The Murder of Samuel Collins, Part Three

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Parts 1 and 2

We left Patrick Laughlin, the Irish-born Kansas Legion member who exposed its activities to the general public, walking down the streets of Doniphan and away from free soil sawmill operator Samuel Collins. The two had a confrontation, and may have exchanged gunfire, over Laughlin’s exposure of the Legion the night before. They both made dire threats before that. The morning of October 25 found Laughlin and John (or James, the Howard Report calls him both) Lynch, who previously considered Collins a friend, with a peace bond against Collins. Allen B. Lyon came on the scene on his way to breakfast at a local hotel.

Collins had a shotgun in hand, both barrels cocked. Lyon, who had witnessed the near-altercation the night before, put two and two together easily enough and knew Collins meant both barrels for Laughlin’s unguarded back. He tried to distract the free soil man, but Collins paid him no mind and called out to Laughlin:

“stop, God damn you, and take back everything you have said, or I will put sixteen through you”

Laughlin did not stop. Collins followed along, repeating his insistence that Laughlin recant his publication of Kansas Legion secrets. Eventually Laughlin had enough of this. He

turned round, and stood with a bucket of flour on his arm, and told Collins he had nothing to take back, and nothing that he could take back.

Collins closed to within six yards, took aim, and pulled his trigger. The gun did not fire.

In a hotel, presumably the same one where Allen Lyon planned to get his breakfast, John Lynch ate his own. He heard yelling from outside. Someone said Collins aimed to kill everybody in town. Himself a person in the town, as well as one who Collins had threatened violence against less than twenty-four hours earlier, Lynch considered himself a target. He went to the window for a look.

Back outside, Lyon told the Howard Committee that Collins did not consider matters closed when his gun failed to fire:

He then rushed upon Laughlin, cursing furiously, drew a large knife from his breast, flourished it in front of Laughlin’s neck two or three times, demanding that he should take back what he had said.

At this point, Lynch came out. He saw Collins “flourishing” the knife. Lyon saw rather more. When Laughlin again refused to recant, Collins

plunged the knife into Laughlin’s left side. Laughlin staggered several steps back, retreating from him. Collins then drew up his gun again, and presented it at Laughlin; and as he pulled the trigger, Mr. Foreman got his hand upon the barrel of the gun, and forced the muzzle down, and the contents entered the ground between Laughlin’s feet.

Lynch exited the hotel that scene, though he didn’t see Laughlin wounded. He

could not say what Mr. Laughlin was doing, but I thought he was dodging behind Mr. Foreman, who seemed to be trying to intercede between them. This was between thirty and forty feet from the hotel, perhaps fifty feet. As my life had been threatened the night before, I seized my gun when I got up from the breakfast table, and took it with me out of doors, and when I got to the corner of the hotel in sight of the parties, I fired it in the direction of Mr. Collins.

Lyon heard Lynch’s shot hit a fence on the far side of the street. Lynch and Collins closed with each other. According to Lyon

Mr. Collins immediately wheeled round, throwing up the breach of his gun, and advanced. Mr. Collins struck at Mr. Lynch, who received the blow on his gun, and the breeches of both guns were broken off; the next blow Mr. Collins knocked Mr. Lynch down.

Lynch agreed that Collins knocked him down. He claimed to know nothing of the affray thereafter, though he told the Howard Committee that in light of the threat to his life he considered this all self-defense.

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