Bedeviled by Demoniac Spirits: The Proslavery Version of Jones’ Shooting, Part Two

We left off the Weston Argus‘ version of Samuel Jones’ shooting, reprinted courtesy of the Squatter Sovereign, with a promise that if Governor Wilson Shannon called on the yeomen of “Kansas Territory,” said yeomen would level Lawrence, lynch the abolitionists there, and leave their bones to bleach in the sun. Over the Missouri line, the Argus took care to refer to the yeomen of Kansas in the third person. It wouldn’t do to admit too loudly that many, though by no means all, the proslavery militants troubling Kansas hailed from Missouri.

This all brings the Argus to the shooting itself:

Some U.S. troops made some arrests at Lawrence, yesterday [April 24] evening. While Sheriff Jones was guarding the prisoners, he was shot by some cowardly assassin, under cover of night. His physicians think him dangerously wounded. General Whitfield sent an Express to Westport, after his wife.

The Argus version matches here with the rest. The shooter did open fire on Jones at night, from behind. All the sources I’ve seen agree that the doctors initially thought Jones in grave danger. The paper continues:

By express late yesterday evening [April 28 now], we learn that five companies of U.S. troops left Fort Leavenworth, and are now on their way to Lawrence. The high-minded and chivalrous Jones, has died of his wounds. These are the legitimate results of the harangues of Reeder and Robinson. Are these demoniac spirits longer to be allowed to roam over the Territory, inciting miscreant wretches to such outrageous deeds?

Jones did not die, but otherwise the Argus follows the normal proslavery line. Nothing disturbed the peace until an antislavery man showed up, preaching his abolitionist fanaticism. This inspired people of a lower order, whether slaves or antislavery whites, to rise up and do bloody violence. Thus such miscreants required swift, sure suppression.

But the Argus also had a point. The free state movement had long traded in the language of revolution. It had military organizations and a rival government set up, complete with a governor (Charles Robinson) and two senators (Andrew Reeder and James Lane). Robinson himself had employed martial rhetoric in the recent past. All the talk about how they opposed the territorial government and not the national could not obscure that. At some point, that rhetoric has consequences.

Ordinary people don’t passively receive and believe all their leaders say, but the act of accepting someone as your leader requires one to consider that person worth heeding on some level. In fraught times, a person who you esteem and trust can easily make your apprehensions worse. You may already think things bad, but they likely know more and tell you things have gotten worse still. The language of revolt and resistance comes freighted with violence. If you get right down to it, proslavery men really did want to come and do violence to antislavery Kansans. They had done so before and might easily again. One, Jones, had just come in with the Army to arrest some of your own. The shooter might have thought Jones had bullets coming already and independent of free state rhetoric, but whenever one indulges in the language of violence one hazards someone going out and doing it. I suspect most of us would accept that without qualms when applied to proslavery rhetoric like the Argus‘, but it does apply to their opposition too.

The paper didn’t wait on some latter-day blogger to connect the dots:

We are informed that Reeder in particular urged them to this course, assuring them “that the entire North would stand by them.” We cannot, we dare not believe that the North is so lost to every sense of honor and respect as to longer give such miscreancy council of favor. We confess that these fanatics have gone to an unexpected excess. It would not surprise us if Jones’ death was terribly avenged.

In other words: You know what to do, proslavery men. Get your guns and get going.

“Many an abolition bone will be bleechen in the sun” The Proslavery Version of Jones’ Shooting, Part One

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

Update: The Squatter Sovereign does have its own version of the story, which I looked right at and missed. Sorry.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time on how the free state people of Lawrence understood Samuel Jones’ shooting, almost certainly by one of their own, on April 23, 1856. But Kansas had two parties, one of which liked to operate across the Missouri line as well. The Squatter Sovereign reported on Jones’ shooting in its April 29 issue. John Stringfellow and Robert Kelley’s paper didn’t bother with their own version of events, instead relying on the Weston Argus of April 25. Under the headline “WAR IN KANSAS,” the Argus informed its readers that “[t]he traitors of Kansas, are again under arms.”

We imagine that fields of conflagration and carnage fumes of sulphur and blood, will rise before the fantastic vision and salute the acute olfactories of a few deluded fanatics, (or rather, we should say, scoundrels and hypocrits,) on reading the above caption. The howl of fanaticism, the cant of hypocracy, will again sweep over the country. […] But this time it was not the “Border Ruffians,” whose footsteps on the virgin soil of Kansas, were so lately marked by “blood, rapine, and murder,” that are called upon. No: the United States troops, “who keep step to the music of the Union,” are to deal with these lords of humanity.

The invocation of the military looks forward and backward simultaneously. Soldiers had gone into Lawrence with Jones. Might they go in again? The Argus clearly thinks they ought to, as its version of events works hard to incriminate the entire antislavery movement:

Ex-Governor Reeder, on his arrival at Lawrence, obeying the instructions of Seward, Banks, & Co., summoning all the courage of his dastardly soul, harrangued the fanatics of that place, counceling resistance to the civil authorities, to disregard the laws of the Territory, and place themselves in open rebellion!

Senator William H. Seward (Whig-NY)

Senator William H. Seward (R-NY)

Reading that, you’d think that William Seward and Nathaniel Banks put out a hit on Jones. The Argus doesn’t say so, but it draws a clear connection between national and Kansas-based antislavery, with the national movement calling the shots. One could get the idea that nobody in Kansas objected to all the election irregularities and violence until some Yankees poured poison in their ears.

Only after Reeder’s rabble-rousing, the Argus would have us know, did Jones enter Lawrence. He came to arrest Wood and company not for the rescue of Branson, but rather because they had stolen some poll books. This may have surprised Wood and Jones both. On reading it I did some investigating, but found only references to the Branson rescue. That said, the Argus implicated the Speaker of the House and Kansas free state Senator. To this point, it had entirely neglected to connect another antislavery leader to the shooting. Time to remedy that:

On the arrival of Mr. Jones in Lawrence, Robinson, the California murderer, counselled them to resist, and there deluded individuals accordingly refused to accompany Mr. Jones.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

My other accounts don’t mention Robinson as a decisive factor here, but if Wood and company asked advice of him he would have surely told them to resist. I’m afraid I haven’t found anything on the idea that Robinson killed someone in California.

Faced with resistance, the Argus told its readers that Jones sought military aid from Wilson Shannon, which he did. The paper observed that Lawrence’s “shivalrous gentlemen-shivalrous at a distance” may have cause to thank the governor. Shannon called out the army rather than “the malitia” for

if the stern yeomanry of Kansas Territory, are again called upon to leave their fields and families and march to Lawrence, to crush out treason and rebellion, it will be no child’s play. As much as they dislike to shed the blood of those who claim to be American citizens, we warn them now, that in the last resort, many an abolition bone will be bleechen in the sun and many a traitor’s carcass will be suspended between heaven and earth.

A small note on spelling here, Gentle Readers: I customarily render quotes as they appear in my copy, including unusual nineteenth century spellings. The Argus has more eccentric spelling than most.