The Return of Samuel Jones

 

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Dine and dash aside, W.P. Fain had come and gone from Lawrence. Two members of the committee of safety, Topliff and Perry, had their house burgled while they aided him with making his arrest. But no one had died yet that day. The Free State Hotel still stood. The printing presses remained untroubled. If the day kept on like this, then the second campaign against Lawrence might suffer only a single death in excess of the one that the first campaign had seen. Robert S. Kelley would go home cruelly disappointed yet again.

Colonel Topliff carried yet another letter off to I.B. Donaldson, in command of the hostile force, pleading for the security of Lawrence and repeating all the town’s capitulations. If nothing else, Donaldson now had his men. The Marshal could declare victory and go home. Up on Mount Oread, where Fain took his prisoners, some speech making went on. The deputy himself took to the stump and said, according to William Phillips, that he had no further use for his posse

but that Sheriff Jones had some processes to serve, and that they would hold themselves in readiness to go with him.

In the weeks since his shooting, Jones had recovered enough to sit a horse and make himself a menace again. Phillips takes a paragraph to mock Jones’ injury, noting correctly that the proslavery press declared him murdered. The crowd greeted the sheriff “with enthusiastic cheering.” Lawrence had not gotten clear of trouble after all.

Phillips, writing a few months later, castigates the “Safety Valve” for their capitulations. His condemnation goes on for better than a page about their cowardice, their surrender to territorial authority, and all the rest. This, he deemed, worthy of apology on account of “their extreme peril” but impossible to justify. Even if one could muster a justification, he then insisted that the people would never have supported such a ruinous course. To prove the point, he accuses the committee of fraud:

It is proper to state that several of those men whose names are attached to the document declare that it had not their assent. Messrs. Allen, Babcock, Mallory, and Grover, repudiate, and declare they did not sign it; some of these admitting that they signed a paper that forenoon, but know of no part of such a document sustaining or submitting to the territorial laws. I have been informed that Dr. Prentiss was not present when it was drafted.

If Phillips and his informants told the truth, rather than fixing their reputations after the fact, then only Samuel Pomeroy and W.Y. Roberts endorsed Lawrence’s last appeal. It would not stop Samuel Jones. He may have had process to serve, but he surely wanted revenge and had previously taken any pretext to move against Lawrence. Jones had threatened the lives of antislavery Kansans all the way back to the legislative elections more than a year ago. Even if a letter could save Lawrence from I.B. Donaldson, one would not sway Sheriff Jones.

Advertisements

“Several hundred dollars in money, a gold watch, and other property”

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

 

W.P. Fain came into Lawrence on May 22, 1856, to make the arrests that his boss, US Marshal I.B. Donaldson, had feared to attempt. He had two posses on hand that day, one of about ten men that he took into the town and augmented with locals and another of five to eight hundred proslavery militants who occupied the heights above. As on his previous visit, Fain had no trouble at all moving openly about Lawrence. Instead, he and his allies offered up their version of bad behavior. Fain and his posse dined at the Free State Hotel, then left without paying. While in Lawrence for some hours, they arrested all of two men.

Meanwhile, the larger posse under Donaldson’s command remained on Mount Oread with their cannons. That many proslavery men so near to a hated center of antislavery activity could hardly stand idle long. According to William Phillips,

While these arrests were making, and while the posse he had raised in Lawrence was under his orders and retained by him, two of the number, Mr. Perry and Col. Topliff, were robbed by the posse on the hill. They lived in a house on the side of Mt. Oread, near which the part of the posse on the hill were stationed. During the time they were waiting for Fain to go through his legal maneuver, they busied themselves in breaking into a few houses in the suburbs, and, amongst other performances, robbed these gentlemen of several hundred dollars in money, a gold watch, and other property.

Phillips would have us know that only some of the posse did that, but it sounds like they came off with quite the haul. He probably means to imply that Fain’s summons kept Topliff and Perry from their home and thus facilitated the burglary. It might have worked out that way, but Phillips doesn’t tell us if the two men would have remained in their home once the proslavery force arrived or gone somewhere clear of it. It seems that Fain found them in Lawrence proper and if he had done something so obvious as to call them from their homes on his way into town, I can’t believe Phillips would have neglected the chance to mention it.

According to the Lawrence memorialists, who included Perry, the committee of safety had entrusted Topliff with another missive for Marshal Donaldson. When Fain and his posse left town, Topliff went with them to deliver it. The committee repeated their submission to federal authority and request for the protection of the government.

For the private property already taken by your posse we ask indemnification, and what remains to us and our citizens we throw upon you for protection, trusting that under the flag of our Union and within the folds of the Constitution we may obtain safety.

Fain’s dine and dash operation can’t have won him any friends, but he had come, made his arrests, and went without incident. He promised that the Free State Hotel would go unmolested. Maybe it could all work out and Donaldson would set aside his posse just as the proslavery leaders had sent their men home from Lawrence before. If it had happened once, it could happen again.

Raising the Red Flag

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

I.B. Donaldson -J.B. in some sources- and his army had come to Lawrence. They arrived not long after sunrise, marching down from Lecompton and up from Franklin to the tune of five to eight hundred men. Those in the lead took up a position on the heights of Mount Oread, above the town. They had a mixed of cavalry and infantry backed by at least four cannons. No like army of antislavery men mustered to meet them. The committee of safety made the decision not to resist and those so inclined largely left the area rather than get caught up in the fight sure to come. William Phillips describes the tension on the ground:

there were some fluttering amongst timid hearts, recollections of bloody threats, and the knowledge of the murderous wishes of their enemies. Groups began to cluster here and there in the streets, and many eyes were turned to the body of armed horsemen on the hill; but there was no demonstration of resistance.

Around seven in the morning, the posse descended from the highest point on Mount Oread to the one nearest town and seized Governor Robinson’s house to use as a headquarters.

They then planted their cannon on the end of the hill overlooking the town, and pointed towards it. This was long musket-range from the town, but good range for breech-loading rifles.

The force initially flew a white flag, but whatever faint hope Lawrence might have seen in that fled when they struck the white and raised red in its place:

the war-flag […] on this was inscribed, “Southern Rights.” Soon after, a United States flag, the “stripes and stars” floated beside it.

The policy of the United States from independence until 1860 floated there. The Lawrence memorialists claimed that the red flag would have spurred resistance, whatever the situation, except for the red, white, and blue with it. Whether they said as much to save face after the fact or meant it, ion the end they followed the same policy that their party had adopted before: Free state Kansans might fight with proslavery individuals acting privately and, in extremis, against the territorial government. They had no intention of levying war against the United States.

With the army-sized posse in place, W.P. Fain, Deputy United States Marshal, made his second call to Lawrence in less than twenty-four hours. He came with ten men, unarmed, and summoned several locals to the posse:

Dr. Jarvin, a pro-slavery resident of Lawrence, John A. Berry, C.W Topliff, Wm. Jones, S.W. Eldridge, and T.B. Eldridge.

Those same Eldridges had gone off to Lecompton to plead the case of their hotel furniture to the Governor. Now, bound by their previous offer to join any posse summoned, they went to work for the Marshal. He had warrants for the arrest of George Deitzler and G.W. Smith, which he managed without difficulty.

He staid until after dinner; called for dinner at the hotel, where he, and the posse he brought with him, dined; he left immediately after, neither he nor his companions paying the bill.

In other words, Fain came into Lawrence unarmed and summoned the de facto proprietors of the Free State Hotel and leaders of the committee of safety to aid him. Then he arrested two free state men and hung around town until noon. He went to the Eldridge’s hotel and executed a dine and dash against two of the men he had insisted help him carry out his duties.

“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.

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.

“They fired at him; he fell mortally wounded”

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

The Eldridges, who had gone to Lecompton to plead the case of their hotel furnishings and the Lawrence that surrounded them, got nowhere. J.B. Donaldson would promise only that he would not destroy the Free State Hotel. Wilson Shannon, when offered everything he had ever asked of the free state party, still declined to order out the Army to preserve the peace. When they told the Governor that this might drive Lawrence into resistance by force, Shannon declared himself for war.

William Phillips doesn’t mention the Eldridges’ mission in his Conquest of Kansas, likely because a promise of total capitulation and repeated begging for help didn’t make for an inspiring story. He does, however, relate a few incidents that the Lawrence memorialists left out of the version they sent to Franklin Pierce. The first concerns “a young man named Jones,” late of Illinois. Jones, who appears to have had no connection to the infamous Sheriff Jones, had gone off to a store to buy some flour. He returned home by way of Blanton’s Bridge, and there met “two of these young Southerners, belonging to the posse.”

Seeing fresh prey, the proslavery men attacked. Phillips arms them

with United States muskets and bayonets. These arms were Mississippi rifles, as they are called. They were public arms, belonging to the territory, in the charge of Governor Shannon, and with his permission given to these young Southerners and Missourians

Shannon did have public arms at his disposal and probably would have let them out to Donaldson’s posse. Whether the Southerners had their weapons from his hand or not, they put them to use against Jones. Still near the store, he dismounted and bolted for it. His enemies followed him inside. Someone there gave Jones a pistol to answer them with,

whereupon the men raised their pieces and threatened to shoot him unless he gave it up. The person in the store again got it, when an altercation between him and the two men ensued.

Jones took that moment to claim the better part of valor, leaving the store while the fight progressed. For his heroism, Jones received pursuit by the two proslavery men, who swore that an abolitionist would not escape them.

They fired at him; he fell mortally wounded, and died during the day, or before next morning. The murderers immediately left.

Through the long build-up to this, many people had faced deadly threats and harassment. A messenger from Lawrence had dodged bullets as he rode. Proslavery men had detained others and warned uninvolved parties that they could not travel safely. Now a man had died, the first political murder in Kansas since Reese Brown in January.

Lawrence Capitulates

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

On May 17, 1856, the people of Lawrence tried Wilson Shannon again. With Donaldson stonewalling and the proslavery army pressing near, they had no options left. In to a memorial (PDF page 398) they wrote to Franklin Pierce a few days later, they laid out their whole ordeal to date. This time, rather than asking protection in general against J.B. Donaldson’s posse of Missourians, the plea came from the proprietors of the Free State Hotel. They called it “the Eldridge House” for the president’s eyes, but made clear just who owned the building and how it came by that name:

The building itself was the property of the Emigrant Aid Company, but it had been furnished by the Messrs. Eldridge, at heavy expense, and was not yet opened as a public house.

Messrs. Eldridge, who also involved themselves in hiding Andrew Reeder, went to Lecompton themselves and got an interview with Shannon on the 18th. They asked that he protect their property, rather than Lawrence at large. Donaldson couldn’t arrest a hotel and the sanctity of private property ought to count for something. The Governor told them, albeit not in writing, that they ought not to have taken possession, but also “giving some encouragement for its protection.” Donaldson attended the meeting and Lawrence reports that he also “seemed disposed to accord the protection needful.”

Since the Eldridges had both men handy, they also presented the latest letter out from Lawrence, which makes clear the utter desperation that had gripped the free state town. They still denied that they meant their guns for anything more than “our own individual defense against violence”. Now, however, they went several steps further. Lawrence understood that Shannon and Donaldson defended their posse on the grounds that the town’s free state militias stood opposed to the enforcement of the laws, territorial and national. The “Many Citizens” of Lawrence now promised that they would not bear those arms

against the laws or officers in the execution of the same; therefore, having no further use for them when our protection is otherwise secured, we propose to deliver our arms to Colonel Sumner so soon as he shall quarter in our town a body of troops sufficient for our protection, to be retained by him as long as such force shall remain among us.

That comes close to total capitulation. The free state men said they would give up their weapons, the very thing Shannon had asked of them in order to receive protection. He could have a disarmed opposition, pledged now to submit to all the laws of Kansas. That would mean the effective end of the territory’s antislavery movement as a political force, though Colonel Sumner’s men would ensure the physical safety of its members in Lawrence. Shannon could have everything he wanted since the day he set foot in Kansas, free and clear. He and Donaldson only had to take yes for an answer.

 

The view from two sides of Lawrence

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

From William Phillips, we know that people moving around Lawrence suffered harassment and risked their lives at the hands of proslavery forces converging on the town. The newspapers reported that even a messenger sent from the town to Governor Shannon dodged bullets on his way back. J.B. Donaldson’s posse had begun its unofficial work, at least. With the town’s pleas for help refused or left unanswered, things looked grim. People of less prominence than reporters for the Eastern papers and intimates of the free state government agreed.

Axalla Hoole, had lived in Lawrence until recently. He wrote to his sister on May 18, the day after Lawrence dispatched its latest desperate plea to Donaldson. He was glad to hear that the slaves back home remembered him in their prayers:

Thank them a thousand times for me, and beg them always to remember me when they render up their petitions to Him who rules and governs all things. I feel that I need the prayers of everyone.

Hoole had not set aside his politics when he moved to Kansas. He reported Jefferson Buford’s arrival in the territory and his intention to call on the filibuster, who just then resided at the house of his neighbor.

While I am writing, guns are firing in the camps of the different companies of soldiers who are gathering to attack Lawrence. Sunday as it is, they are shooting in every direction. I expect before you get this Lawrence will be burnt to the ground. I may not know when it will be attacked, but if I do, I expect to go-although I don’t think that they will show any fight, though they are preparing. But I hear they are very much frightened and have sent to the Governor for protection, but he sent word to them that they did not consider him their Governor and would not submit to the laws, so he would leave them to their fate.

Hoole wrote from Douglas, not far at all from Lawrence. If he knew of the shooting, then the town can’t have long remained ignorant. Of course Hoole doesn’t know if they shot at anything in particular just from the reports. Most likely, a group of well-lubricated men with guns found ways to amuse themselves that didn’t necessarily put bullets in the bodies of their enemies. Shooting for fun didn’t preclude shooting for purpose soon enough, though little daylight may have separated the two for many.

On the other side of Kansas politics, Edward Fitch wrote his parents on the same day from Lawrence itself. He complained that the surveyors had come through and ran a line straight through his house, which may mean that when he went to claim his land he would get half a building. But his neighbor didn’t live on the claim, so Fitch thought he had a good chance to prevail.

but having a claim is not going to do me any good if I don’t live and we don’t know how soon now we may be cut off. We are surrounded by an armed mob and they may attack us at any time and in our present condition we stand a chance to be wiped out which is what they say they are going to do. We never have been quite so near war as we are now.

Fitch arrived in Kansas, courtesy of the Emigrant Aid Company, in October of 1854. He lived in Lawrence from that point on, so he knew the Wakarusa War firsthand. For him to consider this the nearest they had yet come to destruction speaks volumes. He apologizes to them for infrequent writing and saying so little, on account of the “fevered excitement” and begs more letters from home.

Another Letter for Marshal Donaldson

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

The people of Lawrence had few options. At this time of year, many of the men who might have come to their defense would have work on the farm that they would find hard to delay. Even if they came, the town appeared short on guns and still owed the merchants who had forwarded them provisions for the Wakarusa War. Furthermore, J.B. Donaldson’s proslavery army styled itself a militia clothed in the authority of his post as US Marshal. Wilson Shannon would not intercede on their behalf. E.V. Sumner, of the 1st Cavalry, could not act without the governor’s permission. Direct appeals to Donaldson had failed. Proslavery men detained people coming and going about the unofficial free state headquarters. The committee on safety could not settle on a course of action.

On May 17, 1856, per William Phillips, the committee chose to try Donaldson again and dispatched a fresh letter:

a large force of armed men have collected in the vicinity of Lawrence, and are engaged in committing depredations upon our citizens; stopping wagons, arresting, threatening, and robbing unoffending travellers upon the highway, breaking open boxes of merchandise, and appropriating their contents; have slaughtered cattle, and terrified many of the women and children.

Probably they had no shortage of terrified men on hand too, but nineteenth century masculinity demanded they forebear in silence and make their pleas on behalf of others.

We have also learned from Governor Shannon ‘that there are no armed forces in the vicinity of this place but the regularly constituted militia of the territory; -this is to ask if you recognize them as your posse, and feel responsible for their acts. If you do not, we hope and trust you will prevent a repetition of such acts, and give peace to the settlers.

Here Lawrence might turn Shannon’s inaction to their advantage. He insisted no one but the posse operated near Lawrence. Donaldson admitting that he had a posse meant for the town. If he took claimed those proslavery men harassing travelers and stealing whatever they liked as that posse, then he owned their various misdeeds. If he did not, then he might have a duty that he had recognized himself in previous correspondence to preserve law and order. Thus the Marshal may have to disown the army, and so oblige himself to work against it, or claim the posse and work to control it.

All of that sounds good on paper, but it does require Donaldson to have scruples not otherwise in evidence; he failed to even write them another hostile answer in the vein of the one he had given before. The committee of safety had to expect little to nothing when they wrote the letter. One can’t read it and not feel the desperation of the authors. If the Marshal himself didn’t, or couldn’t, save them then it may all soon come to ruin. Their argument had logical and moral force, but those might prove of aid only to their eulogists.