Linn County starts a different model of Underground Railroad
Author and historian Todd Mildfelt discusses how the Underground Railroad operated differently in Linn County. Mildfelt spoke to the Mound City Historical Society on Thursday, March 23. (Roger Sims/Linn County Journal)
MOUND CITY – A Richmond, Kan., historian, author and retired teacher told members and guests of the Mound City Historical Society that followers of James Montgomery, a staunch abolitionist before and during the Civil War, used a different alternative version of the Underground Railroad in Linn County.
Todd Mildfelt, who spoke to the Mound City Historical Society on Thursday, March 23, said he has spent more than 20 years researching the Underground Railroad and its connections in Kansas. He said that Montgomery and his followers developed an alternate model of the system used to smuggle freedom-seekers northward..
The Underground Railroad was a network that helped enslaved Blacks in the southern states obtain their freedom beginning 30 years prior to the Civil War. The more widely recognized model was that escaped slaves would move north along establish routes with help from secret “stations” along the way into northern states and Canada.
Instead of sending the freed slaves north, however, Montgomery’s followers would shelter the runaways in Linn County. Those freed slaves and their families then began to establish themselves in communities in Linn County, including the towns of Moneka and Critzer.
A controversial colonel in the 3rd Kansas Infantry, Montgomery would conduct raids into pro-slave areas of Missouri, liberate slaves and bring them back to Kansas, Mildfelt said. He theorized that Montgomery’s pro-abolition stance encouraged his followers to hide freedom-seekers on their farms.
But he also praised the people of Linn County during that time.
“The people here, they understood humanity,” Mildfelt said.
During the question-and-answer period toward the end of the talk, David Nickelson of Mound City said he remembered visiting a house in the city as a child that had a tunnel that was supposed to be used by the Underground Railroad.
He also said he was aware of settlements now long gone that still had foundations.
The historian’s latest book, An Abolitionist of the Most Dangerous Kind: James Montgomery and His War on Slavery is expected to be out this fall. He co-authored the book with Dave Shafer.
Mildfelt’s first book, published in 2003, was The Secret Danite’s: Kansas’ First Jayhawkers.
To hear most of Mildfelt’s presentation in two parts, go to: