The Arrest of Samuel Wood, Part One

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Back in late November, 1855, Samuel Jones and a posse arrested Jacob Branson in the middle of the night. Jones, the Douglas County sheriff under the territorial government, earned his fame by threatening to execute judges of election, couldn’t see fit to make a man ride through the November chill in his skivvies. Samuel Newitt Wood and some other Kansas Legion members came to Branson’s aid, rescuing him from Jones and taking their officer into Lawrence. Jones in turn got Wilson Shannon to call out the militia against the Emigrant Aid Company’s town, resulting in a siege that Shannon, Missouri’s David Rice Atchison, and others barely kept from turning bloody. All of this because Branson’s friend and boarder, Charles Dow, came on the wrong end of a deadly claim dispute with a proslavery man, Franklin Coleman.

The good people of Lawrence had asked Branson to go on his way back before the militia descended upon them. They requested the same of Wood, who obligingly returned to Ohio. There he raised money for Kansas. Wood returned to Kansas on April, coming to Lawrence on the 18th. By coincidence, the Howard Committee arrived in town the day prior, taking up lodging at the Free State Hotel. One can read partiality into that, and probably ought to, but Lawrence did not suffer a glut of available housing. Axalla John Hoole, originally from South Carolina, came into Kansas on the 5th. He settled in Douglas

after staying at that nasty Abolition town of Lawrence for a week. This is called a City, but there are only four little log houses in it, but it is laid out into lots for a town, and I expect one day it will be. […] almost everyone I met was profane

Hoole and his wife ended up boarding with the Ellison family, declaring the patriarch “the most enthusiastic Proslavery man I have met with.” For a South Carolinian, that makes an extraordinary distinction.

Amenities aside, the middle of April brought Samuel Wood back to Lawrence. Samuel Jones still had the warrant for his arrest from back in November and determined to serve it. Per Merrill’s True History of the Kansas Wars, Jones had intended to make for St. Louis until he got the news. Duty and pleasure, or at least the satisfaction of revenge, called him to Hoole’s nasty abolition town. He felt confident enough to go with a single deputy.

John Speer, future author of The Life of General James H. Lane saw most of what happened next:

Being informed by Charles F. Garrett that Wood was arrested in the law office of James Christian, I walked in a perfectly perfunctory manner toward the office, all the time persuading Mr. Garrett to keep out of the difficulty, as he and I were in business, which any interference would break up. His reply was: “But if they take him to Lecomtpon, they will kill him.” “Oh,” I said, “there is more danger that Jones will be thrown in the river than that he will be allowed to take him away; and there are plenty of young men, whom nobody will ever be able to identify, who will rescue him without us involving ourselves.”

Speer changed his mind on seeing Jones holding Wood by the wrists. Wood asked if he could see his family, promising he would come back after all of ten minutes. Jones could surround the house if he liked. I don’t know what kind of house Wood had, but even a sod hut might grow a second way out given ten minutes and a sufficiently committed digger. Jones didn’t buy it and asked if Wood would willingly give himself up. In other words: did he really plan to come back? Reading between the lines a bit further, did Wood promise to come back unarmed if he did?

Wood replied: “No, I do not recognise your right to take me; but I will put myself in precisely the position I am in now.”

Jones understood that as a no and refused permission.

“I will go,” said Wood; and suiting the action to the word, with a sudden twist of his hands, he jerked loose, quickly making for the door.

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