Silas Stillman Soule (1838-1865)
Silas Stillman Soule (1838-1865) was a Massachusetts abolitionist, Kansas Jayhawker, and a Volunteer in the Colorado Infantry.
Silas Soule was born into a family of abolitionists in Bath, Maine on July 26, 1838. He was raised in Maine and Massachusetts and in 1854, his family became part of the newly formed Emigrant Aid Society, an organization whose goal was to help settle the Kansas Territory and bring it into the Union as a free state. His father and brother arrived in Kansas, near Lawrence, in November of 1854. Silas, his mother and two sisters came the next summer.
Upon the family's arrival at Coal Creek, a few miles south of Lawrence near present day Vinland, Amasa Soule, Silas' father, established his household as a stop on the Underground Railroad. At the young age of 17, Silas was escorting escaped slaves from Missouri north to freedom. During these pre-war years pro-slavery forces from Missouri and abolitionist forces from Kansas were engaged in open warfare. The fight was whether Kansas would be admitted to the Union as a slave or as a free state. This war, known as Bleeding Kansas, would see Silas Soule become an expert at hit-and-run tactics. His name soon held wide-spread recognition around Kansas.
In 1859, Silas was part of an action on the Missouri Border. Twenty pro-slavery soldiers had crossed into Kansas to look for escaped slaves. They chanced upon Dr. John Doy, a physician in Lawrence, and the twelve slaves he was escorting. The men from Missouri arrested Dr. Doy and sold the twelve slaves. Dr. Doy was soon tried and convicted in Missouri for assisting escaped slaves. Silas Soule and a group of other men from Lawrence decided to free Doy. Silas was sent into the jailhouse where Doy was being held. Silas convinced the jailkeeper that he had a message from Doy's wife. The note, in fact, read "Tonight, at twelve o'clock." Later that night, they overpowered the jailer, freed Doy, and led him across the Missouri back to Kansas. When they reached Lawrence they had their photo taken. This photo of "The Immortal Ten" held by the Kansas State Historical Society is widely circulated.
His skills at prison escapes came into use once again when John Brown, a friend of the Soule family, was captured after his raid on Harper's Ferry. Soule found his way into the prison where Brown was being held, some say by posing as a drunk. Once inside, he tricked the jailer into letting him see Brown. When Soule explained the plans to Brown, Brown refused to be rescued, himself having developed a new plan to end slavery. Brown had decided to become a martyr for the abolitionist cause, and was hanged.
Silas Soule later found himself in the west once again. In 1861, he enlisted in Company K, 1st Regiment, Colorado Infantry. He made his way up the ranks, and in November, 1864, was commander of a Cavalry Company, Company D, 1st Colorado Cavalry. On November 29, 1864, Silas Soule and his company found themselves at Sand Creek, Colorado. Colonel John Chivington ordered the cavalry to attack the Cheyenne encampment. Silas Soule saw that the Cheyenne were flying the US flag as a sign of peace, and when told to attack, ordered his men to hold their fire and stay put. The resulting battle is now known as the Sand Creek Massacre, one of the biggest massacres in US history.
Chivington was very angry over Soule's refusal to attack the camp and branded him a coward. Soule's men came to his defense, saying that Soule was indeed very courageous in refusing Chivington's order.
The massacre sparked outrage and shock around the country. The army began an investigation into the massacre, and Soule testified against Chivington. On April 23, 1865, Charles Squires, a soldier, shot Soule in the head near his Denver home, killing him. It is thought that Squires was hired by men loyal to Chivington to kill Soule. One of Soule's men, First Lieutenant James Cannon, tracked Squires down in New Mexico and brought him back to Denver to stand trial. Squires escaped and Cannon was poisoned. Squires was never captured again.
Soule's testimony against Chivington and about the massacre at Sand Creek led, in part, the Congress of the United States to refuse the U.S. Army's request for thousands of men to exterminate the Native American population.