The Murder of Samuel Collins, Part Two


The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

On October 25, 1855, Patrick Laughlin came to the office of Dr. Oscar Brown. He convalesced for fifteen minutes before Samuel Collins and some friends came in. Both men abided some time, but eventually Laughlin got up and confronted Collins. It transpired that Collins called Laughlin out on the street the day prior and insulted him. This had to do with Laughlin’s involvement with and then public exposure of the free state Kansas Legion, a group he had joined out of disgust with the proslavery party and then quit because it reminded him too much of the Know-Nothings. Collins insisted that he had given no insult, but when Laughlin persisted in the charge he allowed that Laughlin “a damned liar and a damned perjured scoundrel” who “had published infamous lies to the world.”

Laughlin, shockingly, found this an unpersuasive defense. Collins rose up to answer him again, presumably with more than words, but another man in the office, Howard Committee witness Allen B. Lyon, took hold of him. Collins sat back down, but then rose once more and informed Laughlin to gird himself for the morrow.

James Lynch, who testified that he considered himself and Collins “on very friendly terms” despite differing over slavery, sat on a chair between Laughlin and Collins, though facing away from the latter. When Collins drew near, Lynch asked that the irate free soil man “not run over” him. Collins answered

“Damn you, I will kick every rib in you out of you.” I could not say anything, I was so embarrassed at that. I remained in the chair and did not leave the office until Mr. Collins had left it. As Collins left the house, he stood in the door and shaking his finger at me, he said “Damn you, I will take your life.” I made no reply to him and he left.

Lyons confirms this story, down to the rib kicking and murdering threat. He disagrees on who left first, insisting that Lynch preceded Collins. Lyons further adds that

Collins made a statement in regard to Laughlin, that he understood James Foreman had given Laughlin a cow to change his politics, and publish this exposition.

I’ve seen other references to Laughlin receiving a bribe to change his stripes. For a man of his modest means, a cow would be a pretty good inducement. However, it also sounds like the sort of story one would circulate about one’s enemies whether true or not. Nor should we discount Laughlin’s own version. As an Irishman in mid-nineteenth century America, he likely had good reason to be very wary of anything that smelled like Know-Nothingism.

After both men left the room, Lyon says that

we heard the report of a gun, and then while we looked out of the window, I saw the flash and heard the report of two guns, apparently in the yard of Mr. Collins’ house.

Lynch doesn’t mention this at all, but I don’t see much advantage to Lyon in inventing it. One could read the affair as Laughlin and/or Lynch firing on warning shots, or otherwise, at Collins’ house. Lyon tells us that Laughlin had a gun with him in the office. Alternatively, Collins could have gotten home, seen them on the street, and fired warning shots of his own. Both might have happened, with Collins firing warning shots and Lynch and Laughlin returning fire.

Whatever happened with the gunshots in the night, Lynch and Laughlin secured a peace warrant against Collins. Lynch delivered to the sheriff with the expectation that come morning Collins would appear and they would require protection.

Around sunrise, Collins’ son, whom Lyon refers to as “young Mr. Collins” called to re-measure some lumber that Collins had sold Lyon. He thought they hadn’t done the measurement correctly and wanted to verify. Young Collins did some measurements and went home.

Laughlin at that time was standing in the main street of Doniphan, about twenty steps from me, talking with Mr. James Foreman and some others. A few minutes afterward, I started to breakfast. When I got to the corner upon which the hotel stands, I met Mr. Collins, his two sons, and a nephew. Mr. Collins had a double-barrel shot gun in his hand, both barrels cocked. Mr. Laughlin was walking directly from Collins, about twenty yards in advance, with his back towards Collins.

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