The Squatter Sovereign on the Wakarusa Peace, Part One

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

John Stringfellow, Speaker of the House of Kansas

Free State Kansas had reason to cheer the outcome of the Wakarusa War. They emerged from a crisis that could have destroyed their movement with their leadership, presses, and town intact. Better still, they came out the other end with an authorization for their military companies from no less a proslavery man than Wilson Shannon. The Governor could hardly declare in the future that they stood in defiance of the law, when he had signed off on their most radical measures.

The proslavery men knew it. They had come to destroy Lawrence and abolitionism enraged, in the words of the Squatter Sovereign by “an armed mob of Abolitionists” who took Jacob Branson from Samuel Jones’ custody and that

[s]ince that time they have drove all the Pro-Slavery settlers away from Hickory Point, burning their houses, and driving their families in the cold, and committing other depredations.

Houses did burn and proslavery families did flee the area in the wake of Charles Dow’s death and Jacob Branson’s arrest. But Sovereign cheered Shannon’s calling of the Kansas militia, happily reporting

Men are hourly passing our office with their guns on their backs, going to the assistance of the officers of the law. A large company with two pieces of cannon, have started from Atchison county. As both the editors of this paper are going to the seat of the action, we have no tie to enter further into particulars. We anticipated bloodshed, and we, the junior, expect to wake waist deep in the blood of Abolitionists.

The excitement leaps off the page. They had abolitionists to murder and, at long last, nothing to hold them back. Just a column over, John Stringfellow and Robert S. Kelley promised their readers that should an antislavery man show his face in Atchison’s environs, even to visit, they would receive “a hemp necklace, and an opportunity to dance on air.”

The happy proslavery dreams came to naught. Neither Stringfellow nor Kelley waded even to their ankles in blood. They couldn’t know that when they wrote on December 4, but in the Christmas edition of their paper the editors bemoaned how

[v]olunteers were required to render assistance to a legal officer in the re-capture of a violator of the laws, and also in the arrest of sundry persons who had laid themselves liable to serious penalties; but, after promptly and freely responding to this demand for their services, they are dismissed without even a preliminary step taken towards the accomplishment of the object for which they were enlisted.

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

They came all that way and camped out in the cold for nothing. But the Sovereign knew where to lay the blame:

The design of that summons has been thwarted through the interference of the Executive. Had the matter rested with Mr. Jones, the sheriff, the result would have been different. The criminals would have been traced to their hiding places, and safely secured against the audacity of a set of God-forsaken fanatics. This would have given satisfaction, answered the purpose of the requisition, and fulfilled the ends of justice. As it is, base, cowardly, sneaking scoundrels will go unpunished and be left to perpetrate their infamous outrages whenever they may find an unprotected family.

By executive, Stringfellow and Kelley of course mean Wilson Shannon. The Governor had sold them out and capitulated to the free state movement, snatching defeat from the jaws of bloody victory.

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