“For several days he and his confreres had been engaged in a debauch”

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

William Addison Phillips did not like Samuel Pomeroy, of the Emigrant Aid Society, or Lieutenant Governor Roberts one bit. To hear him tell it, the people of Lawrence had gone to the trouble of burying their five cannons under the foundation of a house. No one would find them there. When Samuel Jones came into town at the head of a posse of twenty men, with a few hundred friends not far off, they could have let him ransack Lawrence all day and he would have left empty handed. Pomeroy, Roberts, and the rest of the committee of safety, didn’t care to risk that and gave up the artillery. They even did some of the digging themselves.

That put Jones in possession of the free state cannons and still in Lawrence, perhaps not the ideal place for a man recently ventilated by a resident to linger with his spoils. He thus ordered the cannons delivered to the camp outside town,

and free-state men were called on to do this ignominious service. Numbers of those whom Jones thus asked haughtily refused. Some of the men with Jones threatened to use their arms, and rode at some of the young men who refused, and threatened them with their bayonets, but did not intimidate them into compliance. A few, less resolute, aided the ruffians to remove the guns.

Phillips anger burns off the page here. At the moment of decision, his neighbors folded like cowards. They even did the border ruffians’ dirty work for them, though only a minority went so far. Perhaps more did at the time and Phillips counted for convenience in his appeal to outraged antislavery people back East. Either way, Lawrence lost its heavy weapons and a few of the Sharpe’s rifles.

While Jones and his posse secured the cannons, the larger body of the posse originally gathered by I.B. Donaldson advanced on Lawrence. The Lawrence memorial, written the next day, has

several hundred men, with United States muskets and fixed bayonets […] taking position in the town.

Phillips names their leaders, Atchison, Buford, Stringfellow, and Colonel Titus, and puts them at the south end of town, “dragging their cannon with them.” They arrayed themselves in formation and Atchison gave a speech.

That great border ruffian, ex-Senator, ex-Vice President of the United States, was not remarkably sober on this important occasion. For several days he and his confreres had been engaged in a debauch, in which, perhaps, they strove to drown their knowledge of better things.

Proslavery men tend toward drunkenness in the accounts of abstemious antislavery types. When you don’t drink at all, any drinking becomes more noticeable. But even friendly sources, and the man himself, have cracked jokes about Bourbon Dave’s habit. A version of this speech floats around the internet in various places, but I’m given to understand much of it was invented after the fact. Phillips himself refers to the issue:

Various reports of this wild speech have been published, but all more or less incorrect.

William Phillips, naturally had the true version.

“I demand that all the arms of Lawrence be given up, or we will bombard the town”

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Sorry for the tardy post, Gentle Readers. I scheduled it incorrectly.

Samuel Jones, process in hand, posse at his back, and fresh off getting shot the last time he came to Lawrence, had probably gave more than a little thought to revenge on May 21, 1856. W.P. Fain had come, made arrests, and gone. Jones still had his pretense to attend to and meant to see himself revenged on Lawrence. He inherited Marshal Donaldson’s posse and rode into town with about twenty of them, arriving about three in the afternoon. Jones made for the Free State Hotel and there called out Samuel Pomeroy.

William Phillips recounts their conversation:

Pomeroy came out and shook hands with him. [Jones.]

“Gen. Pomeroy,” said Jones, “I recognize you as one of the leading citizens here, and as one who can act for the people of Lawrence. I demand that all the arms of Lawrence be given up, or we will bombard the town.” Jones here took out his watch, and continued: “I give you five minutes to decide on this proposition, and half an hour to stack the arms in the streets.”

Jones had pulled this ultimatum off before, giving the judges of election five minutes to vacate, let anyone who offered vote without swearing that they lived in Kansas, or die at the hands of his mob. Pomeroy, like the judges then, asked more time. The year since the legislative elections and his own shooting must have hardened Jones; he refused to grant even the additional minute he had before. Pomeroy went into the hotel and discussed the issue with the committee of safety, for what little they had to discuss:

Jones, with an army at his back, thirsting for blood and plunder; the committee, who had provided no means of defence, and who had only a handful of men in Lawrence, who, if they attempted to resist, would merely be butchered, unless the invaders were cowards!

An answer came back before the Sheriff called down a bombardment. Lawrence would surrender her cannons, but the rifles and other arms belonged to the men who held them. The committee had no authority to demand their surrender. Jones would have to go person to person and ask each one.

The memorial that Lawrence sent off to Franklin Pierce tells things a little differently, with some portion of the rifles accepted as community property and so surrendered while others, still private property, remained with their owners. The memorialists, writing for a hostile audience in the White House, stress their submission as much as Phillips excoriates it. For Jones to just take the cannons and let go the rifles, which loomed large in proslavery imaginations, seems improbable. Phillips does refer to some rifles taken up later, but not as part of a general surrender. He may have the same arms in mind as the memorialists, each writer slanting the facts to suit their present audience. For Phillips, righteous Kansas led by cowards in the absence of the usual heroes cave without a fight. Antislavery Americans rally to their defense. For the memorialists, submitting to the law and doing all their enemies asked might move a hostile president to take a softer line against them. Either version could be true; both agree that Lawrence lost its cannons:

The artillery in question consisted of the twelve-pound brass howitzer, brought into Lawrence so gallantly during the Wakarusa war, and some four other small brass breech-loading cannon, carrying a pound ball.

Phillips describes the four smaller field pieces as “nearly useless” but doesn’t miss the chance to go after the Committee for giving them up. He informs the reader that Lawrence had buried all the cannons beneath a house, where no one would think to look. Pomeroy and Lieutenant Governor Roberts thus gave them up gratuitously.

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.

“Several hundred dollars in money, a gold watch, and other property”

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

 

W.P. Fain came into Lawrence on May 22, 1856, to make the arrests that his boss, US Marshal I.B. Donaldson, had feared to attempt. He had two posses on hand that day, one of about ten men that he took into the town and augmented with locals and another of five to eight hundred proslavery militants who occupied the heights above. As on his previous visit, Fain had no trouble at all moving openly about Lawrence. Instead, he and his allies offered up their version of bad behavior. Fain and his posse dined at the Free State Hotel, then left without paying. While in Lawrence for some hours, they arrested all of two men.

Meanwhile, the larger posse under Donaldson’s command remained on Mount Oread with their cannons. That many proslavery men so near to a hated center of antislavery activity could hardly stand idle long. According to William Phillips,

While these arrests were making, and while the posse he had raised in Lawrence was under his orders and retained by him, two of the number, Mr. Perry and Col. Topliff, were robbed by the posse on the hill. They lived in a house on the side of Mt. Oread, near which the part of the posse on the hill were stationed. During the time they were waiting for Fain to go through his legal maneuver, they busied themselves in breaking into a few houses in the suburbs, and, amongst other performances, robbed these gentlemen of several hundred dollars in money, a gold watch, and other property.

Phillips would have us know that only some of the posse did that, but it sounds like they came off with quite the haul. He probably means to imply that Fain’s summons kept Topliff and Perry from their home and thus facilitated the burglary. It might have worked out that way, but Phillips doesn’t tell us if the two men would have remained in their home once the proslavery force arrived or gone somewhere clear of it. It seems that Fain found them in Lawrence proper and if he had done something so obvious as to call them from their homes on his way into town, I can’t believe Phillips would have neglected the chance to mention it.

According to the Lawrence memorialists, who included Perry, the committee of safety had entrusted Topliff with another missive for Marshal Donaldson. When Fain and his posse left town, Topliff went with them to deliver it. The committee repeated their submission to federal authority and request for the protection of the government.

For the private property already taken by your posse we ask indemnification, and what remains to us and our citizens we throw upon you for protection, trusting that under the flag of our Union and within the folds of the Constitution we may obtain safety.

Fain’s dine and dash operation can’t have won him any friends, but he had come, made his arrests, and went without incident. He promised that the Free State Hotel would go unmolested. Maybe it could all work out and Donaldson would set aside his posse just as the proslavery leaders had sent their men home from Lawrence before. If it had happened once, it could happen again.

Raising the Red Flag

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

I.B. Donaldson -J.B. in some sources- and his army had come to Lawrence. They arrived not long after sunrise, marching down from Lecompton and up from Franklin to the tune of five to eight hundred men. Those in the lead took up a position on the heights of Mount Oread, above the town. They had a mixed of cavalry and infantry backed by at least four cannons. No like army of antislavery men mustered to meet them. The committee of safety made the decision not to resist and those so inclined largely left the area rather than get caught up in the fight sure to come. William Phillips describes the tension on the ground:

there were some fluttering amongst timid hearts, recollections of bloody threats, and the knowledge of the murderous wishes of their enemies. Groups began to cluster here and there in the streets, and many eyes were turned to the body of armed horsemen on the hill; but there was no demonstration of resistance.

Around seven in the morning, the posse descended from the highest point on Mount Oread to the one nearest town and seized Governor Robinson’s house to use as a headquarters.

They then planted their cannon on the end of the hill overlooking the town, and pointed towards it. This was long musket-range from the town, but good range for breech-loading rifles.

The force initially flew a white flag, but whatever faint hope Lawrence might have seen in that fled when they struck the white and raised red in its place:

the war-flag […] on this was inscribed, “Southern Rights.” Soon after, a United States flag, the “stripes and stars” floated beside it.

The policy of the United States from independence until 1860 floated there. The Lawrence memorialists claimed that the red flag would have spurred resistance, whatever the situation, except for the red, white, and blue with it. Whether they said as much to save face after the fact or meant it, ion the end they followed the same policy that their party had adopted before: Free state Kansans might fight with proslavery individuals acting privately and, in extremis, against the territorial government. They had no intention of levying war against the United States.

With the army-sized posse in place, W.P. Fain, Deputy United States Marshal, made his second call to Lawrence in less than twenty-four hours. He came with ten men, unarmed, and summoned several locals to the posse:

Dr. Jarvin, a pro-slavery resident of Lawrence, John A. Berry, C.W Topliff, Wm. Jones, S.W. Eldridge, and T.B. Eldridge.

Those same Eldridges had gone off to Lecompton to plead the case of their hotel furniture to the Governor. Now, bound by their previous offer to join any posse summoned, they went to work for the Marshal. He had warrants for the arrest of George Deitzler and G.W. Smith, which he managed without difficulty.

He staid until after dinner; called for dinner at the hotel, where he, and the posse he brought with him, dined; he left immediately after, neither he nor his companions paying the bill.

In other words, Fain came into Lawrence unarmed and summoned the de facto proprietors of the Free State Hotel and leaders of the committee of safety to aid him. Then he arrested two free state men and hung around town until noon. He went to the Eldridge’s hotel and executed a dine and dash against two of the men he had insisted help him carry out his duties.

“There was no peace”

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Proslavery movements against Lawrence began again in earnest on May 11, 1856. On that day, US Marshal Donaldson issued a proclamation calling for a large posse to help him serve his process in the town. He wanted one as big as Kansas and Missouri could manage. Proslavery men, including some from Jefferson Buford’s expedition, happily obliged him. As they gathered, harassing people moving about Lawrence and killing two antislavery men, Donaldson remained at Lecompton. There the majority of the force assembled, as he had asked it to, and he and Governor Shannon heard desperate pleas from Lawrence for aid. Much of the free state leadership had fled, leaving the town with a committee of safety caught between internal divisions and a marked lack of realistic options. On the twentieth, his deputy entered Lawrence and had a few conversations. He left unmolested, thus demonstrating how much Donaldson required overwhelming force to carry out his duties.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Not that it mattered. Donaldson had between five and eight hundred men bent on doing something to Lawrence, whatever excuse they could get. They included David Rice Atchison, who had done so much to inaugurate Kansas’ troubles. Atchison’s Senate term had expired the year before, but he still hoped he might get another out of Missouri’s legislature. Divided, they instead left the seat open until 1857. The former Senator came into Kansas in the company of the Platte County Self-Defensives and two field pieces. The Kickapoo Rangers, who had killed Reese Brown, joined in as well. To them, William Phillips added

all the loafers and wild pro-slavery men from Leavenworth and Weston […] General Stringfellow had crossed from Missouri to Atchison, and reinforced by his brother , the doctor (who is the more eminent of the two), and the infamous Bob Kelly, Stringfellow’s law partner Abell, and several other pro-slavery men there, had gone to Lecompton. Colonel Boone, from Westport, with several other pro-slavery leaders from that place, and also from Liberty and Independence, at the head of bodies of armed men, or to take command of companies that had preceded them

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

A separate force had established itself at Franklin, under Buford. Phillips puts United States arms in their hands, given out by “federal appointees of Kansas.” That probably meant Donaldson, though Phillips doesn’t name him. Buford’s men had two cannons of their own.

The Lecompton force broke camp in the predawn hours of May 21, on the move at last. They arrived “shortly after sunrise” and occupied the heights of Mount Oread overlooking Lawrence, near Charles Robinson’s house.

The town was perfectly quiet. Its inhabitants were shaking off their slumbers; those already astir were going quietly about their avocations. No guns were planted upon the embankments. No lines of riflemen were drawn up. The cry was, “Peace! peace! when there was no peace.

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.

 

“They fired at him; he fell mortally wounded”

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

The Eldridges, who had gone to Lecompton to plead the case of their hotel furnishings and the Lawrence that surrounded them, got nowhere. J.B. Donaldson would promise only that he would not destroy the Free State Hotel. Wilson Shannon, when offered everything he had ever asked of the free state party, still declined to order out the Army to preserve the peace. When they told the Governor that this might drive Lawrence into resistance by force, Shannon declared himself for war.

William Phillips doesn’t mention the Eldridges’ mission in his Conquest of Kansas, likely because a promise of total capitulation and repeated begging for help didn’t make for an inspiring story. He does, however, relate a few incidents that the Lawrence memorialists left out of the version they sent to Franklin Pierce. The first concerns “a young man named Jones,” late of Illinois. Jones, who appears to have had no connection to the infamous Sheriff Jones, had gone off to a store to buy some flour. He returned home by way of Blanton’s Bridge, and there met “two of these young Southerners, belonging to the posse.”

Seeing fresh prey, the proslavery men attacked. Phillips arms them

with United States muskets and bayonets. These arms were Mississippi rifles, as they are called. They were public arms, belonging to the territory, in the charge of Governor Shannon, and with his permission given to these young Southerners and Missourians

Shannon did have public arms at his disposal and probably would have let them out to Donaldson’s posse. Whether the Southerners had their weapons from his hand or not, they put them to use against Jones. Still near the store, he dismounted and bolted for it. His enemies followed him inside. Someone there gave Jones a pistol to answer them with,

whereupon the men raised their pieces and threatened to shoot him unless he gave it up. The person in the store again got it, when an altercation between him and the two men ensued.

Jones took that moment to claim the better part of valor, leaving the store while the fight progressed. For his heroism, Jones received pursuit by the two proslavery men, who swore that an abolitionist would not escape them.

They fired at him; he fell mortally wounded, and died during the day, or before next morning. The murderers immediately left.

Through the long build-up to this, many people had faced deadly threats and harassment. A messenger from Lawrence had dodged bullets as he rode. Proslavery men had detained others and warned uninvolved parties that they could not travel safely. Now a man had died, the first political murder in Kansas since Reese Brown in January.

“War then it is, by God.”

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

I must begin with a confession, Gentle Readers: I screwed up. I started out working through the petition that the people of Lawrence sent to Franklin Pierce and all its included correspondence, which I introduced as such at the time. Over the course of a long weekend and getting more than a little lost marveling at all the trees, it slipped my mind that I had not actually left the memorial’s text behind. I have worked before with executive minutes and other collections of correspondence presented similarly to the memorial, and in the same volumes, and started thinking of the documents on those lines. In so doing, I lost track of who produced the writing and so ended up musing about the nameless compiler and his unusually sharp voice. For the record, both of the previous posts hail from the memorial’s text and deserve reading as the words of interested parties from Lawrence: 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. I don’t think it much changes my analysis of yesterday’s material, but one should always keep the partiality of one’s sources in mind and I nodded off. That’s on me.

Continuing with the memorial then, we left with J.B. Donaldson and Wilson Shannon giving the Eldridges a series of contradictory and useless answers to the problem of the proslavery army aimed at Lawrence. They told the furnishers of the Free State Hotel that the posse Donaldson had summoned against Lawrence intended to work some mayhem. They would like to guarantee the safety of the hotel, but would not lift a finger to save the newspaper presses. Nor would they, despite agreement from Lawrence to disarm and submit, accept men of the town into a posse to use as a safe substitute for Donaldson’s bloodthirsty Missourians.

The Eldridges, one of whom signed his name to the memorial, pleaded further. Donaldson had set himself on a course and would not turn from it, but Wilson Shannon had the authority to call the military into things. It would take only his word for Colonel Sumner, who wanted to help, to swoop in with the 1st Cavalry and ensure everyone’s safety. Shannon “peremptorily refused.” That they had word from Donaldson himself that his posse meant to color outside the lines and would insist upon some destruction before going home did not enter into his consideration. Instead

he said the people of Lawrence must take such consequences as should ensue; that he could protect them with the United States troops if he chose, but that he should not do so.

They tried again: Shannon wanted law, order, and the submission of the free state party. They offered all of that, but if he gave them no protection then they would have to take things into their own hands. This might well lead to civil war, something that Shannon had abjured and worked hard to prevent not six months ago. Of course that time, he bore a direct responsibility for the escalation by issuing a general call for the militia. Now he could watch with technically clean hands. Pressed to the last, the Governor

turned angrily away and left the room with the expression, “War then it is, by God.”