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Reenactors to recreate the defense of Lawrence in Wakarusa War

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Note: This post was contributed by the staff of the Watkins Museum of History and not produced by The Lawrence Times news team.

On Nov. 21, 1855, a tragedy in Douglas County, Kansas helped spawn nationwide conflict. 

After a proslavery man killed his antislavery neighbor, both sides in the slavery dispute mobilized hundreds of armed militiamen. Proslavery men, mostly Missourians, placed Lawrence under siege; meanwhile, Lawrence residents carried out military drills and fortified their town for defense. 

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This so-called Wakarusa War began 10 years of violence in Kansas and the rest of America over the issue of slavery — an issue some say remains unresolved to this day.

This weekend, reenactors will recreate the defense of Lawrence on the very ground where much of it occurred 168 years ago.

Dozens of people dressed and armed with painstaking historical accuracy will recreate military and civilian life in South Park, where antislavery militias encamped and trained in 1855. 

Highlights of this Dec. 9-10 program will include 1850s-era military drills, a recreation of the famous Abbott Howitzer and its crewmen (some of the original defenders of Lawrence), and 19th-century wet-plate photography. Historians from the Kansas State Historical Association and National Park Service will also give interpretive talks on subjects such as “Kansas’s First Jayhawks.” 

This event is free and open to the public. It will take place from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, and 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10 on the west side of South Park. 

For a full schedule, visit the event page via the Watkins Museum’s website at watkinsmuseum.org.

— Will Haynes is director of engagement and learning for the Watkins Museum of History.

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