Civil War politician comes to life, debates author

Tim Rues, left, portrays Kansas statesman Jim Lane in a conversation with Robert Collins, author of the book Jim

Controversial Civil War politician Jim Lane revisited Lawrence on Saturday.

He was brought to life by re-enactor Tim Rues and author Robert Collins, who recently published a biography called “Jim Lane: Scoundrel, Statesman, Kansan.”

Collins, of Wichita, wanted to liven up the standard author question-and-answer session on his book and help people learn more about Lane, so he invited Rues, who works for Lecompton’s Re-enactors and Constitution Hall, to join him in “The Author Meets His Subject” at the Watkins Community Museum of History. The event was part of the museum’s Local History Makers Series.

Collins, who also wrote the biography “General James G. Blunt: Tarnished Glory,” and “Lane,” asked each other questions and discussed Lane’s role in the Free State movement.

Collins said he is interested in Lane’s life because he played a large role in the Free State movement, and yet little is known about the man today, except for his reputation as one of the “wild men” of the Kansas Territory who bribed friends for political gain.

Lane was born in 1814 in Indiana, where he began his political career at age 35 as the lieutenant governor. He later came to Kansas and became one of the state’s first U.S. senators. He pushed for popular sovereignty during the territory’s formation as a state. His close relationship with President Abraham Lincoln helped him gain loyalty, Collins said. Lane killed himself after the war after suffering depression, Collins said.

As Lane, Rues said he was accused of not being an abolitionist.

“I’ve been told that some people say that I have no passion for abolitionism and that my public actions are simply driven by a quest for political power,” he said. “Where were these people when we were struggling to make Kansas a free state? Had they been in Kansas they would have known about my intent struggle to avert slavery.”

Rue said Lane is a fun and dramatic figure to re-enact.

“I always say it’s easy to portray a demagogue,” he said.

Cassie Blackwell, a 17-year-old Topeka student who is studying Lane for National History Day, said the discussion and re-enactment was very informative.

“It brings a lot of Kansas history to life,” she said.

More Jim lane

Author Robert Collins will talk about his book at 1 p.m. today at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H., as part of the River City Reading Festival.