A Closer Look at the Free State Hotel

The rules for guests at the Free State Hotel, May 10, 1856

We left the Free State Hotel a burned ruin, after attempts to level it with cannon fire and blow it sky-high with gunpowder failed. Before Samuel Jones and his proslavery army destroyed the place, it featured occasionally in the Kansas story. To Jones and men like him, the Emigrant Aid Company had built a fortress that might withstand any assault. To their free state enemies, it appears just as a large building. A stone building of considerable size could easily serve both roles. Before leaving the building behind, we should take a closer look. For that, I rely upon Martha B. Caldwell’s The Eldridge House, published in volume nine of the Kansas Historical Quarterly (PDF page 363).

The New England Emigrant Aid Company might have had trouble with its finances, but its board knew that people they sent to Kansas would need somewhere to stay while they looked for claims and built their own houses. The plan envisioned several hotels, each capable of housing three hundred people. The board entrusted Samuel Pomeroy, the same Pomeroy who Jones spoke to on the day the hotel burned, with buying sawmills and building those hotels on August 26, 1854. The first Company party arrived in Lawrence on Septemeber 15 of that year and they built the first hotel

by setting up two rows of poles a distance apart and bringing them together at the top, then thatching the sides with prairie hay. The gable ends were built up with sod and contained the doors and windows. The floor was hard sod.

Luxury had yet to arrive in Kansas, but sod floors and walls didn’t set the hotel far apart from the general run of frontier building. Community functions, including church services, took place there until it burned. Its replacement went on the same lines, but with higher walls and cotton cloth lining the interior. Nobody intended for the sod-walled tent to remain indefinitely and the Aid Company’s trustees asked Pomeroy and Charles Robinson to get moving with a proper building. By November 2, they had managed to dig the cellar out.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Construction faced many obstacles, taking nineteen months and never quite reaching a full opening. The Company often ran out of money, with Robinson informing the board that construction stopped in part for that reason at the end of November. The mill that Pomeroy had set up couldn’t keep up with the demand of private customers, so lumber had to come up the river from St. Louis. Kansas’ turmoil can’t have sped things along either. One can forgive the difficult logistics of the Kansas frontier, but Caldwell believes the men in charge also distracted themselves with land speculation and points to the Company later refusing agents the freedom to conduct private business and revoking permission from Pomeroy.

All of that meant that the first emigrant parties to come in the spring of 1855 did not find a hotel waiting for them as planned. In January, the Herald of Freedom advised them not to expect the finest lodgings but promised that Lawrence could handle people ready to rough it. Come February, Pomeroy advertised for someone to furnish and run the hotel. Soon enough, Shalor W. Eldridge took up the lease. He already ran the company’s hotel in Kansas City, the same one where Andrew Reeder would hide the next year.

By spring, the basement had walls and waited on lumber but the shortage of that material had grown so acute that it prompted a revision of plans. The Aid Company intended a timber frame building but a perpetual lack of timber made that impossible. Instead they would build in “stone and concrete.” This argues strongly that no one envisioned the Free State Hotel as a fortification, at least until the spring of 1855, but the change of plan in the context of the deteriorating Kansas situation might well have looked like one aimed at military necessity from the outside. By this point the delays had already made the hotel infamous, with Josiah Miller of the Kansas Free State editorializing against it. People passed Lawrence by or left in disgust for lack of proper accommodations and yet the Company refused to either finish the work or sell to someone who would. Flooring, pre-fabricated in St. Louis, and doors arrived in town only on August 19.

At the beginning of October, two floors stood more or less complete, internal walls going up and windows in place. That served well enough to make the building host to social events, starting with a party thrown by the Kansas Rifles boasting elaborate invitations and a hunting contest to feed the guests. Five hundred people attended despite cold, rain, and deep much. They dined on “squirrel, rabbit, prairie chicken, wild turkey, and one roast pig, together with cakes and pastries.” Not much more than a week after, Franklin Coleman killed Charles Dow and the Wakarusa War began. The hotel became a barracks and headquarters, then housed Thomas Barber’s body and the peace talks. The subsequent festivities further put it to good use.

After the Wakarusa War, construction resumed. Putting up plaster and supplying furniture took place in December. By January, rumors circulated that the Free State government might quit Topeka for a more fortified spot. Surely they could get the hotel done by February 15, but that date came and went. In March, “between twenty and thirty men were constantly employed.” Their work concluded by April 12, when the papers reported the end of construction. Caldwell quotes the Herald of Freedom on the hotel’s final form:

50 feet front, 70 feet back; three stories above the basement; contains 50 separate apartments, besides a hall in each story. The basement is divided into three rooms, each 18 feet square -two to be used as pastry and meat kitchens, the other as storehouse or cellar. The first story is 11 feet from floor the ceiling, is divided into 9 rooms; the dining hall 18 feet wide and 47 feet long; hall 9 1/2 feet wide, entire length of building; Gentlemen’s parlor, 18 feet square; Ladies’ parlor, 18 x 20; Reading Room, 18 feet square; Sitting room, 16 x 18; two bed-rooms, 9 feet square; office, 6 x 14 […] stairs leading to the roof, which is flat, and affords a fine promenade and a splendid view of the surrounding scenery. There are thirty or forty port-holes in the walls, which rise above the roof, plugged up now with stones, which can be knocked out with the blow of the butt of a Sharp’s rifle.

The Howard Committee

The military use of the building must have come to mind more and more, even if the original plan involved none of it, but the main focus of the description remains on the hotel amenities. It had outhouses “of the neatest kind” and a partially-built stable which would hold fifty horses and keep your buggy out of the rain. Brown’s paper, which ought to know considering it drew funds from the Emigrant Aid Company too, estimated the cost of the building at over $20,000. The grand opening would take place on the first of May.

Samuel Jones

Eldridge set into furnishing the hotel to meet that date, ordering pieces from St. Louis and Boston. He spent over five thousand dollars, but most of the furniture had yet to arrive when the Howard Committee did. The people of Lawrence loaned him some of their own to spare him embarrassment. I.B. Donaldson and Samuel Jones then intervened. Jones convalesced briefly under the hotel’s roof after his shooting. With all trouble then in the offing, the grand opening did not take place as planned. The Eldridges held out hope all the same, with a set of rules for guests coming off the Herald of Freedom press on May 10. Instead Lecompton’s grand jury declared the Free State Hotel a military edifice and recommended someone do something about it. A recovered Jones lied to the proslavery mob about having an order for the building’s destruction and saw it done.

Deputy Fain calls at Lawrence

Samuel Lecompte

Samuel Lecompte

After a free state man named Jones got shot for leaving the vicinity of Lawrence to get some flour, a small group of young men had the idea to go out and see just what happened. If they got there in time, they might find the guilty parties and at least question them. The plan may have worked, as they came to Blanton’s Bridge and found two proslavery men riding away. They exchanged words and then gunfire, which led to one of their number, Stewart, going the way of Jones. His friends brought him back to Lawrence, which only then learned of their expedition. They wanted to put Steward in the Free State Hotel, where Thomas Barber had lain. One of the Eldridges put a stop to that and he ended up at a guard post.

Placing Stewart in the hotel might have implied a kind of endorsement and so refusing might have made good sense on its merits, but just then we must consider another factor. Deputy US Marshal W. P. Fain, the Georgian who had tried to arrest Andrew Reeder had come to Lawrence. According to the memorial that the town later wrote explaining things to Franklin Pierce, signed by S.W. Eldridge, he entered town on May 20, 1856, and gave his thoughts on what would soon come. Marshal Donaldson and his posse would arrive in due course and

the printing presses would be destroyed, but that the Eldridge House would be spared.

Fain only told what Donaldson had promised back at Lecompton in the days prior. He would do what he could for the hotel, full of the Eldridge’s furniture, but the proslavery mob would demand some kind of satisfaction. Judge Lecompte’s grand jury had condemned the presses, so they had to go.

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

Neither the memorial nor Phillips go into any detail how Fain may have played into their calculations with regard to Stewart’s body, but Phillips puts the Deputy Marshal in the building at just that moment. Though I can only speculate here, it seems likely that the Eldridges didn’t want Fain to make a connection between their establishment and recent violence. It wouldn’t take much for word to get around and placing the body of a just slain free state man in the hotel could only underline how their antislavery enemies used it as a headquarters.

That consideration aside, Phillips declares that

the citizens of Lawrence had made no preparations for defence, and, as the marshal, who had charge of the posse, was a United States officer, they determined to make none. The people clamored, and wished that the hordes of villains be driven back, but it was overruled. Companies were formed in different parts of the territory, and some of them marched towards Lawrence, but their services were refused by the committee.

Given the desperation of Lawrence’s previous attempts to enlist Governor Shannon and Donaldson himself in their defense, and that they had long feared a collision with United States forces even as they accepted the risk of a fight with irregulars and territorial militia, that makes perfect sense. Some hotheads might want any fight they could get, firm in the belief that right would make might, but the Committee of Safety had other ideas.

 

“The incongruities of these various statements it is not for us to reconcile.”

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

The people of Lawrence gave up. They promised no interference with J.B. Donaldson’s posse. They would accept the legitimacy of Wilson Shannon’s territorial government and all its works. They would even give up their weapons, surrendering the lot to E.V Sumner if the 1st Cavalry as soon as he dispatched men sufficient to guarantee their safety. Everything that proslavery party wanted out of the town except its destruction and the murder of every man, woman, child, and livestock present, offered up for the Governor’s and Marshal’s approval. Those worthies need only take yes for an answer.

They did. Shannon wanted Lawrence disarmed all the way back to the Wakarusa War, but he didn’t want the town wiped off the map. Donaldson probably wanted more than just to get his way in serving process, but he agreed so long as he received no resistance when he did go into town. But according to papers later sent on to the White House and released to Congress, collected in Transactions of the Kansas State Historical Siciety, Volume IV (PDF page 404), both men knew things might not go so easily. They had a large group of proslavery men with their blood up, many of whom doubtless recalled how they missed their chance to level Lawrence back in December:

it was said that a portion of the posse was clamorous for the destruction of the hotel and the printing offices; and the Messrs. Eldridge were invited to return again on the following day, after time had been afforded for consultation with the captains of the companies.

At this point, the compiler of the papers notes that both Eldridges remained under guard the entire way to and from Lecompton. In dismissing them, Shannon and Donaldson wrote them a safe conduct.

One would have to search Lawrence for some time to find anyone happy with the settlement offered, but it beat getting killed. Faced with miserable choices, they took the less awful. Shannon and his allies had talked down a proslavery militants before, so this might all come to pass. As planned, the Eldridges returned on the nineteenth of May, 1856, and

found a great change in the tone of the officials. It appeared that the companies composing the posse would be satisfied with nothing short of some destruction or private property, and this feeling was so strong as to defy the power of the Marshal.

They would not let Shannon play Lucy with the football another time.

The Eldridges offered to create a posse from the people of Lawrence, which Donaldson could use as a substitute. They just needed some guns that the Marshal could provide and would swear any oaths he required. Donaldson demurred, claiming he had no weapons to give. The compiler of the documents sounds skeptical on that point, insisting that Donaldson “alleged” lacking arms rather than did lack them. Given his close coordination with Shannon in all of this, it stands to reason that he could have appealed to the Governor to release some militia arms for the job. Instead

It was evident that a course of violence was resolved upon. One of the captains -a Colonel Titus, of Florida, a member of the late expedition against Cuba-declared boldly, that the printing presses must be destroyed to satisfy the boys from South Carolina.

All the same, Donaldson promised that he would protect the Eldridges’ Free State Hotel and insisted again that if no one fought him when he came into Lawrence, with a small posse of unarmed men” he would keep the rest out and ensure they did not disband near enough to come back and take a second crack at the town. This seems to have convinced no one. The compiler relates Donaldson’s promises and refusals, then declares

The incongruities of these various statements it is not for us to reconcile.

Lawrence Capitulates

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

On May 17, 1856, the people of Lawrence tried Wilson Shannon again. With Donaldson stonewalling and the proslavery army pressing near, they had no options left. In to a memorial (PDF page 398) they wrote to Franklin Pierce a few days later, they laid out their whole ordeal to date. This time, rather than asking protection in general against J.B. Donaldson’s posse of Missourians, the plea came from the proprietors of the Free State Hotel. They called it “the Eldridge House” for the president’s eyes, but made clear just who owned the building and how it came by that name:

The building itself was the property of the Emigrant Aid Company, but it had been furnished by the Messrs. Eldridge, at heavy expense, and was not yet opened as a public house.

Messrs. Eldridge, who also involved themselves in hiding Andrew Reeder, went to Lecompton themselves and got an interview with Shannon on the 18th. They asked that he protect their property, rather than Lawrence at large. Donaldson couldn’t arrest a hotel and the sanctity of private property ought to count for something. The Governor told them, albeit not in writing, that they ought not to have taken possession, but also “giving some encouragement for its protection.” Donaldson attended the meeting and Lawrence reports that he also “seemed disposed to accord the protection needful.”

Since the Eldridges had both men handy, they also presented the latest letter out from Lawrence, which makes clear the utter desperation that had gripped the free state town. They still denied that they meant their guns for anything more than “our own individual defense against violence”. Now, however, they went several steps further. Lawrence understood that Shannon and Donaldson defended their posse on the grounds that the town’s free state militias stood opposed to the enforcement of the laws, territorial and national. The “Many Citizens” of Lawrence now promised that they would not bear those arms

against the laws or officers in the execution of the same; therefore, having no further use for them when our protection is otherwise secured, we propose to deliver our arms to Colonel Sumner so soon as he shall quarter in our town a body of troops sufficient for our protection, to be retained by him as long as such force shall remain among us.

That comes close to total capitulation. The free state men said they would give up their weapons, the very thing Shannon had asked of them in order to receive protection. He could have a disarmed opposition, pledged now to submit to all the laws of Kansas. That would mean the effective end of the territory’s antislavery movement as a political force, though Colonel Sumner’s men would ensure the physical safety of its members in Lawrence. Shannon could have everything he wanted since the day he set foot in Kansas, free and clear. He and Donaldson only had to take yes for an answer.

 

The view from two sides of Lawrence

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

From William Phillips, we know that people moving around Lawrence suffered harassment and risked their lives at the hands of proslavery forces converging on the town. The newspapers reported that even a messenger sent from the town to Governor Shannon dodged bullets on his way back. J.B. Donaldson’s posse had begun its unofficial work, at least. With the town’s pleas for help refused or left unanswered, things looked grim. People of less prominence than reporters for the Eastern papers and intimates of the free state government agreed.

Axalla Hoole, had lived in Lawrence until recently. He wrote to his sister on May 18, the day after Lawrence dispatched its latest desperate plea to Donaldson. He was glad to hear that the slaves back home remembered him in their prayers:

Thank them a thousand times for me, and beg them always to remember me when they render up their petitions to Him who rules and governs all things. I feel that I need the prayers of everyone.

Hoole had not set aside his politics when he moved to Kansas. He reported Jefferson Buford’s arrival in the territory and his intention to call on the filibuster, who just then resided at the house of his neighbor.

While I am writing, guns are firing in the camps of the different companies of soldiers who are gathering to attack Lawrence. Sunday as it is, they are shooting in every direction. I expect before you get this Lawrence will be burnt to the ground. I may not know when it will be attacked, but if I do, I expect to go-although I don’t think that they will show any fight, though they are preparing. But I hear they are very much frightened and have sent to the Governor for protection, but he sent word to them that they did not consider him their Governor and would not submit to the laws, so he would leave them to their fate.

Hoole wrote from Douglas, not far at all from Lawrence. If he knew of the shooting, then the town can’t have long remained ignorant. Of course Hoole doesn’t know if they shot at anything in particular just from the reports. Most likely, a group of well-lubricated men with guns found ways to amuse themselves that didn’t necessarily put bullets in the bodies of their enemies. Shooting for fun didn’t preclude shooting for purpose soon enough, though little daylight may have separated the two for many.

On the other side of Kansas politics, Edward Fitch wrote his parents on the same day from Lawrence itself. He complained that the surveyors had come through and ran a line straight through his house, which may mean that when he went to claim his land he would get half a building. But his neighbor didn’t live on the claim, so Fitch thought he had a good chance to prevail.

but having a claim is not going to do me any good if I don’t live and we don’t know how soon now we may be cut off. We are surrounded by an armed mob and they may attack us at any time and in our present condition we stand a chance to be wiped out which is what they say they are going to do. We never have been quite so near war as we are now.

Fitch arrived in Kansas, courtesy of the Emigrant Aid Company, in October of 1854. He lived in Lawrence from that point on, so he knew the Wakarusa War firsthand. For him to consider this the nearest they had yet come to destruction speaks volumes. He apologizes to them for infrequent writing and saying so little, on account of the “fevered excitement” and begs more letters from home.

Donaldson Answers Lawrence, Part 1

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

J.B. Donaldson had an army, which he called a posse, massing at Lecompton to move against Lawrence. The people of Lawrence asked for help from Edwin Sumner, of the 1st Cavalry. Citing his orders to only act on the request of Governor Wilson Shannon, he said he couldn’t. They asked Shannon. He told them no. That left appealing to Donaldson himself, which a public meeting did on May 14. They promised that he could serve any process he had in Lawrence without trouble, so he did not need that posse. Furthermore, they didn’t know exactly what Donaldson wanted of them. However, since the town had armed men all about harassing travelers, might the Marshal do something about that?

The US Marshal wrote back on the fifteenth:

From your professed ignorance of the demands against you, I must conclude that you are strangers, not citizens, of Lawrence, or of recent date, or been absent for some time; more particularly when an attempt was made by my deputy to execute the process of the First District court of the United States for Kansas Territory against ex-Governor Reeder, when he made a speech in the room and presence of the Congressional Committee, and denied the authority and power of said court, and threatened the life of said deputy if he attempted to execute said process; which speech and defiant threats were loudly applauded by some one or two of the citizens of Lawrence, who had assembled at the room on learning the business of the marshal, and made such hostile demonstrations that the deputy thought he and his small posse would endanger their lives in executing said process.

That barely resembles Reeder’s version of events and the minutes of the Howard Committee reveal no such dire confrontation. The former Governor might have mocked Fain and said something to the effect of “go ahead and try” in the presence of friends, but Donaldson’s version sounds like much more. All that may have taken place, but I’ve only seen claims to it here.

Donaldson didn’t buy Lawrence’s promise of peaceful cooperation either, demanding to know just “what has produced this wonderful change in the minds of the people?” The scales had surely not fallen from their eyes with regard to the laws of Kansas. Donaldson suggested that they changed their spots because those who he had warrants for had fled. Failing that, the people of Lawrence promised to comply with “legal” actions:

may it possibly be that you, now, as heretofore, expect to screen yourselves behind the word ‘legal,’ so significantly used by you?

In other words, Donaldson might come and then find that Lawrence deemed his work illegal. That prospect failed to excite, especially when combined with his knowledge

that the whole population is armed and drilled, and the whole town fortified; when, too, I recollect the meetings and resolutions adopted in Lawrence, and elsewhere in the territory, openly defying the law and the officers thereof, and threatening to resist the same to a bloody issue, and recently verified in the attempted assassination of Sheriff Jones while in the discharge of his official duties?

Donaldson ignored the distinction between Lawrence’s commitment to respect federal authority and its repudiation of the territorial government. To him, it probably didn’t matter. He likely saw Jones as an officer of the law, just like him, and didn’t care to hazard his life on the careful parsing of some abolition fanatics. That doesn’t necessarily make him a partisan hack eager to destroy the town, but at some point one has to look at the size of the “posse” he expected to help him out and wonder. One can’t put a firm number on this, but Donaldson did not need hundreds of men to guarantee his safety in Lawrence. A few dozen likely would have done the trick, especially if the men he wanted had fled as he suspected. Lawrence need not put up a fight to save people already clear of capture. It looks like still like Donaldson either had grander plans from the start or didn’t much care if his army engaged in some extracurricular depredations while he did his work.

A New Committee and More Pleas from Lawrence

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

With J.B. Donaldson’s proslavery posse bearing down on them, the people of Lawrence held a public meeting and sent off a resolution promising they would cooperate with all federal authority, but would fight to the last to defend themselves from invasion. Wilson Shannon and Donaldson himself received copies, for what good it might do. Shannon had already told the town that he would do nothing. Beyond that, the leaders of the committee of safety couldn’t agree on any course of action. Some hoped for compromise solutions. Others pointed out that even if they wanted to defend the town, they lacked the men and supplies. As a result, several who did favor armed resistance quit the committee. The townspeople sacked their old committee and made a new one, including some of the old but also fresh blood that might more likely make a fight of things. A few days later, Samuel Pomeroy returned from Emigrant Aid Society business in the east and joined.

The brief for vigorous action produced little. The new committee, though chosen to lead a resistance, feared collision with federal authority. William Phillips called the fear of national power “a dead weight on them.” They had plenty of reason to fear that clash, which may well brand them traitors to the nation as a whole and would likely imperil their lives as much as capitulation. Americans hanged traitors just as surely as proslavery men would abolitionists. While they tarried

Marshal Donaldson’s posse grew with frightful rapidity. The whole country was soon in a state of warlike confusion; that is, as warlike as a country can be when the demonstrations are all on one side. As the molestation of travellers was frequent, another meeting was held

This time George Dietzler, a member of the committee, chaired the affair. They put forward more resolutions in line with the previous meeting’s and forwarded them to Donaldson at Lecompton. They asked Donaldson

respectfully, that we be reliably informed what are the demands against us. We desire to state, most truthfully and earnestly, that no opposition whatever will now, or at any future time, be offered to the execution of any legal process by yourself, or any person acting for you. We also pledge ourselves to assist you, if called upon, in the execution of any legal process.

The authors might have played dumb here. The meeting had to know, from Donaldson’s own proclamation, that he had warrants to serve. But Lawrence also had a record of not molesting federal officers in their duties, so just what more could Donaldson want from them? They could at least get him more clearly on the record.

The letter proceeded to what they feared he did want:

We are informed, also, that those men collecting about Lawrence openly declare that it is their intention to destroy the town and drive off the citizens. […] in view of the excited state of the public mind, we ask protection of the constituted authorities of the government

The authors assured Donaldson that they didn’t believe he wanted any such thing, as one does, but they had his overgrown posse to fear. They knew Donaldson could come to Lawrence untroubled, which meant he must either have chosen to join in its destruction or to serve as the vehicle by which a posse gone wild did the work.

Indecision in Lawrence

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

J.B. Donaldson, US Marshal for the territory of Kansas, had warrants to serve on various free state leaders who lived in and about Lawrence. Serving the process of a federal court, in this case Samuel Lecompte’s district court for the territory, formed an ordinary part of his duties. He couldn’t not do it but, if he had any interest in doing it peacefully and limiting the action to his official obligations, he might have done better to summon a small posse and go in with a dozen or so armed friends. He chose instead to make use of the proslavery forces already gathering for a move against Lawrence, calling on them by a proclamation. They would converge in Lecompton and then march on the antislavery town.

They got wind of that in Lawrence and pleaded with Wilson Shannon, governor of Kansas, to come to their rescue. Shannon would happily give them all the help they required, if only they would disarm themselves and disband their defenses in the face of a force bent on their destruction. This, William Phillips thought, constituted a declaration of war. Donaldson’s force, summoned on the eleventh of May, 1856, would take at least a short while to arrive. That gave the committee of safety time to try something else, but they had no consensus on that next step. Ever since they learned of the proclamation, via Phillips, they differed on whether to even mount a defense of the town. Cyrus Holiday though the effort a waste because the farmers who had come in the winter could not come at planting time. The businessmen who had given Lawrence help then had not yet received full payment and so would not send still more. Still others thought they ought to get together their own posse, a few hundred strong, and offer it to Donaldson in lieu of his own. While at Lecompton, they could even requisition some weaponry from the stores at the territorial capital.

But Lawrence could hardly pass up a chance for a public meeting, which John Wakefield presided over. It resolved

that the allegations and charges against us, contained in the aforesaid proclamation, are wholly untrue in fact, and the conclusion which is drawn from them. The aforesaid deputy marshal was resisted in no manner whatever, nor by any person whatever, in the execution of said writs, except by him whose arrest the said deputy marshal was seeking to make. And that we now, as we have done heretofore, declare our willingness and determination, without resistance, to acquiesce in the service upon us of any judicial writes against us by the United States Marshal for Kansas Territory, and will furnish him with a posse for that purpose, if so requested; but that we are ready to resist, if need be, unto death, the ravages and desolation of an invading mob.

John A Wakefield

John A. Wakefield

Lawrence did have the facts on its side. When Fain came to arrest Andrew Reeder, no one abused him. Reeder declined to go, but Fain then parted still untroubled. He came back to Lawrence the next day, a fresh warrant in hand, and once again left unharmed. Everyone in town knew that and probably few people in Kansas could have missed the difference between Fain’s work and Samuel Jones’, the latter of whom did see armed resistance until he brought in the Army and subsequently caught a bullet in the back.

Sworn “to drive us to Hell”

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

We left Captain Walker, a free state man, in possession of Wilson Shannon’s answer to the town of Lawrence. They had a proslavery army bearing down on them, again, and he had both the authority to call out the United States Army to defend them and a responsibility for their safety as governor of Kansas. They also asked Colonel Edwin Sumner, 1st Cavalry, first and he told them he couldn’t act without Shannon’s go ahead. The committee of safety dispatched Walker their plea for help, the same document but with Shannon’s name in the place of Sumner’s. This put them in the awkward position of acknowledging Shannon as the governor of Kansas when they had elected Charles Robinson to that office, but with lives at stake one must make sacrifices. The New York Times’ correspondent reported that Walker could not get near Lecompton to deliver the message, but secured a proslavery go between. He no sooner had Shannon’s answer than six men commenced chasing after him, firing all the way. Walker lost them in a ravine.

Samuel Lecompte ran his court and grand jury out of Lecompton, which he lent his name. He helped start this latest trouble by summoning the entire free state leadership on suspicion of treason. The Times remarked that he kept issuing summons to that town, which free state men feared to answer. Lecompte himself might happily let them stew through some months of custody before a trial that ended with antislavery Kansans dangling from a rope, but someone else could arrange a fatal accident far sooner. News of that had gotten Andrew Reeder to abandon the plan to serve as the party’s political martyr and test case. Now it must have seemed that anyone foolish enough to go would risk his life attempting just to get to the court.

Thus most of those summoned

consequently stay away; the result of which is they are being subject to a new process for contempt of Court […] the highest crime recognized by law in Kansas while Judge Lecompte is arbiter. We are becoming more suspicious that these demons meditate a night attack upon us, therefore we are keeping out strong guards, and lights are kept burning at night in our principal buildings.

The dangers attached to more than locally famous antislavery men and their agents. The Times told that the proslavery men seized a Mr. Wise, four miles south of Lawrence, and kept him until ten at night. They brandished knives at him and “pricked his vest,” but wise convinced them that he stood with them and they let him go. Before parting, he learned some of their plan. They would arrest Andrew Reeder (now fled), Charles Robinson (likewise), and James Lane (now rumored back in Kansas). Two senators-elect and a governor would make for quite the prize, which they aspired to display hanging from rope by the neck. Should they fail to secure those men,

they are sworn to commence a crusade against Lawrence and “drive us to hell.”

Lights out or not, nobody could have slept soundly on that news.

Lawrence Asks Governor Shannon for Help

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Seeing a new proslavery onslaught bearing down on them, the people of Lawrence took what action they could. They begged E.V. Sumner, who came to check on them, to bring his 1st Cavalry down from Fort Leavenworth to protect the town. Sumner wanted to oblige them, but his instructions bound him to act only when called upon by Wilson Shannon, territorial governor. Jefferson Davis’ War Department had made it clear to Sumner that he did not have authority to act on his own and he absolutely did not have it to defend Kansas from external attack.

None of this made for steady nerves and easy sleeping. The New York Times‘ correspondent wrote (PDF) about how things looked on the ground on May 12:

We are approaching near and near an awful something, that is nameless. There is such a profound secresy pervading the acts and intentions of our enemy, that we are somewhat at a loss to know the character of our doom.

I think we can all relate about now. The correspondent put Lecompton, the territorial capital, as their rallying point. More men arrived daily and on the tenth,

they commenced sending out in this direction companies of from twenty-five to fifty who encamped at various places, taking care to not get within three or four miles of Lawrence.

In response, Lawrence had convened a new public safety committee. They needed a new one because half the previous number had fled. That group approached Sumner for help when he called at Lawrence. Sumner evinced a determination “to set us right, and set Missouri right.” But he still needed Wilson Shannon to set him loose. Once that happened, Sumner believed he would have discretionary authority necessary to protect Lawrence. It would help everyone out, except the Missourians, if Lawrence would petition for Shannon to get the ball rolling.

The committee sent a copy of their petition to Sumner, with Shannon’s name in the place of his, and dispatched it via special messenger to Lecompton. That messenger, a Captain Walker,

came near to losing his life in the undertaking. He was overtaken by two men on horseback before he reached the town, one of whom rode ahead in advance of him, and made preparations to prevent him from entering their “holy city”.

No free state man could profane Lecompton, apparently. This reads a bit like they wanted to be sure he didn’t come out with useful military intelligence. But someone took his message on to Shannon all the same and came back with an answer. When Walker turned back with that answer, a party of six followed him

but he having a fleet horse, kept ahead, and by sheering off into a ravine, escaped after being fired upon several times without effect.