Friends of Law and Order in Doniphan, Part One

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Back at the start of October, before Patrick Laughlin told all the Kansas Legion’s secrets to the newspapers, Samuel Collins called on him to recant, the two got into a fight that left Collins dead and Laughlin stabbed, generating a flurry of editorialscounter-editorials, and related writing, a group of proslavery men got together in Leavenworth and called for a somewhat more moderate course. They focused their criticism on the free state movement’s blatantly illegal and potentially treasonous program of setting up a wildcat state government. They would stand for law and order, albeit the kind that abetted slavery. With the law and order convention scheduled for November 14, 1855, local groups around Kansas had to get together and select men to go if they wanted representation. The Squatter Sovereign for October 30 covered such a meeting in Doniphan, held hot on the heels of Samuel Collins’ death.

Per the Sovereign, “a large number” of the county’s citizens gathered at Dr. O. Brown’s office. Unless two doctors named O. Brown lived in Doniphan at the time, which could have happened, that office also saw Laughlin and Collins’ preliminary scuffle the night before their fatal confrontation. The Laughlin connection did not end there, as the meeting named James Lunch and James F. Forman among the county’s representatives. Lynch fired a shot during the Laughlin-Collins fight. Forman knocked Collins’ gun away.

As one did at these things, the meeting appointed a committee to draw up resolutions to take along. While they did their work elsewhere, the meeting’s Secretary, John A. Vanarsdale,

read the disclosure of P. Laughlin, relative to the Free-Soil-Abolition party, which had a thrilling effect on the attentive audience.

With Collins’ death and Laughlin’s injury so recent, everyone must have heard something about it already. But not everyone read the papers, or read them in a timely fashion, so they must have attended the news eagerly. It would certainly set them in the proper mindset for battling antislavery Kansans. If the Law and Order men at Leavenworth said that the free state movement threatened anarchy, then the men at Doniphan could take their late experience as proof of the danger.

If anyone missed the connection, then the committee made it clear when they introduced their resolutions:

Information has come to light from a reliable source, that there is in our midst a secret organization of what is called the Free-Soil-Abolition party, having for its object the overthrow and subversion of the liberties of the people of Kansas; and whereas, arms and munitions of war have been sent into the Territory by the people of Boston, for the purpose of butchering our wives and children, one hundred thousand dollars have already been collected and sent here to their friends to prosecute their hellish designs; and whereas, secret agents are stationed in some parts of the Territory to give the signal of war and to commence the bloody work of butchering our families, burning our houses and destroying our property

One wonders how much of that they meant literally. Usually proslavery Americans invoked this kind of destruction as the result of a slave revolt, but Kansas had precious few slaves to launch one. However, given the late revelations of an armed secret society it seems more credible than usual that the authors understood the Kansas Legion as aimed at just that goal. “Abolitionists” might not wait for slaves to do their dirty work as a consequence of emancipation, but rather pursue emancipation through the murder of proslavery whites.

The committee called on Wilson Shannon to prevent all of this by placing Kansas “in a state of defensive warfare.” They then named names, taking them straight from Laughlin, and

most respectfully call upon the Attorney-General of this Territory to commence, by legal process, a suit against the above named persons, and bring them to a fair and speedy trial

Decapitating the Kansas Legion would certainly make a sounder night’s sleep for those who really did believe its members aimed to embark on a campaign of murder. They all at least arguably stood in violation of various Kansas laws, to say nothing of the general laws against murderous conspiracy. Even an impartial party could make a fair case against them on the latter grounds.

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