Larned attorney Ron Smith is proud to tell people his law office “physically sits in the ruts of the old Santa Fe Trail.” However, his passions are Territorial Kansas history and the era right after the Civil War.
The fifth generation Kansan shared his love of history Wednesday when he spoke at the Great Bend Noon Kiwanis Club meeting. Smith talked about his book, “Thomas Ewing Jr.: Frontier Lawyer and Civil War General (Shades of Blue & Gray),” published by the University of Missouri in 2008.
“I started researching it in 1985,” Smith said. The book is still available in hardback or electronic format on Amazon.com.
As the book description notes, Thomas Ewing Jr. was a larger than life figure in the late 1800s.
At his Leavenworth law firm, Sherman, Ewing and McCook, all four partners became general officers in the Union Army during the Civil War. The most famous member of the firm was William Tecumseh Sherman who led Union forces on the famous “March to the Sea.”
Ewing came to national prominence in the fight over the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution. Two-thirds of the population were freestaters, but thanks to voter fraud anti-slavery ballots weren’t counted, and pro-slavery Missourians voted multiple times, Smith said.
Ewing was also instrumental in starting up the Union Pacific Railroad, and became the first chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court.
He obtained a commission in the Union Army – as did his brothers – and raised a regiment that saw significant action in Arkansas and Missouri. After William Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence, he issued the dramatic General Order No. 11 that expelled residents from sections of western Missouri. Then this confidant of Abraham Lincoln’s went on to defend three of the assassination conspirators – including the disingenuous Samuel Mudd – and lobbied the key vote to block the impeachment of Andrew Johnson.