A Closer Look at the Free State Hotel

The rules for guests at the Free State Hotel, May 10, 1856

We left the Free State Hotel a burned ruin, after attempts to level it with cannon fire and blow it sky-high with gunpowder failed. Before Samuel Jones and his proslavery army destroyed the place, it featured occasionally in the Kansas story. To Jones and men like him, the Emigrant Aid Company had built a fortress that might withstand any assault. To their free state enemies, it appears just as a large building. A stone building of considerable size could easily serve both roles. Before leaving the building behind, we should take a closer look. For that, I rely upon Martha B. Caldwell’s The Eldridge House, published in volume nine of the Kansas Historical Quarterly (PDF page 363).

The New England Emigrant Aid Company might have had trouble with its finances, but its board knew that people they sent to Kansas would need somewhere to stay while they looked for claims and built their own houses. The plan envisioned several hotels, each capable of housing three hundred people. The board entrusted Samuel Pomeroy, the same Pomeroy who Jones spoke to on the day the hotel burned, with buying sawmills and building those hotels on August 26, 1854. The first Company party arrived in Lawrence on Septemeber 15 of that year and they built the first hotel

by setting up two rows of poles a distance apart and bringing them together at the top, then thatching the sides with prairie hay. The gable ends were built up with sod and contained the doors and windows. The floor was hard sod.

Luxury had yet to arrive in Kansas, but sod floors and walls didn’t set the hotel far apart from the general run of frontier building. Community functions, including church services, took place there until it burned. Its replacement went on the same lines, but with higher walls and cotton cloth lining the interior. Nobody intended for the sod-walled tent to remain indefinitely and the Aid Company’s trustees asked Pomeroy and Charles Robinson to get moving with a proper building. By November 2, they had managed to dig the cellar out.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Construction faced many obstacles, taking nineteen months and never quite reaching a full opening. The Company often ran out of money, with Robinson informing the board that construction stopped in part for that reason at the end of November. The mill that Pomeroy had set up couldn’t keep up with the demand of private customers, so lumber had to come up the river from St. Louis. Kansas’ turmoil can’t have sped things along either. One can forgive the difficult logistics of the Kansas frontier, but Caldwell believes the men in charge also distracted themselves with land speculation and points to the Company later refusing agents the freedom to conduct private business and revoking permission from Pomeroy.

All of that meant that the first emigrant parties to come in the spring of 1855 did not find a hotel waiting for them as planned. In January, the Herald of Freedom advised them not to expect the finest lodgings but promised that Lawrence could handle people ready to rough it. Come February, Pomeroy advertised for someone to furnish and run the hotel. Soon enough, Shalor W. Eldridge took up the lease. He already ran the company’s hotel in Kansas City, the same one where Andrew Reeder would hide the next year.

By spring, the basement had walls and waited on lumber but the shortage of that material had grown so acute that it prompted a revision of plans. The Aid Company intended a timber frame building but a perpetual lack of timber made that impossible. Instead they would build in “stone and concrete.” This argues strongly that no one envisioned the Free State Hotel as a fortification, at least until the spring of 1855, but the change of plan in the context of the deteriorating Kansas situation might well have looked like one aimed at military necessity from the outside. By this point the delays had already made the hotel infamous, with Josiah Miller of the Kansas Free State editorializing against it. People passed Lawrence by or left in disgust for lack of proper accommodations and yet the Company refused to either finish the work or sell to someone who would. Flooring, pre-fabricated in St. Louis, and doors arrived in town only on August 19.

At the beginning of October, two floors stood more or less complete, internal walls going up and windows in place. That served well enough to make the building host to social events, starting with a party thrown by the Kansas Rifles boasting elaborate invitations and a hunting contest to feed the guests. Five hundred people attended despite cold, rain, and deep much. They dined on “squirrel, rabbit, prairie chicken, wild turkey, and one roast pig, together with cakes and pastries.” Not much more than a week after, Franklin Coleman killed Charles Dow and the Wakarusa War began. The hotel became a barracks and headquarters, then housed Thomas Barber’s body and the peace talks. The subsequent festivities further put it to good use.

After the Wakarusa War, construction resumed. Putting up plaster and supplying furniture took place in December. By January, rumors circulated that the Free State government might quit Topeka for a more fortified spot. Surely they could get the hotel done by February 15, but that date came and went. In March, “between twenty and thirty men were constantly employed.” Their work concluded by April 12, when the papers reported the end of construction. Caldwell quotes the Herald of Freedom on the hotel’s final form:

50 feet front, 70 feet back; three stories above the basement; contains 50 separate apartments, besides a hall in each story. The basement is divided into three rooms, each 18 feet square -two to be used as pastry and meat kitchens, the other as storehouse or cellar. The first story is 11 feet from floor the ceiling, is divided into 9 rooms; the dining hall 18 feet wide and 47 feet long; hall 9 1/2 feet wide, entire length of building; Gentlemen’s parlor, 18 feet square; Ladies’ parlor, 18 x 20; Reading Room, 18 feet square; Sitting room, 16 x 18; two bed-rooms, 9 feet square; office, 6 x 14 […] stairs leading to the roof, which is flat, and affords a fine promenade and a splendid view of the surrounding scenery. There are thirty or forty port-holes in the walls, which rise above the roof, plugged up now with stones, which can be knocked out with the blow of the butt of a Sharp’s rifle.

The Howard Committee

The military use of the building must have come to mind more and more, even if the original plan involved none of it, but the main focus of the description remains on the hotel amenities. It had outhouses “of the neatest kind” and a partially-built stable which would hold fifty horses and keep your buggy out of the rain. Brown’s paper, which ought to know considering it drew funds from the Emigrant Aid Company too, estimated the cost of the building at over $20,000. The grand opening would take place on the first of May.

Samuel Jones

Eldridge set into furnishing the hotel to meet that date, ordering pieces from St. Louis and Boston. He spent over five thousand dollars, but most of the furniture had yet to arrive when the Howard Committee did. The people of Lawrence loaned him some of their own to spare him embarrassment. I.B. Donaldson and Samuel Jones then intervened. Jones convalesced briefly under the hotel’s roof after his shooting. With all trouble then in the offing, the grand opening did not take place as planned. The Eldridges held out hope all the same, with a set of rules for guests coming off the Herald of Freedom press on May 10. Instead Lecompton’s grand jury declared the Free State Hotel a military edifice and recommended someone do something about it. A recovered Jones lied to the proslavery mob about having an order for the building’s destruction and saw it done.

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.


“D–n you, I know who you are.”

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

We left William Phillips’ account of events near Lawrence with a man named Jones, but not the infamous Sheriff Jones, shot dead by proslavery men on May 20, 1856. He had gone out to buy flour. Phillips gives few details beyond that, but someone saw it all and brought news back to Lawrence. Desperate, fearing for their lives and aware that people going about their business near the town had faced arrest by the proslavery forces, Lawrence did not take the death sitting down. Phillips reports that four men set out for the bridge where Jones had died to see if the murderers still hung about. Each man had a rifle and “some” paired it with a revolver.

They had gone but a short distance, and were just at the California road, a mile and a half from Lawrence, when they saw two armed men riding down the California road in the direction of Franklin.

Phillips doesn’t phrase this as clearly as one would hope, but it seems that the investigators had not yet joined the California road. Instead they neared an intersection with it and saw that they would come near to the men riding toward Franklin. One of them, a Mr. Stewart, suggested they approach and ask the riders if they knew anything about Jones. The others didn’t think that the best idea, but he pressed the point. They had come this far to find out what they could and shouldn’t turn back now. Phillips describes the party as “all mere boys”. It sounds like they left Lawrence with a head of steam, bent on revenge, and got cold feet when it came to the event itself.

Cold feet or not, they backed Stewart in the end and he addressed the two riders. He began by asking where they meant to go. The riders meant to go “Where we d–n please!” Steward then asked their names and business.

“That’s none of your d—-d business!” was the reply, and both men, who were armed with Sharpe’s rifles, raised them; one of them took deliberate aim at Stewart, saying, “D–n you, I know who you are.”

Guns came up on both sides and one of Stewart’s boys

then attempted to shoot; his cap bursting, the piece did not go off. At the same instant the two men fired, one of them shooting Stewart through the head, the ball entering his temple and killing him instantly. He reeled an instant and fell dead on the road.

The proslavery men bolted then and one of Stewart’s friends started after them on foot. His rifle wouldn’t fire, but he had a revolver and took a few shots. According to Phillips, he wounded the men that killed Stewart. Then, with the proslavery men fled, Stewart’s companions carried his body back to Lawrence. Only when they returned did others in Lawrence know they had gone. They wanted to put Stewart in the Free State Hotel, where Thomas Barber had lain, but Eldridge forbade it and instead Stewart went to a building used as a guard post.

Governor Shannon’s New Army

SJ Jones

Samuel Jones

When the free state legislature chose to defer enactment of any legislation it passed until it secured Kansas’ admission as a state, with the free state men in charge, they did so of a mind that the President of the United States considered them traitors. They might soon face arrest, a fact that could have hardly slipped their minds with the notorious Samuel Jones taking their names down as they swore their oaths of office. They might actually have committed treason. Legal niceties had hardly stopped Missourians from coming to steal their elections and in hopes of razing their towns, but the border ruffians did not operate under the color of law the way that the United States army would if Franklin Pierce gave the proper orders.

Pierce had already done something to that effect. The March 15, 1856 Herald of Freedom reminded its readers how all had hoped that Colonel Sumner would come from Fort Leavenworth to Lawrence’s rescue back in December. Sumner had not come, despite Wilson Shannon’s entreaties. Sumner said at the time that he lacked instructions from Washington and did not feel confident to act on his own authority. Now he had those instructions, which the paper printed news of by way of a letter that Secretary of State William Marcy wrote to Governor Shannon. He attached a copy of Sumner’s orders and Pierce’s law and order proclamation.

William L. Marcy

William L. Marcy

Pierce, Marcy averred, did not think Shannon’s situation so dire as to require the use of federal troops. He should call upon them only as a last resort, but

if it becomes indispensably necessary to do so in order to execute the laws and preserve the peace, you are hereby authorized by the President to make requisition upon the officers commanding the United States military forces at Forts Leavenworth and Riley

Shannon would only use the power in “extraordinary emergency”, Marcy insisted, but he had it. If the immediate establishment of the free state goverment didn’t justify calling out the troops, then some future clash might. Shannon tried desperately to secure Sumner’s aid to save Lawrence and so had established precedent that he would use the military if possible. Once the Cavalry rode, where would they stop?

George Brown put a positive spin on all of this. He insisted that Pierce’s proclamation

is not so villainous a document as the telegraph reports make it, and as for the instructions to Gov. Shannon, they are all we could expect, or even desire. While the Governor abides by the letter of those instructions, it will afford us pleasure to sustain him. Our State organization will be in no way of Gov. Shannon. Until an attempt is made to enforce the laws enacted by that body, they are harmless. If they adopt a code of laws which commend themselves to everybody’s sense of justice, and they are everywhere obeyed, how can Gov. Shannon, or anybody else, find fault?

Brown had a strong interest in painting the free state government as perfectly innocuous, but even in doing so he hedged carefully. If they adopt laws and if those laws comport to everyone’s morals, why would they give cause for objection? And if Shannon followed the letter of Franklin Pierce’s proclamation, rather than its avowedly proslavery spirit, all would work out.

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

But would Shannon follow the letter of the president’s instructions? When he came to Lawrence’s rescue, Shannon had shown himself not quite the proslavery partisan everyone had feared. Maybe he had gotten right by popular sovereignty when he saw how far things had gone, but Shannon had helped save Lawrence from a private army of hooligans which he had unwittingly mustered himself. When they went to Lawrence, they went to serve warrants that Shannon had seen issued. A public army legally under his control presented a different scenario entirely. Likewise the governor can’t have loved the news of a rival government to his own, headed by men he probably thought had tricked him. His charge to, in Brown’s words,

put down insubordination on the one hand, and prevent invasion on the other

might mean no more Charles Dows, Thomas Barbers, Samuel Collinses, or Reese Browns, but it could also mean calling out the army to break up the government at Topeka. Insubordination, to Shannon, might very well mean wildcat state governments as much as proslavery violence. Even if he struck at both equally, that would leave the Kansas that stolen elections had already wrought. That Kansas had slavery baked deep into its laws.

The Black Law and the Missouri Precedent

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Sorry for the late post, Gentle Readers. I’ve no idea why it didn’t go up as scheduled.

The winter came in all its fury to Kansas. The Border Ruffians, defeated without battle, went home to nurse their grudges and dream of future mayhem. The people of Lawrence, with militias now bearing Wilson Shannon’s commission, buried Thomas Barber. It all made for a very full month, but December of 1855 had still more to hold. The day before Thomas Barber’s burial, December 15, 1855, the people of Kansas went to the polls. The Free State Party set that as the date for ratification of their constitution. That document barred slavery in Kansas, declared any ownership of people from other states invalid within its bounds, and carried with it the fruit of the difficult coalition between racist antislavery whites and comparatively more enlightened abolitionists. When antislavery Kansas came put the popular into their sovereignty, they had more than the constitution to vote up or down. Separately they would make their will known on the black law.

This, as the Herald of Freedom reminded its readers, made for

The great bone of contention […] One party was desirous of engrafting a feature into teh Constitution excluding every class of the colored population from the Territory, bond or free. Others saw in this a species of oppression, and as for adopting it as a feature of the fundamental law, they were conscious they could never make their way through Congress with such a dead weight attached to that instrument. They had the precedent of Missouri as a land-mark to guide them.

The Missourian precedent went back to the Missouri Controversy, if a lesser known part of it. Congress ultimately let Missouri into the Union with slavery intact and drew a line across the rest of the Louisiana purchase to keep slavery from the lion’s share. The Missourians, displeased at the delay of their statehood on behalf of black Americans, wrote a constitution that excluded any free black person from entry into their state.

This blatantly violated the federal constitution, which guaranteed free movement of the citizens of each state. Some states had given black Americans citizenship, and even the vote. By the letter of the law, they had as much right as any other citizen to come and live in Missouri. Congress balked, passing an impotent amendment insisting that Missouri’s constitution did not do what it said it did but taking no meaningful action on the matter.

Back in the 1820s, Missouri had the advantage. It might get away with such things, but the free state men risked more and in more fraught times. Slavery’s defenders, already sure to put up a dire fight indeed, could throw the words of the free state Kansans’ political fathers against them. On top of that, they risked losing the favor of particularly New Englanders who might otherwise serve as their most loyal partisans in Washington.

Given the circumstances, despite its past condemnation of the law, George Washington Brown’s paper endorsed the constitution. Stephen Douglas, Franklin Pierce, and all the rest promised Kansas popular sovereignty and they would have it.

The President, even, must give it his sanction, else prove false to all his former professions

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

Kansas dared. The voters approved the Topeka Constitution 1,731 to 46. As for the black law, the ballot did not strictly pass a law in itself. Rather the election proclamation directed Kansas’ qualified electors to approve or disapprove instructions to the first General Assembly to meet under the constitution’s auspices

providing for the exclusion of free negroes from the State of Kansas.

Such an instruction could come close to law and the voters must have understood it as such. They took their popular sovereignty and voted in its favor 1,287 to 453. New Englanders like Charles Robinson by and large opposed the law, but Westerners like James Lane handily outnumbered them.

Burying Thomas Barber, Part Three

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

At Thomas Barber’s funeral, Charles Robinson laid responsibility for his death on both his murderer and the men who brought about the conflict that took his life: Wilson Shannon, Governor of Kansas, and Franklin Pierce, the President. His recitation of the offenses against Kansas, like James Lane’s, didn’t tell anyone present anything new. They had seen Missouri, and proslavery Kansans, steal their elections, dominate their government, and then march with their destruction in mind. Grievances reiterated make for poor condolences but Barber died for a reason, not in vain:

For the dead we need not mourn. He fell a martyr to principle; and his blood will nourish the tree of liberty. An honorable death is preferable to a dishonorable and inglorious life. Such was the death of our brother, and such will ever be cherished by his companions and fellow-citizens. It is glory enough for any man that a body of men, like the Barber Guards, should adopt his name to designate and distinguish their company.

You could read similar things about any wartime death. Barber died for a noble cause, which hallowed him and sanctified the cause at the same time. Take a lesson from his martyrdom and recommit yourself to the mission. Robinson then promised that Barber would have his reward in the hereafter, piety dictating as always that the Almighty votes the same way as the speaker.

In case anybody missed the subtext, Robinson then reduced it to text. He told Lawrence that Barber’s death reached beyond his circle of friends and family. Indeed

It has shook the entire fabric of our government to its very base, and nothing but the unseen hand of the All Wise Governor of the Universe could have saved this nation from civil war and political death.

And as nineteenth century Americans nigh-universally felt obligated to do, Robinson cast the struggle in the light of their national grandfathers, “those who won our liberty.” They looked “coldly” down from some red, white, and blue heaven upon “law-shielded ruffians.”

Robinson’s and Lane’s martial tone fit the proceedings. The Herald of Freedom reports

Several military companies were on the ground with arms, among which were the Kansas Rifles No. 1, Barber Guards, Kansas Guards, Cavalry, Brigadier-General and Staff, and Commander-in-Chief and Staff of the Kansas Volunteers.

They mourners went forth with full honors, “a national flag shrouded in crape, muffled drums beating a solemn funeral dirge, the citizen-soldiery with arms reversed” to the place of burial. There they heard what must have been a more conventional burial sermon, as the paper doesn’t see fit to report it as anything more than “appropriate”. Then

three volleys were discharged over his grave, and the rattling clods upon the coffin’s lid, told that all was over.

According to George Washington Brown, the ceremony had the desired effect and “hundreds” swore again not to rest until they had a free Kansas.

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.

A New Face in Lawrence

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

The people of Lawrence and their proslavery besiegers had a peace treaty, of a kind. Governor Wilson Shannon signed it on behalf of the opposition. James Lane and Charles Robinson signed for Lawrence. Shannon and Lane gave speeches encouraging the people of Lawrence to accept the peace they’d gotten. Given the theme of unhappy antislavery militants runs through free state accounts of events, they might have needed some firm words. They had before when Thomas Barber came back from from leave, early and dead. Could Wilson Shannon, who Lawrence rightly loathed for bringing the proslavery army to their doorstep, really cool their tempers? Probably not. James Lane might, questionable past aside. Phillips reports that he “was cheered heartily”.

The sudden outbreak of peace seemed suspicious to some. After hearing Shannon’s speech, it seems they called on Lane. Then came Robinson, who demurred. Thus Lawrence had the word of a thoroughly untrustworthy enemy, a passionate leader with a dubious past, and silence from one of the most thoroughgoing, if not particularly militant, voices on hand. Unsurprisingly, the besieged did not see fit to dance in the streets:

There was an evident suspicion among the people that the negotiations had been closed too easily, and that their leaders had conceded something.

Those suspicions found voice in a hard-eyed fifty-five year old man with a strong jaw and stronger convictions. He had failed at most everything in life; he had more failure ahead of him. He had come to the territory on the word of a son already in Kansas, to defend his family and fight slavery. He brought with him no particular fame and took no great part in the Wakarusa War. He came with four sons, arriving just as events headed up around Lawrence. According to one of his first biographers, James Redpath,

they drove up in front of the Free State hotel […] all standing in a small lumber wagon. To each of their persons was strapped a short, heavy browadsword. each was supplied with a goodly number of fire-arms and navy revolvers, and poles were standing endwise around the wagon box, with fixed bayonets pointing upwards. They looked really formidable, and were received with great eclat.

Redpath has a small military company at once formed and put under his command. The old man impressed others too, not so favorably.

From that moment, he commenced fomenting difficulties in camp, disregarding the command of superior officers, and trying to induce them men to go down to Franklin, and make an attack upon the pro-slavery forces encamped there. The Committee of Public Safety were called upon several times to head off this wild adventure.

John Brown

John Brown

This came to more than admiration in hindsight. Redpath wrote it in 1860, but William Phillips appreciated the newcomer’s passionate militancy four years earlier when he had yet to reach the height of his fame. John Brown heard Shannon and Lane. He reckoned he needed hearing too:

Captain Brown got up to address the people, but a desire was manifested to prevent his speaking. Amidst some little disturbance, he demanded to know what the terms were. If he understood Governor Shannon’s speech, something had been conceded, and he conveyed the idea that the territorial laws were to be observed. Those laws they denounced and spit upon, and would never obey-no! Here the speaker was interrupted by the almost universal cry, “No! No! Down with the bogus laws!-lead us down to fight first!”

Brown’s read does sound a great deal like what Shannon said and one could read the treaty that way without much trouble. Its careful ambiguity ensured that.

“[T]he influential men,” presumably Lane and Robinson, swore up and down that they made no concessions and yielded no principles. “They surrendered noting to the usurping Legislature.” This satisfied most of the crowd, per Phillips, but all the same the leadership chose then to keep the treaty’s terms secret. The secret endured for days, perhaps crucial days, but when the news got out it pleased few.

Shannon, Lane, Robinson, and Lawrence’s doubts

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon stood at the door of the Free State Hotel and told Lawrence’s people that they would soon, he hoped, see the backside of their besiegers. His performance, to hear William Phillips tell it, did not greatly impress them. His pronouncements received only “faint cheers”. Phillips’ hostility to the governor might have led him to downplay the reception, but Shannon told Lawrence little that would endear himself to his audience. He suggested that their leaders had submitted to him and downplayed his own role in escalating the crisis. For all of that, Shannon could only promise his moral support if the proslavery men declined to follow his orders and go home. While he had little else that he could offer, such cold comfort hardly brings rousing applause.

To similar delight, the governor closed by confiding his hope and belief

that the people of Lawrence and vicinity were law-abiding people. Indeed, he learned that he had misunderstood them, and that they wer eestimable and orderly people, but houses, it was said, had been burned, and other outrages had been charged upon the free-state men. They must remember this when they judge things. They were, perhaps, innocent, but he hoped they would abide a judicial tribunal.

One can only imagine the crowd’s rapture at such a lecture. Even people who had burned houses, and some might have heard Shannon that day, didn’t necessarily want reminders of it or welcome the suggestion that they face trial.

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

James Lane spoke next. Phillips writes that Lane “was called,” which suggests that the crowd demanded him to answer Shannon or provide a verbal sign-off on the treaty. The one-time moderate declared

If we fight now […] we fight a mob. Any man who would desert Lawrence, until the invaders below had left the territory, was a coward.

Hang on, Lawrence. We’ve almost won this thing and will see it through.

Such news got a much happier reception. The crowd “cheered heartily” and applauded with enthusiasm. They called for Charles Robinson next, but the General demurred on the grounds that he had “nothing to say.” Robinson constituted the peace party from the start of the affair and may very well have come out genuinely satisfied, rather than just relieved.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Even Lane’s endorsement didn’t please everyone. He might have joined the radicals, but he had a more dubious past. How did they come to this settlement so easily? Would the proslavery men really go home for so little, or had Lawrence’s leaders conceded something in secret? Shannon’s speech, Lane’s, and Robinson’s silence could reasonably read that way. Particularly in Phillips’ and Robinson’s accounts, the free state leadership seem to control their forces nearly as tenuously as Shannon and his militia officers held their army. A group of angry men, some of them not so young and all of them with the siege and Thomas Barber’s death weighing on their minds, already ill-disposed to their leaders, could easily imagine a cowardly deal struck in secret to disarm them and surrender their cause.