By Emma (Higgins) Croft
The oldest son of Elias and Mary (Foote) Higgins was a man of jovial nature. He delighted in a joke and was a great favorite among many nephews and nieces. He was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Masonic Lodge.
Born in West Liberty, Virginia (now West Virginia), he was brought by his parents, at the age of two years, to Butler County, Ohio. The trip was made down the Ohio river on a flatboat in the spring of 1818. Here he lived on a farm until he was about twenty years old, when the family moved to Boone County, Indiana, where they settled on a farm near Northfield. This journey was made in covered wagons.
Following in the footsteps of his ancestors, he became a carpenter and carried on an extensive business as a contractor and builder. He was considered a very fine workman and an especially skilful millwright.
In 1854 "Uncle Benson" decided to move to Kansas. His brother-in-law, John Caldwell, and family moved at the same time. Each family had a covered wagon and Uncle Benson also had a covered spring wagon which was more comfortable for Aunt Polly to ride in. My mother's brother Mack Sims went along to drive one of the teams. The first night out the party stopped at my father's house in Lebanon.
Uncle Benson's family consisted of his wife, Aunt Polly (Mary Richardson) and three children: Moly (Mary Jane), who was about thirteen years old, Celiia, eleven, and Frances, or Frank as she was called, who was four. His father, Elias Higgins, accompanied him and remained a year or more. They went to Osawatomie, where Uncle Benson bought several lots and built some houses to rent, besides one for his own family.
He soon became a prosperous and influential citizen and in 1856 was elected "Free State Legislature". He became a close friend of John Brown, whom Uncle Benson and Aunt Polly once hid in their house while his enemies searched the town for him. As he was a Free-State man and very outspoken in his opinions, Uncle Benson became a target for the hatred of the "Border Ruffians" who poured into Kansas from the neighboring states.
One evening in August 1855, soon after dark, a pro-slavery man (who however, was a close friend of Uncle Benson's) came to his house and warned him that the Bushwackers were coming. He said that they intended to hang him as an example to the rest of the Free-State men and to burn the town, and he told Uncle Benson that he must leave Osawatomie before daylight. This good friend promised to look after the family and help them get away.
The family worked until 2 o'clock in the morning, killing, and frying chickens and preparing other food and getting together the things they needed to take with them. Uncle Benson cut up his good harness and lashed it together with hickory withes and pieces of old rope to make it appear as if they were poor travelers. Some time before this the ruffians had taken his fine horses, leaving an old broken-down one instead. This old horse was hitched to a ramshackle buggy and with another man, he left the town before daylight, having arranged with his wife to meet her in Kansas City. They hid among the hills and watched the town, and his own house, burn. They drove past the camp of the ruffians, yelling and laughing and shouting for the South, for the least suspicion of their identity would have meant death.
On the way to Kansas City, he went into a grocery to buy some food and overheard two men talking. One of them said, "If we could ever lay hands on that man Higgins, we would hang him to the first tree."
After he reached Kansas City he went to a boarding house to eat and on leaving he took the wrong overcoat by mistake. On putting his hand into his pocket some twenty minutes later, he missed his money and thought that he had been robbed of $800. Then he noticed his mistake, and, hurrying back, found his own overcoat and money undisturbed.
At daylight the mob of armed ruffians overran Osawatomie, setting fire to the buildings and searching for the Free-State men. They burst into Uncle Benson's house, searching for him and frightening the children, who retreated under the bed. Under the nine-day-old baby in the cradle was hidden $70 that Uncle Benson had given Aunt Polly. The ruffians failed to find this money though they took anything else they wanted. As they noticed the frightened children, one of the men said, "Come on, let's get out of here-we're scaring them children to death." After this gang passed on, their friend came with a wagon drawn by oxen to help the family get away. A featherbed was put in the wagon for the mother and the baby girl. Some clothing and food were taken but they left in such a hurry they forgot a chicken which was roasting in the oven.
After they had been on the road some time, Aunt Polly said, "Oh Molly, we forgot that money!" "No we
didn't," said Molly. "I have it in my pocket," and so she had!
This man took them to Kansas City, Missouri, where they found an empty cabin on the outskirts of the city. Here he left them, as he said it was not safe for him to go farther. The children gathered sticks and brush and made a fire. Here they remained until, after many hardships and dangers, Uncle Benson found them and the family was reunited.
Although he lost everything, Uncle Benson was not discouraged by his misfortunes but immediately secured a lot and built a good house in Kansas City for his family. He was quite successful in his building operations and in 1858 or 59, Mack Sims (who had accompanied them to Kansas but had returned to Indiana) went out to Kansas to join him in the work. Molly, now grown to be a young lady, was educated at a private school. She was a good musician and owned the first melodian ever brought to Kansas City. About this time she came back with a trunk full of beautiul clothes to visit her Hoosier relatives.
As the war clouds grew darker, building ceased and work became scarce. Mr. Caldwell, who lived at some distance from Kansas City, sent for Uncle Benson to come and build or remodel a house for him. Thus Uncle Benson was obliged to be away from home but Mack Sims was boarding with the family and as long as he was there, Aunt Polly felt safe. But as work failed entirely, Mack determined to return to Indiana.
There were a great many lawless characters in Kansas City, and sounds of shooting were often heard. In fact, it seemed as if the town was about to become the scene of battle, as firing was heard almost constantly, and Aunt Polly felt she could not stay there any longer. The very next day after Mack Sims left, she packed her trunks and with her children started for Indiana. She made arrangements with a second-hand store to buy or store her household goods, but came away leaving her carpets on the floors and everything just as it was.
They came to my father's house in Zionsville, and later went to Big Spring where Aunt Polly's father, Mr. Caleb Richardson, lived. When Uncle Benson finished Mr. Caldwell's house, he too returned to Indiana.