As forces assembled against them and Governor Wilson Shannon came to appreciate how his field commanders might not hew to his moderating intentions, the people of Lawrence didn’t content themselves with a simple protest. They agreed with the governor in trying to avoid an armed clash, but did depend on him for relief. Lawrence had good reason to seek a more robust means of resolving the crisis, as Charles Robinson told Brewerton:
the Pro-Slavery forces continued to augment, and committed depredations upon travellers and the country generally, by robbing wagons, taking prisoners, and interfering with peaceable travellers upon the public highway, and even stopping the United States Mail. And in addition to these unprovoked outrages, they showed an evident disposition to excite our people to acts of hostility, in firing nightly upon our picket guards, by which, however, as it fortunately happened, no one was hurt.
This could hardly look like anything but the prelude to storming the town. Even if one doesn’t place much stock in complaints about one side provoking the other to violence, one can’t help but give it some credence when the provocateurs have chosen actually shooting at people. Shooting back in such a circumstance hardly makes one an aggressor or irresponsible escalator. Nor could the nightly serenade of gunfire have calmed many nerves even among those indoors and somewhat safer.
Harassing communications and stopping the mail didn’t amount to a complete siege. People still got in and out of the town, armed bands included. The Herald of Freedom reported on the arrival of some from abroad and hopes for more:
A small party arrived this morning from Topeka. They give us the assurance that we shall be largely reinforced from that quarter by night.
The Bloomington rifles are here; also those from Wakarusa and Palmyra. Expresses have been sent through the Territory for aid, and it is said a messenger has gone to Iowa to send a correct version of the affair to the States.
Robinson gave Brewerton an account of the forces available in Lawrence, counting them around eight hundred
all armed with Sharpe’s rifles, or shot guns, and were well supplied with ammunition-many had pistols-those not enrolled were for the most part armed with some kind of weapon. We had, moreover, a cannon.
Another of Brewerton’s informants, Kansas Legion man G.P. Lowrey, agreed with Robinson’s numbers and added seventy mounted men
armed with revolvers and sabres, or in lieu of these, pikes with a scythe or sabre-blades attached, which were carefully sharpened.
If the Missourians wanted war to the knife, then some of the Lawrence defenders had rather large knives to hand. That cavalry force might sound medieval to us, but keep in mind that nineteenth century firearms had neither the accuracy nor rate of fire that we would expect. A swift force might very well ride into the enemy, discharging a few rounds as it did, and then slice away whilst the opposition reloaded. A sword or bayonet did more than serve as decoration on such occasions. The men would surely know their way around a scythe, a traditional farm implement used both in harvesting grain and mowing lawns.
Phillips described every home as a barracks housing those new arrivals. Furthermore
Three large circular earth-works, a hundred feet in diameter, were thrown up so as to defend the place from an attack made on the north-west, south, and south-east. […] It was a stirring sight to see the men working in the trenches, and even at night they could be found plying the spade and mattock, officers guiding the progress of the work, and holding lanterns.
Should Jones, Richardson, or Shannon offer battle, then Lawrence would put up a good fight. Anyone who came near enough could look at the earthworks and see how firmly they resolved to defend themselves. If the sight disinclined them to attack the town, then so much the better. For all the warlike preparations, the free state leadership continued searching for a peaceful solution. They sent emissaries to Shannon, asking that he either control his men or remove them. If he refused, they threatened to go over his head and seek relief from Franklin Pierce.