“Worthy only of barbarians” The Shooting of J.N. Mace, Part Two

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

On April 29, 1856, J.N. Mace, a free soil Kansan, finished his testimony before the Howard Committee and went home. That night, his dog raised an alarm and Mace went outside. Two proslavery men shot him in the leg. Mace survived, but it took him a few hours to get back indoors. Mace lived near to Lawrence, so the town got together for another mass meeting. Charles Robinson, G.P. Lowery, James Legate, and others addressed the crowd. A Mr. Smith, probably George W. Smith, offered the customary resolutions. The crowd at Faxon’s Hall adopted them unanimously. The first condemned the attacks upon both Mace and Samuel Jones as

disgraceful to any community, and worthy only of barbarians destitute of the first principles of honor or common humanity

An honorable man would have challenged Mace or Jones to come out and have a fair duel, but in both cases would-be assassins struck under the cover of darkness and fled. Everyone, whatever their party, should condemn such behavior “as highly destructive of the peace and best interests” of Kansas. Maybe everyone but a few malcontents could manage those condemnations, but the meeting’s ecumenical spirit quickly fell away. Its members hailed from Lawrence and considered themselves free soilers, after all. They thus noted that under the present government of Kansas,

the people can have no laws, executive or judicial officers of their own, and since those that have been attempted to be imposed upon the people are partial, unjust and oppressive, not recognized or approved by the bona fide residents of the State, it is the duty of Congress at once to remove every vestige of the Territorial Government, and to admit the State into the Union under her present Constitution.

They wouldn’t let an opportunity to make that call go to waste, but one of their own had just taken a bullet from a proslavery assassin. They could expect no justice for him from a government made of border ruffians and their supporters. Thus, the resolutions speak to their genuine concerns for Kansas. Until they got their redress from Congress, the resolved concluded that attempts to enforce the laws could only come to naught. Why should they respect the lawful authority of men imposed upon them? Free state Kansans had not merely lost an election fair and square; they lost their elections to violence and intimidation by Missourians intent on prosecuting their gain to the fullest extent.

The meeting concluded:

until such laws [by Kansans for Kansans] can be made and executed, every man should be a “law unto himself,” and brand with infamy any man who would brutally assault his fellow-man, or in any way disturb the peace and good order of the community.

This sent a mixed message. On one hand, the people of Lawrence asked for a legitimate government to protect them and secure their peace and prosperity. The men who shot Mace and Jones demonstrated the need for just that government, as the present state brought bouts of anarchy and proslavery oppression. Frequently the two worked together, with oppression from the government and anarchy from proslavery bands allied to that government’s program. On the other hand, until they got satisfaction Lawrence endorsed individuals taking law into their own hands. A brand of infamy might constitute only public scorn, but in context it hints at more. Someone -anyone- should do something.

“The fates seem to be against us” The Hunt for Andrew Reeder, Part Nine

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Reeder’s diary.


Andrew Reeder, Kansas’ first governor and presently delegate to Congress for the free state government, remained in hiding in a hotel in Kansas City. He got scattered news of events in the territory, both of free state men suffering arrest and proslavery men crossing the border with an eye to destroying the movement to keep Kansas clear of slavery and black Americans. That news got more dire in the evening of May 15, but we will come back to events around Lawrence in time. For now, let’s stay with the delegate.

Come Friday, may 16, 1856, Reeder complained of the “monotony” of hiding out. He had only the women helping conceal him for occasional company. Reeder’s frequent informant, Colonel Eldridge, had gone off to Kansas and did not return as expected. The boredom could not last forever, though. That morning, Reeder relates that

the ladies had great difficulty in waiting on me. Mrs. E—- and Mrs. W—-, and a new-comer, all seemed as though their suspicions were excited, and they were on watch. Mrs. Coates and Mrs. Monroe Eldridge were in my room, and it was a long time before they could leave it. Mrs. Eldridge was probably seen to come out.

Reeder has changed rooms a few times now. It sounds like he presently occupied one officially vacant. With that story compromised, they moved him to another with the plan to let the room remain visibly open long enough for everyone to decide nothing unusual went on there. But either the unnamed newcomer or “Mrs. S.”, spotted Reeder during the move. She may not have known him as Andrew Reeder of Kansas fame, and rumors current put him captured at Leavenworth, but she had to know some odd man skulked about.

Boat after boat passes down before my window, and my confinement begins to be more and more galling and chafing. I must leave here soon, at all risks. My wife, to whom I dare not write, and could give no consolation if I did, must be alarmed at the newspaper accounts and Lowrey’s report, and I must get away from here.

Martin F. Conway

Martin F. Conway

Kansas first governor pleaded with Mrs. Coates “to have her husband get me off as quick as possible.” Coates obliged, promising that he would try to get Reeder on the Amazon when it arrived on the night of the eighteenth.

That Sunday brought M.F. Conway and P.C Schuyler, both free state men headed into Kansas. Conway resigned his seat in the Kansas legislature rather than wait for the proslavery men to expel him. Neither knew that they had their delegate to Congress just across the hall, but they talked loudly enough of their plans for him to overhear. Sunday did not bring the Amazon, which did not arrive until Monday at noon. It went off without Andrew Reeder, as he could hardly risk boarding it on broad daylight. Even ample moonlight had him worried. Nor would he risk going to hide in a private house as his accomplices asked of him.

Reeder held out his hopes for the W. Campbell, but it also let him down. It arrived only at seven thirty Tuesday morning. She came with few passengers and had a quick passage from Leavenworth, which would have made for an ideal escape had the boat arrived in the dark. Reeder despaired:

The fates seem to be against us.

More Bad News: The Hunt for Andrew Reeder, Part Eight

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Reeder’s diary.

May 15, 1856 found Andrew Reeder still closeted in a hotel in Kansas City, “elaborately cared for” by various ladies who would bring him food, flowers, “and attend to all my comforts.” All in all, Kansas’ free state delegate to Congress found it downright comfortable if he set aside the great issue of the day. He needed to be off raising support for the free state cause, not stuck in western Missouri. He also missed his “idolized, noble wife” and “precious, dearly-loved children.” That he had sent G.P. Lowrey ahead of him to bring news to his family, as well as lay down a false trail that might help Reeder escape wore on him as well. When Lowrey delivered his news, they would know their patriarch as a man on the run and in danger.

Reeder had news that the dragnet continued to tighten around Kansas. G.W. Brown remained a prisoner at Westport. Proslavery men stopped ordinary travelers on the road and stopped the mail for searching.

One traveler, coming down from Lawrence, was stopped on the road, and ordered to open his carpet-bag to see if he had any letters or dispatches from Lawrence, and, as he refused to be searched, it was cut open by the ruffians.

It would not do for the free state party to get news of their plight out in person or paper. More worrying still:

About 100 young men from the South, said to be from South Carolina and Georgia, arrived, as I am told, last evening, all armed and equipped after the fashion of Buford’s men, who, from their appearance, equipments, acts, and conversation, have evidently come, not as emigrants, but only to fight. About half of them went on to Leavenworth, and the residue landed here and went into the Territory, leaving their trunks here with Mr. Taylor, and saying that they did not want them along, as the fight would probably be over in a few weeks, and then they would go back.

Buford’s men, or a very similar group, had work ahead of him. That evening, Reeder got word secondhand from a member of the Blue Lodge that they had another invasion in the offing. They hoped to get together two thousand men and raze Lawrence for good, entering Kansas in small groups and avoiding the major roads to avoid notice until they arrived. They would take the town at night and under the pretext of enforcing indictments against its leaders. Samuel Lecompte had given them those indictments and proslavery men had come to Kansas back in December allegedly to maintain law and order. Thwarted then, the proslavery men would likely press far harder now.

Misdirection and Another Capture: The Hunt for Andrew Reeder, Part Seven

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Reeder’s diary.

We left Andrew Reeder hiding out in a hotel in Kansas City, where he received news of Charles Robinson’s capture on May 13, 1856. Knowing that the proslavery dragnet reached further into Missouri than just the immediate border can’t have settled the delegate’s mind. Up to this point, Reeder had the company of G.P. Lowery. He advised Lowery to leave without him, on the first available boat and in a disguise. But before Lowery departed, the two arranged some misdirection. Reeder

had him to write a letter directed to me at Chicago, and mail it loosely sealed, to induce the belief that I was in the States, by the way of Nebraska and Iowa, as we were confident they would open it. I instructed him also, if he got safe to St. Louis, to telegraph up here that he had heard from me and that I was safe in Chicago.

Nineteenth century postmasters did open and scrutinize mail, most famously to hunt down antislavery publicans for destruction. Settled precedent dating back to Andrew Jackson’s administration blessed such business. Since postmasters received their jobs through patronage rather than from a professional civil service, even any inclined against such censorship had strong incentive to keep in line.

Reeder remained shut up in his room, though it seems that he had plenty of attention. He writes that no less than four ladies “most kindly waited on” him and “took a lively interest in my safety.” Come evening, Colonel Eldridge brought Reeder less enchanting company: the posse which had came for him at Lawrence had arrived at the hotel. The governor turned delegate assured Eldridge that they had a warrant for Reeder valid in Kansas, but not Missouri. Their authority ended at the border and no harm could come to him from helping Reeder out. However, should they come with a Missourian officer and process in hand, then Eldridge should give Reeder up to keep himself out of trouble.

Expecting them to come, I concealed this diary, and made preparations. I remained up, till midnight, and there was a constant running up and down from the street to their room. At 12 o’clock I went to bed and slept soundly.

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Kansas’ first governor has sterner nerves than I do. He woke on the morning of the fourteenth to more welcome news. Eldridge came up and told Reeder that the posse had said nothing of him, but instead came for Grosvenor Lowery and Samuel Pomeroy, the latter an agent of the Emigrant Aid Company. But the good news came with some bad:

G.W. Brown, accompanied by Jenkins, had started for Lawrence, and had been stopped on the road by M’Gee’s party of Missourians (without any process, of course), and made prisoners. Have not learned what is done with them.

That day also brought a boat up to Kansas City which departed with great cheers from the town. Reeder thought that Robinson must have come through, but learned instead that Kansas City cheered a marshal’s party starting for Leavenworth. It says something for Reeder’s state of mind that news of an armed band heading into Kansas from Missouri came as a relief, though probably also to the fact that Andrew Reeder consistently stood for the party of Andrew Reeder. He had joined the free state movement late, when deprived of other means for political advance in Kansas, and under the condition that they make his grievance over shady land deals their own.

After a while, Reeder changed rooms for the second time. Things had quieted and the proper residents of the room had been out of it for some time. Anybody could start to wonder. At this point, Reeder hoped no one believed him present and so he might safely move on as soon as he could find a boat with a willing captain, which would remain docked through the night so he could quietly board. With Robinson captured, he needed to get moving regardless. It fell now to him to take up the governor’s mission and seek out the executives of Ohio, Michigan, and maybe even Iowa and Wisconsin to come to aid the free state cause.

Investigation and a Reward: Lawrence Responds to the Jones Shooting, Part Four

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Parts 1, 2, 3

We left the standing room only mass meeting on the morning of April 24, 1856 passing the resolutions that such gatherings always produced. The people of Lawrence had little love for Samuel Jones, Sheriff of Douglas County, but they wanted everyone to understand that they hadn’t conspired to shoot him dead. Quite the opposite, they regarded his shooting as an attack upon them. Some miscreant put two bullets through their reputation, as well as the proslavery sheriff. Whatever went on between Jones and Lawrence, it did not justify attempted murder in cold blood. If they found out who did it, they would gladly turn the shooter over to the proper authorities.

But they did bury that commitment in qualifiers. “If possible” they would turn over the guilty party, if they found him and if they followed through. Lawrence had shielded fugitives from justice before and tipped them off when the law came. Would the good people of the town really break precedent on behalf of so infamous a villain as Jones?

G.P. Lowery must have expected people to ask those questions, as his final resolution promises more than words:

a committee of five shall be appointed whose duty it shall be to investigate the circumstances connected with this deplorable occurrence, and, if possible, to ferret out the guilty agent; and we pledge ourselves that, although no responsible as a community for this act of a depraved individual, we will use our best efforts to show to the world that we have no sympathy for crime in any shape, and are prepared to treat the perpetrators with that stern justice which shall not stop to inquire whether they are friends or foe.

Maybe they meant every word of that. Probably no one in Lawrence wanted to bear responsibility for the shooting, collectively or individually. The committee of five, Lowery, G.W. Deitzler, James F. Legate, Norman Allan, and Samuel Sutherland, did go to work, “busily.” on the question. The Herald of Freedom includes a request from them for people to come forward with information. If that didn’t suffice, the meeting added a unanimous resolution, in addition to the previous, that the free state government would give a reward of $500 “for the apprehension and conviction” of the shooter.

Sixteen decades later, we still have no idea who shot Samuel Jones that night. That doesn’t mean the committee didn’t take its job seriously. The preservation of Lawrence and the antislavery cause could easily have outweighed the loss of one hothead. But they may have also found Lawrence generally disinclined to name names. The shooter could also have left town before the public meeting convened, opting not to take his chances.


Resolutions: Lawrence Responds to the Jones Shooting, Part Three

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Parts 1, 2

Andrew Reeder continued his speech to the Lawrence meeting by abandoning the pretense that no one knew just who had shot Sheriff Jones the day before. He pointed to all the sympathy and respect they had gained in the free states by eschewing violence. Would they throw all of that away? In a political environment where antislavery Americans had seen far more vilification than their proslavery opposites, in North and South alike, he had a point. Things had gotten progressively better for them in the North since around 1848, and especially since 1854, but that shift could reverse at any time. A collision with the United States government would surely remind Americans of the recent era when they saw opposition to slavery as tending toward disunion. Shooting Jones might not have done that, but had the bullet found a United States dragoon it might have done the trick. So might an open insurrection.

Reeder made it clear that he said not a word of this out of any love of Jones or his politics, but he continued on the theme for another column and change in the Herald of Freedom. Along the way, he reminded the people of Lawrence of most of what had happened in Kansas in the past two years. According to the paper, he frequently had to stop for applause. But then the meeting had business to get to. You didn’t hold a mass meeting in the nineteenth century without some resolutions to put the assembly on the record. G.P. Lowery had a set prepared:

the attempt made in our town last evening upon the life of S.J. Jones, Esq., whilst claiming to act as the Sheriff of the county, was the isolated act of some malicious and evil-disposed individual, unexpected and unlooked for by our community, and unsustained by any portion of them.

Isolated and unexpected, maybe. Lowery probably could have found plenty of people in the room that morning who believed Jones had it coming and didn’t feel any guilt about his shooting. They might fear the dangerous consequences to the town, but can’t have shed many tears for Jones. Thus the second resolution:

notwithstanding the unpleasant relation which existed between Mr. Jones and our citizens, if the attack could have been foreseen or considered at all probable, we would have neglected no means to prevent or defeat it; we deeply sympathize with the wounded man, and will afford him all the aid and comfort of our power.

They probably would have. Even when proslavery armies nearly surrounded Lawrence, the leadership worked to avoid a pitched battle. As that work involved restraining hotheads within their own ranks, who didn’t much care for how the proslavery men took potshots at them, we know that sentiment didn’t touch every heart.

we deeply regret that the perpetrator of this deed is unknown; and if known to us, we would unhesitatingly expose and denounce him as the criminal


it is due to the reputation of our town, and loudly demanded by the deep and universal indignation which pervades our community, that the guilty author should, if possible, be sought out and surrendered to justice

These resolutions promise a great deal and nothing at all. They would expose and denounce the shooter, if they knew him, and hand him over for justice, if they could find him. Maybe they would, but Lawrence had previously ensured fugitives from the law in their community got enough advance warning to escape capture. They did it for Jacob Branson and Samuel Wood in December. They did the same for the men who helped Wood escape only days before. Indignation, deep and universal, only went so far.



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.