We left Lawrence resolved to look seriously into who shot Sheriff Samuel Jones in the back on the night of April 23, 1856. They might have even meant it, regardless of how many free state people in the town believed Jones deserved a good shooting. On behalf of the free state government, Charles Robinson offered a $500 reward for the arrest of the guilty party. After Andrew Reeder’s speech and the resolutions, he answered the loud call to speak to the public meeting. I don’t mean to go over his speech in fine detail, but it deserves a look.
The free state Governor began on a less than conciliatory note:
We are engaged in a sort of warfare, in this State of Kansas, but it is an honorable warfare on our part, and will will never, as individuals, as a community, or as a party let ourselves down from an honorable position; we will never change ourselves from honorable enemies, to cowardly assassins. No honorable man could justify any such course.
Robinson had spoken of war before, but to do so now strikes an especially radical note.
These words also have more than a hint of aspiration about them. Robinson hewed to the line that someone had put this whole situation up to discredit his movement, just as he affirmed that the Wakarusa War back in November and December had resulted from proslavery scheming. He didn’t make that connection gratuitously or entirely without basis in fact. The gloriously hirsute Hugh Cameron appears to have gotten his justice of the peace commission in exchange for warrants to arrest Jacob Branson’s rescuers. Whether the inciting events came from a plot or not, Jones himself might well have gotten Wilson Shannon to make it one. Jones came back to Lawrence at the start of the late troubles to arrest Samuel Wood, the leader of Branson’s rescuers. One needn’t be a free state partisan to connect those dots.
All the same, Governor Robinson determined to get to the bottom of things. He told the crowd that he had looked into things himself and found, so far as he could determine, a proslavery plot. But since “[w]e all understand this” Robinson felt no need to “go into particulars.” The Governor then recapped the Wakarusa War anyway. Politicians always love the sound of their own voices, but Robinson had a particular audience in mind: the Howard Committee.
A committee comes here from Washington to investigate this matter, and see how we have been treated; to see who are the oppressed, who are the wronged; to see who are in the right. The very moment they plant their feet upon the soil of Kansas, that moment these outrages begin to be fomented. Everything has been quiet up to that moment.
This, as I have mentioned before, doesn’t quite stand scrutiny. Jones came to Lawrence at essentially the first opportunity on news of Wood’s return from Ohio. Robinson must have known better. A man of his stature in Lawrence would have had the news of an important free state arrival, from the Herald of Freedom if nothing else. The free state Governor follows up an at least misleading statement with a likely outright lie:
The people treated him civilly, so far as I know. I never happened to meet him, but I have learned of no commotion. There has been some little excitement, perhaps, but the community generally have been willing to let him goon and make his arrests.
Robinson can’t have expected that to fool anybody with the denial and the doubletalk about excitement. Something happened, but trust him it didn’t really count. Ok? It strains credulity to imagine that he didn’t know Jones’ foes resisted him to the point of violence. He passes all of that off as “[s]ome individuals” refusing arrest. And anyway, whatever happened no one could pin it on Charles Robinson. He took the opportunity to note that he
happened to be out of town last evening, and I suppose I shall not be charge with the offence committed then.