Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5 v. (lvi, 2731 p., [228] leaves of plates) : ill., maps (some fold.), ports. ; 27 cm.

1918 KANSAS AND KANSANS Chapter 29 Part 3


We have seen that Sheriff Jones sought to have Lane and Robinson commit themselves in his interest in the matter of writs he held against Free-State men. During the winter he was frequently in and about Lawrence, always furtively looking out for an opportunity to bring on a collision. On the 19th of April, being in Lawrence, he arrested S. N. Wood upon the old warrant issued against him for his part in the rescue of Branson. Wood had always maintained that he was willing to submit to arrest to test the constitutionality of the bogus Legislature in the Courts, but it turned out that he was not willing to do so. When the text came he flinched. When Jones arrested him, the two were immediately surrounded by a crowd of Free-State men, who pretended that the arrest of Wood was a joke. In this spirit they stole the pistol of the sheriff and jostled Jones while Wood escaped. The enraged Sheriff repaired to Lecompton where he summoned a posse of four men. With these he returned to Lawrence on Sunday, the 20th. At Lecompton he had made an addition to his stock of warrants, having now a number against those who had assisted Wood to escape. The people of Lawrence were on the way to church when Jones rode into the town. He summoned some of the men to assist in arrests he contemplated making, but no attention was given him. S. F. Tappan, appearing on the street, Jones remembered the old warrant carried for him for aiding in the Branson rescue. He immediately pounced on Tappan. The violence with which Jones seized Tappan angered him, and he immediately struck the Sheriff. That was enough. Jones mounted his horse, and he and his posse left town. He was heard to mutter the threat that "having been resisted in the discharge of his duty, he would bring in the troops and the arrests should be made. He had now some forty names in his possession against whom warrants should be served." He returned to Lecompton and laid the matter before the Governor. He explained the resistance offered at Lawrence, and demanded a military force to enable him to execute his warrants there. Governor Shannon, remembering the instructions of Jefferson Davis, immediately made a requisition on Colonel Sumner at Fort Leavenworth for an officer and six men to act as a posse for Sheriff Jones in executing his writs. With this request Colonel Sumner immediately complied, sending a detachment of ten men under Lieutenant McIntosh. At the same time Colonel Sumner wrote to the Mayor of Lawrence:



Sir: A small detachment proceeds to Lecompton this morning on the requisition of the Governor, under orders of the President, to assist the Sheriff of Douglas County in executing several writs, in which he says he has been resisted. I know nothing of the merits of the case and have nothing to do with them. But I would respectfully impress upon you and others in authority the necessity of yielding obedience to the proclamation and orders of the General Government. Ours is emphatically a government of laws, and if they are set at naught, there is an end of all order. I feel assured that on reflection you will not compel me to resort to violence in carrying out the orders of the Government. I am, sir, very respectfully your obedient servant,

Colonel First Cavalry. Commanding.

To the Mayor of Lawrence.

Thus reinforced, Sheriff Jones went to Lawrence on the 23d of April, where he arrested six men on a charge of contempt for failure to obey his summons and act in his posse when previously in Lawrence. He confined his prisoners in a small room where they were guarded by dragoons. A search was made for S. N. Wood, but he could not be found. It was the intention of Jones to make other arrests. Not being able to immediately find all the parties for whom he had warrants, he remained in Lawrence the night of the 23d. He stopped in the tent of Lieutenant McIntosh. The occurrences of the day had caused much feeling in Lawrence, and Jones had been denounced, and probably jeered on the streets. Early in the evening Lieutenant McIntosh, Jones, and another man, went a little distance from the tent to get some water. While there they were accosted by a number of persons who inquired where Sheriff Jones was, and who made some remarks derogatory to the courage of the Sheriff. Jones answered, "Here I am, gentlemen," and was immediately fired on, but not hit. The bullet cut through his trousers. Whereupon Jones and his party returned to the tent. A man acting as though drunk, came in soon thereafter. He took a seat, but was ordered out of the tent. It was afterwards supposed that this man came in to ascertain the position of Jones in the tent. In a few minutes after he departed two shots were heard, and Jones fell forward to the ground. He drew his revolver and attempted to rise, but was unable to do so. The last shot fired entered the Sheriff's back, injuring the spine. And from this injury the Sheriff was partly paralyzed for the remainder of his life. It was soon told abroad that Jones had been assassinated in Lawrence. Messages flew over the border to this effect.

The shot was fired by James N. Filer, a young man from New York. He had borrowed the revolver from B. W. Woodward, his room-mate at that time. When he returned it he said he had shot Jones. When the consequences of his act were likely to be disagreeable, he denied having shot Jones and having said so. He soon returned to New York. It was long said that Charles Lenhart, present then in Lawrence, a violent Free-State man and agitator, had fired the shot which wounded Jones. It is not known who fired the shot at Jones when he was at the well. The fact that shots were fired at Jones at two different times seems to be established on the statements of Thomas N. Crowder and William I. Preston made at Lecompton on the 24th of April, and published in the Missouri Republican the 6th of May. It was at first believed the wound of Sheriff Jones was mortal. He was taken into a hotel and Dr. Stringfellow was summoned.

This unfortunate circumstance was greatly to the detriment of the Free-State party. On the morning of the 24th a meeting of the citizens of Lawrence was called to consider the matter. The meeting was addressed by Reeder, Robinson, and other Free-State men. All denounced the act. Resolutions to this effect were passed. These resolutions said that the act was "unexpected and unlooked for by the community, and unsustained by any portion of them," that "we deeply sympathize with the wounded man, and will afford him all the aid and comfort in our power;" "that a committee of five be appointed whose duty it shall be to investigate the circumstances connected with this deplorable occurrence, and, if possible, to ferret out the guilty agent." The Committee of Safety offered a reward of $500 for the apprehension of the assassin.

Sam Salters became Sheriff upon the disability of Jones. He immediately made efforts to serve the warrants. In the excited state of the public mind, the Free-State men feared to submit to arrest. They kept out of the way. Their homes were searched, but none of them were found. The shooting of Jones brought Colonel Sumner upon the scene. On the 27th of April he addressed a communication to Charles Robinson.

APRIL 27, 1856.

Sir - As there are no municipal officers in the town of Lawrence, I think proper to address you before returning to my post. The recent attempt made upon the life of Sheriff Jones will produce great excitement throughout the Territory and on the Missouri frontier, and I consider it of the utmost importance that every effort should be made by your people to ferret out and bring to justice the cowardly assassin. It is not too much to say that the peace of the country may depend on it, for, if he is not arrested, the act will be charged by the opposite party upon your whole community. This affair has been reported to Washington, and whatever orders may be received will be instantly carried into effect. The proclamation, which requires obedience to the laws of the Territory as they now stand until legally abrogated, will certainly be maintained, and it is very unsafe to give heed to people at a distance who counsel resistance. If they were here to participate in the danger, they would probably take a different view of this matter.

I am. sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Colonel First Cavalry Commanding.

To Mr. Charles Robinson.

To this letter, Robinson made reply:

LAWRENCE, K . T., APRIL 27, 1856.

Sir: Your note of this morning is received, and in answer permit me to say that the cowardly attack upon Mr. Jones receives no countenance whatever from the citizens of Lawrence, but, on the contrary, meets with universal condemnation. and if the guilty party can be found, he will most certainly be given over to justice. It is and has been the policy of the people of Lawrence to yield prompt obedience to the laws and officers of the Federal Government, and as Mr. Jones was acting with the authority of that Government on the day of the assault, the guilty party was an enemy to the citizens of Lawrence, no less than a violator of the laws. The people of Lawrence are without any organized municipal government, and consequently no person or persons can speak or act officially for them, but from what I know of their feelings and disposition, I have no hesitation in saying that they will ever be found loyal citizens of the Government and ready to do all in their power to maintain the laws of their country.

As an evidence of the public sentiment of this community, I inclose a copy of the proceedings of a public meeting held on the morning after the unfortunate affair occurred.

Very respectfully your obedient servant,


Col. E. V. Sumner.

Whitfield was at that time in Lawrence in attendance upon the session of the Committee of Investigation. He became fearful that his own life was in danger. He urged the Committee to adjourn and to abandon the investigation altogether, saying that its work was at an end. He fled to Franklin in hope that the Committee would act on his suggestion. In this he was disappointed, and later he attended upon the meetings.

Pardee Butler, who had been tarred and feathered at Atchison, and put on a raft in the Missouri River to drown, or to escape if he could, was again seized and outrageously treated, and given another coat of tar. No Free-State man was permitted to appear on the streets of Atchison. The feeling in that town was only an index of that along the border. Distorted stories of the conditions in the Territory were spread broadcast. The Law and Order party in Kansas entered upon a system of outrages on Free-State people. On the 28th of April, J. N. Mace, who had been examined by the Committee of Investigation, was attacked in his house, near Bloomington, and dangerously wounded. Other Free-State men in the vicinity were assaulted. It was probably too much to expect that Governor Shannon would take any notice of these outrages on Free-State people. No effort to discover the perpetrators was made by the Territorial authorities. It had been the hope of the Border-Ruffians to bring on some collision of the Free-State men with the military forces of the United States. This had failed. With the exception of the wounding of Sheriff Jones by irresponsible persons acting for themselves alone, the Free-State men submitted to these outrages without any attempt at reprisal, and without taking any adequate measures for defense.


All efforts of the Executive to involve the Free-State people of Kansas in a conflict with the United States having failed, recourse was had to the Judicial Department of the Territorial Government. On the 5th of May, Judge Lecompte delivered instructions to a grand jury at Lecompton. From that part of his charge relating to conditions in Kansas Territory, this is taken:

This Territory was organized by an act of Congress, and so far its authority is from the United States. It has a Legislature elected in pursuance of that organic act. This Legislature, being an instrument of Congress, by which it governs the Territory, has passed laws. These laws, therefore, are of United States authority and making, and all who resist these laws resist the power and authority of the United States, and are therefore guilty of high treason.

Now, gentlemen, if you find that any person has resisted these laws, then you must, under your oaths, find bills against them for high treason. If you find that no such resistance has been made, but that combinations have been formed for the purpose of resisting them, and individuals of notoriety have been aiding and abetting in such combinations, then must you find bills for constructive treason.

Acting upon these instructions, the grand jury began to examine witnesses preliminary to the indictment of the leading Free-State men of the Territory for high treason. James F. Legate, of Leavenworth, was a member of the grand jury. He was a Free-State man. He believed it was not inconsistent with his oath as a juryman to let the principal Free-State men know what was contemplated by the grand jury. He went at night to the house of Judge Wakefield. From thence he rode to Tecumseh, where depositions were being taken by the Investigating Committee. Finding Robinson there, he told him what was transpiring in the room of the Grand jury. Legate was late in his attendance upon the jury the next day, but managed to find a plausible excuse and was only reprimanded by the Judge.

Within a day or two, Deputy Marshal Fain served a summons on Reeder, who was attending sessions of the Investigating Committee, requiring him to appear as a witness before the grand jury. Reeder refused to obey this summons on the ground that he was a member of Congress, and other grounds. On the following day the Marshal came with a warrant for Reeder for contempt of Court. He declined to respond to this writ on the grounds of informality in the writ of attachment itself; his privileges as a member of Congress; and his belief in the insecurity of his person and life in case he should obey. He appealed to the Investigating Committee for protection, but got no help from that body. He wrote a letter to Judge Lecompte offering to appear before the jury if his personal safety could be guaranteed. The Chief Justice said that the matter had gone out of his hands, which was equivalent to saying that no protection could be furnished. Reeder became alarmed, believing his life in danger. When the committee adjourned to meet at Leavenworth, he fled to Kansas City. The Law and Order party determined to prevent his leaving the Territory. At Kansas City he remained hidden in the American Hotel, then conducted by S. W. Eldridge, a Free-State man, for several days. Later he disguised himself and was taken by Thomas B. and Edward Eldridge down the Missouri River in a skiff at night. He was garbed as a wood-chopper. At Liberty Landing he boarded a steamboat going down the Missouri, taking deck passage. At St. Charles he left the boat and went across the country to Illinois.

Governor Robinson came to believe his life in danger. Both he and Reeder were summoned before the grand jury, sitting at Lecompton. Both refused to obey the summons. Attachments to compel them to attend were issued. Reeder defied the Marshal and invoked the aid of the Investigating Committee. Sherman and Howard sustained him. When the Marshal advanced to arrest him, Reeder warned him that he did so at the peril of his life. Knowing that Reeder was at bay and would defend himself desperately, the Marshal hesitated, and finally concluded to desist at that time. This occurred at Lawrence. Robinson had no such defense as that of Reeder. The Marshal was jeered by Free-State men when he backed down before the determined stand of Reeder. Robinson kept out of the way. The Marshal could not find him. Both he and Reeder determined to leave the Territory. As a plausible cause for his departure, it was decided to arm Robinson with some of the testimony taken by the Investigating Committee. This he could exhibit to friendly members of Congress and others in Washington. This was in violation of right. The Committee had no authority to favor either side, and should not have given out what had been collected without the consent of both parties to the contest.

Thus equipped Robinson left Kansas. And Reeder could have carried the evidence to Eastern friends. There was, in fact, no necessity for both Reeder and Robinson to go East on this errand or business. One of them would have been enough. But times in Kansas, in those years, developed crises dangerous to all. Pro-Slavery Territorial Governors found it necessary at times to get out of Kansas. So, the matter of carrying up to Washington a brief of the testimony taken by the Investigating Committee was made an excuse for Governor Robinson to flee the Territory and evade arrest on the warrant carried by Marshal Donalson for his apprehension for contempt of the U. S. District Court, sitting then at Lecompton. Writing from Westport, May 11, 1856, the correspondent of the Missouri Republican, said:

Yesterday, the United States Marshal attempted to arrest Reeder and Robinson for contempt of Court, and they swore they would not be taken, and were defended by the rebels who do their bidding. Last week they were summoned by Judge Lecompte, United States Judge, to appear before the Grand Jury of Lecompton; but they refused to appear, and it was for this contempt that they were to be arrested.

The following day the correspondent sent this:

Robinson and Reeder being summoned before the Grand Jury, refusing, and having got in a tight place, fled. Robinson passed down Saturday, but an eye or two being on him, he got no further than Lexington, where he is locked up, awaiting the requisition of Governor Shannon.

On the 13th the same paper had this concerning the situation as affecting Reeder and Robinson:

It is the determination of Judge Lecompte that offenders shall be brought to justice, and writs have accordingly been issued for Robinson, Reeder and about seventy-five or one hundred others, either to appear before the grand jury to testify, or to appear at Court for trial.

The Republican, correspondent was in error as to his dates. And it is doubtful whether Robinson could have been found at all by Marshal Donalson alter the issuance of the warrant for his arrest. He, with his wife, set out from Lawrence on the 8th of May.

[From Merrill's History of
Kansas, Cincinnati, 1856]
At Lexington he was recognized, arrested, and taken from the steamboat. There they charged that he was running away from arrest in Kansas. Robinson replied that even if he were running away, he could see no grounds for another State to interfere. He remained a prisoner for one week at Lexington, when he was returned to Kansas on a requisition from Governor Shannon. This requisition was based on the indictment for treason, not contempt of court. He arrived at Leavenworth on the 24th of May and was put in charge of Captain Martin, of the Kickapoo Rangers, who held him in custody until the 1st of June. At that time he was taken to Lecompton, where he was imprisoned until the 10th of September when he was released on $5,000 bail.

[From Merrill's History of
Cincinnati, 1856]
The grand jury, sitting for the adjourned term of the first district court in and for the county of Douglas, in the Territory of Kansas, beg leave to report to the honorable court that from evidence laid before them, showing that the newspaper known as the Herald of Freedom, published at the town of Lawrence, has from time to time issued publications of the most inflammatory and seditious character, denying the legality of the territorial authorities, addressing and commending forcible resistance to the same, demoralizing the popular mind, and rendering life and property unsafe, even to the extent of advising assassination as a last resort.

Also, that the paper known as the Kansas Free State has similarly engaged, and has recently reported resolutions of a public meeting in Johnson county, in this Territory, in which resistance to the territorial laws even into blood has been agreed upon; and that we respectfully recommend their abatement as a nuisance.

Also, that we are satisfied that the building known as the Free State Hotel, in Lawrence, has been constructed with the view to military occupation and defence, regularly parapeted and port-holed for the use of cannon and small-arms, and could only have been designed as a stronghold of resistance to law, thereby endangering the public safety and encouraging rebellion and sedition in this country, and respectfully recommend that steps be taken whereby this nuisance may be removed.


So tense became the situation that another appeal to Governor Shannon was made. This was done at the suggestion of Colonel Sumner, who was then at Lawrence. On the 11th of May, a letter in the form of a preamble and resolutions adopted at a meeting on the 10th, was sent to Governor Shannon:

WHEREAS, We have most reliable information from various parts of the Territory, and the adjoining State of Missouri, of the organization of guerrilla bands, who threaten the destruction of our town and its citizens; therefore,

Resolved, That Messrs. Topliff, Hutchinson and Roberts, constitute a committee to inform His Excellency of these facts, and to call upon him in the name of the people of Lawrence, for protection against such bands, by the United States troops at his disposal.

On the 12th the following reply was received:



Gentlemen: Your note of the 11th is received, and in reply I have to say that there is no force around or approaching Lawrence, except the legally constituted posse of the United States marshal and sheriff of Douglas county, each of whom, I am informed, have a number of writs in their hands for execution against persons now in Lawrence. I shall in no way interfere with either of these officers in the discharge of their official duties. If the citizens of Lawrence submit themselves to the territorial laws and aid and assist said marshal and sheriff in the execution of processes in their hands, as all good citizens are bound to do when called on, they, or all such, will entitle themselves to the protection of the law. But so long as they keep up a military or armed force to resist the territorial laws, and the officers charged with their execution, I shall not interfere to save them from the legitimate consequences of their illegal acts.

I have the honor to be yours with great respect,


Messrs. C. W. Topliff, John Hutchinson and W. Y. Roberts.

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A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans , written and compiled by William E. Connelley, transcribed by Carolyn Ward, 1998.