William E. Connelley's interview with Mr. John P. Duke, April 13, 1903. I will have more to say about the validity of the report in a future blog post.
How the[y] got the name of Red Legs - Statement of John P. Duke, Foremrly [sic] of Independence, Mo.
On April 13, 1903, John P. Duke came to my office in Kansas City, Mo. I was a special Examiner, and my office was in Room #215A, Custom House or Post Office Building.
John P. Duke was born in County Cavan, Ireland, June 24, 1824. He learned the trade of shoemaker in Ireland. He came to America in 1846. He landed in Philadelphia and remained there two years, working at his trade. Then he came to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he worked in the shop of J.H. Deiter or Deeter, from 1848 to 1854, doing what his craft denominate "journey work." In 1854 he came to Independence, Mo., where he set up a shop of his own, beginning in a small way. By the year 1860 he was doing a flourishing business and had some thirty men at work for him. He opened a shop in Kansas City, also and was doing a large business there. He made excellent shoes and boots. Of such splendid material and of such careful workmanship were his boots made that men engaged in the Santa Fe trade would wear nothing but the "Duke Boots" if they could be had. Duke's boots were famous all along the border for their lasting qualities. When the Civil War came on times became dull and uncertain, and he gave up the Kansas City shop. The Government made shoes for its soldiers in Eastern factories, and Duke had a large supply on hand which were of slow sale.
In 1861 he had on hand a large supply of leather and findings, including ten or twelve dozen colered [sic] bright red or scarlet to be used as topping for the tops of the legs of the high boots he made. This red topping was very popular in those days. My father was a shoemaker, and I learned the trade and worked at it in a desultory way for fifteen years. I made myself a pair of red-topped boots about 1869, and the pride that filled my breast when I first drew them on and sallied forth had never been equaled since that time.
Early in the spring of 1861 Jennison came from Leavenworth to Independence, Mo., on what is believed to have been his first invasion of Missouri after the war commenced. He had with him about one hundred hopeful Jayhawkers who had been robbed by border ruffians for years and who now by the change in circumstances found the Government on their side as it had been on the side of the border ruffian up to that time. The Jayhawkers scented a season of glorious reprisal ahead of him, and to such a scientific efficacy did he reduce the border pillage that the work done by the original ruffian seemed coarse and clumsy by comparison. The most deplorable result of both the border ruffian and the Jayhawker was the suffering entailed upon the innocent and those who had no desire to engage in lawlessness in either Kansas or Missouri; they suffered more than did the guilty. In casting about the old town of Independence to see what could be found to suit the fancy of a somewhat fastidious citizen of Kansas who felt that he had been deeply wronged and was now in position to exact retribution Jennison fell upon the shop of Duke, and went in to see what novelties it might afford. The shop was on the south side of the Public Square. Next in command was "Jeff Davis," a peculiarly efficient robber, and at that time Jennison's "right-hand man." Jack Hays was also one of the number, and he was a robber of wonderful resource. "Jeff Davis" was in command of the active operations that day, and he entered Duke's shop in the shadow of his chief. The red sheep skins seemed to strike the plunderers with much favor, a circumstance that [may] be in some measure accounted for by the state of the roads, them [sic] chocked with tenacious mud. The red skins were at once appropriated and distributed to the Jayhawkers, as were also a number of fine calf skins. Each Kansan immediately cut the skin he received, with whatever skill he could command, into a pair of leggins. These he immediately tied on his legs with strips of calf skin cout with much dexterity from Mr. Duke's stock of the same which had been previously distributed. These operations were attended with great good humor and many a joke bandied by the Jayhawkers. If I could but write down the natural wit with which Mr. Duke told me this incident I could have hope for a reputation for humor. Mark Twain is the only man who could do Mr. Duke full justice. But at the time [of] this transaction Mr. Duke did not see all the humorous features of it, being prevented the full enjoyment of the scene by the consciousness that it was all at his expense.
The remainder of the spring the Jayhawkers were seen running over the country along the border with their legs snugly encased in red sheep skin leggins, and they came to be called, from that fact, the Kansas Red Legs.
Mr. Duke said that he became more and more acquainted with "Jeff Davis" as the war progressed, and that he made the bold Jayhawker a pair of fine [c]alf skin boots; and said Mr. Duke "he paid for them like a jintleman." He was not so fortunate with Jack Hays, who also ordered a pair of fine calf skin boots. He drew them on and stalked out saying that Missouri owed him much more than a pair of boots. Duke retorted that Ireland owed him nothing and that with the consent of the Kansan he would just change the account from Missouri to Ireland. "But," said Mr. Duke, "he could not appreciate the fine wit I wasted on him, so I lost the price of me foine pair of boots to the spalpeen, bad luck to him." Mr. Duke is now a resident of Kansas City, Mo., and lives with one of his daughters. He is an industrious man and a good citizen. He gave his photograph. [I have not been able to locate it] He is a jolly son of the Emerald Isle. William E. Connelley"