William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas


[TOC] [part 26] [part 24] [Cutler's History]


Nobody knew better than Gov. Shannon that Sheriff Jones' call for 3,000 troops meant an armed invasion of the territory by Missourians. He knew full well that there was no organized militia in the Territory, nevertheless, he promptly responded to Jones' call by the following:

November 27, 1855.


Sir - Reliable information has reached me that an armed military force is now in Lawrence and that vicinity, in open rebellion against the laws of this Territory, and that they have determined that no process in the hands of the Sheriff of that county shall be executed. I have received a letter from S. J. Jones, Sheriff of Douglas County, informing me that he had arrested a man under a warrant placed in his hands, and, while conveying him to Lecompton, he was met by an armed force of some forty men, and that the prisoner was taken out of his custody, and defiance bid to the laws. I am also duly advised that an armed band of men have burnt a number of houses, destroyed personal property, and turned whole families out of doors in Douglas County. Warrants will be issued against those men, and placed in the hands of the Sheriff of Douglas County for execution. He has written to men, demanding three thousand men to aid him in the execution of the process of law.

You are, therefore, hereby ordered to collect together as large a force as you can in your division, and repair without delay to Lecompton, and report yourself to S. J. Jones, Sheriff of Douglas County, together with the number of your forces, and render him all the aid and assistance in your power in the execution of any legal process in his hands. The forces under your command are to be used for the sole purpose of aiding the Sheriff in executing the law, and for no other purpose.

I have the honor to be your obedient servant, WILSON SHANNON.

A like order was sent to Maj. Gen. H. J. Strickler, at Tecumseh. It was left for the Generals to get their soldiers where they were to be had, and they knew quite well that they were to come mostly from Missouri. Dispatches were sent in hot haste to all the border towns. Independence and Westport were the recruiting points, and under the inflammable and exaggerated reports circulated, hundreds were promptly armed and sent to the seat of war. The first, company of Kansas Militia - to appear on the scene of expected conflict - came from Westport, Mo. It numbered upward of fifty men, and went into camp in an irregular way, near Franklin, as early as November 29, where, unofficered, they passed the time "in target practice, drunken brawls, and intimidation and insult of passers by," while awaiting re-enforcements and commands to move on the enemy, intrenched at Lawrence.

Among other documents circulated among Missourians to induce them to enlist, was a forged letter, purporting to be from Secretary Woodson. It was directed to Gen. Atchison; bore the signature of Daniel Woods; was read at a large public meeting held in Platte City, and induced the Platte County Riflemen - and many camp followers - under the command of Senator Atchison, to start for Lecompton forthwith. The letter read as follows:

DEAR GENERAL - The Governor having called out the militia, this is to inform you to order out your division and proceed forthwith to Lecompton. The Governor not having the power, you can call out the Platte County Rifle Company, as our neighbors are always ready to help us. Do not implicate the Governor, whatever you do.


It is truth to say, that the troops raised "to help Jones," came mostly from Missouri. The whole of the western part of the State was stirred to its depths. The Blue Lodges put in their most vigorous work. At Liberty, Mo., 200 men and $1,000 were raised in a single day "to help Jones!"

Brig. Gen. Eastin, editor of the Leavenworth Herald, and commander of the Second Brigade of Kansas Militia, ordered his command to rendezvous at Leavenworth, on Saturday, December 1, and sent the following appeal through the Missouri Border Counties:


It is expected that every lover of Law and Order will rally at Leavenworth, on Saturday, December 1, 1855, prepared to march at once to the scene of the rebellion, to put down the outlaws of Douglas County, who are committing depredations upon persons and property, burning down houses and declaring open hostility to the laws, and have forcibly rescued a prisoner from the Sheriff. Come one, come all! The laws must be executed. The outlaws, it is said, are armed to the teeth, and number 1,000 men. Every man should bring his rifle and ammunition, and it would be well to bring two or three days' provisions. Every man to his post, and do his duty.


Under the influences and appliances above illustrated, all Western Missouri was stirred to its very depths, and vomited forth an army for the subjugation of the Abolitionists of Lawrence.

Gov. Shannon, ignorant of the situation, supplemented his call for troops with the ordinary functionary proclamation, stating the disorders prevailing according to "reliable information," and calling on all well-disposed citizens to rally to the support of the laws defied, and for the restoration of peace and order in the disturbed region of his domains. The proclamation was disseminated throughout the eastern counties and in Missouri. It was published in the Leavenworth Herald and the Atchison Squatter Sovereign, but no copy was sent to Lawrence or Topeka, although papers were published in both towns. It was issued November 29, and did not come to the knowledge of the citizens of Lawrence until December 3.

The Governor of Kansas at this time was worse to the Free-state settlers of Douglas County than a sworn enemy. He was the ignorant dupe of their sworn enemies, armed with the executive power of the Territory, and through Woodson, Atchison and others who knew how to use him, planning for their extermination without trial or hearing before any legitimate tribunal of justice.

It was quite unfortunate for Lawrence and the Free-state cause that the local fracas at Blanton's Bridge, which resulted in the rescue of Branson, should have been carried to Lawrence, and its identity and responsibility fastened upon the town by the appearance of the party there, and the subsequent public meeting, presided over by Wood, addressed by Branson, and throughout inspired by the victorious rescuing party. It was a mistake not now involving the condemnation or even reproof of the ardent, brave and reckless men who precipitated the trouble and fastened the responsibility upon that town. It had enough of assumed responsibility, without championing the quarrels of a distinct community miles away, albeit they were in common working to the same end and pitted against the same common enemy.

The Beleaguered City. - The Committee of Safety appointed at the meeting of November 27 had little interest in the matter until the 30th. At that time, news came to Lawrence of the encampment of troops at Franklin, the rendezvous of Eastin's brigade at Leavenworth, and of general hostile preparations and movements all along the eastern line. The information did not lead to the belief that preparations were being made to merely arrest individuals who had violate the law, but to besiege and destroy Lawrence. To defend the city against invasion the Committee of Safety then prepared.

The first move made was to get out of the town all persons subject to arrest by Jones. Wood, Branson, Tappan, S. C. Smith, the Wakarusa rescuers - all disappeared. There was not on December 1 a single man in the city who had ever overtly defied Jones or the Territorial laws under which he had been appointed and by virtue of which he claimed authority.

Being purged of the pretext for invasion, the citizens were enrolled into guard companies of twenty, who were subject to call at any moment. There were, perhaps, two hundred and fifty, not including women and children. Thus enrolled, on November 30, the Kansas Legion at Lawrence was well armed, and lacked only men for a formidable defense.

The Committee of Safety appointed Charles Robinson, Commander-in-Chief of all the forces, and Col. James H. Lane as second in command. So soon as it was known that troops were coming from Missouri to "help Jones," the Free-state men rallied to "help Lawrence." They came in singly and in squads and small companies, arriving at all hours of the day and night, on foot, on horseback, in wagons, armed and unarmed, from Bloomington, Wakarusa, Ottawa Creek, Palmyra, Topeka and Osawatomie. As fast as they arrived they were organized, and spent their time in drill practice and in working on the fortifications. Five redoubts were constructed, which when finished commanded every approach to the city.

The largest, which constituted the citadel and place of refuge for the women and children in case of an assault, was erected on Massachusetts street near the Pinckney street crossing. It was built of hewn timber, strongly embanked with earth, surrounded with a deep intrenchment (sic). It was about five feet in height, and was in command of Judge J. G. Smith, a Colonel in rank by authority of the Committee of Defense.

The second, on Massachusetts street, near Henry, was under the direction of J. A. Wakefield. It had bastions, and was designed for the cannon. Judge Wakefield was also a Colonel.

Col. Morris Hunt also commanded a circular redoubt on a little knoll north of Henry street, between Massachusetts and New Hampshire streets. A few rods south of Col. Wakefield, Col. Holliday had erected another, which commanded any approach from Mt. Oread, and a fifth was thrown up on Kentucky street, which commanded any approach by the ravine on the west.

The cannon for which Col. Wakefield's bastion fort was prepared, was a contribution from the East, and was at Kansas City when the war broke out. Thomas Bickerton, ---- Sumner, David Buffum and ---- Buffum brought it up from there while the siege was progressing.

The siege was fairly commenced on Saturday, December 1, and lasted one week. The main body of the invaders were encamped on the Wakarusa bottoms, a little southeast of Franklin, some six miles from Lawrence. They had come in on the Westport road and held the Wakarusa crossing, encamped all along up the stream, and had their scouts and foragers ranging across the country as far north as Blanton's Bridge. Another wing was stationed near Lecompton, under the command of Maj. Gens. Strickler and Richardson. They were mostly from Platte and Buchanan Counties, Mo., with some fifty Pro-slavery residents - the Kickapoo Rangers - in the command. Col. Atchison, with a hundred or more riflemen from Platte County, Mo., was stationed on the north side of the Kansas River, opposite Lawrence. The invading army numbered at its highest not far from 1,500 men. They were indifferently armed as a whole, although they had broken into the United States Arsenal at Liberty, Clay Co., Mo., and stolen guns, cutlasses and cannon, and such munitions of war as they required.

Thus the forces were rallied for war, the defenders of Lawrence vigorously drilling and strengthening their position; while the invading army waited the command from Jones to move on the enemy's works. It soon became apparent that Jones was hampered in his operations. The orders under which the troops had been furnished were explicit, and forbade the use of armed force for any other purpose than for the serving of writs in his hands. Many of the officers, as well as himself, had visited Lawrence daily during the preparations. They had reasons to believe that the citizens would make no resistance to any personal arrests Jones might choose to make, in case he showed writs, legally issued, as authority; and they were fully assured that if it should be undertaken to go further, demand the surrender of their arms, or to attempt to "sack the town," as Jones had threatened, there would certainly be a fair sprinkling of dead and wounded Missourians before the job was done. Further, Gov. Shannon, who had up to this time proved himself a most efficient tool in the hands of Jones, began to move in such a manner as to become a stumbling block.

On a close view of the situation, the cooler and more discreet officers discerned more danger and less glory in "helping Jones" than had been discernible at a distance, especially as Jones seemed to have no writs to serve on any of the citizens of Lawrence. Their sentiments of discretion were conveyed to the Governor in a letter, penned by the doughty editor of the Leavenworth Herald, as follows:

GOVERNOR SHANNON - Information has been received here direct from Lawrence, which I consider reliable, that the outlaws are well fortified at Lawrence with cannon and Sharpe's rifles, and number at least 1,000 men. It will therefore be difficult to dispossess them.

The militia in this portion of the State are entirely unorganized, and mostly without arms.

I suggest the propriety of calling upon the military at Fort Leavenworth. If you have the power to call out the Government troops, I think it would be best to do so at once. It might overawe these outlaws and prevent bloodshed.

Brigadier General Northern Brigade, K. M.

The Governor telegraphed immediately to Washington, stating the condition of affairs, as he understood them, and asking authority to call on the United States troops stationed at Leavenworth. He also sent a dispatch to Col. Sumner, in command at Fort Leavenworth, to hold himself in readiness to march immediately on receipt of orders. The following judicious reply seems to have first directed the action of the Governor in a channel to thwart Jones. It read:

FORT LEAVENWORTH, December 1, 1855. }

GOVERNOR - I have just received your letter of this day. I do not feel that it would be right in me to act in this important matter until orders are received from the Government. I shall be ready to move instantly when I receive them. I would respectfully suggest that you make your application extensively known at once, and I would countermand any orders that may have been given for the movement of the militia until you receive the answer. With much respect, your obedient servant,

E. V. SUMNER, Colonel First Cavalry.

Adopting the very wise suggestion of Col. Summer, Governor Shannon immediately wrote and dispatched letters to Gen. Richardson and Sheriff Jones, ordering them to refrain from any attempt to serve writs until he should hear from Washington in reply to his request for troops. The following forcible argument, calculated to hold in check the turbulent spirit of Jones, is given in the Governor's own words:

"The known deficiency in arms and all the accoutrements of war, which must necessarily characterize the law-abiding citizens who have rushed to your assistance in the maintenance of order, will invite resistance from your opponents who are well supplied with arms. It would be wrong therefore to place your men in a position where their lives would be endangered when we shall, in all probability, have an ample force from Leavenworth in a few days."

Jones respectfully protested to the Governor thus:

CAMP AT WAKARUSA, December 3, 1867.


Sir - In reply to your communication of yesterday, I have to inform you that the volunteer forces now at this place and Lecompton, are getting weary of inaction. They will not, I presume, remain but a short time longer, unless a demand for the prisoner is made. I think I shall have a sufficient force to protect me by to-morrow morning. The force at Lawrence is not half so strong as reported. I have this from a reliable source. If I am to wait for Government troops, more than two-thirds of the men now here will go away very much dissatisfied They are leaving hourly as it is. I do not, by any means, wish to violate your orders, but I really believe that if I have a sufficient force; it would be better to make the demand.

It is reported that the people of Lawrence have run off those offenders from that town, and, indeed, it is said they are now all out of the way. I have writs for sixteen persons who were with the party that rescued my prisoner. S. M. Wood, P. R. Brooks and Samuel Tappan are of Lawrence, the balance from the country around. Warrants will be placed in my hands to-day for the arrest of G. W. Brown, and probably others in Lecompton. They say that they are willing to obey the laws, but no confidence can be place in any statements they may make.

No evidence sufficient to cause a warrant to be issued has, as yet, been brought against those lawless men who fired the houses.

I would give you the names of the defendants, but the writs are in my office at Lecompton.

Most respectfully yours,
Sheriff of Douglas County.

Gov. Shannon received a reply from the Government that orders would be made out without delay at the War Department, placing the United States troops at his disposal. Col. Sumner, however, refused to move until the orders were actually received.

Meantime, the Committee of Safety determined to open communication with Gov. Shannon. A letter was written and dispatched to the Governor by a select committee consisting of G. P. Lowery and G. W. Babcock, who, after repeated interruptions by Missouri patrols, reached Shawnee Mission, delivered their letter to, and obtained an interview with Shannon - the first communication he had had with Free-state men since he entered the Territory. The letter they bore was as follows:


Sir - As citizens of Kansas Territory, we desire to call your attention to the fact that a large force of armed men from a foreign State have assembled in the vicinity of Lawrence, are now committing depredations upon our citizens, stopping wagons, opening and appropriating their loading, arresting, detaining and threatening travelers upon the public road, and that they claim to do this by your authority. We desire to know if they do appear by your authority, and if you will secure the peace and quiet of the community by ordering their instant removal, or compel us to resort to some other means and to higher authority.


The statement of the situation as given to Gov. Shannon by Messrs. Lowery and Babcock, in the ensuing interview with Gov. Shannon, together with the letter they delivered him, opened his eyes to truths of which he had before been ignorant. He had believed that the Free-state men in and about Lawrence were insignificant both in numbers, influence and courage, and that they were, as Stringfellow, Eastin, Jones, and Atchison had taught him to believe, a set of mischievous, loud-mouthed fanatics with neither principle nor courage, who could be brought into subjection by a show of force, without danger to anybody engaged in the work of their subjection.

A short interview with the Lawrence delegation tore the scales from his eyes. He saw a beleaguered town, filled with men well armed and desperate in the defense of their homes and rights, about to be invaded by a horde of foreign desperadoes who had appeared at his summons, and for whose acts as well as safety he was in a measure responsible. In his plans thus far, he had looked to successful intimidation as the result of the military demonstration. He found it meant murder and blood, and much of it, on both sides. He professed to have been deceived. He had been informed that sixteen houses of Pro-slavery men had been burned, and the families fled the country along the Wakarusa, to save their lives. He referred to the revolutionary conventions which had been held at Lawrence, and the incendiary resolutions which had been passed. He ended the interview by promising to repair immediately to the camp of the invaders of the Wakarusa, there, if possible to allay the excitement and avoid bloodshed. Chroniclers, mindful of the virtues and talents of the Governor, which shone out brightly in the evening of his life, have portrayed his unselfish efforts thereafter made to save Lawrence from sack and slaughter. The reader can judge whether it was the Missourians or the Kansans that most enlisted his solicitude. He shrank from blood, at any rate, and betook himself to the Wakarusa camp, in great trepidation, on the evening of December 5, to prevent its flow, if possible.

On his arrival, he found the officers sober and fully cognizant of the serious aspect of affairs. The rank and file consisted of Missourians of all ages, who had come over to "help Jones wipe out Lawrence." They had waited three days already, during which time they had subsisted on what they could steal and rob from the inhabitants, and the whisky they had brought along. They were as ignorant of the danger attending the attack on Lawrence as was Shannon two days before. They were under lax discipline, bordering on insubordination, and in the delirium coming from exposure, lack of food, and plentiful supplies of strong drink, the force was well-nigh on the verge of mania a potu. The Governor discovered at once the insane determination of the men to march on Lawrence at all hazards and set about, with the full co-operation of all the officers except Jones, the task of getting them out of the Territory alive. He was not at the time quite mentally self-poised. Fear too much predominated. His first move was to send to Col. Sumner for help. His letter read as follows:

WAKARUSA, December 6, 1855.


Sir - I send you this special dispatch to ask you to come to Lawrence as soon as you possibly can. My object is to secure the citizens of that place, as well as others, from a warfare which, if once commenced there is no telling where it will end. I doubt not you have received orders from Washington, but, if you have not, the absolute pressure of this crisis is such as to justify you with the President and the world in moving to the scene of difficulty.

It is hard to restrain the men here (they are beyond my power, or at least, soon will be) from making an attack on Lawrence, which, if once made, there is no telling where it will terminate. The presence of a portion of the U. S. Troops at Lawrence would prevent an attack, save bloodshed and enable us to get matters arranged in a satisfactory way, and at the same time secure an execution of the laws. It is peace, not war, that we want, and you have the power to secure peace. Time is precious - fear not but that you will be sustained.

With great respect,

[TOC] [part 26] [part 24] [Cutler's History]