I’m on a podcast! Again!

Gentle Readers, the second half of my episode of the AskHistorians Podcast released yesterday. It picks up right where the first left off. About halfway through we get into new territory, shooting past Felix Zollicoffer and into the break-up of the Democratic party. We finish out in April, 1861. Listening back to it, I can tell that my voice was failing but I had a ball all the same.


  • The first time I mentioned Polk’s election, I said it was in 1846. It’s 1844, as I said on later occasions.
  • Houston and Bell both concerned themselves with the issue of displacing Indians, but Houston somewhat more so. Bell expected the Indians to go off west and quietly die for us. Houston held out hope they could be assimilated.
  • Celia killed her owner with a hefty stick, not a fireplace shovel. She burned her owner in her fireplace, crushed the bones she could, and got his grandson to scatter the ashes outside for her. The bones she couldn’t crush she hid under the fireplace.
  • South Carolina seceded on December 20, 1860, not December 21.

Addition: Franklin Pierce’s wife is Jane Appleton. I forgot her name in the moment.

Now what’s the appropriate time to wait and give others a chance before I pitch an episode again?

Resolutions: Lawrence Responds to the Jones Shooting, Part Three

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Parts 1, 2

Andrew Reeder continued his speech to the Lawrence meeting by abandoning the pretense that no one knew just who had shot Sheriff Jones the day before. He pointed to all the sympathy and respect they had gained in the free states by eschewing violence. Would they throw all of that away? In a political environment where antislavery Americans had seen far more vilification than their proslavery opposites, in North and South alike, he had a point. Things had gotten progressively better for them in the North since around 1848, and especially since 1854, but that shift could reverse at any time. A collision with the United States government would surely remind Americans of the recent era when they saw opposition to slavery as tending toward disunion. Shooting Jones might not have done that, but had the bullet found a United States dragoon it might have done the trick. So might an open insurrection.

Reeder made it clear that he said not a word of this out of any love of Jones or his politics, but he continued on the theme for another column and change in the Herald of Freedom. Along the way, he reminded the people of Lawrence of most of what had happened in Kansas in the past two years. According to the paper, he frequently had to stop for applause. But then the meeting had business to get to. You didn’t hold a mass meeting in the nineteenth century without some resolutions to put the assembly on the record. G.P. Lowery had a set prepared:

the attempt made in our town last evening upon the life of S.J. Jones, Esq., whilst claiming to act as the Sheriff of the county, was the isolated act of some malicious and evil-disposed individual, unexpected and unlooked for by our community, and unsustained by any portion of them.

Isolated and unexpected, maybe. Lowery probably could have found plenty of people in the room that morning who believed Jones had it coming and didn’t feel any guilt about his shooting. They might fear the dangerous consequences to the town, but can’t have shed many tears for Jones. Thus the second resolution:

notwithstanding the unpleasant relation which existed between Mr. Jones and our citizens, if the attack could have been foreseen or considered at all probable, we would have neglected no means to prevent or defeat it; we deeply sympathize with the wounded man, and will afford him all the aid and comfort of our power.

They probably would have. Even when proslavery armies nearly surrounded Lawrence, the leadership worked to avoid a pitched battle. As that work involved restraining hotheads within their own ranks, who didn’t much care for how the proslavery men took potshots at them, we know that sentiment didn’t touch every heart.

we deeply regret that the perpetrator of this deed is unknown; and if known to us, we would unhesitatingly expose and denounce him as the criminal


it is due to the reputation of our town, and loudly demanded by the deep and universal indignation which pervades our community, that the guilty author should, if possible, be sought out and surrendered to justice

These resolutions promise a great deal and nothing at all. They would expose and denounce the shooter, if they knew him, and hand him over for justice, if they could find him. Maybe they would, but Lawrence had previously ensured fugitives from the law in their community got enough advance warning to escape capture. They did it for Jacob Branson and Samuel Wood in December. They did the same for the men who helped Wood escape only days before. Indignation, deep and universal, only went so far.



Driving Out the Demon: Lawrence Responds to the Jones Shooting, Part Two

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

When someone shot Sheriff Samuel Jones in Lawrence, unofficial headquarters of Kansas’ free state movement, the people of Lawrence knew they had a real problem on their hands. Back in December, Jones had tried to destroy the town over a far less personal affront. He came to Lawrence on April 23 as a result of those prior proceedings, to arrest men who had prevented his arrest of the leading figure in his last indignity, Samuel Wood. Whoever pulled the trigger, the wrath would fall on the whole town. Maybe they couldn’t prevent that, but they tried. At a mass meeting the morning after the shooting, Andrew Reeder told the town that the attack on Jones constituted an attack on them as well. They had tried to work within the system. This broke that precedent, which alone stood between them and violence.

Proceeding on that theme, Reeder held that 

The sincere and heart-felt sympathy that they [Lawrence] have always had, has been given because they were always in the right -that blood upon our soil, that cried for vengeance, has been that of our friends- that those whose hands have been stained by murder and assassinations have been our enemies and oppressors- It was a matter of pride and congratulation, that in our ranks were men who denounced crime, murder, and assassination, though they were ready and willing, on all occasions, to shed their blood for their political rights

Virtuous Lawrence could have nothing to do with the shooting. It did not represent them, but some other people of lower character. Communities tell themselves this sort of thing whenever some violence erupts, outsourcing their dearest sins to some foreign foe. In exchange for that charity, we ask only that everyone believe it. Our wrongs belong not to us, but someone else. You can hear it whenever we have a mass shooting or act of white terrorism.

Reeder then reminded Lawrence that he had stood to vindicate free Kansas before. Back in December, when the telegraph carried the proslavery line, Reeder defended them in Washington. He didn’t know better at the time, but did it because he knew the character of the free state men. “Subsequent events” proved him right, not prior knowledge. What held true once would hold true again. Or would it?

An entirely new phrase has come over the state of things. The demon of murder, blood-shed and crime seems to be struggling to get out of the ranks of the enemy and enter ours-to enter this paradise to poison the foundations that underlay the reputation of the Free State party, of staining the flag of freedom, blackening our character, and undermining our cause. In God’s name, let it be driven out, and keep our banner unstained.

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Officially, either no one knew who shot Jones or some proslavery person did it. Maybe some in Lawrence believed that, but they can’t have numbered many. Reeder’s phrasing reveals what most everyone knew. He might say that the demon of murder struggled to get into their ranks, but he goes on to say they need to drive it out. One can’t drive out something not yet in. His appeals to the good name of the free state party speak further to the point. They wouldn’t sway a proslavery man in the audience, but might induce a murderous free state partisan to keep further bullets to himself. Nor would a proslavery listener have cared much for how

The blood of your brothers have cried from the soil for vengeance.

Nothing in this makes sense in light of an external foe. Reeder, and everyone else, knew someone on their side had shot Jones. They had that demon of murder not struggling to get in, but already within them.

Lawrence Responds to the Jones Shooting, Part One

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Twenty-five years later, John Speer and Samuel Jones could have a nice chat about the time Jones got shot. Speer wanted to know if Jones thought he did it. Jones reassured him otherwise. They slap each other on the back, talk about the crazy old days, and part as friends. At the time, neither Jones nor the people at Lawrence had that sort of detachment. The town had paid before for Jones’ mere frustrations, coming near to destruction. The sheriff had few fans, but fewer still wanted the violent wrath of proslavery Kansas and Missouri to descend upon them. The Herald of Freedom flatly denied that any antislavery man fired the shot and insisted more plausibly that

the public sentiment of this city condemns, in unmeasured terms, the assassination. No sympathy exists for the men who thus violently undertook to deprive Jones of his life. Not that there is any particular love for him-for he is hated as cordially as it is possible for men to hate a scoundrel-but there is a love of Order, of Law, of Justice and Peace in our people-and murder and outrage, assassination and brutality, meet with a prompt and unqualified condemnation, by whoever perpetrated.

One can hate a person a great deal and not want them dead, fair enough. George Washington Brown went on in that theme for a while, inveighing against “the Border Ruffian party” for “this last stroke of villainy?” What evil would prove too much for them? The next evil firmly in mind, Brown declared that no one could hold Lawrence responsible. The townspeople had nothing to do with the shooting except the misfortune of living near to it. Furthermore, they disavowed the shooting “immediately and unanimously” and condemned it “in the strongest terms.”

For proof of all that, the paper printed the proceedings of a public meeting. Jones caught his bullet around ten on the night of April 23, 1856. The next morning notice went out for the citizenry to meet in the hall over Faxon’s store, twelve and a half hours after the attack. The Herald reports a packed room, which elected Andrew Reeder to the chair. Reeder then gave a speech. Kansas first governor and latest would-be free state senator condemned the shooting as

an outrage on the individuals of this town, upon the public sentiment and reputation of the town, and a still greater outrage upon our cause. That cause was one which sought no aid or countenance at the hands of assassins, for it was too holy, too strong, and too just to need such assistance.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Self-involved or not, Reeder opened up on reasonable enough grounds. No one in Lawrence could change what happened to Jones. They had to worry about what would happen to them. Reeder proclaimed that the free state party

wanted the help of the Lord, and not the devil; the help of honest, well meaning men, not of murderers and assassins; the help of orderly, law-abiding, though determined men, and not of outlaws and murders. They wanted the sympathies of their friends in the Free States, who have stood up and justified them, and that sympathy they must obtain by pursuing such a course as would not give any one cause to charge them with wrongdoing and injustice.

One can read this as a piece of political propaganda and not go wrong. What Reeder said, he said for public consumption. He calls out the audience abroad in the free states as well as those in Lawrence that April morning. But this also sends a message to whoever did shoot Jones: You have put us in danger, not helped. It further honestly states the free state strategy. They did not want, and honestly feared, armed conflict. They had militias for self-defense and may have burned proslavery houses, but in the main they adopted a peaceable and careful strategy of circumspection. Even after they established their own government, they voted not to enact any laws until they had approval from Congress. At almost every turn, men like Reeder, Charles Robinson, and James Lane tried to work within the American, if not the Kansan, system.

John Speer and Samuel Jones Reminisce

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

On the night of April 23, 1856 Sheriff Samuel Jones caught two bullets. The first passed through his pants. The second took a detour through him. The men he came to Lawrence to arrest must fall under suspicion, as they had a better reason to want Jones gone than anybody. Furthermore, everyone Jones had come into Lawrence to take had a history of violence against him. He first sought the just-returned Samuel Wood, who had let an armed band against Jones to rescue Jacob Branson. The sheriff assembled his second slate of victims from those men who seized him and prevented his arrest of Wood by main force.

We don’t know who fired the shot. Anybody might have done it; Jones had made enemies of any who lived through the siege back in December. But if you want to narrow it down, then the men Jones came back to arrest make a fair group of suspects. Fleeing down during the day didn’t preclude a nighttime return to ventilate Jones. Jones deputy thought John Speer might have pulled the trigger. He might have visited the homes of everyone in the group, but Speer wrote his story down.

Jones and Speer both survived Kansas. Twenty-five years later, they met up again. Jones had gone to Texas and then on to Arizona, where he would die. But he came back to Kansas at least once, visiting Leavenworth. There he saw a man he recognized at Planter’s House:

“Is not this Mr. Speer?” He was Sheriff Jones. we passed out onto the veranda, and had a long and pleasant talk over old times. I asked him if he ever imagined it possible I could have had anything to do with the attempt on his life. Most emphatically he replied: “No. I always recognized you as a gentleman; and that was a dastardly attempt at assassination. With pleasant memories, and hearty congratulations, we parted, never to meet again.

I don’t know from being shot, thank you, but I did have my wrist remodeled in a violent clash many years ago. I remember the event quite well. Though the perpetrators suffered no more than a questioning by the school principal, I put a fair bit of effort into working out just what happened. I can’t imagine Jones got shot and didn’t devote at least some energy to the question down the years. He might have excused Speer or dismissed vague suspicions in the name of politeness, but would he have done so for a man he strongly suspected had put the bullet in him? Probably not.

David Wong, Roger Taney, and Donald Trump

Samuel A. Cartwright

Samuel A. Cartwright

Sorry for the late post, Gentle Readers. I felt quite unwell during my normal writing time.

Ever since Donald Trump became the nominee-presumptive of the Republican Party, the media have treated us to a stream of pieces on how we must understand his supporters. They may have picked a narcissist and clown straight out of interwar Italian politics, but we need to look on them with empathy. In principle, I agree wholeheartedly. I deal regularly with people who have done worse still, though they do have the good decency to have put themselves out of our misery. Future historians will probably feel much the same about the Trump movement.

You can’t get around it. To actually understand what drives people, especially people with politics you loath, you need to treat them as rational and sensible as anybody else. Calling them dupes or fools as much removes their agency and reduces them to a stereotype one may loathe with ease but comprehend not at all. You end up like Samuel Cartwright, explaining slave resistance as a form of mental illness. What holds true for slaves also holds true for slaveholders, though historians have traditionally had far less trouble emphasizing with them than their victims. Aside from a few black historians and radicals, the academy didn’t get on board with understanding black Americans as thinking beings capable of understanding, holding values, and acting accordingly until better than halfway through the twentieth century.

My obvious political inclinations aside, I ought to be the target audience for pieces on understanding Trump Country. I have largely avoided them, except one shared with me by a friend. There are multiple reasons for that, including my general contempt for media industry multi-millionaires who tell us they understand “real America,” the compulsory ignorance of the subject one finds in reporters parachuted in without context to pretend-report on something for thirty seconds, and skimming headlines and opening paragraphs to show how devotedly they live up to my expectations. But I did read the one. Let’s pick it apart.

A few things going in, Gentle Readers. As the numerous ads and whatever lives in the sidebar when you load up the page will show, Cracked doesn’t aim for serious journalism. (Its history pieces don’t withstand casual scrutiny either.) But now and then someone writes a piece meant for serious consideration, as David Wong has. I intend to take it as such, humor site pedigree aside.

We must begin with the title. Wong suggests that half of America lost its mind. It grabs the reader’s attention, but Wong frames his article just the opposite. He does not portray Trump supporters as insane or demented. They have real grievances, which he reduces down to a rural vs. urban divide. To prove it, he hauls out one of those red vs. blue county maps. It turns out the diverse cities, shockingly, tend to support candidates who less devoted to white supremacy. The much whiter rural counties vote the other way.

I could stop right here, but Wong digs himself deeper. He paints a picture of neglect and negative stereotyping. Urban America doesn’t care about rural America. All the television and movies have to do with cities. When disaster strikes, you’d best have a major media operation nearby or don’t expect to make CNN. We all know the stereotypes of rural life, that bonanza of inbred hicks who only take their hands off the cross they’re using to beat a LGBT person to death in order to light it on fire. I don’t know about the inbreeding -none of my business- but that sounds like my neighbors. They do not like the idea of living with people of different color, sexuality, or non-Christian religion. Wong puts those up as stereotypes, but he admits to their truth:

But what I can say, from personal experience, is that the racism of my youth was always one step removed. I never saw a family member, friend, or classmate be mean to the actual black people we had in town. We worked with them, played video games with them, waved to them when they passed. What I did hear was several million comments about how if you ever ventured into the city, winding up in the “wrong neighborhood” meant you’d get dragged from your car, raped, and burned alive. Looking back, I think the idea was that the local minorities were fine … as long as they acted exactly like us.

Wong had a more charmed childhood than I did. Casual dismissal of non-whites happened every day. I can’t count the times I’ve heard family members start a sentence, stop and visibly struggle, then finally blurt out “coloreds!” with extra emphasis just so you know what they really mean. Fairness demands that I recognize the ecumenical nature of their hatreds; they had nothing nicer to say about other people who dared come in the wrong colors or religions. But of course you’d be polite to someone’s face. Small communities can’t afford a full-on white power operation, aside local government, so we content ourselves with more petty species of viciousness. Say nothing in front of your victim, but be sure it gets out behind their backs. Plain, honest folk in real America don’t need that explained to them.

Maybe that racism seemed one step removed to Wong -who is white like me; he writes under a pseudonym- but you can’t honestly put it at arm’s length. We both learned to associate minorities with dangerous, criminal behavior and took those who didn’t rape and murder people every day for fun as deviations from the norm. I can’t imagine the victims agree.

It goes on in this vein. The white racial resentment or, to use a word more familiar to its practitioners, entitlement, just boils off the screen. Wong knows as much and acknowledges it. He doesn’t pretend that rural America has somehow, double-secret, turned into a bastion of tolerance. His quest to highlight Trump Country agency has brought him that far. But he thinks it wrong and dehumanizing to ascribe white voters’ motives to either the driving force of American history, white supremacy, or to the central institution of their communities, which he considers to be conservative Christianity. What they say doesn’t actually matter. They just hurt and lash out.

I shall not sit here and tell you that white people never suffer or rural poverty doesn’t matter. But Wong refutes himself twice over by focusing on poverty as the driving force explanation. Firstly, rural America hasn’t done well, economically, in decades. Nor has it had much cultural focus in the same period of time. If neglect drives rural voters, then we would have seen a Trump-style candidacy decades back. Indeed, we did. Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan both ran white grievance campaigns. On the other side, so did Bill Clinton. Whether we look at structural factors all the way back to the Constitution or individual campaigns, nobody gets more attention. Even in the most conservative interpretation, white America has at least the whole of one political party devoted to preserving its prerogatives over the rest of the nation. These people do not lack a voice. Their politics do not constitute a wild divergence from the American norm; they are the norm. The past few decades have simply seen a shift from nigh-absolute control to a more qualified but still nearly overwhelming dominance.

Since Trump came out of normal politics, his voters don’t require a unique explanation. The same things drive them that drove the American right in 1968, 1980, 1996, or 1860. They see the United States as a white man’s country, period. Any diminution of their power counts as the most agonizing species of persecution.

But let’s turn that back around. Wong would have us believe that poverty made Trump. He admits that Trump runs on racism, which he also considers a decidedly negative personality trait. He must think the same of poverty as he casts the rural poor as a people lashing out. They can’t have acted in their actual interests, but rather poverty has driven them to it. Poverty, in other words, makes you immoral and destructive. This loops us right back to the stereotypes that Wong and I grew up believing about black people: they earned their poverty through sloth, through dependence, through crime. White people got poor for reasons beyond their control. Trust us; we have the white skin to know. For Wong to argue this, hasn’t he dehumanized the poor just as he complains that others have?

Roger Taney, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

Roger Taney

Bringing this back to history, I consider taking what people say and granting them their agency bottom-line stuff. If you can’t do that, then you fundamentally do not believe your subjects full human beings. They must occupy some inferior order, to which one silently applies Taney’s corollary:

altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far unfit that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect

I cannot think of a more thorough way to dehumanize someone than to ignore both their words and deeds in favor of inventing some deterministic explanation that excuses them from both. To do this, you reduce them to unthinking automatons, for all the protests to the contrary. You declare that they do not know what’s best for themselves, that they cannot know. Wong’s rural poor, intended or not, are infantilized subjects. He wants us to not blame them for what they do, for the powerful hatreds they bear, because they just can’t help themselves. You don’t blame a baby for soiling a diaper, so you should not blame Trump voters for Trump.

Wong’s piece has a larger problem, though. “Poor” doesn’t begin to describe Trump’s supporters:

As compared with most Americans, Trump’s voters are better off. The median household income of a Trump voter so far in the primaries is about $72,000, based on estimates derived from exit polls and Census Bureau data. That’s lower than the $91,000 median for Kasich voters. But it’s well above the national median household income of about $56,000. It’s also higher than the median income for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters, which is around $61,000 for both.

If those statistics reflect poverty, then I imagine plenty of us would like to sign up for some. Wong says that poor people from his home town support Trump; I believe him. But his poor voters resemble the general constituency no more than the neighbors that media personalities talk to at wealthy resort communities represent ordinary Americans.

The Hunt for John Speer

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

On the night of April 23, 1856 someone in Lawrence shot Sheriff Samuel Jones, twice. The first bullet went through his pants, the second through him. The Herald of Freedom told readers that a proslavery man had to have done it, referring vaguely to enemies Jones had made on his own side of Kansas Territory’s great issue. Outside Kansas people might believe that, but the evidence doesn’t support the proposition at all. Whatever enemies Jones might have made aside antislavery Kansans, Lawrence had no shortage of men who had made violent threats against him and had attacked him previously.

We don’t know who did shoot Jones, but the men he had come to Lawrence to arrest seem like fair enough suspects. John Speer, who later wrote a biography of James Lane, fit that description. He had intervened to prevent the arrest of Samuel Wood, the business that brought Jones to Lawrence in the first place. Jones’ deputy, Sam Salters (the fourth Samuel in the story), thought Speer a likely prospect and had the dragoons surround Speer’s home, twice.

The first time, he was insolent, abusive and profane; and I advised Mrs. Speer, if she saw his hosts coming, to make no resistance, but to barricade the door and compel him to break it down. This she did; and, as he uttered a volley of profanity, she indignantly cast a dipper of water in his face. The dragoons laid back int heir saddles, and laughed and cheered. This so provoked him that he pulled a revolver, swearing he would “kill the abolitionists.”

That went too far for the soldiers with Salters, who told him to cool it. Instead the officer, Lieutenant McIntosh, went up the the window, tapped, and asked her to let him in. Mrs. Speers didn’t cave easily

She replied: “If you are United States officer, I will; if you are a Border Ruffian, you will have to break the door down.”

The soldier confessed to soldiering, so she let him in. He conducted

a very inefficient search, pleasantly remarking about the bright morning, the babe in the cradle, and her four pretty children around the fire, and retired.

All of this makes it sound like the posse caught Speer in his home, with the inefficient search probably including winks and nods. Speer clarifies to the contrary. McIntosh declined, over Salters’ request, to search a small room. He also tells that he had met McIntosh on the road previously and they had passed without incident. It seems no bad blood existed between them and McIntosh may have thought he let Speer go by means of that incomplete hunt. Speer doesn’t say so outright, but it looks like he understood McIntosh’s actions in that light and he elsewhere declares that many of the soldiers sided with the antislavery party at the time. His mourning of the Lieutenant’s later death at the Battle of Cabin Creek, where he took the side of slavery, points to at least some gratitude for the gentle treatment of Speer’s wife and family.

“Unworthy even of the name of a devil” The Shooting of Samuel Jones, Part Two

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

We left Samuel Jones, Sheriff of Douglas County, still in Lawrence. He did not get his man, Samuel Wood, nor the men he came back to get who had helped Wood escape him. But Jones had a concession prize of six men in custody thanks to the backing of the 1st Cavalry out of Fort Leavenworth. Confident of his protection and the free state men’s respect of the United States military, Jones pitched a tent in Lawrence to stay the night. He and some other men had gone out to get a drink of water, a fluid antislavery sources might have us believe Jones understood only dimly for lack of study. Thomas Crowder and William Preston stood with Jones just then, and later testified that some men came up looking for Jones. As the Sheriff stooped mere feet away, he rose to identify himself and then stooped down again. Then

some person in a crowd standing near fired into the party, when the remark was made by P[reston] “Jones, you are shot,” and upon examination it was found that a bullet had passed through his pants without any injury.

No physical injury, anyway. The prose makes this all sound very dry and orderly. Someone took a shot at Jones. The bullet whizzed through his pantleg. Preston delivered a Shakespearean stage direction in a flat voice and everyone went about their lives. No one at the time could have missed the tension. Antislavery men had threatened Jones life all day long. He had a large, armed bodyguard of dragoons with him. Jones must have done at least some cursing, as our witnesses hint immediately after:

The party returned to the tent, where, when we commenced talking about this dastardly and hellish attempt at assassination

I expect that getting shot at tends to dominate conversation, but rude free state men would not let Jones, Preston, and Crowder have their chat about extremely recent events unmolested. A man, pretending drunkenness, stumbled into the tent and sat down. Jones told him to get lost, which he did.

in less than five minutes, as we were conversing together, Jones fell, exclaiming, “Oh!” He attempted to draw his knife and find the dastardly scoundrel -worse than a fiend- who would thus, under cover of night, attempt the life of a fellow-being; but the wound was such as to prevent his rising at all. The shot came from the hind part of the tent, and was aimed at the back of the sheriff. We have no doubt, ourselves, that the whole matter was concocted-the rascal hired for the express purpose of assassination; and that there are many persons in Lawrence concerned in this matter, who are very desirous to shield themselves behind this foul and dark scoundrel, unworthy even of the name of a devil.

Second time’s the charm, apparently. Subtlety went out the window after the first shot, if resident at all. Whoever wanted Jones dead must not have cared to ventilate his friends or his military guards, so they had to make sure they had the right spot to aim at.

The Herald of Freedom tries to blame the shooting on proslavery men who disliked Jones, implausibly enough. So far as aiming at him, George Brown argues that Jones

took a seat in an exposed condition-in an unoccupied tent, with a bright light beside him, which, through the cloth, rendered everything perfectly and plainly visible from the outside. In this position he received a bullet in his back-fired by an assassin hand.

Brown’s explanation relies on Jones not having company, which would come as a surprise to Crowder and Preston. Everything else would fit just fine. A light in a tent would give the shooter an ideal target, but shadows don’t come with name tags and the tent had three. Someone would have had to go look, either the shooter himself or a confederate.

“Here I am, gentlemen” The Shooting of Samuel Jones, Part One


Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Whether or not Samuel Jones intended to use his arrest of Samuel Wood as a provocation which would discredit the free state government, he did arrest people. If he didn’t get any that he had originally come for, then he still had someone. Most of Lawrence seems to have begrudgingly accepted that, as Jones came backed by the United States Cavalry. Not everyone in town felt that way, though. By the time he left Lawrence, Jones could boast of taking six prisoners. To that collection he added two bullet holes.

We can’t say just what drove someone over the edge. The fact that Jones rounded up clearly innocent, or innocent enough, people when he couldn’t find Wood or Wood’s abettors may have done it. The simple fact that Samuel Jones, who had brought Lawrence near to destruction months before, had come back for a second round might have sufficed. George Brown suggested that a frustrated Jones pushed things too far himself:

The ‘sheriff” became insufferably insulting; got drunk, in order the better to render himself odious; drew his revolver frequently on unoffending citizens’ courted a personal assault

Going around drawing his gun on people and threatening them does sound like vintage Samuel Jones. He rarely appears in the sources without clearly cherishing his power over antislavery Kansans. With the army at his back, the sheriff had an ideal chance to play the bully in Lawrence and demonstrate his manly credentials. They would submit, like slaves. He would dominate, a true master.

Whatever drove them, some of Lawrence went off-script. Merrill’s True History of the Kansas Wars tells that a Colonel Preston

was taken aside by a citizen of the place, who frankly told him, that there was a conspiracy on foot to assassinate Sheriff Jones; as the day wore away, the crowd gathered in different parts of the city, became more and more open in their innuendoes, and when a man by the name of Hunt was arrested, he was called upon in the presence of Robinson, by some one in the crowd “to shoot Jones,” using expressions of wrath, and the deepest revenge ever indulged in, and the most insulting language to some few Pro-slavery men standing near the crowds. They were offered a fight, -told, “to pitch in, and they would see sights.”

Merrill leans proslavery, but all of that sounds reasonable enough. It would strain credulity more to believe no one in Lawrence talked about harming Jones than that they did, though that talk didn’t necessarily constitute a conspiracy as such. I don’t mean to parse things too narrowly here, but talk of a conspiracy implies a clear plan by recognized co-plotters to their end. Violent talk and threats might precede and feature into a conspiracy, but do not make one in themselves.

Merrill then quotes two eyewitnesses to the foreshadowed event. “[J]ust before dark,” William Preston and Thomas Crowder wrote, after repeated threats and insults directed at Jones, Franklin Pierce, and proslavery men in general,

With Lieutenant McIntosh, we, with a gentleman by the name of Yates, went to the camp, intending to pass off time and spend the night. Soon after we had made preparations for sleeping, Mr. Jones, and one of us, [Preston] went a few paces from the tent to get a glass of water. While so engaged some persons came up and inquired where Sheriff Jones was, and made insulting remarks concerning his courage, when he [Jones] arose from the stooping posture he was in and remarked, “Here I am, gentlemen.”

Samuel Jones: Political Schemer?

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

We left Sheriff Samuel Jones in Lawrence on April 23, 1856. He arrested ten men, none of whom he had come to Lawrence to seize. Whether they did anything to resist Jones and so warrant arrest or not, he took them along. With his Army escort, Jones must have felt confident indeed as he did not immediately leave infamous den of abolitionists that had defied him to the point of risking armed battle only months before. At least this time he got some men, if still not Samuel Wood.

Lawrence acquiesced with vulgar imprecations, rather than resort to arms. The antislavery men remained keenly aware that opposing the power of the United States would put them beyond the political pale. An injured soldier could destroy their movement by bringing the Army down on their heads, particularly as Wilson Shannon now had the authority to call on it at will. Jones knew the lay of the land as well as anybody and decided to camp in town.

The Herald of Freedom’s version of events stresses Lawrence’s submission. They would fight Missouri and the territorial government to the end, but not the nation:

To legal authority we submit, no matter how oppressive; to an authority which was created by fraud, and violence and usurpation, if peaceable and lawful means of resistance fail, we will die in our tracks before yielding an inch.

George Brown’s paper also reported that Lawrence’s resolve on the point “disappointed and exasperated” the proslavery men. He thought Jones’ arrival and subsequent events all done for show as

The Congressional Investigating Committee was in Kansas-had already commenced its labors. They feared to trust the investigation of their course to an unbiased and honorable committee. They knew too well what the result of those investigations would be, hence the necessity of a stroke of policy, to change the course of things. -A muss must be kicked up to hinder the committee from proceeding with its work. If possible, by any means, the Committee must be prevented from reporting until after the adjournment of Congress, and of course until after the Presidential election; or if that could not be done, they must forestall its action, by placing us in an unfavorable attitude; forcing us, if possible, to abandon our strong and honorable position, for one of dishonor and aggression.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Brown understood the national political landscape, but all of this looks like a reach. Jones might well have seen those goals as desirable. He knew the politics and of the committee’s arrival as well as anybody, so he could certainly make the calculation. However, he also came for Samuel Wood at the first instant he knew that Wood had returned to Kansas. The Herald reported Wood’s return on April 19. Jones arrived to claim him the very next day, just as one would expect for a lawman bent on making a swift arrest. It seems much more likely that Jones saw his quarry had returned and aimed to seize him, with the opportunity to show the impotence of the free state movement or to bring them into collision with national power coming as a bonus. That it would all take place in front of a Congressional committee can’t have hurt, of course.