“Unworthy even of the name of a devil” The Shooting of Samuel Jones, Part Two

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

We left Samuel Jones, Sheriff of Douglas County, still in Lawrence. He did not get his man, Samuel Wood, nor the men he came back to get who had helped Wood escape him. But Jones had a concession prize of six men in custody thanks to the backing of the 1st Cavalry out of Fort Leavenworth. Confident of his protection and the free state men’s respect of the United States military, Jones pitched a tent in Lawrence to stay the night. He and some other men had gone out to get a drink of water, a fluid antislavery sources might have us believe Jones understood only dimly for lack of study. Thomas Crowder and William Preston stood with Jones just then, and later testified that some men came up looking for Jones. As the Sheriff stooped mere feet away, he rose to identify himself and then stooped down again. Then

some person in a crowd standing near fired into the party, when the remark was made by P[reston] “Jones, you are shot,” and upon examination it was found that a bullet had passed through his pants without any injury.

No physical injury, anyway. The prose makes this all sound very dry and orderly. Someone took a shot at Jones. The bullet whizzed through his pantleg. Preston delivered a Shakespearean stage direction in a flat voice and everyone went about their lives. No one at the time could have missed the tension. Antislavery men had threatened Jones life all day long. He had a large, armed bodyguard of dragoons with him. Jones must have done at least some cursing, as our witnesses hint immediately after:

The party returned to the tent, where, when we commenced talking about this dastardly and hellish attempt at assassination

I expect that getting shot at tends to dominate conversation, but rude free state men would not let Jones, Preston, and Crowder have their chat about extremely recent events unmolested. A man, pretending drunkenness, stumbled into the tent and sat down. Jones told him to get lost, which he did.

in less than five minutes, as we were conversing together, Jones fell, exclaiming, “Oh!” He attempted to draw his knife and find the dastardly scoundrel -worse than a fiend- who would thus, under cover of night, attempt the life of a fellow-being; but the wound was such as to prevent his rising at all. The shot came from the hind part of the tent, and was aimed at the back of the sheriff. We have no doubt, ourselves, that the whole matter was concocted-the rascal hired for the express purpose of assassination; and that there are many persons in Lawrence concerned in this matter, who are very desirous to shield themselves behind this foul and dark scoundrel, unworthy even of the name of a devil.

Second time’s the charm, apparently. Subtlety went out the window after the first shot, if resident at all. Whoever wanted Jones dead must not have cared to ventilate his friends or his military guards, so they had to make sure they had the right spot to aim at.

The Herald of Freedom tries to blame the shooting on proslavery men who disliked Jones, implausibly enough. So far as aiming at him, George Brown argues that Jones

took a seat in an exposed condition-in an unoccupied tent, with a bright light beside him, which, through the cloth, rendered everything perfectly and plainly visible from the outside. In this position he received a bullet in his back-fired by an assassin hand.

Brown’s explanation relies on Jones not having company, which would come as a surprise to Crowder and Preston. Everything else would fit just fine. A light in a tent would give the shooter an ideal target, but shadows don’t come with name tags and the tent had three. Someone would have had to go look, either the shooter himself or a confederate.

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