Wilson Shannon and the Missourians

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon called out the Kansas militia against Lawrence, with the aim of ensuring that Sheriff Samuel Jones could execute his warrants. In this, antislavery Kansans saw their undoing. They could hardly disavow the obstruction of Jones’ work, given how often they’d promised defiance. Even if they did, few could have believed it. By December 3, 1855, Wilson Shannon had put between one and two hundred under Jones’ command. To his displeasure, Shannon learned that the Missourians came as well. He had no real power to stop them, but the governor considered that he could have disavowed their help and sent them home. They might not have gone, but he could have done something. Shannon chose otherwise for three major reasons.

Shannon rightly saw the situation as incredibly sensitive. He had a large company -he didn’t know how many- of very angry proslavery men desperate for action. They came to make antislavery Kansans bleed and might not go home until satisfied. Thus

to mitigate an evil which it was impossible to suppress, by bringing under military control these irregular and excited forces. This was only to be accomplished by permitting the continuance of the course which had already been adopted, without my knowledge, by Generals Richardson and Strickler-that is, to have the volunteers incorporated as they came in into the already organized command.

An armed mob bent on violence did not make for the best company, but by keeping it under the authority of men that the mob had accepted as leaders, and whom Shannon could hope would heed him, he might exert some control over the Missourians. This wouldn’t solve the problem by any means, but sending the Missourians home invited them to find their own amusements on the way and would put them completely out of his influence.

Doing so would also have required separating the Missourians from the Kansas militia with whom they had integrated. That in itself might have prompted an explosion, possibly against Shannon himself, and might have also alienated the militia. Shannon couldn’t afford to pick fights with his field commanders just then, even if he could have found a way to tell a Missourian from a Kansan. Given past Missourian scruples when it came to disclosing where they came from, trying would almost surely have turned Shannon into the next Andrew Reeder.


A portion of these men, who were mostly from Jackson County, Mo., reported themselves to Sheriff Jones-by giving in a list of their names-as willing to serve in his posse, and he, after taking legal advice upon the question, decided to receive them. They were accordingly so enrolled. It was decided that he had a right to employ them, from the fact that as they were present in the county, the sheriff had a right o call upon them to aid in the preservation of law and order within said county, even though they might be citizens of another State, in which case, if they chose to act, their services would be legal.

Even if Shannon tried all the previous, the Missourians could just volunteer for Jones’ posse. Shannon could hardly dismiss those who already had, since he escalated matters entirely to help Jones enforce law and order. He might not have the legal power to reject Jones’ posse to begin with. If he did, then what did it say about his devotion to the cause he’d chosen? Shannon had put himself in a very thorough bind.

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

The numbers made it worse. Shannon gives a count of one to two hundred, presumably for the militia proper so far as he could discern, and a total of two hundred fifty men collected about Lecompton. That must include the Missourians. Against them

the Free State faction collected their people in the town of Lawrence, until their reported strength reached an aggregate of six hundred men, armed, as was undoubtedly ascertained, with Sharpe’s rifles and revolvers.

We should take all these figures with a grain of salt; probably no one went out and counted noses. But free state sources admit that they concentrated their men around Lawrence for defense. Given the popularity of the territorial government in the area and the strange circumstances that led to hostile forces approaching the town, they might well have a healthy advantage over Shannon’s little army and Jones’ overgrown posse. To turn people away would critically undermine Shannon’s effort.



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