Archive for Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Ballad of Black Jack’ set to make return to Maple Leaf Festival

October 17, 2001

After a 15-year hiatus, the "Ballad of Black Jack" musical will be performed again on stage in Baldwin City during the annual Maple Leaf Festival Saturday and Sunday.

The musical recreates the turbulent times of the pre-Civil War

era, featuring local characters, the first governor of Kansas, the famous John Brown and the famous Beecher's Bibles rifles. The "Ballad of Black Jack" tells of love, murder, comedy, a battle and lots of dancing and singing by local talent.

The "Ballad of Black Jack" was originally performed in October 1970 on the stage of Rice Auditorium at Baker University in Baldwin City. The play is based on actual historical events in Kansas. Those events include the wounding and killing of local men and women that, among other activities, resulted in the bloodless War of the Wakarusa, the Pottawatomie Massacre and the Battle of Black Jack, in which John Brown played a prominent role.

The area around Baldwin, then known as Palmyra, was deeply involved in the civil upheaval that led to the Civil War. Most people have heard of the sacking and burning of Lawrence by Quantrill and his raiders, but few people know that a large army of 400 free-state men gathered at Baldwin ready to attack and pursue any Missourians and pro-slavers they found. In fact, the Battle of Black Jack, which occurred in 1856, is said by some to be the first battle of the Civil War.

Baldwin was a water stop and well-known gathering place on the Santa Fe Trail. Signal Oak, north of town, and Liberty Hall, west of town, were used by local residents to warn Lawrence, the free-state bastion, of marauding pro-slave Missourians. Baldwin is also the site of Baker University, the oldest four-year college in the state of Kansas. While Kansas was bleeding around them, Methodist elders and ministers gathered in Kibbee cabin, a historical site in Baldwin, to plan the future university. Kibbee was a target of pro-slavers.

The "Ballad of Black Jack" has been given a second birth because people who saw the musical year ago felt is should be revived. Former actors and enthusiasts wanted the play and its story to be heard by younger generations. Praise by the Kansas Historical Society for the play's accuracy led to the creation of the Schoolchildren's Matinee. Fifth grade pupils from the region are traditionally invited to this special performance. This year, sixth and seventh-grade students will also be included in the Friday matinee.

The musical was written and directed by Don A. Mueller. Mueller, a Methodist minister, was Baker University's Playwright in Residence in the 1970s and was the creator of the university's theater group, the Baker pLaymen. During Baldwin's centennial year the Maple Leaf Festival Committee asked Mueller to write the play. Mueller will reprise his role as musical director. Other local talent, including some former cast members, are involved in the performance.

The "Ballad of Black Jack" will be performed at Rice Auditorium on the Baker University campus in Baldwin City. Performances will be held on Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $7.50 for adults and $5 for students. They are available in Baldwin at the Baldwin State Bank, Kansas State Bank, Mid-America Bank, and in Lawrence at the Lawrence Arts Center, BayLeaf and the Lawrence Visitor Information Center, or by calling 785-594-4597.

A complete calendar of Lawrence area events is available online at

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