Shannon’s View of Kansas’ Troubles, Part One


Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

The Hunt for Jacob Branson: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

The Lawrence Revolt: parts 1, 2, 3

On November 27, 1855, Wilson Shannon issued orders for the organized northern and unorganized southern divisions of the Kansas territorial militia to converge on Lecompton. There they would place themselves at the disposal of Sheriff Samuel Jones to serve warrants against Jacob Branson and those who rescued him from Jones’ custody. Shannon specified that the militia had those duties and no more, clearly sensitive to how the use of force could go badly wrong. But Shannon’s prudence had its limits. He paints Franklin Pierce a rather dire picture of matters the next day. Kansas faced

great danger to the peace and good order of society. I am well satisfied that there exists in this Territory a secret military organization, which has for its object, among other things, resistance to the laws by force.

The Kansas Legion had military organization, at least in chapters sufficiently large, and promised essentially that. Shannon might not have known it then, but Branson served as an officer in the group. His rescues almost certainly included his comrades in arms. Shannon knew all of that for some time, as Patrick Laughlin’s revelations hit the papers a month prior and free state groups had threatened resistance of the law in martial language for some time prior. He also makes reference to “hints thrown out by some of the public journals in their interest,” which he could hardly have missed.

Until the Branson affair, he understood this all as bold talk rather than a plan of action. Some free state Kansans probably agreed with him.

Shannon didn’t know how many men the Legion boasted, but he guessed between one and two thousand

well supplied with Sharp’s rifles and revolvers, and that they are bound by an oath to assist each other in the resistance of the laws when called upon to do so.

Now that the Legion proved itself as martial as its rhetoric, he had to do something. Shannon related the story of Dow’s murder to Pierce, complete with “three to four hundred” men out to lynch Coleman. He told of Branson’s arrest in somewhat more general terms, not naming him but calling him a leader of that mob. “[B]etween forty and fifty” intercepted Jones to free his prisoner, armed with those same Sharpe’s firearms. Along the way, the proslavery families around Hickory Point, who Shannon called “law-and-order families” suffered burned houses, killed cattle, and general destruction of property to the point that all but two households fled.

Helpless women and children have been forced by fear and threats to flee from their homes and seek shelter and protection in the State of Missouri. Measures were taken by the legal authorities to procure warrants against these lawless men, and have them arrested and legally tried.

Those measures may include making Franklin Coleman and Josiah Hargis justices of the peace alongside Hugh Cameron. Though hardly impartial, Shannon could have expected them to know from experience where to best issue warrants.

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