We left the standing room only mass meeting on the morning of April 24, 1856 passing the resolutions that such gatherings always produced. The people of Lawrence had little love for Samuel Jones, Sheriff of Douglas County, but they wanted everyone to understand that they hadn’t conspired to shoot him dead. Quite the opposite, they regarded his shooting as an attack upon them. Some miscreant put two bullets through their reputation, as well as the proslavery sheriff. Whatever went on between Jones and Lawrence, it did not justify attempted murder in cold blood. If they found out who did it, they would gladly turn the shooter over to the proper authorities.
But they did bury that commitment in qualifiers. “If possible” they would turn over the guilty party, if they found him and if they followed through. Lawrence had shielded fugitives from justice before and tipped them off when the law came. Would the good people of the town really break precedent on behalf of so infamous a villain as Jones?
G.P. Lowery must have expected people to ask those questions, as his final resolution promises more than words:
a committee of five shall be appointed whose duty it shall be to investigate the circumstances connected with this deplorable occurrence, and, if possible, to ferret out the guilty agent; and we pledge ourselves that, although no responsible as a community for this act of a depraved individual, we will use our best efforts to show to the world that we have no sympathy for crime in any shape, and are prepared to treat the perpetrators with that stern justice which shall not stop to inquire whether they are friends or foe.
Maybe they meant every word of that. Probably no one in Lawrence wanted to bear responsibility for the shooting, collectively or individually. The committee of five, Lowery, G.W. Deitzler, James F. Legate, Norman Allan, and Samuel Sutherland, did go to work, “busily.” on the question. The Herald of Freedom includes a request from them for people to come forward with information. If that didn’t suffice, the meeting added a unanimous resolution, in addition to the previous, that the free state government would give a reward of $500 “for the apprehension and conviction” of the shooter.
Sixteen decades later, we still have no idea who shot Samuel Jones that night. That doesn’t mean the committee didn’t take its job seriously. The preservation of Lawrence and the antislavery cause could easily have outweighed the loss of one hothead. But they may have also found Lawrence generally disinclined to name names. The shooter could also have left town before the public meeting convened, opting not to take his chances.