William Phillips earned the wrath of his proslavery neighbors for working as a correspondent for the New York Tribune, convincing Andrew Reeder to set aside the fraudulent election returns from Leavenworth, serving in some way that no one would testify to under oath as some kind of accessory to the murder of Malcolm Clark by Cole McRea, or some combination of all three. A meeting of Leavenworth’s proslavery party, including many men of power and influence, gathered the night of Clark’s murder and resolved to order Phillips gone by the afternoon of Thursday, May 3, 1855.
Phillips left. When the mob came to see if he did as told, they found his brother but not Phillips himself. Their chosen victim had not, however, abjured Leavenworth like a properly chastised man. Instead he and George F. Warren just left town for most of the day, returning in the evening. If Phillips hoped to avoid a confrontation by just dodging the mob when it arrived at his doorstep, he underestimated their dislike of him and, one imagines, also his value to them as an object lesson in what they would do to antislavery men in their midst.
Warren remained with Phillips after they returned to Leavenworth and so witnessed the immediate response firsthand:
An hour or two after we arrived in town some one wanted to speak to Mr. Phillips in the Herald printing office.
Phillips must have known full well that the editors of the Herald put their signatures on the notice telling him to get out of Leavenworth and that this could go very badly. But according to A. Payne’s testimony, six or eight men took Phillips then. He probably had no real choice in the matter and so
[h]e went there, and I remained part of the time on the outside where I could see in and hear him them talk. They asked him to sign that paper to leave the Territory the next day at noon, at the same time holding a pistol at his head. He would not sign it. A man asked him then if he would fight. He reached his hand to him and told him yes. Some one spoke then and said the man who proposed to fight should not do so, and thus throw away his valuable life for that damned abolitionist. They then proposed to tear and feather Phillips. They could not find any tar and feathers. He told them that molasses would do just as well.
A. Payne reports the same meeting in rather more general terms, as apparently he didn’t take part himself:
Various modes were suggested as to what means should be used to carry out the resolutions, none of which were adopted, and Mr. Phillips was released by partially promising that he would leave as soon as he could wind up his business; that is all I know of it.
The empty-handed mob did let Phillips go, but with that promise. After that he lived on in Leavenworth until May 17, 1855. Warren then tells us
Some days afterwards, while I and Phillips were helping to raise a building, there was a company of thirteen came there. They were J.M. McAlear, William Hughes, Boyle, Burnam, Pollard, Adams, Moore, heath, Lyle, Johnson, Posey, Mr. Blair, deputy marshal, and one other.
The same men, more or less, involved in the two previous meetings concerning first Phillips and then other presumed abolitionists in Leavenworth.
Hughes came close to Phillips and told him he must leave the Territory and go with him. McAlear put his hand on Phillips’ shoulder and told him he must go. All of them had revolvers. Phillips was unarmed, and only three or four of his friends were around, who were all unarmed except myself, and I had a revolver. There were but few persons in sight. Phillips made no reply to McAlear. Myself and Mr. Gould rushed towards him and was pushed back, and my pistol was taken from me by a friend of mine from Tennessee who wanted to fire, but I prevented him. They then took Phillips to the river, put him on a flat boat, and all got in and crossed the river. While they were crossing, a magistrate ordered a posse out with arms to rescue him. Only three of us appeared, and they were then crossing the river.