great Plains Chautauqua as Douglass, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois.

— Terry Rombeck

Clarina Nichols

(Diane Eickhoff)

Unlike many of the historical males being revived for the Bleeding Kansas Chautauqua, Clarina Nichols (portrayed by Diane Eickhoff) has received very little recognition for her efforts in Kansas.

Born in 1810 in Vermont, Nichols edited a newspaper beginning in the early 1840s after being granted a divorce from her first husband on grounds of cruelty and “intolerable severity.” Her articles expressing her disdain for slavery and urging laws that would grant women equal political, legal and social rights with men appeared in publications in New York, Chicago, Boston and Milwaukee.

In 1854, Nichols moved to Kansas Territory, first staying on a claim near Lawrence, and settled in Quindaro in 1857. There, she became assistant editor of the radical abolitionist newspaper, the Quindaro Chindowan.

A commonly conjured image of Nichols places her in a seat at the Wyandotte constitutional convention debates — dressed in proper garb, knitting and listening intently.

Although Nichols wasn’t allowed to vote at the convention, she voiced her opinions, which were addressed in the Wyandotte Constitution: women’s rights in child custody, to admission at the state university and to vote in school elections.

“She didn’t win the vote for women, but she won the right to vote in school elections, the right to maintain and preserve some of their property and the right to have custody over their children, none of which women had before that,” Christine Reinhard, a local Nichols scholar, has said.

Eickhoff recently completed a biography of her character called “Frontier Freedom Fighter: Clarina Nichols and the Early Struggle for Equal Rights,” which will be published later this year. She has portrayed Nichols at events across the region.

— Mindie Paget

Abraham Lincoln

(Richard Johnson)

Abraham Lincoln may have only visited Kansas briefly in 1859, but he became the firgurehead who defined the anti-slavery movement that divided the Kansas Territory.

Lincoln, the 16th president who led the United States through the Civil War, was born Feb. 12, 1809, in a log cabin in central Kentucky. His family moved to Indiana in 1816 and to Illinois in 1830.

Lincoln ran unsuccessfully for the Illinois Legislature in 1832 then was elected to the first of four terms in 1834 as a Whig. He became a lawyer in 1836 and joined a law practice in Springfield with fellow Whig legislator John Todd Stuart.

Lincoln married Mary Todd on Nov. 4, 1842.

He served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives, from 1847 to 1849, and ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 1855.

But the start of his well-known political career began with the famed Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858, which pitted Lincoln against Democratic Sen. Stephen A. Douglas, who was responsible for the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.

The seven-city debate raised awareness of Lincoln, though he lost the election.

Two years later, Lincoln secured the Republican presidential nomination and won the election.

Lincoln served as Commander in Chief during the war, but he didn’t live to see Reconstruction. He was shot by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865, five days after the Confederate surrender, and died the next morning.

Lincoln’s portrayer, Richard Johnson, is a history professor at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, Calif. Johnson has presented Lincoln for the New Hampshire Chautauqua and the Maryland Humanities Council.

— Terry Rombeck

Stephen A. Douglas

(Fred Krebs)

Stephen A. Douglas may be best known for his debates against Abraham Lincoln, but he was also the catalyst for the era of violence known as Bleeding Kansas.

That’s because the Democratic U.S. senator from Illinois reopened the debate on slavery in 1854, when he introduced the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The legislation created the two territories and allowed residents of each to decide whether slavery should be permitted within their borders.

The state line between Kansas and Missouri became a battleground where pro- and anti-slavery forces often clashed.

Douglas spent his early political career as an attorney general, legislator, secretary of state and associate Supreme Court justice in Illinois.

He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1843, and to the U.S. Senate in 1847.

Lincoln opposed Douglas during his 1858 senatorial campaign, and the pair met seven times in debates that helped define the slavery issue. Douglas advocated people’s rights to vote for what they wanted, while Lincoln wanted to prevent the spread of slavery.

Douglas was re-elected, but Lincoln defeated him in the 1860 presidential election.

After the Civil War broke out, Douglas supported Lincoln and the Union cause. Douglas died in 1861, after contracting typhoid fever while in Midwestern and border states to rally support for the Union.

Portraying Douglas in the chautauqua is Frederick A. Krebs, a humanities professor at Johnson County Community College. Krebs previously has presented characterizations of historical figures, including explorer John C. Fremont and artist William Merritt Chase, in 18 states.

— Terry Rombeck