Charge of Judge Lecompte to the Grand Jury.--Presentment.--Arrests at Lawrence.--Travellers interrupted on the highways.--The murder of Jones and Stewart.--The sacking of Lawrence.--Burning of the hotel and destruction of printing offices.
On the 5th of May, Judge Lecompte delivered a charge, highly partisan in its character, to the grand jury of Douglas county, of which, the following extract is in his own words:--
"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 that 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 persons have resisted these laws, then must you, under your oaths, find bills against such persons 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 influence and notoriety have been aiding and abetting in such combinations, then must you still find bills for constructive treason, as the courts have decided that to constitute treason the blow need not be struck, but only the intention be made evident."
The grand jury accordingly made a presentment, as follows:--
"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 commanding 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;
In order to accomplish the objects of this presentment, which was simply a declaration of war against Lawrence, a number of writs were made out and placed in the hands of the marshal for the arrest of prominent citizens of that place. Although it is asserted that no attempts were made to resist the marshal¨s deputies in serving these writs, the marshal, on the 11th of May, issued the following proclamation:--
"TO THE PEOPLE OF KANSAS TERRITORY:
Previous to the publication of this proclamation, Buford™s regiment, and other armed bands, had taken up positions in the vicinity of Lawrence, who were not only committing depredations upon the property of the settlers, but were intercepting, robbing, and imprisoning travellers on the public thoroughfares, and threatening to attack the town, in consequence of which a meeting was held, and a committee appointed to address Governor Shannon, stating the facts in gentle terms, and asking his protection against such bands by the United States troops at his disposal.
To this respectful application the committee received the following reply:--
Still desirous of averting the impending difficulties, the citizens of Lawrence held another meeting on the 13th, when the following preamble and resolution were adopted, copies of which were immediately forwarded to Marshal Donalson and Governor Shannon:--
"Whereas by a proclamation to the people of Kansas Territory, by I. B. Donalson, United States 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 United States Deputy Marshal was violently resisted by a large number of the citizens of Lawrence, and that there is every reason to believe that any attempt to execute said writs will be resisted by a large body of armed men; therefore,
On the 14th, still another meeting was held at Lawrence, and a letter, signed by a large and respectable committee appointed for the purpose, was sent to the marshal, in which it was affirmed "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 testify our fidelity to the laws of the country, the constitution, and the Union.
"We are informed, also, that those men collecting about Lawrence openly declare that it is their attention to destroy the town and drive off the citizens. Of course we do not believe you 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."
In reply to this the marshal sends a lengthy communication, intended to be bitterly sarcastic, which he closes with these words:--
"You say you call upon the constituted authorities of the government for protection. This, indeed, sounds strange 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 laws of 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 all who seek to resist the laws of the land, and turn traitors to their country, will find me aiding and enforcing the laws, if not as an officer as a citizen."
Whilst these documents were passing, the roads were blockaded by the marshal¶s posse of southern volunteers, upon which no man without a passport could safely venture. Captain Samuel Walker, who had carried one of the above-mentioned letters to Lecompton, was fired upon on his return to Lawrence. Mr. Miller, who with two others had gone up to negotiate with the governor for an amicable adjustment of the pending troubles, was taken prisoner by a detachment of Buford's South Carolinians near Lecompton, who knowing him to have been from their own state, tried him for treason and sentenced him to be hung. He contrived, somehow, to get away with the loss of his horse and purse. Mr. Weaver, a sergeant-at-arms of the Congressional Committee, was arrested while in the discharge of his duty, and carried across the Kansas River, to the South Carolinian camp, where after a critical examination of his papers, he was discovered to be in the service of the United States, and released, the officer in command giving him a pass, and kindly advising him to answer promptly, if challenged, otherwise he might be shot. Outrages of this kind became so frequent that all travel was at last suspended.
On the 17th of May the citizens of Lawrence, through a committee, again addressed the United States Marshal, in the words of the following letter:--
To this communication no reply was given. In the mean time, preparations were going forward, and vigorously prosecuted, for the sacking of Lawrence. The pro-slavery people were to "wipe out " this ill-fated town under authority of law. They had received the countenance of the president--the approbation of the chief justice--the favorable presentment of the grand jury--the concurrence of the governor--the orders of the marshal,--and were prepared to consummate their purpose with the arms of the government, in the hands of a militia force gathered from the remotest sections of the Union.
They concentrated their troops in large numbers around the doomed city, stealing, or, as they termed it, "pressing into the service," all the horses they could find belonging to free-state men, whose cattle were also slaughtered, without remuneration, to feed the marshal's forces; and their stores and dwellings broken open and robbed of arms, provisions, blankets and clothing. And all this under the pretence of "law and order," and in the name and under the sanction of the government of the United States.
The marshal's army had a gallant host of commanders. There was General Atchison, with the Missouri Platte County Rifles, and two pieces of artillery; Captain Dunn, with the Kickapoo Rangers; General Stringfellow, and Colonel Abel, his law-partner, aided by Doctor John H. Stringfellow and Robert S. Kelly, editors of the Squatter Sovereign, with the forces from Doniphan, Atchison and Leavenworth; Colonel Boone, with sundry aids, at the head of companies from Westport, Liberty and Independence; Colonels Wilkes and Buford, with the Carolinians, Georgians and Mississippians; Colonel H. T. Titus, in command of the Douglas County Militia; and many others, too numerous to mention.
The heart of the marshal must have swelled with triumphant pride when he looked upon this posse comitatus, comprising in all not less than eight hundred warlike men. The governor must have reviewed them with that satisfaction which governors only can feel when about to accomplish a mighty undertaking, with the certainty of success. This patriotic host was about to engage in an enterprise that was to redound to their everlasting glory--of the most noble actions that ever called warriors to the field of battle. But where, all this time, was Sheriff Jones, the life and spirit and power of all this chivalric host? Why had he not made his appearance, to encourage with his presence, and cheer with his voice and smiles, these patriotic forces? By some it was still supposed that he was either dead or dying of the wound in his back. Jones was still behind the scenes. The time for his appearance upon the stage had not arrived, and he patiently awaited his proper cue.
On the 19th of May, while these forces were collecting for the destruction of Lawrence, a young man from Illinois, named Jones, had been to a store near Blanton's Bridge, to purchase flour, when he was attacked by two of the marshal's party, who were out as scouts. To escape these men, Jones dismounted and entered the store, into which they followed, and there abused him. He again mounted his horse and left for home, the others following, and swearing that the d---d abolitionist should not escape. When near the bridge, they levelled their guns (United States muskets), and fired. Jones fell mortally wounded, and soon expired.
On the following morning, the 20th, several young men, hearing of this transaction, left Lawrence to visit the scene of the tragedy. One of these was named Stewart, who had but recently arrived from the State of New York. They had gone about a mile and a half, when they met two men, armed with Sharpe's rifles. Some words passed between them, when the two strangers raised their rifles, and, taking deliberate aim at Stewart, fired. One of the balls entered his temple. The work of death was instantly accomplished, and another accusing spirit stood before the bar of God.
Soon after sunrise, on the morning of the 21st, an advanced guard of the marshal's army, consisting of about two hundred horsemen, appeared on the top of Mount Oread, on the outskirts of the town of Lawrence, where their cannon had been stationed late on the preceding night. The town was quiet, and the citizens had resolved to submit without resistance to any outrage that might be perpetrated. About seven o'clock, Doctor Robinson's house, which stood on the side of the hill, was taken possession of, and used as the headquarters of the invaders. At eight o'clock, the main body of the army posted themselves on the outer edge of the town. Deputy Marshal Fain, with ten men, entered Lawrence, and, without molestation, served the writs in his possession, and arrested Judge G. W. Smith and G. W. Deitzler. Fain and his companions dined at the free-state hotel, and afterwards returned to the army on Mount Oread. The marshal then dismissed his monster posse, telling them he had no further use for them.
It was nearly three o'clock in the afternoon, when suddenly another actor appeared upon the stage. The "dead" and " dying,"--immortal Sheriff Jones,--rode rapidly into Lawrence, at the head of twenty-five mounted men; and as he passed along the line of the troops, he was received with deafening shouts of applause. His presence was the signal for action, and a sanction for the outrages that ensued.
Atchison then addressed his forces, in language not sufficiently well selected for ears polite, and then marched the whole column to within a short distance of the hotel, where they halted. Jones now informed Col. Eldridge, the proprietor, that the hotel must be destroyed; he was acting under orders; he had writs issued by the First District Court of the United States to destroy the Free-State Hotel, and the offices of the Herald of Freedom and Free Press. The grand jury at Lecompton had indicted them as nuisances, and the court had ordered them to be destroyed. He gave Col. Eldridge an hour and a half to remove his family and furniture, after which time the demolition commenced, and was prosecuted with an earnestness that would have done credit to a better cause.
In the mean time the newspaper offices had been assailed, the presses broken to pieces, and these, with the type and other material, thrown into the Kansas River. The following extract from the report of these transactions, given in the columns of the Lecompton Union, the most rabid pro-slavery paper in Kansas, the Squatter Sovereign excepted, is too significant not to be read with interest:--
"During this time appeals were made to Sheriff Jones to save the Aid Society's Hotel. This news reached the company's ears, and was received with one universal cry of `No! no! Blow it up! blow it up!"
Whilst the work of destruction was going on at the printing-offices, the bombardment of the hotel, a strongly constructed three-story stone building, commenced. Kegs of gunpowder had been placed inside and the house fired in numerous places; and whilst the flames were doing their destructive work within, heavy cannon were battering against the walls without; and amid the crackling of the conflagration, the noise of falling walls and timbers, and the roar of the artillery, were mingled the almost frantic yells of satisfaction that constantly burst from the "law and order" lovers of Kansas Territory. Jones himself was in ecstasies. He sat upon his horse, contemplating the havoc he was making, and rubbing his hands with wild delight, exclaimed: "This is the happiest day of my life. I determined to make the fanatics bow before me in the dust, and kiss the territorial laws; and I have done it--by G--d, I have done it!"
And then followed scenes of reckless pillage and wanton destruction in all parts of that ill-fated town. Stores were broken into and plundered of their contents. Bolts and bars were no obstacles to the entrance of drunken and infuriated men into private dwellings, from which most of the inhabitants had fled in terror. From these everything of value was stolen, and much that was useless to the marauders was destroyed.
The closing act of this frightful drama was the burning of the house of Dr. Robinson on the brow of Mount Oread. This was set on fire after the sun had gone down, and the bright light which its flames shed over the country illuminated the paths of the retreating army, as they proceeded toward their homes, pillaging houses, stealing horses, and violating the persons of defenceless women. All these dreadful deeds were done by human authority. There is yet an account to render to a Higher Power!
During the perpetration of these atrocities, one of the pro-slavery intruders accidentally shot himself on Mount Oread, another was killed by the falling of a brick from the free-state hotel, and a third had his leg crushed and broken by falling from his horse when gallopping in pursuit of an unoffending man, whom he had mistaken for Governor Reeder.