“Families are leaving for Missouri.”

Wilson Shannon

Sterling Cato sent along a report of John Brown’s murders for Governor Wilson Shannon, who duly forwarded it to President Franklin Pierce. Cato dated his missive from Paola May 27. Shannon seems to have received it at the same time as a separate letter, dated the previous morning, from William Barbee of the Second Brigade, Southern Division, of the Kansas Militia. At any rate, he offered up Cato’s letter before Barbee’s in the attachments to his letter for the President. Barbee wrote

We were all surprised this morning by the sad intelligence that W. Wilkinson, (late member of the Legislature,) was, together with a Mr. Sherman and three Messrs. Doyle, on Saturday night taken from their beds by the abolitionists, and, in the hearing of their families, ruthlessly murdered and hacked to pieces; also, a man found dead at the Pottawatomie. There were some twenty in the gang. All is excitement here; court cannot go on.

John Brown

Barbee had Brown’s numbers inflated, but in the dark, dispersed, and in rumor eight men can easily turn into more than twice as many. Barbee didn’t see any of the bodies himself, but he did speak to Wilkinson’s widow and reported as much to Shannon. He also gave the Governor news that would have pleased John Brown:

Families are leaving for Missouri. Yankees concentrating at Osawatomie and upon the Pottawatomie, also at Hickory Point, where they have driven off the inhabitants without even provisions or clothing, save what they had on.

Brown hoped to provoke general strife and drive the proslavery side from Kansas. If Barbee had the right of it, killing those men got him off to a great start. For Barbee and Shannon, this meant they had to do something to restore order. Obviously that would involve armed force, so Barbee listed what he had to hand:

We can, perhaps, muster to-day, including the Alabamians, who are now encamped on Bull creek, about 150 men, but will need a force here. I have dispatched to Fort Scott for 100 men. The men will come from Fort Scott under Major Hill. There will be more men in readiness, if needed, at Fort Scott. We are destitute of arms; send by wagons for both my brigade and General Heiskell; we are together; we have scarcely any arms.

Barbee tells Shannon, and we who get to read over his shoulder, a great deal in a short paragraph. He has the Alabamans, Jefferson Buford’s men, all lined up and ready to kill abolitionists. He sought support from the US Cavalry out of Fort Scott and received word already at time of writing that they would come, so either the commander there acted on his own authority or Shannon had given him some prior order to come to the militia’s aid in such a situation. But contrary to our stereotypes of the American West, the militia and Buford’s Alabamans didn’t come with a small arsenal in every backpack. They would need more hot lead than a hundred or so cavalrymen could provide in order to join them as a credible peacekeeping force, or to embark on the long-feared purge of antislavery Kansans. Either would probably suit most involved, save for the soldiers.

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The startling news

John Brown

Henry H. Williams, who lived near the Pottawatomie, got the word on Wednesday, May 21, 1856. The Border Ruffians, under the leadership of IB Donaldson and Samuel Jones, had come for Lawrence again as long expected. He mounted up and rode the ten miles “to arouse” the Pottawatomie Rifles under the command of John Brown’s son. At about four in the afternoon, everyone gathered where the Osawattomie and the California road met. They waited on two other companies, the Marion Rifles and Pomeroy Guards, but only two men showed from those groups.

The roused Rifles soon had a second messenger from Lawrence, who contradicted the previous and seems to have said they should stay put and wait on further word. They would have none of that and resolved to go and find out the situation for themselves. That brought them to a third messenger, who reported the town’s surrender and subsequent destruction.

This startling news was received in silence by the company. Then the word “Onward” was passed along the line, and although scarcely a word was spoken, the thoughts of every man could be read in his countenance. We pushed on, and a messenger was dispatched the arouse the settlers at Osawattamie.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

More bad news came in: No free state militia operated in or near Lawrence. The Border Ruffians held Blanton’s Bridge and still had a force in Lecompton. That looked like more than thirty-odd men could handle, so they camped at Prairie City and hoped that more men would appear. Company C of the Kansas Volunteers and the Pomeroy Guards joined them on May 23. That evening, the news came that proslavery men had taken Charles Robinson off his steamer and hauled him back to Kansas.

That got the Rifles and company moving, aimed at intercepting Robinson at Palmyra and rescuing him. There the Marion Rifles finally appeared. While they waited for the free state governor to come by, John Junior and a small group went to check on Lawrence, finding Robinson’s house burned and both presses ruined:

the town was sacked according to “Law and Order” by a posse of 400 South Carolinians, Georgians, and Border Ruffians

The militias considered their next course. Lawrence would not fight for itself and they couldn’t carry that battle on their own, so everyone agreed to go home and look to their own defense.

On our return from Palmyra we received intelligence of a disturbance on Potawatamie Creek, in which five men were killed.

“Are you against sacrilege?” The Crime Against Kansas, Part 1

Charles Sumner (Free Soil-MA)

Prologue, Full text

On May 19, 1856, at one in the afternoon, Charles Sumner took the floor in the United States Senate and began most famous speech, The Crime Against Kansas. After some oratorical throat-clearing, he launched into a discussion of Kansas’ geography “that spacious mediterranean country” so recently settled by whites that had now grown more populous than classical Athens or medieval London. Then he lost himself in Roman history for two paragraphs before returning to “an age of light” and the subject at hand.

All the famous injustices remembered from Antiquity had nothing on

the wrongs of Kansas, where the very shrines of popular institutions, more sacred than any heathen altar, have been desecrated; where the ballot-box, more precious than any work, in ivory or marble, from the cunning hand of art, has been plundered, and where the cry, “I am an American citizen,” has been interposed in vain against outrage of every kind, even upon life itself. Are you against sacrilege? I present it for your execration. Are you against robbery? I hold it up to your scorn. Are you for the protection of American citizens? I show you how their dearest rights have been cloven down, while a tyrannical usurpation has sought to install itself on their very necks.

That made for ample horrors in itself, but Sumner declared that the motivation for this “wickedness” “immeasurably aggravated” it. Lust for power, while often leading to horrors, had nothing on slavery’s “rape of a virgin territory”. The forced union of virgin Kansas and profane slavery arose from “depraved longing” to make another slave state. While the whole world condemned it, Americans set forth to force slavery onto their own.

That “enormity, vast beyond comparison” still only told part of the story. “Imagination” could not contain what it grew to in the context of the American Union:

for this purpose are hazarded the horrors of intestine [?] feud, not only in this distant territory, but everywhere throughout the country. Already the muster has begun. The strife is no longer local, but national. Even now, while I speak, portents hang on all the arches of the horizon, threatening to darken the broad land, which already yawns with the mutterings of civil war.

I don’t know if Sumner had up to the day information from Kansas on the preparations of I.B. Donaldson’s army-sized posse, but word of its summoning had more than a week to reach Washington before he spoke. He may have had it in mind here, but could as easily have meant Buford’s expedition or the siege of Lawrence back in December. News clearly took less than a month to get back to the east and might, depending on the telegraph, take only a day; Franklin Pierce sometimes got word from the territory within days. Probably Sumner knew or had good reason to suspect that Donaldson would soon march, but he doesn’t specify.

Franklin Pierce, Out of the Loop

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

The sack of Lawrence took place on a hot Wednesday, May 21, 1856. The destruction, pillage, and worse continued into the night but had abated by dawn. In the most restrictive sense, it played out over as little as four or five hours from the time Samuel Jones led his posse into town until they left again. But it took time and good cause, or at least a solid pretense, to get so many men to come over and consummate their long-held desire to do something about the infamous abolition town. The story could begin all the way back when Stephen Douglas cutting deals with the F Street Mess and Archibald Dixon. One could make a case for either, but to keep things manageable let’s focus on the immediate campaign against Lawrence that culminated on that Wednesday afternoon and evening. That also takes us back to Samuel Jones, sans posse, coming into Lawrence to arrest Samuel Wood on April 19. Failing then, he came back with a detachment of United States Cavalry and found Wood gone. He collected a few men as consolation prizes, then received a bullet in the back from someone in Lawrence gratis. On May 5, Samuel Lecompte’s grand jury made a federal case of things by ordering the arrest of various free state leaders and the suppression of the free state newspapers. The two causes came together in I.B. Donaldson’s overgrown “posse” of Missourians and Jefferson Buford’s adventurers.

That yields a bit more than a month between inciting event and the attack. During all that time, plenty of news could have passed back and forth between Kansas and Washington. One has to wonder just what the Pierce administration thought of events as they developed. The Transactions of the Kansas State Historical Society, Volume IV (PDF), have an account of that. The documents begin with the news that Franklin Pierce felt left out of the loop. On May 23, he telegraphed

Has the United States Marshal Proceeded to Lawrence to execute civil process? Has military force been found necessary to maintain civil government in Kansas? If so, have you relied solely upon the troops under the command of Colonels Sumner and Cooke? If otherwise, state the reasons. The laws must be executed; but military force should be employed until after the Marshal has met with actual resistance in the fulfillment of his duty.

Shannon, absent airline travel, couldn’t have called upon the president; he might at least have written.

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Later that day, the President telegraphed again. In the interim, he received word from Edwin Sumner via Jefferson Davis, Secretary of War. Pierce had a copy of Sumner’s letter to Shannon “of the 12th instant.” I think that Pierce means the letter Sumner sent on the 13th, based on his endorsement of Sumner’s policy there. The Colonel wanted a purely military posse to keep the peace and offered to furnish Shannon with however many men he required. Pierce wrote

My knowledge of facts is imperfect; but with the force of Colonel Sumner at hand, I perceive no occasion for the posse, armed or unarmed, which the Marshal is said to have assembled at Lecompton.

Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis

Nobody looks on Franklin Pierce as a sterling example of presidential leadership or far-sighted judgment, but even he could see things had gone sour indeed and required containment. He knew that Donaldson had a posse at Lecompton but had yet to move on Lawrence, thanks to his information as of the 13th. But while he sat in Washington and wondered why Shannon hadn’t written back to him, Donaldson had gone and Lawrence unresisting people of Lawrence paid the price.

“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.

“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.

Leavenworth News from Marc

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

It wold take an especially obtuse reader of the May 10, 1856 Herald of Freedom to miss the point: the cause of freedom in Kansas stood on a precipice. Its leaders, facing arrest, had fled. Its semi-official organ, the paper itself, had a grand jury judgment for its suppression. Ordinary Kansans, like Pardee Butler, and low-level free state operatives, like J.N. Mace faced mortal peril. Proslavery men roamed the countryside, harassing travelers and trying to settle old scoresJefferson Buford’s army, a few hundred strong, had come to destroy the free state party. In response to the shooting of Samuel Jones, a new invasion from Missouri seemed in the offing.

That new invasion appears to have turned from fear to reality in the few days prior to the Herald’s edition. The night Andrew Reeder fled Lawrence, he remarked on

Picket guards posted a mile on the road to Lecompton. Reports that they have 300 men assembled.

That number would about match the size of Buford’s expedition. During his flight and long sojourn hiding in a Kansas City hotel, Reeder noted several groups passing through on their way to Kansas. Marcus Parrott, living in Leavenworth, saw more. A lawyer and free state militia leader, Parrott appeared previously as the man that Patrick Laughlin accused of telling him to engage in election trickery. He had also stood for governor against Charles Robinson, on the more conservative Young America ticket.

Gentle Readers, you may also remember Parrott as the author of a letter that I lacked the ability to read a few weeks ago. I got some help from a fellow flair over at Reddit’s AskHistorians, Caffarelli. She kindly donated some of her lunch time to the task and between the two of us (mostly her) I have a fair transcription. Some best guesses remain; I’ll mark them in the quotes with brackets.

Parrott put pen to paper on May 9, writing his brother Edwin. In the customary manner of nineteenth century correspondents, he opened by saying he had just received the latest from “Edd”, complete with $200, but

We are again unfathomably deep in the matter of territorial trouble.

During the last [two] days, arrived men, have been [horsing] toward Lawrence. The town is again investe[d]. Before this reaches you, the telegraph will relieve your suspense. To me, the moment looks big with fate. A Company reached from here at day light this morning, unarmed, or it is said by Shannon who having found the regulars unmanageable, has turned again to his favorite militia.

Wilson Shannon had tried and failed to get the 1st Cavalry to move from Fort Leavenworth to suppress a proslavery invasion in the past, but he could have just as easily used them to suppress the free state movement. That fear didn’t pass when he brokered a tense peace back in December. Since then, Franklin Pierce had placed the Army officially at Shannon’s disposal for the preservation of law and order.

Moreover, at the very moment Parrott wrote, “a company -the second- marched past my window for the scene of strife.”

Attempted Highway Robbery

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Immediately beneath the latest brief update on the plight of freedom in Kansas, George Washington Brown’s Herald of Freedom proceeded to an item to further illustrate the point. He set the scene for the Thursday prior, May 1, 1856. “A couple of gentlemen” late of Wisconsin camped by the Santa Fe road, south of Lawrence. Many of Brown’s readers had probably done the same without much incident. Even beyond Kansas, Americans bound west and camping beside a major road would have the same resonance as standing at the ATM might have for us.

The Wisconsinites

were set upon by a party of fifteen South Carolinians, who drew their revolvers and made the demand usual with highwaymen, “your money or your life!” Our Wisconsin friends, not feeling very willing to part with either on such short notice, likewise drew their revolvers and determined to fight as became men. Accidentally (of course) one of them snapped a cap, whereupon the fifteen highwaymen, who represented the boasted chivalric spirit of the Carolinas, cried out, “don’t shoot, for God’s sake, don’t!” and precipitately fled, “followed fast and followed faster” by the men of the North, who by this time were in for a race. But inasmuch as the legs of the pursued were considerably more elongated than the legs of the pursuers, the space soon widened between them, and the Carolinians made good their escape. Southern chivalry! Southern fiddlesticks!

Reading this, I immediately wondered if any of it happened. The Wisconsinites go without names and their ability to scare off fifteen robbers, itself a seemingly improbable number, so easily suggest that Brown wrote fiction. Nineteenth century papers do invent such incidents and report them as news, so Brown would hardly stand apart from the crowd for it.

But we might not dismiss it entirely. Brown might have embroidered a real incident, or imagined one arising from a real situation. At the most basic level, Brown wants his readers to think that armed southerners range about Kansas with intent to rob good Yankees. I don’t know about mundane crimes, but that doesn’t take him far off from the basic facts of life in the territory. They had taken lives before and come by the hundreds to fight for slavery. A little robbery on the side hardly seems out of character or unreasonable for Kansans to fear.

That Brown specifically calls out South Carolinians, rather than Missourians who would make more sense as the local stock villain, inclines me to think he had more than humor in mind. A group of South Carolinians had arrived in Kansas as part of Jefferson Buford’s expedition less than two weeks before. On arriving in the territory and finding no accommodations provided for them, many of Buford’s men cut themselves loose. It wouldn’t strain credulity much for some of them to turn to other crimes to pay their bills, either to get home or keep themselves in Kansas until the fight they signed on for could erupt.

Of course, Brown’s readers knew the conventions of their time. They could take his story as a funny incident of dubious veracity and also take his other meaning: Proslavery men did things like this in Kansas. If they could manage it, and much more, in the nation’s most-watched territory, then what could they do elsewhere? What happened in Kansas or Missouri might soon ensue in Illinois or Ohio. It could happen to you.

Back in Lawrence with the Herald of Freedom

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

We’ve followed Andrew Reeder and Charles Robinson out of Kansas, both fleeing their arrest in pursuit of Samuel Lecompte’s grand jury investigation. Reeder made it to safety, while Robinson got as far as Lexington, Missouri before proslavery men took him off his boat and back to Kansas. Both feared that they would share in Reese Brown’s fate if taken, killed either extrajudicially or after a jury declared them traitors. However, events progressed around Lawrence even without Reeder and Robinson in attendance. We left the Emigrant Aid Company’s town in the aftermath of Samuel Jones’ shooting. He had come to arrest the just-returned Samuel Wood, who had rescued free state militia leader Jacob Branson from Jones custody back in late November. The last time Wood and Jones crossed paths, a proslavery army came near to destroying Lawrence. The locals could hardly forget that so soon and took pains to distance themselves from whichever of them shot the infamous Jones in the back.

Robinson’s arrest at Lexington took place on May 10, 1856. He remained briefly with a judge there, but soon the word came from the legal governor of Kansas, Wilson Shannon, that the territory wanted its illegal governor back on charges of usurpation of office. I meant to hop back to Kansas with Marcus Parrott’s letter to his brother about the current situation, but an unfortunate infirmity prevents that: I can’t read the handwriting with enough confidence to use it at present. I’ve asked some friends if they might make heads or tails of it, but for now Parrott must wait.

On May 10, 1856, the Herald of Freedom began its second page with an item titled “Another War Threatening Us!” It ran just beneath the endorsement of John C. Fremont for president, “subject to the decision of the national Republican convention.”

George Washington Brown opened up with just the kind of appeal in writing that Charles Robinson and Andrew Reeder hoped to make in print:

“Let our friends in the North be ready! Kansas is again invaded by armed ruffians. They are gathering in by tens, and fifties, and hundreds.”

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Brown probably had the numbers right, to judge from what I’ve seen elsewhere. The hundreds could come in the form of Jefferson Buford’s men. Smaller contingents fit with the pattern established at previous Missourian invasions: local groups would travel together and only collect once within Kansas. The free state editor also claimed that Wilson Shannon had enrolled the lot in the militia, as he had done back during the Wakarusa War. Shannon might well have repeated himself, particularly as the leaders of the proslavery force then proved amenable to calming their men and seeing them off to home when enrolled. Rumors also held that Shannon wanted to bring in the United States Army to handle any arrests, as had happened when Jones tried to take Wood from Lawrence, “but the other officials swear this shall not be.”

With so much of the present crisis looking like a repeat of the previous, one can’t fault Brown for expecting everything to continue.

Then Brown opted to dramatize the real fear that many in Lawrence must have felt, himself included:

The Reign of Terror has commenced. The bowie knife and revolver, the hatchet and hempen rope, are the instruments brought into requisition to awe, intimidate, and crush out the liberty-loving portion of our fellow citizens. Stealthy assassins roam over the country, under cover of night, dogging the footsteps of unsuspecting citizens, and watching the opportune moment to strike the cowardly blow. Men known of men to be murderers, walk unabashed, unwhipped of Justice, in the very presence of the shameless officers of misnamed Law, boldly and boastingly proclaiming their complicity in crime. No man’s life is safe from one day to another, if he has declared, never so mildly, his opposition to the aggressions of Slavery.

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Whether you think Brown a bit purple here or not, you can’t argue with his facts. Proslavery Kansans and their Missourian allies had bragged of their hooliganism. Samuel Jones started his career in Kansas by pulling a gun on the judges of election at Bloomington and telling them they had five minutes to let anyone vote or he would kill them. The bogus legislature made him a sheriff. Knives, revolvers, and hatchets all feature into violent clashes -some of which happened at night- as well as more mundane intimidation.

The Howard Committee’s Difficulties, Part One

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Arrivals and returns have shaped much of Kansas history so far in 1856. The Buford Expedition and Howard Committee arrived in the territory to do their work. Pardee Butler and Samuel Wood came back to Kansas after time away. Just as some of Buford’s men, or a similar group, met Butler’s return to Kansas so did the Howard Committee find itself in Lawrence when Samuel Jones came to serve the warrant he had on Samuel Wood dating back to December. Jones’ subsequent arrests of six men who helped Wood escape him got him shot in the back. This naturally had an effect on the committee’s business in the town.

The Committee might not have gone to Lawrence. They received a letter from E.V. Sumner, in command at Fort Leavenworth, suggesting they meet there. He promised that

There may be no excitement if you assemble elsewhere, but there will certainly be none here.

They answered that they intended to conduct its business at various points in Kansas, but would happily take Sumner up on the offer when they came around his way. The first business in Kansas took place at Lecompton, where they ordered copies of various documents and agreed on the rules for examining witnesses. April 23 found them in Lawrence.

Decades later, John Sherman remarked on the great development of the region that had since taken place. They came to a different Lawrence, one

in embryo, nothing finished, and my wife and I were glad to have a cot in a room in the unfinished and unoccupied “Free State Hotel”

In those modest settings, the committee had a brief meeting on the twenty-third. They had previously agreed to use Andrew Reeder and John Whitfield, both claiming election as Kansas’ sole delegate to Congress, to draw up lists of witnesses for the next day. That night, Samuel Jones took a bullet in the back.

John Wilkins Whitfield

John Wilkins Whitfield

The next morning, Whitfield wrote to the committee. In light of the attack upon Jones, Whitfield pronounced himself

unable to get my witnesses to attend the sitting of the committee at this place; they refusing, and with good reason, to expose themselves and run the risk of being assassinated, whenever night shuts in, by a lawless band of conspirators.

Whitfield’s witnesses included Samuel Jones, who had more reason than most to refuse a trip to Lawrence. Others present at told the proslavery delegate they would leave Lawrence in short order. Nor would those who planned to come previously do so in light of the danger to their lives. Furthermore:

there are others here rendering me material aid in this investigation, and without whom I cannot safely proceed, whom I cannot ask to remain and imperil their lives in so doing, or at least subject themselves to insult and contumely.

One can’t blame them. Whitfield promised that he would still happily comply with the committee’s work and bring all his witnesses to bear, but they had to meet somewhere safer than Lawrence.