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.”

Trouble at Easton, Part Three

Around six o’clock on January 17, 1856, proslavery men in Easton, Kansas Territory, made their first serious go at the free state polls. They had come up and made threats before, but the close of the election and consequent dispersal of armed free state men emboldened them. They rode up and demanded the ballot box, at which point a group of free state men came out and formed a line against them. Joseph Bird and Henry Adams, two of the defenders, gave fairly restrained testimony to the Howard Committee about the confrontation. J.C. Green, another in the line that evening, told a bit more:

Towards night a party of men came up within a hundred yards of Mr. Minard’s house, where the election was held. They appeared to be generally armed, and were yelling.

Green and the others made their appearance

and told them they must come no further. They then stopped and used a good deal of abusive language. The one who seemed to be in command of the party coming up, told them to charge several times, but they did not do so. After standing a short time, they turned and went back.

Stephen Sparks, another man on the line outside Minard’s and of whom we shall hear more, agreed:

I heard some one of the crowd, who appeared to be the leader, say, “Charge on them, God-damn them! I ain’t afraid!” About this time our men had nearly formed themselves from the door to the road. Upon seeing our force they halted, and returned without further difficulty.

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

The proslavery party in Kansas often come across like deranged maniacs, particularly the rank and file who we see almost exclusively through the accounts of their enemies. Prominent men had more to lose and so often acted with a small measure of circumspection. David Rice Atchison, who promised to murder every abolitionist in Kansas, ultimately backed down at Lawrence and worked to defuse the situation. He must have hated it and fumed at how those blasted abolitionists outmaneuvered him, but Bourbon Dave helped reel in his boys all the same.

Green doesn’t name the leader of the proslavery men; he may have been a locally prominent individual who also had much to lose. If he did, he thought Easton a hill worth dying on. His men disagreed. The folk wisdom about bullies seems pertinent: they didn’t mind an unfair fight but the other kind could get one of them killed. Maybe some of them had molested George Wetherell up at Leavenworth the month prior or gone off in hopes of destroying Lawrence, but in both cases they expected no fight or a very uneven one.

They might, in fact, have expected something more like disciplining slaves. An enslaved person could not fight back. Failing that, Southern communities often policed white dissenters from slavery by mob action. With the exception of Patrick Laughlin’s killing of Samuel Collins, every violent scrape that I’ve yet looked into in Kansas came in about much like that: an uneven fight from the beginning where the victim had few friends to come to his defense.


Burying Thomas Barber, Part Two

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

We left the interment of Thomas Barber with James Lane giving a political speech. That might sound crass to us, and some who braved the December cold that day might agree, but Barber died at the hands of a proslavery man in a relatively one-sided armed conflict between Kansas contending parties. Barber and his killer lacked any claim dispute, unlike Charles Dow and Franklin Coleman, and had not sought out a clash as Samuel Collins had. Nor had he even died in the conduct of his duties in the defense of Lawrence. Rather the proslavery men shot him on his way home. Barber chose the antislavery cause and died for it.

After Lane, Charles Robinson spoke. He commenced by assailing the face-saving fiction that Wilson Shannon insisted upon:

‘Misunderstanding’ the facts and the temper of our people, as well as their tactics, the Executive recently gave the signal for another [invasion], and the armed hordes again responded. our citizens have been besieged, robbed, insulted, and murdered; and our town threatened with destruction for two whole weeks, by the authority of the executive, and, as he now says, in consequence of a ‘misunderstanding.’ A misunderstanding on the part of an Executive is a most unfortunate affair.

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

While a hostile army waited outside town, Robinson might go along with all that. Now that doom did not hang over Lawrence, he saw no need to continue. Instead he recast the Wakarusa War as a plan on Shannon’s part to steer the free state movement into collision with the United States military. If he went beyond the facts in carrying the Governor’s plans so far, one can hardly blame him. Shannon supplied the pretext by which forces marched against Lawrence and his government included men eager to have the Missourians on board and to do more than put Jacob Branson back in the hands of Samuel Jones. The Governor then called for the 1st Cavalry out of Fort Leavenworth to play a part. We might take Shannon at his word that he planned to use the Army to save Lawrence, but Robinson didn’t have the Governor’s correspondence on hand. Nor can we fault him too much for holding a low opinion of Shannon’s honesty on such matters.

This consideration led directly to another. Who must they blame for Thomas Barber’s untimely death?

Report says Thomas Barber was murdered in cold blood by an officer or officers of the Government who was a member of the Sheriff’s posse, which was commanded by the Governor, was is backed by the President of the United States. Was Thomas Barber murdered? Then are the men who killed him, and the officials by whose authority they acted his murderers. And if the laws are to be enforced, then will the Indian Agent, the Governor, and the President be convicted of, and punished for, murder. There is work enough for the ‘law and order’ men to do, and let us hear no more about resistance to the laws till this work is done.

The enforcement of the law, Robinson noted, required “all Missouri must be aroused, and the whole nation convulsed to serve a peace-warrant on an unoffending citizen.” Might they hope the same with a man dead? In a just world, they might. In a world where everyone hewed to the same principles in the same way, they would. The people of Lawrence, in such a world, would soon see at least the man who shot Barber, the aforementioned Indian Agent, on trial. They might even see those who had command responsibility over him, like Wilson Shannon, on the dock.

But Robinson and his neighbors lived in territorial Kansas, where their foes did not regard the death of an antislavery man as regrettable at all. For proslavery men to accept justice for Thomas Barber’s memory, they would first have to accept that they could do wrong in killing an antislavery man at all. They aimed to do no such thing, instead understanding themselves as dispatching dangerous criminals. If they undertook the task with transparent glee, then who could fault the righteous for enjoying their wrath?

Burying Thomas Barber, Part One

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

While John Stringfellow and Robert Kelley stewed over their loss on the Wakarusa, but people of Lawrence had the matching triumph to enjoy. They not only survived, emerged from the crisis with official sanction for their military companies. Given now close it came to destruction, one can hardly begrudge them a party. A man did, however, lose his life to their enemies. Thomas Barber died during the siege. With hostile forces dispersed, they took the time to remember him.

The Herald of Freedom eulogized Barber as

a person of very exemplary character, formerly from Ohio. He was forty-two years of age, a gentleman of large property, and leaves a devoted wife to mourn his loss.

A viewing took place before the close of hostilities, from which Lawrence took an edifying example:

Those who looked upon his cold and ghastly form pledged themselves anew before heaven that they would drive the demon, who could commit such barbarities in the name of law, from the Territory, or they would die in the attempt.

Making allowances for the desire to put on a manly display, and for George Washington Brown’s understandable desire to talk up the resolution of the defenders, the fact remains that what happened to Barber could have happened to anyone. If people didn’t quite fall to their knees and rededicate themselves like something out of a revival meeting, then they could look on Thomas Barber and see proof that the situation required the last full measure of devotion.

Thereafter, Lawrence gave Barber a temporary burial. The arrival of peace occasioned a more proper interment, recounted in the December 22 Herald of Freedom. Some time had gone by since the funeral, but George Brown explained that he could not print on account of his paper freezing and the exposed state of his office. I think we can forgive him.

At the funeral, James Lane

read an interesting address in which he detailed the origin of our difficulties with Missouri, and traced them to their termination. He showed that Mr. Dow and Mr. Barber were the first martyrs of freedom in Kansas, and as such, monuments should be erected to their memory.

The audience would probably have expected Dow and Barber to come together, but Barber’s death came under rather different circumstances that Dow’s or the two other free state deaths to date. Those took place in the context of personal disputes. One could understand them as private arguments exacerbated by politics. Even when Patrick Laughlin killed Samuel Collins, the affair played out on the level of individuals and in the context of Laughlin accusing Collins of involvement in the Kansas Legion. Barber met his end at the hands of a hostile proslavery army, while himself enrolled in an antislavery force. While not a huge escalation, Barber’s death pushed things some measure further than they had gone before. The dreaded direct clash between militants had come, if not yet on the grand scale feared.

Wilson Shannon Goes to Leavenworth, Part Two

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Part 1

We left Wilson Shannon at the Law and Order Convention in Leavenworth, on the fourteenth of November, 1855. At the time, I had only limited access to the Library of Congress historical newspaper database. This no longer holds and so I can check William Phillips’ assertion that the governor came at a delegate from Douglas County. The Squatter Sovereign printed a delegate list that agreed with him:

Delegates from Douglas and Doniphan Counties as listed in the Squatter Sovereign

Delegates from Douglas and Doniphan Counties as listed in the Squatter Sovereign

I don’t know the exact boundaries of Douglas County as of 1855, but I suspect that neither Shannon nor former and future Acting Governor Daniel Woodson lived within them. All of those delegates had to come from somewhere. Phillips suggests that maybe three men got together somewhere and named Shannon.. The convention would hardly have scrutinized the qualifications of a sitting governor they wanted as a patron.

From the Sovereign I also learn that while chosen to represent Doniphan, Patrick Laughlin did not appear. A separate piece informs the reader that Laughlin remained confined the bed and alleges some kind of free soil midnight raid on the place where he rested to finish him off. Given Laughlin didn’t sound well before, it seems Doniphan made him a delegate as a show of support rather than with the expectation that he would attend the convention.

The convention named Shannon its president and according to the Sovereign he made one of those long nineteenth century political speeches:

more than an hour in a very able and earnest manner, and to the entire satisfaction of all present. His address satisfied all that he was an able, liberal, devoted patriot; States Rights to the back-bone. We shall not do him the injustice of attempting even a synopsis of his admirable effort.

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

We don’t have to entirely take the Sovereign’s word for it. A copy, or at least a good synopsis, probably went around. It might have gone into the Leavenworth Kansas Herald, but the Library of Congress scans for that paper run out before the convention. William Phillips denounced Shannon’s words as “indiscreet and partisan,” which suggests that the convention got exactly what it wanted. Shannon, per Phillips, committed himself to

enforce obedience to the laws enacted at the Shawnee Mission; and he called upon those by whom he was surrounded to aid him in enforcing those laws. He took occasion to denounce the constitutional movement at Topeka; declaring it treasonable, and expressed his determination that such a state of affairs must not be permitted. In this speech he also alluded, in disrespectful terms, to the majority in Congress, and said that, in the next presidential election, the party with which he then acted would carry everything before them.

Levrett Spring agrees that Shannon made quite the speech, adding that he pledged Franklin Pierce backed the proslavery party.

Friends of Law and Order in Doniphan, Part Two

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

We left the October 30, 1855 Squatter Sovereign reporting on the local meeting in Doniphan to select representatives for the Law and Order Convention to meet at Leavenworth. The gathering chose its delegates and further published a series of resolutions deeply informed by the late revelations from Patrick Laughlin regarding the Kansas Legion. With Laughlin then nursing a would acquired in his fight with Samuel Collins and at least two other participants in that brawl present, both of whom took part in drawing up the resolutions, they had a great deal on their minds. For once, the claim that abolitionists meant to personally murder proslavery men, women, and children in their beds seems like something they might genuinely believe in the offing.

While the committee worked, the general body of the meeting had Laughlin’s story read to them. When they came back with their resolutions, the statement of purposes cited the threat of armed abolitionists directly. Of six resolutions, only two did not reference Laughlin or the Legion in some way. One endorsed the law and order meeting and the last instructed the Squatter Sovereign to print the Doniphan proceedings.

Almost every public meeting seems to have a resolution about printing and the Leavenworth endorsement serves as little more than a procedural matter, we can fairly take the Donpihan resolutions as all about Laughlin’s news. One called on Wilson Shannon to suppress the antislavery militia, another demanded that the attorney-general arrest the Kansas Legion’s ringleaders. But all of this didn’t seem quite clear enough, so the group also resolved

That we place most implicit confidence in the statement of P. Laughlin, Esq., in exposing the murderous designs of the secret organization of the Free-Soil-Abolition party […] and that he is a gentleman of good character and high respectability, and will receive the thanks of the people of Kansas and the Nation at large, for exposing to view the treasonable designs of a secret organization, who seek to plunder the country in civil war and drench the Nation in human gore.

They believed in Laughin so deeply, in fact, that they named him one of their delegates to the convention.

This all fits very comfortably with normal proslavery polemics, but we should not let ourselves forget that the people of Doniphan had a real out break of violence in their streets less than a week prior that ended with one man dead and another wounded. We have only proslavery versions of events, but we can take it for granted that that rendering circulated freely in the town. There, Collins seems to have violently accosted Laughlin on multiple occasions. At least in the story, and possibly in reality, he lived up to the stereotype of the madman abolitionist bent on destroying whites. Thus the meeting further resolved

we most cordially invite every law abiding citizen, without distinction of party, to join us in upholding the Laws of our Territory and the Constitution of the Nation, that the horrors of a bloody civil war may be averted, and our country preserved.

Just as the group in Leavenworth which called the meeting tried to sound moderate by appealing to universal concerns about order and independent of party, so too did the Doniphan group. There they soon faced the same problem as their antecedent did. To endorse the laws of Kansas hardly made one into a moderate acceptable to all parties.

Friends of Law and Order in Doniphan, Part One

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Back at the start of October, before Patrick Laughlin told all the Kansas Legion’s secrets to the newspapers, Samuel Collins called on him to recant, the two got into a fight that left Collins dead and Laughlin stabbed, generating a flurry of editorialscounter-editorials, and related writing, a group of proslavery men got together in Leavenworth and called for a somewhat more moderate course. They focused their criticism on the free state movement’s blatantly illegal and potentially treasonous program of setting up a wildcat state government. They would stand for law and order, albeit the kind that abetted slavery. With the law and order convention scheduled for November 14, 1855, local groups around Kansas had to get together and select men to go if they wanted representation. The Squatter Sovereign for October 30 covered such a meeting in Doniphan, held hot on the heels of Samuel Collins’ death.

Per the Sovereign, “a large number” of the county’s citizens gathered at Dr. O. Brown’s office. Unless two doctors named O. Brown lived in Doniphan at the time, which could have happened, that office also saw Laughlin and Collins’ preliminary scuffle the night before their fatal confrontation. The Laughlin connection did not end there, as the meeting named James Lunch and James F. Forman among the county’s representatives. Lynch fired a shot during the Laughlin-Collins fight. Forman knocked Collins’ gun away.

As one did at these things, the meeting appointed a committee to draw up resolutions to take along. While they did their work elsewhere, the meeting’s Secretary, John A. Vanarsdale,

read the disclosure of P. Laughlin, relative to the Free-Soil-Abolition party, which had a thrilling effect on the attentive audience.

With Collins’ death and Laughlin’s injury so recent, everyone must have heard something about it already. But not everyone read the papers, or read them in a timely fashion, so they must have attended the news eagerly. It would certainly set them in the proper mindset for battling antislavery Kansans. If the Law and Order men at Leavenworth said that the free state movement threatened anarchy, then the men at Doniphan could take their late experience as proof of the danger.

If anyone missed the connection, then the committee made it clear when they introduced their resolutions:

Information has come to light from a reliable source, that there is in our midst a secret organization of what is called the Free-Soil-Abolition party, having for its object the overthrow and subversion of the liberties of the people of Kansas; and whereas, arms and munitions of war have been sent into the Territory by the people of Boston, for the purpose of butchering our wives and children, one hundred thousand dollars have already been collected and sent here to their friends to prosecute their hellish designs; and whereas, secret agents are stationed in some parts of the Territory to give the signal of war and to commence the bloody work of butchering our families, burning our houses and destroying our property

One wonders how much of that they meant literally. Usually proslavery Americans invoked this kind of destruction as the result of a slave revolt, but Kansas had precious few slaves to launch one. However, given the late revelations of an armed secret society it seems more credible than usual that the authors understood the Kansas Legion as aimed at just that goal. “Abolitionists” might not wait for slaves to do their dirty work as a consequence of emancipation, but rather pursue emancipation through the murder of proslavery whites.

The committee called on Wilson Shannon to prevent all of this by placing Kansas “in a state of defensive warfare.” They then named names, taking them straight from Laughlin, and

most respectfully call upon the Attorney-General of this Territory to commence, by legal process, a suit against the above named persons, and bring them to a fair and speedy trial

Decapitating the Kansas Legion would certainly make a sounder night’s sleep for those who really did believe its members aimed to embark on a campaign of murder. They all at least arguably stood in violation of various Kansas laws, to say nothing of the general laws against murderous conspiracy. Even an impartial party could make a fair case against them on the latter grounds.

The Kickapoo Pioneer Calls for Help, Part Two

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Part One

The Kickapoo Pioneer sounded desperate. Faced with a rising antislavery movement that had a provisional government for Kansas already in operation, a constitution written and soon up for ratification, a secret military order revealed, and well-heeled Yankees footing their bills, its pages called the situation a crisis. The abolitionists threatened to undo all the proslavery good that Kansans and Missourians had managed. The South had the men and boldness to step up and save things, but proslavery Kansas could not do it alone.

George Brown reported all of this in the November 17 Herald of Freedom, adding in his own commentary:

the editor brays piteously for help. Power is departing. The handwriting is seen upon the wall. Pro-slavery men, do come immediately to Kansas, and rally around the black flag, else all your hope will perish, and all your money will be lost which you have expended in sending enemies into Kansas to wrest from the “abolitionists” their liberties. The fertile plains of Kansas are literally black with opponents of slavery. They come in wagons, they come by steamboats, they throng our public thoroughfares, they are seen in every department of life, and something must be done to stay the tide-this avalanche of Freedom, else all, all is lost.

Brown knew how to gloat, even if all the antislavery party had done in Kansas rested on the weakest legal foundations. No Congress authorized the free state movement. So far as the law cared, Wilson Shannon and the legislature stolen fair and square back in March governed the territory. But he could turn the Pioneer’s distress to his own purposes. Antislavery whites beyond Kansas’ borders could read from his piece that whatever they had heard, Kansas had a clear future as a free state. Thus the more cautious might hazard it instead of Nebraska.

Twice Brown invokes blackness and both times he does it on multiple levels. To nineteenth century Americans, the black flag meant no quarter and war to extinction. Pirates, the enemies of all mankind, flew the black flag. So did guerrilla bands. By tying the flag to proslavery men, Brown named them as similarly enemies to all and asserted that they would not have any scruples about any atrocity that would secure their goals.

The black flag bore the imagined color of the slave and Brown painted Kansas that hue with antislavery people as well. In the nineteenth century, you called your opponents black to associate them with evil. They used negro as a neutral term for African-Americans. Calling opponents of slavery black thus constituted a kind of double slur, first tying them to evil and then proclaiming them like unto both in a way inferior to enslaved people. Therefore, proslavery Americans could twice damn the emerging antislavery party as “Black Republicans”. By turning the insult back on them, Brown essentially said that not only did freedom prevail but also imply that it lived up to all the fears that it augured to the proslavery mind. The white South could rush to Kansas if they liked, but they would find a territory already lost to them.

Eli Thayer

Eli Thayer

This confidence opens Brown to the charge that he, like the Pioneer, wrote to solicit for aid from abroad. Brown’s piece accompanies a profile, with a picture, of Ely Thayer. It carries with it a confidence that Brown probably did not feel as fully as he let on, given the late exposure of the Kansas Legion. If the free state movement had made progress, then it remained an illegal group that had essentially declared itself legal and asked Kansas to agree. That Kansans did agree in large numbers did not erase those Kansans who did not, nor their allies in Missouri. If Brown did not nightly expect that a proslavery posse would ride to his doorstep and arrest him for his antislavery publications, then he had to know that it could happen. Should it come to pass, then he would either go quietly or unpredictable violence might ensue. Maybe he had ice water for veins, or sufficient confidence to laugh off the real threats, but his gloating carries at least a hint of trying too hard.

The Kickapoo Pioneer Calls for Help, Part One

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

The Herald of Freedom on Patrick Laughlin, parts 1, 2, 3


The November 17 Herald of Freedom had two pieces directly about Patrick Laughlin and his exposure of the Kansas Legion. One called him a perjurer, but insisted that if Laughlin had it right then proslavery men should shake in their boots because the free state movement had a virtual army. The second reported his killing of Samuel Collins in a dispute arising from the Legion’s exposure. George Brown further included two pieces reacting to items from the Kickapoo Pioneer. The first dismissed the story that a proslavery man caused a panic in Lawrence by putting out word that the law had come to seize Brown for illegal antislavery printing, but had another promise that Lawrence had plenty of well-armed men ready to defend the community. The second took a rather different approach. Under the heading “Signs of Distress” he included this from the Pioneer

THE CRISIS HAS ARRIVED.-The time has come when it behooves every proslavery man to be up and doing. If Southerners wish to see Kansas enter the Confederation as a slave State, they must no longer hesitate about taking up their line of march; they must come thicker and faster than ever before. Our enemies (the abolitionists,) are making every exertion to populate this Territory with hordes of their followers.

Those dastardly abolitionists raised $100,000 in the East to send along to Lawrence, used to form

a secret, midnight organization, where they meet and concoct ways and means to accomplish every kind of rascality and dishonesty to thwart the influence and strength of the pro-slavery party

Some of the cash even went to pay the passage of abolitionists to Kansas. I can’t vouch for the precise sum, but the Pioneer had basic facts right. The Massachusetts and then New England Emigrant Aid Societies had raised money to send antislavery men to Kansas. While the principals denied it at the time, it seems that the Society at least looked the other way if some of its funds went to weaponry and some of its shipments included rifles. Here every proslavery man’s nightmare had come true: not only did antislavery whites threaten to spark a slave revolt, they actively stockpiled arms for the purpose.

Thus, the Pioneer held, the South must get its act together and beat the antislavery men at their own game. The section must raise funds “”to meet every emergency” and fill Kansas with men sound on the goose. Otherwise

the glorious achievements that have been so valiantly won at the ballot-box in past elections will amount to nothing

The South, “gallant and glorious,” had the money and the men, the Pioneer said. Surely they would not abandon their fellows. Now they must act or lose the Territory. Proslavery Kansans would welcome help “in the noble cause”. Together they would defend the section’s rights and put down the “abolitionists and fanatics” who “have already been allowed too much sway, and are consequently becoming more impudent every day.” Together, proslavery Kansas of all vintages would

Strike terror to their black hearts and make them repent of past transgressions with a solemn promise never to darken the peace, happiness, and perpetuity of our glorious Republic by lifting an arm or raising a voice to proclaim negro freedom in our Territory, which soil by right belongs to the South and must be owned by the South at the sacrifice, if need be, of her best and bravest men.

I don’t think the piece requires Brown’s title to communicate distress. The Pioneer’s editor sounds desperate. They could see the free state movement organizing and news of its secret military order had to keep them up at night. With a shadow government now operating and an alternative state organization in the offing, it had to look like the early gains for slavery might come to nothing. The Pioneer may have exaggerated to get more sympathy, but the proslavery party had at least a potentially serious threat on its hands all the same.


The Herald of Freedom on Patrick Laughlin, Part Three

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Parts 1, 2

In addition to George Brown’s two articles naming Laughlin directly and discussing his writing on the Kansas Legion, he devoted space in the November 17 Herald of Freedom to either the same or very similar stories. In both cases Brown responded to items in the Kickapoo Pioneer, the lone proslavery paper that expressed doubt about Laughlin’s revelations. The Pioneer, as quoted by Brown, had word from Lawrence of a great fright to “the decency” of Lawrence. A proslavery man supposedly started the rumor that the sheriff and some border ruffians would come up to Lawrence to enforce the legislature’s laws against antislavery publications. George Brown proudly broke those laws on the day they went into effect and had received threats from Robert Kelley of the Squatter Sovereign over it in the past.

According to the Pioneer, 

Immediately on receipt of the news the town was in an uproar-the sensation created was immense. The rust was rubbed off guns, and old swords were introduced to the grind stone to give them extra keenness. The chief of the Decency, the editor of the Herald of Freedom, brought forth his powder kegs; and, it is said, shed tears of joy to think that his days of martyrdom were at hand.

Night came and no proslavery men arrived, but the anonymous proslavery man had a good laugh at Lawrence for his trouble. He’d pulled the fire alarm and seen all his marks scurry for safety.

Brown knew a hit piece when he read one and made his opinion of it, and his version of events, clear in his introduction:

It is all news in this quarter, and will be read with a smile at the extreme gullibility of the proslavery press. The Pioneer may rest assured that an incident of the character which he mentions would cause no excitement in Lawrence. The “impliments” [sic] are always ready for service, and will require no burnishing when the contest comes.

Did it really happen? Given the situation in Kansas and the recent exposure of the Legion, the free state party could very well have felt vulnerable enough to react strongly to proslavery men arriving. Brown himself wrote of how embattled he had earlier felt in a private letter that later went public. He could have lied to save his pride. However, Brown published in Lawrence and had readers there. It seems far more likely that had a panic really erupted he would have turned it around into demonstration of proslavery perfidy.

Brown parted with a telling threat. Come on down and try something, proslavery men. Lawrence had no rusty guns or dull blades, but rather fresh arms standing ready for use. Exposed or not, the Kansas Legion still had its arms and willingness to fight in self-defense.