Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Spring 2008


Great Plains Quarterly Volume 28, Number 2, Spring 2008, pp. 155-56.


Copyright 2008 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


No one who ever sat down in a room with James H. Lane or heard him on the platform could doubt that he was a dramatic, mesmerizing personality. Any historian of Bleeding Kansas can testify to his importance. Indeed, he was doubtless the key figure in the affair. Journalists at the time and biographers since have tried to create accounts worthy of Lane himself, but, as Lloyd Lewis pointed out many years ago, he has largely eluded them. Lane remains a "shadowy figure," with many of his instincts and motivations subject to speculation.

A major problem is sources. Robert Collins does miss a few of them. There are the Congressional Globe and the U.S. Congressional Serial Set for Lane's role as Senator from Kansas in such issues as the Pacific railroad debate. There are Lane letters in the Sidney Clarke papers at the University of Oklahoma. And, maybe most significantly, Lane shows up a great deal in the national press, while Collins relies exclusively on Kansas newspapers. Searchable electronic databases now make the national press accessible to the biographer.