Don Mueller is a playwright, composer, lyricist and pianist who moved to Baldwin City, Kan. from California in 1968 to teach at Baker University. An ordained United Methodist minister, Don has served churches in California and in England. At Baker, he held the title of “playwright in residence,” and taught oral communication and wrote and directed religious drama for the “Baker pLaymen,” a religious drama touring group of Baker students. He has written many musical and non-musical plays, about 20 of which have been published. Don is now retired in Baldwin City, where he still plays piano and recruits his “Ballad” singers to perform mini-concerts with him at area retirement homes.

In 1970, Don was asked to write a play for Baldwin's centennial celebration. He was browsing in a used bookstore in Baldwin and found a copy of an old children's textbook on Kansas history. The book just naturally opened to the page containing the story of two free-state farmers from Ohio, Jacob Branson and Charles Dow, who came to Kansas in 1855 and settled between Lawrence and present-day Baldwin City. “This would be a great storyline for a musical,” he thought. And so the “Ballad” was born.

The play deals with the pro-slavery vs. free-state tensions in Douglas County in 1855-56, culminating in the Battle of Black Jack near present-day Baldwin City in 1856. It features historical characters Gov. Charles Robinson, Jim Lane, Sheriff Sam Jones, Col. Edwin Sumner, Capt. James Abbott, John Brown and his sons, and two settlers from Ohio, Jacob Branson and Charles Dow. Dow was murdered in a property dispute with his pro-slavery neighbor, Franklin Coleman, and Coleman framed Branson for the murder. When a posse led by Capt. Abbott freed Branson from Sheriff Jones' custody, the furious Jones sacked Lawrence. John Brown and the Pottawatomie Massacre also are depicted in the play. In addition, there is a love story and comedy from the playwright's pen, and 15 original songs.

With the expectation that it would be performed only one year, the musical proved to be very popular and was performed annually as part of the Baldwin City Maple Leaf Festival in October until 1983 (with the exception of 1976 when a different play was staged). It was performed one year, 1986, as the opening production of the newly-remodeled Liberty Hall in Lawrence, and then the show was gone for 14 years. In 2001 a group of people organized an effort to bring the “Ballad” back to the stage, and Don reluctantly was convinced to dust off the script and allow its return. A 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation was formed that brought the “Ballad” back to the stage in Baldwin City during the Maple Leaf Festival, where it was performed for five years. In 2006 the production was moved to the Lawrence Arts Center in August as the lead-off event for Civil War on the Western Frontier activities. The 21st production of “Ballad” will again be in Lawrence, with performances August 9-12, 2007 at Lawrence Arts Center Theater.