The Hunt for John Speer

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

On the night of April 23, 1856 someone in Lawrence shot Sheriff Samuel Jones, twice. The first bullet went through his pants, the second through him. The Herald of Freedom told readers that a proslavery man had to have done it, referring vaguely to enemies Jones had made on his own side of Kansas Territory’s great issue. Outside Kansas people might believe that, but the evidence doesn’t support the proposition at all. Whatever enemies Jones might have made aside antislavery Kansans, Lawrence had no shortage of men who had made violent threats against him and had attacked him previously.

We don’t know who did shoot Jones, but the men he had come to Lawrence to arrest seem like fair enough suspects. John Speer, who later wrote a biography of James Lane, fit that description. He had intervened to prevent the arrest of Samuel Wood, the business that brought Jones to Lawrence in the first place. Jones’ deputy, Sam Salters (the fourth Samuel in the story), thought Speer a likely prospect and had the dragoons surround Speer’s home, twice.

The first time, he was insolent, abusive and profane; and I advised Mrs. Speer, if she saw his hosts coming, to make no resistance, but to barricade the door and compel him to break it down. This she did; and, as he uttered a volley of profanity, she indignantly cast a dipper of water in his face. The dragoons laid back int heir saddles, and laughed and cheered. This so provoked him that he pulled a revolver, swearing he would “kill the abolitionists.”

That went too far for the soldiers with Salters, who told him to cool it. Instead the officer, Lieutenant McIntosh, went up the the window, tapped, and asked her to let him in. Mrs. Speers didn’t cave easily

She replied: “If you are United States officer, I will; if you are a Border Ruffian, you will have to break the door down.”

The soldier confessed to soldiering, so she let him in. He conducted

a very inefficient search, pleasantly remarking about the bright morning, the babe in the cradle, and her four pretty children around the fire, and retired.

All of this makes it sound like the posse caught Speer in his home, with the inefficient search probably including winks and nods. Speer clarifies to the contrary. McIntosh declined, over Salters’ request, to search a small room. He also tells that he had met McIntosh on the road previously and they had passed without incident. It seems no bad blood existed between them and McIntosh may have thought he let Speer go by means of that incomplete hunt. Speer doesn’t say so outright, but it looks like he understood McIntosh’s actions in that light and he elsewhere declares that many of the soldiers sided with the antislavery party at the time. His mourning of the Lieutenant’s later death at the Battle of Cabin Creek, where he took the side of slavery, points to at least some gratitude for the gentle treatment of Speer’s wife and family.

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3 comments on “The Hunt for John Speer

  1. (John Speer) Terrific blog!

  2. No need to post my comment, but I think you mean John Speer, not James. Right?

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