The Murder of Samuel Collins, Part One

William Phillips

William Phillips

October of 1855 proved a busy month for Kansas. On the first and ninth, the territorial government and free state movement had their elections for delegate to Congress. Missourians stole a county seat decision from Leavenworth, placing it in the hands of the much smaller Delaware and Kickapoo. The free state constitutional convention gathered and began its work at Topeka. Proslavery men trying to strike a more moderate tone met at Leavenworth and called for a Law and Order Convention. The Topeka and Leavenworth alike would not finish their conventions until November. All of that brings us to the end of the month and back to Patrick Laughlin.

Laughlin, an Irishman by birth, came to Kansas as a proslavery man but then went over to the free state side. He joined the Kansas Legion, but then found its business too much like that of the Know-Nothings for his taste. He quit the Legion in the fall of 1855 and published a pamphlet exposing its activities. In Laughlin’s own words, he

had the difficulty with Samuel Collins, at Doniphan, about the first of November last, which resulted in his death. I know that the difficulty grew out of the fact that I made such disclosures to the public as I have referred to in my testimony.

John Gihon’s Geary and Kansas and William Phillips’ The Conquest of Kansas date the killing to October 25, which would put Laughlin only a week off. Phillips sets the stage:

[Laughlin] was taken by the hand, patronized by the pro-slavery leaders, who doubtless intended to turn his peculiar qualities to account. While thus acting with these men he was secretly intriguing with the enemies of the free-state men about Doniphan, and fomenting in the bosoms of the violent borderers hostility to these men, thus endangering their personal safety. It was at this stage of affairs that Mr. Collins chanced to meet Laughlin in the office of a physician. As was natural, violent words passed between them, and there would probably have been violence of some kind but for the interference of the bystanders.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Laughlin, according to Allen B. Lyon’s testimony to the Howard Committee, came to the doctor for the usual reasons that evening. Samuel Collins, proprietor of a saw mill, came in fifteen minutes later with several friends. Laughlin did not act immediately, and Lyon doens’t say that Collins moved to seek him out. Rather some time passed before Laughlin rose from his bed and approached. He wanted to know why Collins

had hailed him on the street the day before when passing Collins’ mill, and insulted him in the manner that he had.

Collins denied it, but Laughlin persisted. He heard what he heard and could not have mistaken the speaker. The soul of diplomacy,

Collins then told he was a damned liar and a damned perjured scoundrel, that he had published infamous lies to the world, and that he (Collins) would make him take them all back; “or,” said he, “you or I, one will land in hell” -or eternity, I forget which- “before breakfast to-morrow morning.”

Samuel Collins may have chosen a more convincing way to dodge the accusation than this, but he could have thought himself telling the simple truth. Laughlin had sworn an oath of secrecy on the matter of the Kansas Legion and he did break it. That made him a kind of perjurer, even if he then told the whole truth of the Legion’s affairs.

Laughlin did not care for such fine distinctions. He knew “a damned liar” when he saw one, and he saw one in Collins. Collins, literally, did not take that sitting down and

arose from the sofa upon which he was sitting by my [Lyon’s] side, and advanced towards him. I caught Collins by the arm, and tried to persuade him to desist. He sat down, but soon got up again; told Laughlin to prepare himself; that he would be up in the morning early, and that he would make him take back all he had said and published, stating that he was not then armed, and he knew Laughlin was armed.

All of this transpired only “a few days” after Laughlin exposed the Kansas Legion. Laughlin, hardly a newspaper man, hadn’t published anything else of consequence. Answering Collin’s challenge, he stood by what he printed and “was not afraid to meet Collins in any way.”

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