Whether or not Samuel Jones intended to use his arrest of Samuel Wood as a provocation which would discredit the free state government, he did arrest people. If he didn’t get any that he had originally come for, then he still had someone. Most of Lawrence seems to have begrudgingly accepted that, as Jones came backed by the United States Cavalry. Not everyone in town felt that way, though. By the time he left Lawrence, Jones could boast of taking six prisoners. To that collection he added two bullet holes.
We can’t say just what drove someone over the edge. The fact that Jones rounded up clearly innocent, or innocent enough, people when he couldn’t find Wood or Wood’s abettors may have done it. The simple fact that Samuel Jones, who had brought Lawrence near to destruction months before, had come back for a second round might have sufficed. George Brown suggested that a frustrated Jones pushed things too far himself:
The ‘sheriff” became insufferably insulting; got drunk, in order the better to render himself odious; drew his revolver frequently on unoffending citizens’ courted a personal assault
Going around drawing his gun on people and threatening them does sound like vintage Samuel Jones. He rarely appears in the sources without clearly cherishing his power over antislavery Kansans. With the army at his back, the sheriff had an ideal chance to play the bully in Lawrence and demonstrate his manly credentials. They would submit, like slaves. He would dominate, a true master.
Whatever drove them, some of Lawrence went off-script. Merrill’s True History of the Kansas Wars tells that a Colonel Preston
was taken aside by a citizen of the place, who frankly told him, that there was a conspiracy on foot to assassinate Sheriff Jones; as the day wore away, the crowd gathered in different parts of the city, became more and more open in their innuendoes, and when a man by the name of Hunt was arrested, he was called upon in the presence of Robinson, by some one in the crowd “to shoot Jones,” using expressions of wrath, and the deepest revenge ever indulged in, and the most insulting language to some few Pro-slavery men standing near the crowds. They were offered a fight, -told, “to pitch in, and they would see sights.”
Merrill leans proslavery, but all of that sounds reasonable enough. It would strain credulity more to believe no one in Lawrence talked about harming Jones than that they did, though that talk didn’t necessarily constitute a conspiracy as such. I don’t mean to parse things too narrowly here, but talk of a conspiracy implies a clear plan by recognized co-plotters to their end. Violent talk and threats might precede and feature into a conspiracy, but do not make one in themselves.
Merrill then quotes two eyewitnesses to the foreshadowed event. “[J]ust before dark,” William Preston and Thomas Crowder wrote, after repeated threats and insults directed at Jones, Franklin Pierce, and proslavery men in general,
With Lieutenant McIntosh, we, with a gentleman by the name of Yates, went to the camp, intending to pass off time and spend the night. Soon after we had made preparations for sleeping, Mr. Jones, and one of us, [Preston] went a few paces from the tent to get a glass of water. While so engaged some persons came up and inquired where Sheriff Jones was, and made insulting remarks concerning his courage, when he [Jones] arose from the stooping posture he was in and remarked, “Here I am, gentlemen.”