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


[TOC] [part 33] [part 31] [Cutler's History]


The verbal resistance offered by Gov. Reeder to his attempted arrest by Deputy Marshal Fain, occurred in Lawrence, this committee having returned to that place from Tecumseh, where they had been for several days, on the very day the arrest was attempted. On the report of failure to the United States Marshal of the Territory, he issued a proclamation, which was sent to Leavenworth, Atchison, and all the border towns of Missouri. Nothing was generally known of its issuing at any interior points in the Territory, until the posse of armed mien thereby summoned had begun to appear about Lawrence. It read as follows:



WHEREAS, certain judicial arrests have been directed to me by the First District Court of the United States, etc. to be executed within the county of Douglas, and whereas an attempt to execute them by the United States Deputy Marshal was evidently resisted by a large number of the people of Lawrence, and as there is every reason to believe that any attempt to execute these writs will be resisted by a large body of armed men; now, therefore, the law-abiding citizens of the Territory are commanded to be and appear at Lecompton, as soon as practicable, and in numbers sufficient for the execution of the law.

Given under my hand this 11th day of May, 1856.

United States Marshal of the Territory of Kansas.

P. S. No liability for expenses will hue incurred by tine United States until its consent is obtained.

The call was a part of the preconcerted and deeply laid plot for the crushing out of the Free-state movement, and the subjugation or extermination of all who opposed the Territorial laws. The charge of Judge Lecompte, the subsequent findings of the jury, the armed bands waiting on the border, the dismissal of Col. Sumner with his main command by Gov. Shannon, and his return to his post at Fort Leavenworth, and the final call by Marshal Donaldson to the waiting army to come to his aid, were now seen to be but parts of one infamous whole.

The answer to the proclamation was so prompt as to prove it to be, beyond doubt, only the consummation of a well-planned conspiracy, every step of which had been carefully planned before. The van of the army appeared in the vicinity of Lawrence two day's before the proclamation was dated, and commenced hostile demonstrations. Travelers were stopped on the highways, their loads confiscated, houses wore robbed, horses and cattle stolen, and a general system of lawless brigandage begun.

At a meeting, held by the citizens of Lawrence, on the evening of May 10, the following preamble and resolution was adopted:

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, Hutchingson 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.

The gentlemen named communicated to Gov. Shannon the above appeal. He replied in a letter which evinced his full knowledge and complicity in the fast maturing plans of the Law and Order party for the destruction of the city. The reply was as follows:


GENTLEMEN - Your note of the 11th inst. is received, and in reply I have to state that there is no force around or approaching Lawrence, except the largely 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 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 the Marshal and Sheriff in the execution of processes in their hands, as all good citizens are bound to do when called upon, they, or all such, will entitle themselves to the protection of the law. But, so long as they keep up a military or armed organization to resist the Territorial laws and the officers charged with their execution, I shall not interpose to save them from the legitimate consequences of their illegal acts.

I have the honor to be yours, with great respect,


The situation at this time was entirely dissimilar to that obtaining at the invasion of December, 1855. At that time the conflict had been precipitated by Jones, for the redress of personal grievances, and, the tatterdemalions, who gathered around Lawrence 'to help Jones,' came without authority of law, and found the city not only impregnable against their attacks, but able to wipe them out, if allowed to do it, before they could reach their base of supplies in Missouri. Hence came the treaty made by Gov. Shannon, in the interests of peace, and to avoid bloodshed. Now, the movement against the city had the sanction of law. It had been so planned. The United States Court had inaugurated the onslaught; the United States Marshal was to execute the orders of the court; the President had, by public proclamation, sanctioned the proceeding, and put the United States troops under the command of the Governor to execute the Territorial laws. Hence, the craven and panic-stricken Governor of December, 1855, became the bold and implacable conservator of law in May, 1856, and wrote the letter before quoted.

The condition in Lawrence was entirely changed. Robinson was a prisoner, and Gen. Lane was absent from the Territory. Other brave and reliable Free-state men were being hunted by Samuel Salters, and were in hiding to avoid arrest. What true men were left were divided in council, as to whether resistance or abject submission to the United States authorities, acting under the Territorial laws, was the true policy. The non-resistants were in a large majority, as they doubtless would have been, had their old leader, Robinson, been with them. Lane might have counseled resistance; but his discretion - despite his pugnacious temperament - ever marked him as the disciple of wisdom rather than impulse, and he too would most likely have accepted the situation, with its present bitter humiliations, as stepping stones to a more complete revenge in the near hereafter.

On the receipt of Gov. Shannon's letter, another meeting was held by the citizens, with a view to averting the impending catastrophe. The subjoined report of that meeting, and what followed, is taken from Phillips' 'Conquest of Kansas:'

This harsh and partisan letter from the Governor, under such circumstances, could not be regarded as anything short of declaration of war.

As the citizens of Lawrence were anxious to avert troubles, if possible, a meeting was held and the following action taken:

WHEREAS, by a proclamation to the people of Kansas Territory, by J. B. Donaldson, United State Marshal for said Territory, issued on the 11th day of May 1856, it is alleged that certain judicial writs of arrest have been directed to him by the First District Court of the United States, etc., to be executed within the county of Douglas, and that an attempt to execute them by the Deputy United States Marshal was violently resisted by a large number of the citizens of Lawrence, and that there is every reason to believe that an attempt to execute said writs will be resisted by, a large body of armed men, therefore,

Resolved, By this public meeting of the citizens of Lawrence, held this 13th day of May, 1856, that the allegations and charges against us, contained in the aforesaid proclamation, are wholly untrue in fact, and in the conclusion which is drawn from them. The aforesaid Marshal was resisted in no manner whatever nor by any person whatever, in the execution of said writs, except by him whose arrest the said Deputy Marshal was seeking to make. And that we now, as we have done heretofore declare our willingness and determination, without resistance to acquiesce in the service upon us, of any judicial writs against us, by the United States Marshal for Kansas Territory, and will furnish him with a posse for that purpose if so requested; but that we are ready to resist, if need be, unto death, the ravages and desolation of an invading mob.

J. A. WAKEFIELD, President.

These resolutions were forwarded to the Marshall and to Gov. Shannon.

As I have said, the Marshal never sent a copy of his proclamation to Lawrence. The copy that reached Lawrence was sent to me from Lecompton by one of my agents, and was received a few hours after its issue. I carried it into the chamber of the Committee of Safety which held a meeting that night. Its meetings were private. Several proposals were made, but the majority were unwilling to do anything. Lieut. Gov. Roberts and Col. Holliday were opposed to any defense being made. Holliday urged that it was a busy season, and the farmers could not be taken from their farms to sustain another siege at that season without great loss. Others urged that the merchants and business men had advanced provisions, stores and goods, during the Wakarusa war, and had got pay for only a small part of it, and could not advance anything more to defend the place.

Dietzler, (sic)and several other members of the committee, were in favor of defending the place against the Marshal's posse. The discussion was vague, pointless, and unsatisfactory. There was no one to take the lead. One proposal was that efforts be made to see that three or four hundred men, armed only with pistols and other side-arms should go to Lecompton, and offer themselves to Donaldson as his posse, in obedience to his proclamation, and demand from the Governor a share of the public arms then at Lecompton.

The committee determined that matters should go on as they were. Roberts declared that he did not mean to go out of the Territory, but should stay and be arrested.

I mention these things because they show reasons why the impending stroke was permitted. Several of those who had advocated warlike measures left in disgust. The people, who, as a general thing, wanted the town to be defended, dispensed with the old committee, and elected a new one. The following are their names, composed in part of the first: William Y. Roberts, G. W. Deitzler, Lyman Allen, John A. Perry, C. W. Babcock, S. B. Prentiss, A. H. Mallory, Joel Grover. A few days after this selection, Mr. S. C. Pomeroy arrived from the East, where he had been on the business of the Emigrant Aid Society, and was admitted as a member.

A change of rulers does not always bring a change of policy; this second committee was more pacific than the first, although selected by the people with the expectation that resistance might be made. In fact, it was the Federal authority employed that acted as a dead weight against them.

In response to Donaldson's proclamation, the waiting army moved to the scene of published rebellion and resistance. Two encampments were formed within two days after the issuing of the call.

Near Lecompton were Gen. David R. Atchison, of Missouri, in command of the Platte County Riflemen, of Missouri, with two pieces of artillery; Capt. Dunn, in command of the Kickapoo Rangers, and recruits from Leavenworth and Weston, Mo., the two Stringfellows, Robert Kelly and Peter Abell, having in charge the Law and Order recruits from Atchison and vicinity; Col. Wilkes, of South Carolina; Col. Titus, of Florida, with such followers as they could command.

At Franklin, Col. Boone, of Westport, Mo., and Col. Buford, of South Carolina, had command of a force of some four hundred men, nine tenths of whom were not residents of the Territory. Three-fourths of these were from South Carolina and other Southern States, who had but recently arrived with Col. Buford, and were thus making their first visit to the Territory in which they designed to settle. The men in both camps, lacking arms, were furnished by Gov. Shannon from the United States supply then under his control at Lecompton.

The investing army were well in camp on the evening of May 13, and foraged constantly on the inoffensive and defenseless settlers for subsistence from that time until they left the county.

The citizens of Lawrence and the Committee of Safety continued their efforts for pacification and to avert the impending evils. Another meeting of the citizens was held May 13, at which G. W. Deitzler presided, and J. H. Green acted as Secretary. The resolutions passed at this meeting were not unlike those of the previous meeting, at which Judge Wakefield had presided. They were sent to Lecompton, together with a letter to Marshal Donaldson, the messenger being Mr. Cox, a Pro-slavery resident of Lawrence, who had before done what he could for the protection of the town by an attempted negotiation with Donaldson in its behalf. The letter and the insulting and implacable answer returned wore as follows:

LAWRENCE, May 14, 1856.


Dear Sir - We have seen a proclamation issued by yourself, dated 11th of May inst., and also have reliable information this morning that large bodies of armed men, in pursuance of your proclamation have assembled in the vicinity, of Lawrence.

That there be no misunderstanding, we beg leave to ask respectfully, that we may be reliably informed what are the demands against us. We desire to state most truthfully and earnestly, that no opposition will, now or at any future time be offered to the execution of any legal process by yourself or any person acting for you. We also pledge ourselves to assist you, if called upon in the execution of any legal process.

We declare ourselves to be order-loving and law-abiding citizens, and only await an opportunity to test our fidelity to the laws of the county, the Constitution and the Union.

We are informed also, that these men collected about Lawrence, openly declare that their intention is to destroy the town, and d drive off the citizens. Of course, we do not believe that you would give any countenance to such threats; but, in view of the excited state of the public mind, we ask protection of the constituted authorities of the Government, declaring ourselves in readiness to co-operate with them for the maintenance of the peace, order and quiet of the community in which we live.

Very respectfully,




Lecompton, K. T. May 15, 1856.


On yesterday I received a communication addressed to me, signed by one of you as President, and the other as Secretary, purporting to have been adopted by a meeting of the citizens of Lawrence held on yesterday morning. After speaking of a proclamation, issued by myself, you state, "That there may be no misunderstanding, we beg leave to ask respectfully, that we may he reliably informed what are the demands against us. We desire most truthfully and earnestly to declare that no opposition whatever, will now, or at any future time, be offered to the execution of any legal process, etc."

From your professed ignorance of the demands against you, I must conclude that you are strangers, and not citizens, of Lawrence, or of recent date, or been absent for some time; more particularly when an attempt was made by my deputy to execute the process of the First district Court of the United States for Kansas Territory, against ex-Gov. Reeder, when he made a speech in the room and in the presence of the congressional Committee, and denied the power and authority of said court, and threatened the life of said deputy, if he attempted to execute said process, which speech and defiant threats were loudly applauded by some one or two hundred of the citizens of Lawrence, who had assembled at the room on learning the business of the Marshal, and made such hostile demonstrations that the deputy thought he and his small posse would endanger their lives in executing such process.

Your declaration that you will truthfully and earnestly offer now, or at any future time, no opposition to any legal process, etc., is indeed difficult to understand. May I ask, gentlemen, what has produced this wonderful change in the minds of the people of Lawrence? Have their eyes been suddenly opened, so that they are now able to see that there are laws in Kansas Territory which should be obeyed? Or, it may possibly be that you now, as heretofore, expect to screen yourselves behind the word 'legal,' so significantly used by you. How am I to rely on your pledges, when I am well aware that the whole population of Lawrence is armed and drilled, and the town fortified - when, too, I recollect the meetings and resolutions adopted in Lawrence and elsewhere in the Territory - openly defying the laws and the officers thereof, and threatening to resist the same to a bloody issue, as recently verified in the attempted assassination of Sheriff Jones, while in the discharge of his official duties in Lawrence? Are you strangers to all these things? Surely you must be strangers in Lawrence. If no outrages have been committed by the citizens of Lawrence against the laws of the land, they need not fear any posse of mine. But I must take the liberty of executing all processes in my hands as United States Marshal, in my own time and manner, and shall only use such power as is authorized by law. You say you call upon the constituted authorities for protection. This indeed sounds strange, coming from a large body of men, armed with Sharpe's rifles, and other implements of war, bound together by oaths and pledges, to resist the Government they call on for protection. All persons in Kansas Territory - without regard to location - who honestly submit to the constituted authorities, will ever find me ready to aid in protecting them; and who seek to resist the laws of the land, and turn traitors to their country, will find me aiding in enforcing the laws, if not as an officer, as a citizen.

Respectfully yours,

I. B. DONALDSON, U. S. Marshal Kansas Territory.

Further letters were sent the Marshal and the Governor, informing them of the depredations daily committed by the posse encamped around the city, and asking for protection, but no written answer was returned. Several urgent messages were sent to Leavenworth, invoking the aid of the Congressional Committee, then in session at Leavenworth, and imploring Col. Sumner to come to the rescue with the United States troops under his command. The committee was powerless. Col. Sumner, mindful of the inviolable duty of the soldier to obey no orders except from those having unquestioned authority, declined to move, except by command from Gov. Shannon or from the General Government. Shannon did not, as on a former occasion, implore his assistance. On the contrary, he had sent him and his command hack to the fort about the time the posse was called out, and there he intended he should remain. A last effort for a peaceful settlement was made May 18, and for a few hours inspired hope. Messrs. S. W. and T. B. Eldridge, the lessees of the lately finished Free State Hotel, themselves having just moved to Lawrence from Kansas City, and not subject to the opposition or distrust cherished toward the old residents, proceeded to the camp of the invaders, and there proposed in behalf of the citizens that if Gov. Shannon would order Col. Sumner to encamp with his force near Lawrence that the arms within the city should be surrendered to him, to be held until all writs in the hands of the Marshal had been served, the said arms to be returned on the departure of the United States troops. Hopes were held out that the proposition would be accepted, and the gentlemen were required to wait on Gov. Shannon on the following morning for a final answer. On their way to Lecompton, they were arrested and detained several hours in Stringfellow's camp, and, on reaching the Governor's headquarters, were told by him that the South Carolinians would be satisfied with nothing except the surrender of the arms either to him (the Governor) or the Marshal, and declined to order Col. Sumner to appear with his troops. The gentlemen expostulated and expressed fears that the citizens would fight rather than submit to the humiliation. Gov. Shannon replied, "War, then, by -----," and brought the interview to an end by leaving the room.

Murder was this day added to the robberies which had formed the pastime of the waiting posse. A young man named Jones, returning home from Lawrence with a bag of flour, was met by a party near Blanton's bridge, robbed, disarmed, and then shot dead. Some indignant young men from Lawrence started for the scene of the murder. One mile out they were met by two men from the Franklin camp, who, after a wordy and abusive wrangle, ended the interview by firing into the party. On the of boys - Stewart - fell dead, and the two Law and Order men rode back to their camp. The return of the party to Lawrence with the dead body of Stewart was the first intimation received of the foolhardy expedition which the boys had undertaken. It was with difficulty that the exasperated citizens could be held within the conservative bounds of non-resistance which had been determined upon by the Committee of Safety. The pertinacity and steadfastness with which, against insult, robbery and murder, they held fast to the only policy that could save the cause they had at heart, evinced a moral bravery which entitles them to the highest place among the heroes of those days. Self-imposed restraint and forbearance under extreme provocation, though bearing the outward signs of timidity and weakness, when excited for a principle, mark the highest type of human courage and endurance.

[TOC] [part 33] [part 31] [Cutler's History]