The Prayer of the Lawrence Memorialists

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

On May 22, 1856, J.M. Winchell, Lyman Allen, S.B. Prentiss, L.G. Hine, Joseph Cracklin, John A. Perry, O.E. Learnard, S.W. Eldridge, and C.W. Babcock allegedly put their names to a memorial for Franklin Pierce. William Phillips claimed afterwards that many of the men denied any part of the thing. He might have it right or he might have helped them cover for an understandable, if less than glorious, performance. Either way, someone wrote it and sent it off to the President. The memorial summarizes events in Lawrence over about a dozen pages, with rather less color than Phillips but agreeing in the essential facts.

Petitioners, then as now, don’t write and sign these documents for their health. They hoped for, even if they couldn’t have expected, constructive action from the Pierce administration. With his term almost over, maybe the president would finally give that a try. The “unparalleled chapter in the history of our country,” and attendant “gigantic … official villainy” beggared belief. Thus, while Pierce might take some convincing,

we cherish and trust that you will hear the voice, however feeble, that pours its complaint into your ear, and exert he influence of your office to prevent the possible occurrence of abuses of power on the parts of those officials who are directly responsible to you […] and institute such a scrutiny into their past conduct as will reveal its true character and inspire salutary caution in the future.

They did in all Pierce’s name with “at least a criminal disregard of good faith” that proved them unfit for their offices. He called the shots so he took the blame, though they didn’t phrase it quite that way. Instead, they prayed for Pierce to look into the events of the last few weeks. To help him, they included official correspondence for his perusal. And until the president’s heart swelled like that of a nineteenth century Grinch, Lawrence would maintain its committee of safety. They would, of course, disband as soon as the Government got its act together and made them safe.

The authors then moved to the question of damages. The posse came in on federal authority, under the leadership of either a US Marshal (Donaldson) or a territorial official (Jones) who Pierce and his allies had long construed as federal agents. They may have even had guns from a federal arsenal. Surely Lawrence deserved compensation, which the memorialists reminded Pierce he had the authority to recommend to Congress. He had best hop to it, as

It is at present impossible to estimate this damage, as new depredations are continually being made. How long these will be permitted to continue will depend to a great extent upon the pleasure of our rulers.

By delaying, Pierce would only increase the bill. Already the mob had destroyed hotel, furnishings, two printing presses, and the livelihoods of two newspaper men. For miles around Lawrence, not a soul had escaped losing some property. The president had to make this right: restoring order, damages, and sacking the guilty, immediately. If he didn’t, someone else might try.

The Return of Samuel Jones


Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Dine and dash aside, W.P. Fain had come and gone from Lawrence. Two members of the committee of safety, Topliff and Perry, had their house burgled while they aided him with making his arrest. But no one had died yet that day. The Free State Hotel still stood. The printing presses remained untroubled. If the day kept on like this, then the second campaign against Lawrence might suffer only a single death in excess of the one that the first campaign had seen. Robert S. Kelley would go home cruelly disappointed yet again.

Colonel Topliff carried yet another letter off to I.B. Donaldson, in command of the hostile force, pleading for the security of Lawrence and repeating all the town’s capitulations. If nothing else, Donaldson now had his men. The Marshal could declare victory and go home. Up on Mount Oread, where Fain took his prisoners, some speech making went on. The deputy himself took to the stump and said, according to William Phillips, that he had no further use for his posse

but that Sheriff Jones had some processes to serve, and that they would hold themselves in readiness to go with him.

In the weeks since his shooting, Jones had recovered enough to sit a horse and make himself a menace again. Phillips takes a paragraph to mock Jones’ injury, noting correctly that the proslavery press declared him murdered. The crowd greeted the sheriff “with enthusiastic cheering.” Lawrence had not gotten clear of trouble after all.

Phillips, writing a few months later, castigates the “Safety Valve” for their capitulations. His condemnation goes on for better than a page about their cowardice, their surrender to territorial authority, and all the rest. This, he deemed, worthy of apology on account of “their extreme peril” but impossible to justify. Even if one could muster a justification, he then insisted that the people would never have supported such a ruinous course. To prove the point, he accuses the committee of fraud:

It is proper to state that several of those men whose names are attached to the document declare that it had not their assent. Messrs. Allen, Babcock, Mallory, and Grover, repudiate, and declare they did not sign it; some of these admitting that they signed a paper that forenoon, but know of no part of such a document sustaining or submitting to the territorial laws. I have been informed that Dr. Prentiss was not present when it was drafted.

If Phillips and his informants told the truth, rather than fixing their reputations after the fact, then only Samuel Pomeroy and W.Y. Roberts endorsed Lawrence’s last appeal. It would not stop Samuel Jones. He may have had process to serve, but he surely wanted revenge and had previously taken any pretext to move against Lawrence. Jones had threatened the lives of antislavery Kansans all the way back to the legislative elections more than a year ago. Even if a letter could save Lawrence from I.B. Donaldson, one would not sway Sheriff Jones.

Another Letter for Marshal Donaldson

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

The people of Lawrence had few options. At this time of year, many of the men who might have come to their defense would have work on the farm that they would find hard to delay. Even if they came, the town appeared short on guns and still owed the merchants who had forwarded them provisions for the Wakarusa War. Furthermore, J.B. Donaldson’s proslavery army styled itself a militia clothed in the authority of his post as US Marshal. Wilson Shannon would not intercede on their behalf. E.V. Sumner, of the 1st Cavalry, could not act without the governor’s permission. Direct appeals to Donaldson had failed. Proslavery men detained people coming and going about the unofficial free state headquarters. The committee on safety could not settle on a course of action.

On May 17, 1856, per William Phillips, the committee chose to try Donaldson again and dispatched a fresh letter:

a large force of armed men have collected in the vicinity of Lawrence, and are engaged in committing depredations upon our citizens; stopping wagons, arresting, threatening, and robbing unoffending travellers upon the highway, breaking open boxes of merchandise, and appropriating their contents; have slaughtered cattle, and terrified many of the women and children.

Probably they had no shortage of terrified men on hand too, but nineteenth century masculinity demanded they forebear in silence and make their pleas on behalf of others.

We have also learned from Governor Shannon ‘that there are no armed forces in the vicinity of this place but the regularly constituted militia of the territory; -this is to ask if you recognize them as your posse, and feel responsible for their acts. If you do not, we hope and trust you will prevent a repetition of such acts, and give peace to the settlers.

Here Lawrence might turn Shannon’s inaction to their advantage. He insisted no one but the posse operated near Lawrence. Donaldson admitting that he had a posse meant for the town. If he took claimed those proslavery men harassing travelers and stealing whatever they liked as that posse, then he owned their various misdeeds. If he did not, then he might have a duty that he had recognized himself in previous correspondence to preserve law and order. Thus the Marshal may have to disown the army, and so oblige himself to work against it, or claim the posse and work to control it.

All of that sounds good on paper, but it does require Donaldson to have scruples not otherwise in evidence; he failed to even write them another hostile answer in the vein of the one he had given before. The committee of safety had to expect little to nothing when they wrote the letter. One can’t read it and not feel the desperation of the authors. If the Marshal himself didn’t, or couldn’t, save them then it may all soon come to ruin. Their argument had logical and moral force, but those might prove of aid only to their eulogists.

Mature Reflection Inconveniences Governor Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Fresh off their disappointing visit with Wilson Shannon, G.P. Lowery and C.W. Babcock passed by where the governor promised he would meet up with the 1st Cavalry to come to Lawrence’s rescue. Shannon might want the free state party to renounce their politics and surrender their arms, but they could retain a sliver of hope from the fact that he didn’t want Lawrence massacred. So when the two reached the Delaware ferry, they asked after Shannon and the Army. No one there had seen either, despite Shannon’s promise that he would meet Colonel Sumner and his men at that spot that very night.

What happened? A cynical reader might expect that Shannon fed Lowery and Babcock a line to get rid of them, but his correspondence reveals otherwise. Wilson Shannon had not blundered his way into another escalation, nor decided to throw in entirely with the violent arm of Kansas’ proslavery party. Shannon had assurances, dated December 2, that Colonel Sumner would move as soon as he had orders from Washington. Shannon passed those orders on to him on December 4. The next day, Sumner wrote that he would come at once and meet Shannon at the Delaware crossing. Everything seemed in order, but then plans changed.

According to Shannon, he decided the he could not afford to wait on the cavalry. The governor sent his apologies to Sumner and made for Lawrence, hoping that Sumner would soon follow.

At half past three o’clock, P.M., on  the 5th of December, I left Shawnee Mission, went to Westport, Mo. (distant some two and a half mile from the Mission), and requested Col. Boone-a grandson of Col. Boone of frontier memory, and the Postmaster at Westport–to accompany me to Lawrence , and, as his acquaintance with the leading Pro-Slavery men who were then in the camp near Lawrence was extensive, give me the benefit of his influence in keeping down an excitement and preventing any rash act upon the part of the troops then threatening that town.

If Shannon couldn’t have the 1st Cavalry, he could have Daniel Boone’s grandson to help restrain the border ruffians. Boone came and gave the governor “valuable assistance in restraining the volunteers.” The two turned back for Kansas and met a rider dispatched by Colonel Sumner. The Colonel wrote:

On more mature reflection I think it will not be proper to move before I receive the orders of the Government.

Hadn’t Shannon passed those orders on to Sumner already? The Executive Minutes state that Shannon sent on a dispatch from Franklin Pierce, but it seems that Pierce hadn’t given Sumner firm orders to proceed against Lawrence or place himself under Shannon’s command. I don’t have the document on hand to say for sure, but if he had, then Sumner would have had nothing to wait on.

That said, Sumner wrote all of a day before that he would come at once. Reading between the lines, it seems Sumner realized between dispatches that he and his command would step into a very fraught situation where their involvement might not turn out for the best. Engaging in operations against American citizens would in itself raise grave concerns, particularly in a time when Americans routinely cast a far more wary eye on their military than we do today. If Sumner proceeded and things went baldy, then some of the blame would surely fall upon him. To hazard that, Sumner would probably want as much confidence as possible that he acted in strict accord with orders.

Mature reflection or not, Sumner also wrote Shannon some reassurance:

This decision will not delay our reaching the scene of the difficulties, for I can move from this place to Lawrence as quickly, (or nearly so,) as I could from the Delaware crossing, and we could not, of course, go beyond that place without definite orders.

The cavalry would not come just yet, but when it did Shannon would hardly notice the delay. Doubtless the delay did not overly concern the Colonel, but the Governor must have felt differently. He had just accelerated his own timetable in light of the growing crisis, only to find out that his hoped-for peacekeeping force waited at Fort Leavenworth for the proper paperwork.

The Free State Embassy, Part Four

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Parts 1, 2, 3

Wilson Shannon read the letter that G.P. Lowery and C.W. Babcock delivered to him. From it, and conversation with them, he understood the plight of Lawrence. He claimed to have nothing to do with the Missourians then besieging the town, but could hardly deny that he summoned the militia against them. Shannon sincerely wanted to avoid a bloodbath, but not much else. He told the free state envoys that Lawrence must agree to obey the laws of Kansas and comply with the seizure of both their party’s leadership, though warrants issued to Sherrif Samuel Jones, and surrender their arms. This prompted more argument with Lowery and Babcock, which Shannon found unpersuasive. He sent the two off with a letter of his own.

Lowery and Babcock went over to Kansas City for fresh horses and turned back for home. There they encountered more happy portents:

I looked around and saw a man driving a team, hauling a wagon which I have no doubt contained a cannon. It was going in the direction of the Wyandott ferry, and we started after it as soon as we could change horses. As we passed through Westport, going from Shawnee Mission to Kansas City, I saw a large crowd, of whom Allen McGhee seemed to be the leader. They were drinking, and getting ready to go up to the camp at the Wakarusa. Several whom I knew came up and talked to us, and said they were “going to wipe the damned down of Lawrence clean out this time, and no mistake.” None of them said anything about the laws or the rescue-only the opportunity to wipe out the inhabitants.

The envoys had seen and spoken to such groups before, but the encounter so soon after Shannon essentially told them that Lawrence ought to surrender itself must have rankled. Not keen on crossing paths with the party again, Lowery and Babcock took a longer route home. They navigated the dark night of December 5, 1855 with the help of an Indian guide, avoiding some camps along the way.

The long road to Lawrence took Lowery and Babcock to the Delaware ferry, where Shannon had told them he aimed to meet the 1st Cavalry that very night.

we inquired whether Colonel Sumner or any dragoons had gone down to the ferry, and we were told they had not.

The Executive Minutes of Shannon’s administration include word from Sumner, dated December 5, promising

I will march with my regiment in a few hours, and will meet you at the Delaware crossing of the Kansas this evening.

Shannon had to have that letter in hand when he told Lowery and Babcock of his plans to meet the 1st Cavalry. Sumner wrote it around ten in the morning and communication between Shannon and Sumner seems to take rather less than a day. Plans for the relief of Lawrence, it seems, had changed.


“All our throats would be cut together” The Free State Embassy, Part Three

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Parts 1, 2

We left G.P. Lowery and C.W. Babcock, envoys from Lawrence to Wilson Shannon, arguing with the territorial governor about their town’s plight and the free state movement’s culpability in it. Shannon, like the free state men, knew full well that more had gone on than the murder of Charles Dow or the rescue of Jacob Branson. The wider tensions over stolen elections, burned houses, and dead partisans all drove events. The town of Lawrence might have had little to do with the rescue that brought a hostile army to their doorstep, as Lowery and Babcock argued, but it had long served as a center for free state radicalism of other sorts. Shannon could quote their party’s own resolutions back to them to show that.

None of that pleading would move the army, which clearly meant to make an end of antislavery politics in Kansas. Some in the territorial government saw the same opportunity and worked toward that end, notably Samuel Jones, militia general William P. Richardson, and Secretary Daniel Woodson. Though antislavery Kansans disagreed on this count, it seems Wilson Shannon didn’t have the same goal in mind. He could arraign the free state movement well enough, but likely agreed with Lowery

that if we [Lawrence] were to submit to the force which he had called in, all our throats would be cut together-the innocent and guilty, if there were any guilty

Shannon’s orders to Jones and to the militia, as well as his attempt to secure the aid of federal troops, speak to his sensitivity on the point. He might want the warrants Jones had served, and those warrants would in their own way decapitate the free state movement, but he hadn’t signed on for any sacking of towns. Still, Lowery’s testimony describes a man very much on the defensive. Shannon

then denied that these Missourians were here by his authority; that he had anything to do with them, or was responsible for them. He said that he had communication with Colonel Sumner, of Fort Leavenworth, and had sent an express for him to meet him that night at Delaware ferry, and go with him to the camp on the Wakarusa.

This passage dates the meeting between Shannon and the Lawrence envoys to December 5. I previously missed it in juggling the various sources.

Shannon could point to his innocence on the Missourians’ involvement and his plan to intervene with federal troops as evidence of his good faith in the affair, but that good faith had its limits. In the very next sentence, Lowery has Shannon declare that he means to

go to Lawrence and insist upon the people agreeing to obey the laws, and delivering up their Sharpe’s rifles.

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

The governor apparently wanted to rescue Lawrence from free state militancy as much as he wanted to rescue it from the wrath of Missouri. Lowery and Babcock argued, reasonably enough, that Shannon had no right to ask any such thing of people who had done no wrong. Their resistance of the laws, for the great majority, included no more than rhetoric and voting in free state elections. Nor did Shannon have a right to confiscate their arms for crimes he expected they might hitherto commit.

[Shannon] gave up that point after some argument. I asked him, then, why he insisted upon the giving up of Sharpe’s rifles, and if he meant to demand, too, western rifles, shot-guns, and other arms. He said he did not intend to demand other than Sharpe’s rifles, but should demand them because they were unlawful weapons. After some time, he then said they were dangerous weapons; to which I agreed. I then told him, if he had any such idea in his head as that, he had better stay away and let the fight go on, as I thought the thing was not feasible, as he would do no good by coming here, if those were his terms.

Lowery pleaded, quite reasonably given that proslavery men even then took potshots at people working on Lawrence’s defensive works, that the people of the town needed their guns for safety. Such men might not live up to the hype and murder every man, woman, child, and selected livestock in Lawrence but they would likewise probably not find kind words or reasoned argument entirely dissuasive. Wilson Shannon preferred to avoid mass carnage, but he remained the man who declared for the proslavery party before even setting foot in Kansas.

The Free State Embassy, Part Two

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Sorry for the delay, Gentle Readers. An inattentive blogger who will remain nameless neglected to properly schedule the post.

Part One

G.P. Lowery and C.W. Babcock exchanged words with the official printer for the Kansas legislature, John H. Brady. He told them bluntly that Andrew Reeder authored all Kansas’ sorrows “and they must have his head, if they had to go to Pennsylvania for it.” If the free state embassy let their danger in the presence of bands of men armed, hostile, and likely lubricated, slip their minds for a moment, this surely recalled the peril. Lowery told the Howard Committee that things began to get more heated, so he and Babcock resumed their trip to see Wilson Shannon and deliver Lawrence’s letter. Along the way they saw more and more armed Missourians, including a fellow so far in his cups that he had a cornbread breakfast in one hand and a wagon wheel in the other. Duty drove them on and thus whatever story got this man to that point passed unrecorded.

The free staters arrived at Shawnee Mission shortly after sunrise. They, unlike Franklin Coleman’s party, found Wilson Shannon present. He took their letter and read it through:

I do not know whether that letter is anywhere in existence now. I wrote the letter, and it was signed by Governor Robinson, Colonel Lane, Mr. Deitzler, myself, and four or five others. The contents were, that he might not be aware that there was a large mob collected on the Wakarusa, who were stopping travellers and goods, and plundering the country; and that we took that means of informing him that was the fact, and that they claimed to be there by his requisition; that we wished to know if that was the fact, that they were there by his authority; and, if so, whether he would remove them, and prevent these depredations, or compel us to do it ourselves, by resorting to other means or higher authority.

If the letter survived, I haven’t found it. It doesn’t appear in the Executive Minutes where it ought to, nor does Robinson give a copy despite referring to Lowery and Babcock’s mission. Whatever happened to the original thereafter, Shannon read it and promised a response. After a while, he called the envoys back and they discussed matters:

He said there had been sixteen houses burned here by free-State men, and women and children driven out of doors. We told him we were sorry that he had not taken pains to inquire into the truth of the matter before he had brought this large force into the country, which, perhaps, he could not get out again; and that his information was wholly and entirely false, as nothing of the kind had happened.

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

At the time, one imagines that Lowery and Babcock found a more diplomatic way to put that. The free state party often blamed the arsons on persons unknown, or on proslavery men trying to frame them, but they can’t have fooled many. Rumors do fly, but clearly Charles Dow knew who fired the cabin on the claim he jumped. The accusation appears in proslavery sources often enough, and with consistent enough numbers, to argue that antislavery Kansans had taken up the habit. Those displaced households, Coleman’s included, came from somewhere. If Lowery and Babcock, who hardly lived at the far end of Kansas from Hickory Point, didn’t know the fact then they must have worked hard to stay ignorant.

Shannon then, per Lowery, denied knowing anything about Missourians coming into Kansas to work their vengeance on Lawrence. He might not have at this point, but that seems like a stretch given about the time he met with the Lawrence envoys the governor also asked for federal troops to manage the situation. Either way, he held the free state proclamations about the laws of Kansas against them. From the context, it seems Shannon justified his summons of the militia on those grounds.

We explained to him that the Territorial laws had nothing to do with this case; that we were getting ready at Lawrence to fight for our lives, and the only question was, whether he would be perticeps criminis to our murder, or the murder of somebody else, should we all be slaughtered. We explained to him, that the rescue upon which he based his proclamation took place a number of miles from Lawrence; that there were but three persons living in Lawrence who were alleged to have had anything to do with it, and that they had left the town, and were not there at all from what we could judge of the intentions of the force at Wakarusa, at Lecompton, and in the county about, from their own declarations, they intended to destroy the town for a thing in which they had no part or parcel.

Lowery might have lied to Shannon’s face, but not about that. The proslavery army, to judge from the words and conduct of its leaders, aimed to rid itself of Lawrence once and for all.

The Territorial Government vs. Lawrence

Daniel Woodson

Daniel Woodson

We left G.P. Lowery and C.W. Babcock on their way to see Wilson Shannon about the ersatz army converging around Lawrence. They passed many sets of guards and Lowery flirted with spiking an unattended cannon. When passing proslavery men on the road, they first cracked jokes about how the Yankees aimed to attack soon and the Missourians had best hurry. This grew less funny as they passed more and larger bands of armed men. What they came to next warrants a digression:

Just before daylight we passed one encampment, in which everybody seemed to be astir, and they came out into the road a short distance to meet us, and we stopped to talk with them. I recognized John H. Brady, who was the public printer of the Shawnee Mission legislature. He recognised me, and when he heard me say that I did not consider it safe for him to come up here, he called me by name, and said they could not let me pass. He then recognized Babcock, and was more certain we could not pass.

It looks like Lowery mixed up his pronouns here, as Brady clearly did the stopping. Either way, Brady’s presence with the proslavery men deserves notice. Public printing involved receiving many lucrative contracts from the government. For Brady to have the job indicates he had the full confidence of the Kansas legislature. Furthermore, public printers frequently also published newspapers and other partisan material for their patrons. In Brady’s case, Douglas C. McMurtrie says he farmed most of his printing out to presses in Kickapoo and St. Louis. Regardless of his personal involvement in setting type and running presses, Lowery and Babcock would have understood themselves in the presence of a proslavery man with close ties to the territorial government.

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

They already had reason to suspect, and free state men would insist for years after, a large degree of official connivance in organizing the investment of Lawrence with an eye to the free state movement’s decapitation. They didn’t know or wouldn’t believe Shannon wanted anything less, as position he did much to aid by calling in first the militia and then the 1st Cavalry. They had Sheriff Jones and the militia generals clearly set on their ruin, which constituted proof enough on its own. With the legislature out of session, that body could not offer additional evidence against itself. Its members and associates could do so independently, of course. I haven’t seen reference to their presence in the camps yet, but remain on guard for it.

The free state men had, or would soon have, other evidence against the territorial government. In The Kansas Conflict, Charles Robinson reproduced a letter from Daniel Woodson, territorial secretary. Woodson, a federal appointee, served as acting governor when the proper territorial Governor left Kansas and between the dismissal of one and arrival of the next. On November 27, Woodson wrote to an E.A. McClarey, of Jefferson City. After a three sentence description of events concluding with “Jones is in danger,” Woodson continued:

(Private.) DEAR GENERAL: The Governor has called out the militia, and you will hereby organize your division, and proceed forthwith to Lecompton. As the Governor has no power, you may call out the Platte Rifle Company. They are always ready to help us. Whatever you do, do not implicate the Governor.

Richardson and Strickler served as commanders of the Kansas militia, so Woodson can’t mean to raise it in sending this. In as many words, the Secretary tells a Missourian to gather up his militia and come over for the job. Wilson Shannon might not have actively conspired to destroy the free state movement, using the rescue of Jacob Branson as a pretext, but his second in command clearly did.

Samuel Newitt Wood

Samuel Newitt Wood

Robinson also reprints selections of a letter John Calhoun, a relation of the Marx of the Master Class and Surveyor-General of Kansas, in the Missouri Republican. I haven’t found a copy of the full letter, but his excerpts contain the expected parade of horrors: arsons, driving women and children from their homes, and a recapitulation of the DowColemanBranson affair.

It is estimated that some sixteen dwelling houses have been burnt, all of them in the night time, with their contents, and their occupants, men, women, and children driven to the prairies without shelter or protect. The leading spirit of these lawless movements is C. Robinson, the leading spirit also of the Topeka Convention. […] It is said that he has at least five hundred men, armed with Sharp’s rifles and revolvers, determined to offer a forcible resistance to the execution of the laws. He has threatened to hang Sheriff Jones, Coleman, and others, as soon as he can get hold of them.

Calhoun thus not only states the threat to good order in Kansas, but points to its wellspring. He clearly understood that his letter would prompt Missourian intervention aimed not at Jacob Branson, Samuel Wood, or anyone else directly involved in Branson’s rescue. Rather they would come with their sights set on the free state leadership. They probably didn’t need the help, but the Surveyor-General could confirm for any wavering that they must not settle for so paltry a prize as the recapture of Branson and seizure of his rescuers. They had a larger task at hand.

The Free State Embassy, Part One

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

I’ve mentioned a few times that the people of Lawrence sent emissaries to Wilson Shannon hoping for relief. Information about their mission remains scant, save for the testimony of one to the Howard Committee. William Phillips went out and tried to meet the Governor himself, though he couldn’t find Shannon, and shows no knowledge of the other mission. Shannon himself doesn’t seem to have found it worth mentioning except when confronted directly with the emissaries’ testimony on the matter.

G.P. Lowery and C.W. Babcock, Kansas Legion men both, received their commission on Wednesday, November 28, and set out the next day. Lowery describes their charge:

I was sent […] to Governor Shannon, with a letter. We were told to state to Governor Shannon what was going on here, what was our position, and what had occurred upon the other side, presuming that he might be ignorant of it.

That all sounds reasonable enough. Lowery and Babcock set out the next day, passing the free state pickets. Half a mile thereafter, they came on the opposition lines. Six men on horseback demanded a password that they lacked.

We got the cork out of the only countersign we had as soon as possible, and that passed us that guard.

That sounds like something rude, or a colorful way to say they rode like madmen and raced by, but the guards only questioned the men about their provenance and advised them to turn back. When they refused, nothing more came of it. Other guards recognized them, but accepted the lie that the men had decided to quit Kansas for Illinois. It took yet another encounter before the proslavery men arrested them. Their captors then sought out men who Lowery and Babcock claimed would vouch for them.

With the free state men temporarily unattended, Lowery felt confident enough to poke about

and found one piece of artillery, with a guard sitting on it asleep. I went up to him, as I thought I would spike his gun, having the tools in my pocket; but thinking it was rather risky, as the guard was just coming back, I returned to where we had been taken

Spiking a cannon meant driving an obstruction, usually a literal spike, into the touch hole. That would prevent the weapon’s discharge until one could dig it out. Given the general paucity of artillery in Kansas, he might have significantly damaged the proslavery arsenal. But he lost his chance when the guard returned to carry the embassy to a Missourian. This Missourian, a Dr. Henry, had come and gone from Lawrence twice and in the course of it decided that the Missourians came on false rumors. Lowery had taken him through the Lawrence lines twice, so he returned the favor.

On the way out, Lowery and Babcock’s escort commiserated about the situation they’d gotten themselves into and quizzed them about Lawrence:

They were very particular as to the number of guns and men we had here at Lawrence, and he asked what flag we had here, and I told him the stars and stripes all the time. he said he was glad to hear that, and should report it to his friends, but that the people of Lawrence had behaved very badly; that he had heard we had a red flag here, and had built a hotel with port-holes, and western people did not like that. That seemed to be all the grounds he had for going to war with us.

Once clear of the guard, again, the two passed many parties of Missourians in the night. They took to joking with them, saying that they’d best get hurry as “the Yankees were going to attack the camp, and would wipe them out.” As their numbers grew, the joke wore thin and they “then went along very politely.” Large groups of hostile, armed men tend to promote circumspection.