More Bad News for Governor Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon must have had better days. He blundered his way into escalating a crisis, but he realized that things had gone wrong and hoped to use the 1st Cavalry out of Fort Leavenworth to plug the volcano before it erupted. Then Colonel E.V. Sumner, who had promised to come to his aid, realized that he too would ride into a mess and perhaps he ought to proceed more cautiously. That left Shannon with no more than Daniel Boone’s grandson and his own authority to prevent bloodshed.

Nevertheless, Shannon decided his course. He and Boone went off to the Wakarusa camp, six miles from Lawrence, arriving around three in the morning on December 6, 1855. There he learned that neither Lawrence nor the sky had yet fallen. The Missourian mob, Sheriff Jones’ overgrown “posse”, and the Kansas militia had yet to make the attack that they wanted so badly. Shannon sent word that he wanted a meeting with militia general and Blue Lodge man William P. Richardson in command at the Lecompton camp and other leading figures there, then spent much of the day making the rounds on the Wakarusa

with a view of ascertaining their feelings and intentions, and if possibly prevailing upon them to co-operate with me in carrying out my views. For myself, I had two leading objects, which I had determined to use every exertion to accomplish:-One, to prevent the effusion of blood; the other, to vindicate the supremacy of the laws. I found in the Wakarusa camp a strong disposition which appeared to be almost universal, to attack Lawrence.

Samuel Jones threw a war. They waited all this time, partly for Shannon’s sake, and now he wanted them to refrain from carnage? That must have seemed profoundly ungenerous of the governor. The might very well ignore him, but Albert Boone might sway some. If Shannon could talk over some of their acknowledged leaders, then he might still rescue Lawrence. That achievement in itself might damage the free state cause, as it could do much to neutralize Shannon’s well-earned reputation as a committed proslavery man.

Richardson and company arrived at Shannon’s headquarters, a quarter mile off from the Wakarusa camp, around three in the afternoon. It seems they found the governor still abroad in the camp, as he doesn’t mention meeting with them until that evening:

I invited between thirty and forty of their leading men from the two camps to meet me on the night of the 6th, at my quarters, with the intention of explaining to them my desires and purposes and inviting a similar confidence on their part in return.

The meeting got going at eight o’clock, when Shannon “addressed them at length” on his own intentions and asked them to explain their’s. What he heard gave him little reason to hope for a peaceful end to the Lawrence crisis:

I soon discovered that there was but one person present who fully approved of the course which I desired to pursue. The others wished to go further; some would hear of nothing less than the destruction of Lawrence and its fortifications, the demolition of its printing presses, and the unconditional surrender of the arms of the citizens; others, more moderate, expressed a willingness to be satisfied, if the Free State party would give up their Sharpe’s rifles and revolvers.

This might seem like no news at all, and probably didn’t shock Shannon, but he could have hoped for cooler heads among the leadership than the besiegers’ rank and file. With them on his side, he might have muddled through. To become a leader of such a group, one had to have the confidence of its members. With them on Shannon’s side, he might convince the ordinary militants that even if they wanted to raze Lawrence they had picked the wrong time or would do more injury to their cause by the act. Even if the governor went in without much hope of success, coming out of the meeting entirely empty-handed must have come as another blow. He and Albert Boone themselves would hardly prove able to stop a hundred men, let alone the fifteen times as many now investing Lawrence.

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