Lawrence Responds to the Jones Shooting, Part One

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Twenty-five years later, John Speer and Samuel Jones could have a nice chat about the time Jones got shot. Speer wanted to know if Jones thought he did it. Jones reassured him otherwise. They slap each other on the back, talk about the crazy old days, and part as friends. At the time, neither Jones nor the people at Lawrence had that sort of detachment. The town had paid before for Jones’ mere frustrations, coming near to destruction. The sheriff had few fans, but fewer still wanted the violent wrath of proslavery Kansas and Missouri to descend upon them. The Herald of Freedom flatly denied that any antislavery man fired the shot and insisted more plausibly that

the public sentiment of this city condemns, in unmeasured terms, the assassination. No sympathy exists for the men who thus violently undertook to deprive Jones of his life. Not that there is any particular love for him-for he is hated as cordially as it is possible for men to hate a scoundrel-but there is a love of Order, of Law, of Justice and Peace in our people-and murder and outrage, assassination and brutality, meet with a prompt and unqualified condemnation, by whoever perpetrated.

One can hate a person a great deal and not want them dead, fair enough. George Washington Brown went on in that theme for a while, inveighing against “the Border Ruffian party” for “this last stroke of villainy?” What evil would prove too much for them? The next evil firmly in mind, Brown declared that no one could hold Lawrence responsible. The townspeople had nothing to do with the shooting except the misfortune of living near to it. Furthermore, they disavowed the shooting “immediately and unanimously” and condemned it “in the strongest terms.”

For proof of all that, the paper printed the proceedings of a public meeting. Jones caught his bullet around ten on the night of April 23, 1856. The next morning notice went out for the citizenry to meet in the hall over Faxon’s store, twelve and a half hours after the attack. The Herald reports a packed room, which elected Andrew Reeder to the chair. Reeder then gave a speech. Kansas first governor and latest would-be free state senator condemned the shooting as

an outrage on the individuals of this town, upon the public sentiment and reputation of the town, and a still greater outrage upon our cause. That cause was one which sought no aid or countenance at the hands of assassins, for it was too holy, too strong, and too just to need such assistance.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Self-involved or not, Reeder opened up on reasonable enough grounds. No one in Lawrence could change what happened to Jones. They had to worry about what would happen to them. Reeder proclaimed that the free state party

wanted the help of the Lord, and not the devil; the help of honest, well meaning men, not of murderers and assassins; the help of orderly, law-abiding, though determined men, and not of outlaws and murders. They wanted the sympathies of their friends in the Free States, who have stood up and justified them, and that sympathy they must obtain by pursuing such a course as would not give any one cause to charge them with wrongdoing and injustice.

One can read this as a piece of political propaganda and not go wrong. What Reeder said, he said for public consumption. He calls out the audience abroad in the free states as well as those in Lawrence that April morning. But this also sends a message to whoever did shoot Jones: You have put us in danger, not helped. It further honestly states the free state strategy. They did not want, and honestly feared, armed conflict. They had militias for self-defense and may have burned proslavery houses, but in the main they adopted a peaceable and careful strategy of circumspection. Even after they established their own government, they voted not to enact any laws until they had approval from Congress. At almost every turn, men like Reeder, Charles Robinson, and James Lane tried to work within the American, if not the Kansan, system.

John Speer and Samuel Jones Reminisce

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

On the night of April 23, 1856 Sheriff Samuel Jones caught two bullets. The first passed through his pants. The second took a detour through him. The men he came to Lawrence to arrest must fall under suspicion, as they had a better reason to want Jones gone than anybody. Furthermore, everyone Jones had come into Lawrence to take had a history of violence against him. He first sought the just-returned Samuel Wood, who had let an armed band against Jones to rescue Jacob Branson. The sheriff assembled his second slate of victims from those men who seized him and prevented his arrest of Wood by main force.

We don’t know who fired the shot. Anybody might have done it; Jones had made enemies of any who lived through the siege back in December. But if you want to narrow it down, then the men Jones came back to arrest make a fair group of suspects. Fleeing down during the day didn’t preclude a nighttime return to ventilate Jones. Jones deputy thought John Speer might have pulled the trigger. He might have visited the homes of everyone in the group, but Speer wrote his story down.

Jones and Speer both survived Kansas. Twenty-five years later, they met up again. Jones had gone to Texas and then on to Arizona, where he would die. But he came back to Kansas at least once, visiting Leavenworth. There he saw a man he recognized at Planter’s House:

“Is not this Mr. Speer?” He was Sheriff Jones. we passed out onto the veranda, and had a long and pleasant talk over old times. I asked him if he ever imagined it possible I could have had anything to do with the attempt on his life. Most emphatically he replied: “No. I always recognized you as a gentleman; and that was a dastardly attempt at assassination. With pleasant memories, and hearty congratulations, we parted, never to meet again.

I don’t know from being shot, thank you, but I did have my wrist remodeled in a violent clash many years ago. I remember the event quite well. Though the perpetrators suffered no more than a questioning by the school principal, I put a fair bit of effort into working out just what happened. I can’t imagine Jones got shot and didn’t devote at least some energy to the question down the years. He might have excused Speer or dismissed vague suspicions in the name of politeness, but would he have done so for a man he strongly suspected had put the bullet in him? Probably not.

The Hunt for John Speer

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

On the night of April 23, 1856 someone in Lawrence shot Sheriff Samuel Jones, twice. The first bullet went through his pants, the second through him. The Herald of Freedom told readers that a proslavery man had to have done it, referring vaguely to enemies Jones had made on his own side of Kansas Territory’s great issue. Outside Kansas people might believe that, but the evidence doesn’t support the proposition at all. Whatever enemies Jones might have made aside antislavery Kansans, Lawrence had no shortage of men who had made violent threats against him and had attacked him previously.

We don’t know who did shoot Jones, but the men he had come to Lawrence to arrest seem like fair enough suspects. John Speer, who later wrote a biography of James Lane, fit that description. He had intervened to prevent the arrest of Samuel Wood, the business that brought Jones to Lawrence in the first place. Jones’ deputy, Sam Salters (the fourth Samuel in the story), thought Speer a likely prospect and had the dragoons surround Speer’s home, twice.

The first time, he was insolent, abusive and profane; and I advised Mrs. Speer, if she saw his hosts coming, to make no resistance, but to barricade the door and compel him to break it down. This she did; and, as he uttered a volley of profanity, she indignantly cast a dipper of water in his face. The dragoons laid back int heir saddles, and laughed and cheered. This so provoked him that he pulled a revolver, swearing he would “kill the abolitionists.”

That went too far for the soldiers with Salters, who told him to cool it. Instead the officer, Lieutenant McIntosh, went up the the window, tapped, and asked her to let him in. Mrs. Speers didn’t cave easily

She replied: “If you are United States officer, I will; if you are a Border Ruffian, you will have to break the door down.”

The soldier confessed to soldiering, so she let him in. He conducted

a very inefficient search, pleasantly remarking about the bright morning, the babe in the cradle, and her four pretty children around the fire, and retired.

All of this makes it sound like the posse caught Speer in his home, with the inefficient search probably including winks and nods. Speer clarifies to the contrary. McIntosh declined, over Salters’ request, to search a small room. He also tells that he had met McIntosh on the road previously and they had passed without incident. It seems no bad blood existed between them and McIntosh may have thought he let Speer go by means of that incomplete hunt. Speer doesn’t say so outright, but it looks like he understood McIntosh’s actions in that light and he elsewhere declares that many of the soldiers sided with the antislavery party at the time. His mourning of the Lieutenant’s later death at the Battle of Cabin Creek, where he took the side of slavery, points to at least some gratitude for the gentle treatment of Speer’s wife and family.

“Miserable and fiendish blackguardism” Sheriff Jones Visits Lawrence, Again


Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Wilson Shannon, second governor of Kansas Territory, had dealt with Samuel Jones and the free state men at Lawrence before. He hoped that putting the United States Army between the free state militias and the combination of Kansas territorial militia and random Missourians would avert the bloodshed that the proslavery men seemed set on. That time, Colonel E.V. Sumner of the 1st Cavalry refused to decamp from Fort Leavenworth for want of presidential orders. This time around, Sumner had those orders. When Shannon told him to send a small contingent to help Jones complete his arrests of antislavery men, Sumner did his duty.

Shannon’s letter to Sumner specified seven men, an officer and six others, to go with Jones. Merrill’s True History of Kansas reports that Jones got ten, under the command of a Lieutenant McIntosh. But those ten men don’t appear to have hewed to the strictly nonpartisan role that Shannon expected. They followed their orders to go and help Jones, but John Speer tells that

The troops were generally our friends, and watered their horses at all the wells where there was a horse that would drink at all; and all who knew anything they had done, got notice in time to run; and I fled for safety to the Delaware Indians.

Orders to help Jones didn’t preclude a few soldiers helping his enemies. If that didn’t get the word out, then Sumner might have done it on his own. He wrote ahead to alert the mayor of Lawrence that the Jones and his men would soon arrive. Either way, Lawrence did not happily receive Jones with soldiers at his back. The Herald of Freedom for April 26 describes Jones’ arrival three days prior:

The physical power of the General Gov’t has been used to grind us into submission to a code of bloody, barbarous enactments. A man styling himself “Sheriff of Douglas County,” comes into our town, with a portion of the U.S. Army to aid him in carrying out his objects, seizes innofensive, peaceable citizens whilst pursuing their proper employments, and without the shadow of a pretence of justice or law, drags them before a court from whose decisions neither justice nor humanity can be expected.

Merill adds that Lawrence greeted Jones and company with aplomb:

Modesty would be shocked and shame stand back abashed, were we to pen the miserable and fiendish blackguardism that was indulged in, by the peace peaceable and law-abiding citizens, against the President, Governor Shannon, and the Pro-slavery party.

He also relates that William Howard, who gave the Howard Committee its name, overheard a man offer the services of his pistol to Charles Robinson. The free state governor bid him “wait”. The Howard Report doesn’t mention that, but it seems likely enough. Merrill includes it among other threats made against Jones’ life. Nor would it strain credulity to believe that some in Lawrence openly spoke of shooting Jones.

But as Speer said, the people Jones wanted all got the word and fled before Jones and the Army arrived. He and his dragoons surrounded Speer’s house and searched it, to no avail. They spent most of the day in town, coming away with ten men that Speer declares innocent of any wrongdoing. The Herald of Freedom names six of them: John Hutchinson, E.D. Lyman, J.F. Warren, J.G. Fuller, F. Hunt, and A. F. Smith.

The unnamed four raise questions. Given the general environment of threats and sporadic force used to resist Jones in the past, they might have done something Jones deemed worthy of arrest even if they hadn’t come to his notice previously. It seems improbable that Jones would just seize random people, though not entirely out of character. That the paper describes Lawrence as “submitting without a murmur” strains credulity more. They might not have used force against the United States, but Jones likely heard Merrill’s loud denunciations and imprecations.


“Nearly all were armed” The Arrest of Samuel Wood, Part Four

Samuel Newitt Wood

Samuel Newitt Wood

Parts 1, 2, 3

We left Lawrence on the night of April 19, 1856. The town probably had a public meeting that endorsed resisting Sheriff Jones in his effort to arrest Samuel Wood, reciting the normal free state position that they had no obligation to follow the laws of the territorial government or respect the orders of its officers. While Lawrence did its usual, Samuel Jones also took inspiration from the past. Samuel Wood had thwarted Jones last time around, showing up with more men than Jones had to rescue Jacob Branson. Jones elected to try again with more men.

John Speer takes us from there:

The following Sunday, April 20, Jones made a descent on the city, with a posse of ten men. The first effort was to arrest Mr. Tappan, (he was was afterward Colonel of the First Colorado, and a member of the Peace Commission under President Grant,) but Tappan resisted; and then, “there was a splendid chance for fun,” as the boys remarked.

Jones differs from Speer in telling Wilson Shannon that he came in with four men, but tried to get more inside Lawrence. Given we know proslavery people passed through the town, thanks to the example of Axalla Hoole, Jones might have genuinely expected to get more. Jones and Speer both have reasons to slant the numbers. For Jones, a small posse makes him appear more vulnerable and stresses how no one in Lawrence respected his authority. For Speer, a large one casts Jones more convincingly as an invader.

Either way, it seems Jones and his posse came upon Samuel Tappan and found the third Samuel of this story not inclined to go quietly. The news reached to a nearby hall, where Reverend S. Y. Lum conducted a Sunday service.

It was “the church militant and the church triumphant” -and the church a la militaire, for that matter; for they were nearly all armed. The audience almost fell over each other in attempt to reach the scene; and the preacher was not more than a length behind, accusing Jones of breaking up his church.

This all sounds a bit too good to be true, but Lawrence’s men did rise against Jones and drive him off. Speer reports a rumor that Jones picked Tappan for his reputation as “a non-resistant.” If Tappan had ever professed pacifism, as some abolitionists did, but Speer believes the conviction left him when a territorial legislator knocked Tappan down. Tappan called the bogus legislature “a Nero Legislature”. The proslavery man didn’t know from Nero, but believed Tappan meant “a negro Legislature.” Thereafter, Tappan armed himself. That also sounds too good to be true, but if Tappan said it then he had to know southerners, and plenty of Yankees, would take it as a mortal insult. He might well have called the body “negro” and claimed Nero later on.

An Elusive Meeting: The Arrest of Samuel Wood, Part Three

Samuel Newitt Wood

Samuel Newitt Wood

Samuel Jones had a plan. The last time he tried to arrest people out of Lawrence, Lawrence got up an army to stop him. The good sheriff didn’t intend to allow time for that again, but as he leaves the Emigrant Aid Company’s town, we must linger. In addition to Samuel Wood, Jones’ quarry, Lawrence then hosted the Howard Committee and Andrew Reeder. The events of the day also found Free State Governor Robinson at home. In such a small town news of a politically-charged brawl with such an infamous person as Jones and Wood, a local hero, had to spread fast. They can’t have missed the mass meeting that happened next, which O.N. Merrill, reports in True History of the Kansas Wars:

These threats [against Jones] were made openly, and were known to the whole town. Threats that were thus made publicly and in loud tones, could not but be known to Reeder and Robinson, who undoubtedly, were fully aware of them. Indeed, on the very evening in question, a public meeting was held, in which Reeder and Robinson were prominent actors. They advised the citizens to resist the laws of the Territory; to own no allegiance but a State Government; and not resist the United States lest they might be overpowered. Their language was plain, and to all intents and purposes, was, that the arrest of N. S. Wood, should be resisted even by force, if necessary.

John Speer, who participated in the fight with Jones, doesn’t mention the meeting in his version of events. Nor does a report of it appear in the Herald of Freedom or Squatter Sovereign soon thereafter, though the Herald has a lengthy piece on the Jones affair including word of a later meeting. The Howard Committee, while in town, doesn’t appear to have taken any testimony on the situation. Their investigation ends with the siege of Lawrence.

The meeting might not have happened. Merrill leans proslavery and may simply have invented it to underline the extent of antislavery sentiment in Lawrence. Or he might have confused the timing, willingly or not, of the meeting that the Herald of Freedom reports on a few days later. That he calls out Reeder as prominent could point to that, as Reeder chaired the later gathering.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

It could also have gone just as Merrill said. Speer and the Herald’s omission might come out of not seeing the relevance, given that no one in Lawrence felt obliged to help Jones. The resolutions wouldn’t have said anything new. Antislavery Kansans seem to have loved nothing more than a public meeting where they denounced the territorial government, its laws, and its officers. By this point they might have gotten away with just resolving the name of the town and leaving the rest as understood.

On the balance, I think it likely that a meeting of some kind took place in Lawrence on the evening of the 19th. It may have come down to a few extemporaneous speeches and a crowd, which wouldn’t necessarily deserve mention in the papers. Even for mass meetings announced in advance and carried on in an orderly fashion, newspaper articles tend to print their resolutions and only make summary sketches of any speech given. Given the choice between printing a more conventional and weighty public meeting and a minor event, the news will understandably prefer the former.



“Or kill every D—–d Son of a B—h there” The Arrest of Samuel Wood, Part Two

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones


We left Lawrence on April 19, 1856, with Samuel Jones placing Samuel Wood under arrest for seizing Jacob Branson from him way back in December. Wood had left Kansas for a while thereafter, but on his return Jones soon got word and came to do his duty and get his revenge. Wood appeared inclined to comply, asking only that Jones let him see his family before they departed. That didn’t sound too bad, but Jones wanted Wood to accept his authority and insisted on a promise that Wood give himself up after the visit. Wood would have none of that, so Jones refused permission. Wood twisted free and bounded for the house.

John Speer saw, and participated in, what happened next:

Jones jumped for him [Wood] and caught him by the collar just as he reached me at the door; when, impromptu, and apparently without reflection, I caught Jones by the throat and wood by the coat collar, and saying, “Get away, Wood.”

Wood saw the wisdom of that, but relieved Jones of a revolver before departing. Jones had deputies with him. Merrill’s True History of the Kansas Wars lists only one, which I reported before, but Speer insists on three. They might both have it right, as Jones might have gone to town with one person and had others join him there. James B. Abbott “laid one of them down on the ground very hard.” Charles F. Garrett “swung another off the porch by the coat tail.” I don’t know how that maneuver works, but it sounds uncomfortable. Samuel F. Tappan “throttled” the last.

Jones, just as delighted as one would expect given his circumstances. According to Edward Fitch (PDF),

Jones raved and swore some and said he would have S.N. Wood or kill every D—-d Son of a b—h there

The crowd, enchanted by Jones’ repartee, tried to offer their own graceful converse: “Put him in the river!” Speer tried to talk the Lawrence crowd down, advising them that proslavery men should have the outrage market cornered. One of the deputies then cried Uncle, at which point Jones and friends departed.

If you remember the events of the Wakarusa War, you know that Jones doesn’t take this kind of thing laying down. When Wood relieved him of Jacob Branson, Jones called in an army. He wrote to Missouri and then to Governor Shannon, setting in motion the siege of Lawrence. Coming near to a bloodbath apparently didn’t leave Jones much more satisfied than it had Robert S. Kelley, but the sheriff of Douglas County had some creativity in him. The last time, he dallied long enough for Lawrence to amass defenders. For a second try, he aimed to serve his warrants before anyone knew they needed an army again.