We left William Phillips’ account of events near Lawrence with a man named Jones, but not the infamous Sheriff Jones, shot dead by proslavery men on May 20, 1856. He had gone out to buy flour. Phillips gives few details beyond that, but someone saw it all and brought news back to Lawrence. Desperate, fearing for their lives and aware that people going about their business near the town had faced arrest by the proslavery forces, Lawrence did not take the death sitting down. Phillips reports that four men set out for the bridge where Jones had died to see if the murderers still hung about. Each man had a rifle and “some” paired it with a revolver.
They had gone but a short distance, and were just at the California road, a mile and a half from Lawrence, when they saw two armed men riding down the California road in the direction of Franklin.
Phillips doesn’t phrase this as clearly as one would hope, but it seems that the investigators had not yet joined the California road. Instead they neared an intersection with it and saw that they would come near to the men riding toward Franklin. One of them, a Mr. Stewart, suggested they approach and ask the riders if they knew anything about Jones. The others didn’t think that the best idea, but he pressed the point. They had come this far to find out what they could and shouldn’t turn back now. Phillips describes the party as “all mere boys”. It sounds like they left Lawrence with a head of steam, bent on revenge, and got cold feet when it came to the event itself.
Cold feet or not, they backed Stewart in the end and he addressed the two riders. He began by asking where they meant to go. The riders meant to go “Where we d–n please!” Steward then asked their names and business.
“That’s none of your d—-d business!” was the reply, and both men, who were armed with Sharpe’s rifles, raised them; one of them took deliberate aim at Stewart, saying, “D–n you, I know who you are.”
Guns came up on both sides and one of Stewart’s boys
then attempted to shoot; his cap bursting, the piece did not go off. At the same instant the two men fired, one of them shooting Stewart through the head, the ball entering his temple and killing him instantly. He reeled an instant and fell dead on the road.
The proslavery men bolted then and one of Stewart’s friends started after them on foot. His rifle wouldn’t fire, but he had a revolver and took a few shots. According to Phillips, he wounded the men that killed Stewart. Then, with the proslavery men fled, Stewart’s companions carried his body back to Lawrence. Only when they returned did others in Lawrence know they had gone. They wanted to put Stewart in the Free State Hotel, where Thomas Barber had lain, but Eldridge forbade it and instead Stewart went to a building used as a guard post.