The Howard Committee’s Difficulties, Part One

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Arrivals and returns have shaped much of Kansas history so far in 1856. The Buford Expedition and Howard Committee arrived in the territory to do their work. Pardee Butler and Samuel Wood came back to Kansas after time away. Just as some of Buford’s men, or a similar group, met Butler’s return to Kansas so did the Howard Committee find itself in Lawrence when Samuel Jones came to serve the warrant he had on Samuel Wood dating back to December. Jones’ subsequent arrests of six men who helped Wood escape him got him shot in the back. This naturally had an effect on the committee’s business in the town.

The Committee might not have gone to Lawrence. They received a letter from E.V. Sumner, in command at Fort Leavenworth, suggesting they meet there. He promised that

There may be no excitement if you assemble elsewhere, but there will certainly be none here.

They answered that they intended to conduct its business at various points in Kansas, but would happily take Sumner up on the offer when they came around his way. The first business in Kansas took place at Lecompton, where they ordered copies of various documents and agreed on the rules for examining witnesses. April 23 found them in Lawrence.

Decades later, John Sherman remarked on the great development of the region that had since taken place. They came to a different Lawrence, one

in embryo, nothing finished, and my wife and I were glad to have a cot in a room in the unfinished and unoccupied “Free State Hotel”

In those modest settings, the committee had a brief meeting on the twenty-third. They had previously agreed to use Andrew Reeder and John Whitfield, both claiming election as Kansas’ sole delegate to Congress, to draw up lists of witnesses for the next day. That night, Samuel Jones took a bullet in the back.

John Wilkins Whitfield

John Wilkins Whitfield

The next morning, Whitfield wrote to the committee. In light of the attack upon Jones, Whitfield pronounced himself

unable to get my witnesses to attend the sitting of the committee at this place; they refusing, and with good reason, to expose themselves and run the risk of being assassinated, whenever night shuts in, by a lawless band of conspirators.

Whitfield’s witnesses included Samuel Jones, who had more reason than most to refuse a trip to Lawrence. Others present at told the proslavery delegate they would leave Lawrence in short order. Nor would those who planned to come previously do so in light of the danger to their lives. Furthermore:

there are others here rendering me material aid in this investigation, and without whom I cannot safely proceed, whom I cannot ask to remain and imperil their lives in so doing, or at least subject themselves to insult and contumely.

One can’t blame them. Whitfield promised that he would still happily comply with the committee’s work and bring all his witnesses to bear, but they had to meet somewhere safer than Lawrence.

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