A History of Lawrence, by Rev. Richard Cordley.



     There was no serious trouble at Lawrence during the summer. There were many outrages in other parts of the territory. Where the sentiment was divided there were frequent collisions. Where pro-slavery sentiment was predominant free-state men were in constant peril. A man named Kelly was beaten nearly to death by a pro-slavery bully in Atchison. Rev. Pardee Butler, a preacher of the Christian Church, denounced the outrage in the streets of Atchison, and was siezed by a mob, his face was painted black, and he was bound upon a raft and sent floating down the Missouri river. He escaped after floating down a few miles. Some time afterwards he was siezed again. The mob were disposed to hang him, but finally were content to give him a coat of tar and feathers, and let him go. As these outrages and many more were approved by a large portion of the "law and order" party, no attempt was made to punish the perpetrators of them, although they were well known and made no attempt to conceal themselves or their crimes.

     Thus far no difficulty had occurred at Lawrence such as the "law and order" party were waiting for. They were only watching for an opportunity to bring on a collision which would compel the citizens either to recognize or resist the laws of the bogus legislature. If they recognized those laws they would be humiliated; if they resisted them the whole force of the territorial government would be brought to bear to subdue them. But so wisely did they manage their repudiation that no occasion was given for interference. They simply ignored the laws and were a law unto themselves. The fact that the people of Lawrence were well armed and strongly entrenched, made the "law and order" people all the more careful to wait till they had a good case. They were thus compelled to wait till late in the autumn before the coveted opportunity came.

     The occasion came at last, as all things come to those who wait. It was somewhat far-fetched, but it served the purpose. "It was not as wide as a church door, but it served." It all grew out of a claim dispute. Charles W. Dow and Franklin M. Coleman occupied adjoining claims at Hickory Point, about ten miles south of Lawrence. Dow was a free-state man and Coleman was a pro-slavery man. They quarreled about their claims and often had high words. The sympathy of the neighbors ran according to political affiliations. One day, November 21st, Dow was at Coleman’s cabin, talking over the inevitable subject in the inevitable temper. As he started to go home, Coleman shot him dead in the road. That night Coleman fled to Westport, Missouri, and was protected by his pro-slavery friends. The cold-blooded murder naturally produced great indignation among the free-state men. They held a meeting a day or two after to express their indignation, and to devise means to bring the murderer to justice. The meeting was composed mainly of friends and neighbors of Dow, who occupied claims as he did and were exposed to similar treatment. Very naturally they expressed themselves strongly, and were not in a mood to be trifled with. Among these neighbors and friends was an old man named Jacob Branson. Dow lived in the same cabin with him, and Branson thought a great deal of Dow. Branson was a quiet, peaceable man, who never made anybody any trouble. But the brutal murder of his friend stirred the quiet depths of his nature, and he expressed his indignation without stint. He said "if I could draw a bead on Coleman with his rifle, he would not breathe the pure air of this planet another minute."

     One of the friends of the murderer Coleman, named Buckley, professed to be greatly alarmed at the violent tone of the meeting, and especially at the violent expressions of Jacob Branson. He claimed that his life was in danger, and he swore out a warrant for Branson’s arrest. The warrant was put in the hands of Samuel J. Jones, who had been appointed by the Shawnee legislature as Sheriff of Douglas county.

     Jones was one of the characters of those times. He was postmaster of Westport, Missouri, and did not live in Kansas. He had identified himself with her interests, however, by leading a company from Missouri to vote on the memorable thirtieth of March. He went to Bloomington, and led his company in, taking possession of the ballot box of that precinct. He was a mixture of courage and cowardice, of bold bravado and obsequiousness. No appointment could have been more offensive and insulting to the people of Douglas county. He was appointed on purpose to insult and humiliate them, and to provoke them to some sort of resistance that might warrant an attack upon them. The people of Douglas county had got even with their persecutors thus far by so keeping the peace or arranging their disputes among themselves, that they had never called for the services of the obnoxious sheriff. His office seemed in danger of being lost in "innocuous dissuetude." To this man the murderer had fled, and had been taken into custody by him, not for punishment but for protection from the people he had outraged.

     At last the day came when he could be avenged on the people of Douglas county who so thoroughly despised him. The warrant for the arrest of Branson was put in his hands to serve. On the night of November 26th he took some fifteen men and went to Branson’s house to arrest him. It was about eleven o’clock when they arrived at the cabin. They knocked at the door, but before any reply could be made, they burst the door open and rushed in. They dragged Branson out of his bed, and made him dress himself in a hurry. Mrs. Branson demanded their authority but they told her they would attend to that. They took Branson out, placed him on a mule, and started for Lecompton by the way of Lawrence. Mrs. Branson felt sure they would kill her husband as soon as they had him fully in their power.

Lawrence in 1866

     This view, taken from the north point of Mt. Oread in 1866, shows the city as it looked then. The building of most prominence shown in the picture will be recognized as the Central School, which was just completed. In the block opposite are distinguished the Presbyterian Churches of the Old and New Schools, the business portion and North Lawrence in the distance.

     The free-state men in the neighborhood were advised of the writ for Branson’s arrest. They had grounds to fear that he would be disposed of as soon as Jones and his posse got him in their hands. When they heard of the intended arrest, a number of them came together determined to rescue Branson if possible before he could be harmed. The rescue was arranged and conducted by Major J. B. Abbott, a man who lived in the neighborhood, a brave man and a man of prominence for many years afterwards. He was assisted by S. N. Wood, of Lawrence, who had come from the same section of Ohio as the murdered man, Dow Wood was one of the characters of the times, a man of infinite nerve, and as calm and cool in such a matter as he would be in any common affair. There were two others present who lived in Lawrence, Samuel F. Tappan and Samuel C. Smith. The rest were all neighbors of Branson, living on farms near his. By eleven o’clock some fifteen men had gathered at Abbott’s house to attempt to save Branson. They were armed with all sorts of weapons. Some of them had rifles; some of them had shotguns; and some of them had pistols. They had come with anything they hapened (sic) to have in the house. One or two had no weapons whatever. One of these picked up two large stones which he clutched in his hands in a way which showed his intensity of purpose, and illustrated the determination of the whole company.

     They hardly knew what to do or which way to go. It was entirely uncertain what road Jones and his party would take, and in the night it was impossible to see them any distance. But while they were wondering what to do, some one burst into the house and said: "They are coming." S. N. Wood, one of the party, wrote a vivid account of the rescue a short time after.

     "Pell-mell we rushed out of the house and got into the road ahead of them. They halted within two rods of us. A moment was passed in silence when one of their party said: ‘What ‘s up?’ Abbott asked, ‘Is Branson there?’ Branson replied, ‘Yes, I am here, a prisoner.’ S. N. Wood said, ‘If you want to be among your friends come over here.’ One of their party said, ‘If you move we will shoot you.’ Said Wood, 'Come on, let them shoot if they want to. If you shoot, not a man of you will leave alive.’ Branson attempted to ride to us; he was on a mule. ‘Whose mule is that?’ ‘Their’s.’ ‘Get off and let it go.’ Wood left the ranks, kicked the old mule and told it to go back to its friends. Arms were aimed and cocked on both sides, but just as Branson left the ranks, one of the opposite party lowered his gun with the remark: ‘I aint going to shoot.’ Jones then advanced on horseback, said his name was Jones, that he was sheriff of Douglas county, that he had a warrant to arrest old man Branson, and he must serve it. He was told, ‘we knew no Sheriff Jones; we know a postmaster at Westport, Missouri, by that name but we knew no Sheriff Jones.’ Jones still said he had a warrant to arrest Branson and he must do it. S. N. Wood said he was Branson’s attorney, and if he had a warrant to arrest him he wanted to see it, and see if it was all right. Jones said he had it, but refused to show it. Wood asked if it had been read or shown to Branson. Jones admitted that it had not. He was told that until he produced the warrant, Branson could not go with him. At least an hour was spent in parleying, when Jones and his company bid us good night and rode away."

     The rescue occurred near Blanton’s bridge, some five miles south of Lawrence. The rescuing party were all from the neighborhood, except three who were from Lawrence. The rescue occurred at about one o’clock in the morning, some two hours after the arrest. It was afterwards learned that Jones and his party had spent the intervening time at the house of a pro-slavery man, rejoicing at their success. They honored the event in the approved border ruffian style, drinking whiskey and carousing.

     After Jones had gone the rescuers were in a quandary. They had Branson, but were puzzled to know what to do next. They began to realize that the situation was serious. They had taken a prisoner out of the hands of an officer of the law. Jones and his friends would make the most of it. It added fuel to fire already kindled, and furnished him the occasion he had been seeking so long to make an onslaught on the free-state men, and either compel them to recognize the bogus laws under which he held his appointment, or else actually resist them and expose themselves to the penalties. The company of rescuers at once discussed the situation. They knew this was not the end, and was probably only the beginning. They at once decided to go into Lawrence and tell the story to Dr. Charles Robinson, whose cool head and clear sense were always relied upon in times of real difficulty.

     They reached Lawrence in the gray of the morning, and proceeded at once to Dr. Robinson’s house. Mrs. Robinson, in her book written soon after, describes the appearance of the men as they drew up before the house in the morning twilight.

     "“I shall never forget the appearance, in simple citizens dress, some armed and some unarmed, standing in unbroken line, just visible in the breaking light of a November morning. The little band of less than twenty men had walked ten miles since nine o’clock the previous evening. Mr. Branson, a large man of fine proportions, stood a little forward of the line, with his head slightly bent, which an old straw hat hardly protected from the cold, looking as though in his hurry of departure from home he took whatever came first."

     As soon as Dr. Robinson came to the window they told him their story. They set before him all the details of the arrest and the rescue, and of the threats Jones had made on being foiled, of his purpose. After a few minutes thought the doctor replied to them. He said in effect that it was a serious affair, and would no doubt be used by their foes as a pretext for attacking Lawrence, and if possible destroying it. They had only been waiting for an occasion, and this would furnish it. A prisoner taken from the hands of the officers of the law would be called an insurrection. The militia would be called out ostensibly to sustain the officers, really to destroy Lawrence. There was but one thing now to be done. The affair had occurred several miles from Lawrence. Only three Lawrence men were concerned in it, and they were on their own responsibility. The people of Lawrence knew nothing about it. They could not be held responsible for an act of which they did not know until several hours after its occurrence. The perpetrators must take care of themselves and keep out of the way. If Jones and his posse came to the town to make arrests they would simply find no one to arrest. They must find the men who committed the deed and arrest them. At a meeting of citizens later in the morning Robinson’s views were endorsed. It was the universal opinion that as the town of Lawrence, as such, had nothing to do with the affair, its citizens could not be held responsible for it.

     The meeting appointed a committee of safety who were empowered to defend the town in case any attack was made. Everyone felt very certain that it would not be long before the services of the committee would be called for. Dr. Robinson was placed at the head of the committee, and they proceeded at once to put the town in a condition for defense. Thus far Lawrence had not been identified with the affair. A resolution approving the rescue was rejected.

     The events which followed seemed to indicate that the whole thing was a plot. The arrest of Branson was made on purpose to provoke a rescue. Branson had committed no crime. He had simply denounced the murder of a member of his family. The whole country was excited about the murder. The arrest of Branson would inflame them to a fever heat. Jones proposed to take him through Lawrence. After making the arrest he waited two hours at a pro-slavery man’s house to give time for the news to get out. When confronted by an equal number, poorly armed, he surrendered his prisoner without firing a shot, simply muttering vengeance. It was just what he was waiting for. A prisoner had been taken by force from the officers of the law. They had repudiated the laws before; now they had resisted them and overcome the officers of the law. It was a trap and the free-state men had fallen into it.

     Jones lost no time in making the most of his opportunity. He went to Franklin, a little pro-slavery settlement four miles east of Lawrence. Thence he sent out his dispatches. His first dispatch was sent to Colonel A. G. Boone at Westport, Missouri, and his second to the governor. The governor must call out the militia, but Colonel Boone must furnish the men from Missouri. Hence it was important that the Missouri allies should be advised as soon as possible. The dispatches narrated the particulars of the rescue in extravagant terms, and claimed that there was an organized effort to resist the laws. He needed three thousand men to assist him in making arrests of criminals who were hiding from justice and were being protected by armed men in Lawrence. Governor Shannon at once issued a proclamation declaring the free-state men in rebellion and calling out the militia of the territory to aid in the enforcement of the laws. In his order to General Richardson he said the laws had been resisted and that there was an armed force at Lawrence in open rebellion. He had been advised that houses had been burned in Douglas county and whole families turned out onto the open prairie. Sheriff Jones had warrants for the men who were committing these crimes, but he needed three thousand men to enable him to execute these warrants. He ordered General Richardson to collect as large a force as possible, and proceed without delay to Lecompton and report to S. J. Jones, sheriff of Douglas county, "and render him all the aid in your power in the execution of any legal process in his hands."

     But the "Kansas militia" did not respond in very large numbers. It was not expected that they would. The call had to be made to the Kansas militia, but the Missouri militia was expected to do the most of the responding. While all the public proclamations were made to the Kansas militia, secret means were taken to secure a large force from Missouri. Daniel Woodson, the secretary of the territory, sent a private note to an official in Jefferson City, asking him "to call out the Platte County Rifles; but whatever you do, do not implicate the governor." In all these secret notes they add, "Do not compromise the governor." The proslavery press made frantic appeals and published the wildest accounts of the situation in Kansas.

     The Missourians were already organized, and company after company moved towards Lawrence. There were four hundred men from Jackson county and an equal number were called out from Weston and St. Joseph. While, therefore, the Kansas militia responded only in small numbers, their lack of zeal was more than made good by the readiness of these Missouri friends to rally to the defense of law and order in the neighboring territory. They seemed as eager to come up and restore order as they had been to come and vote a few months before. They seemed ready to do any sort of service for the new-comers. They had furnished a legislature to make their laws for them, and now they were ready to furnish an army to enforce those laws. Of the hundreds of armed men, therefore, who responded to the call for the "Kansas militia," all but fifty or so came from over the line.

     None of these men who were so eager to subdue rebellion thought it worth while to inquire if there was any rebellion, or any resistance. Even the governor in calling out the militia, had not thought it worth while to inquire whether the statements on which he based that call had any foundation. As a matter of fact there had been no general resistance to the execution of the laws. The rescue of Branson was a solitary case, and belonged to the neighborhood where it occurred. There had never been any resistance in Lawrence, and there would not have been. Sheriff Jones could have come into Lawrence at any time, and made any arrests for which he had any legal authority. He was several times in Lawrence alone while he was making these extensive preparations to subdue the town. No one had, any thought of molesting him, or interfering with him. But he was determined to force a conflict and humiliate the place, if not destroy it.

     The Missouri allies were not slow in coming to the aid of their friends in Kansas. They were just "spoiling for a fight," and were waiting for a call. They came from all directions and in all ways; in companies, squads and singly. They only wanted a chance to "wipe out" that "abolition nest" at Lawrence. In a day or two some fifteen hundred men had gathered at Franklin, and along the Wakarusa, just clamoring to be led up to the hated town. They claimed to be acting as territorial militia though confessedly from Missouri. They had been organized and drilled at home and were all ready for the fray. It was much easier than to raise and equip a force in Kansas. The militia of Kansas was a myth while that of Missouri was a stubborn fact -- very stubborn, it might be added. A force from pro-slavery Missouri would be more ready to do the bidding of the pro-slavery leaders than any that could be organized in Kansas. They camped mostly at Franklin, while detachments were stretched along the line of the Wakarusa. They expected to be led at once to Lawrence, but as they drew nearer they were disposed to hesitate. They had heard large stories about the Sharpe’s rifles with which they understood the Yankees were armed. The rapidity with which they could be discharged and loaded, the great range at which they could do execution, and the terrible havoc of their bullets, had been told them in all degrees of exaggeration. William A. Phillips, correspondent of the New York Tribune, visited the camp. He claimed to be a mere traveler going through the country to see what was to be seen. He engaged them in conversation, and they became quite communicative. They were very anxious to know about those Sharpe’s rifles. He told them they were "loaded by machinery," and told them they could be fired "ten times a minute." They asked him how far they would carry. He said he did not believe all the stories about them. There were a great many big yarns afloat about the guns. He did not believe they would carry a ball much more than a mile with any degree of accuracy. So the story went around the camp that there were a thousand men in Lawrence, armed with these terrible guns, which were "loaded by machinery, and would kill a man a mile away." The rumor did not tend to hasten an attack.

     But they kept up their bluster and their threats. Whenever their courage flagged at hearing such stories as we have referred to, they could always get their courage renewed at so much a flask. If their personal courage failed, the artificial kind was plentiful, and served their purpose just as well so long as no enemy was in sight. They soon invested Lawrence, guarding all the fords of the Wakarusa, and having a camp to the west on the Lecompton road. They ransacked the country for supplies, and corn cribs and hen coops suffered severely from the nightly attacks of these brave men. They kept the whole country in a state of terror, and many people abandoned their homes and sought safety in town. The attack on Lawrence, however, was still delayed. Every day they clamored to be led up against the devoted place, but every day, for one reason and another, they decided to wait till morning. These whiskey soaked heroes were fond of telling the affrightened women and children what they were going to do when they "once got into Lawrence." But every night they came back to camp, and Lawrence was spared "just one day more."

Lawrence in 1895

     The besieged meanwhile had not been idle. They knew the Branson rescue would be used as a pretext for calling the Missourians in to harrass and humiliate the free-state men. The committee of safety began to arrange for the defense of the town. The free-state men all over the territory became aware of the situation, and the various military companies came in to help their friends in Lawrence. About five hundred men came in thus from various points. It was not an easy matter to feed such a multitude. As in an earlier emergency, they had pretty much "all things common." The most unfortunate were those who had something. All the resources of the place had to be put under contribution. Dr. Spring in his history says of this time:

     "There was a general observance of decorum and order. Most of the citizens made a virtue of necessity, and contributed freely what must have been rudely confiscated. In a single instance a little outbreak of violence occurred, expending itself in the sack of a small tailor shop. One night during the siege, according to the story of a clerk, about twenty men, armed with revolvers, invaded the premises, and extinguished the candle by firing a tobacco box at it. ‘Before I could light a candle,’ the clerk continued, ‘everything in the store was taken from the shelves and carried away.’ A young woman who had the misfortune to keep a hotel, the Cincinnati House, in Lawrence during the impecunious era of the siege, wrote a few days after its close: ‘It looked strange to see the street paraded from morning to night by men in military array; to see them toil day and night throwing up entrenchments, to see them come in to their meals, each with a gun in his hand, sometimes bringing it to the table. How we toiled to feed the multitude, seldom snatching a moment to look on the strange scene and often asking, what are the prospects today.’"

     The Free-State Hotel was not finished, but it was used for military purposes, and was made quite comfortable as headquarters. Several of the companies used it as a "barracks" for the accommodation of the "army." The soldiers spent their time during the day in throwing up earth works at the most exposed points. These earth works were circular, and some of them one hundred feet in diameter. The largest was at the crossing of Massachusetts and Pinckney streets, a little east of where the jail now stands. This was intended as a place of refuge for the women and children in case of an assault. It was built of hewn timbers, banked up with earth, and a deep trench dug all round it. It was five feet high. Another was at the crossing of Massachusetts and Henry streets. A third was near New Hampshire street, north of Henry. Two others were west of Massachusetts street, one of them on Kentucky street commanding the ravine. The enclosure at Massachusetts and Henry streets was arranged for cannon. Each of these defenses was in charge of an officer, and had a contingent of troops assigned to its defense. Thus the little community was entrenched on every side, and everything made ready for whatever might occur. There were fully six hundred men within the entrenchments, and two hundred or more were armed with Sharpe’s rifles. In the afternoon of each day there was parade and drill, with band playing and flags flying from all the principal points. Towards evening there would be a general gathering, and different persons would exercise the inalienable right of an American citizen and make a speech. After others had spoken Jim Lane would be called out, and would work the crowd up to the fighting point. Then Dr. Robinson would come forward and calm the frenzy and advise moderation and patience. To "suffer and be strong" was a favorite phrase with him. As night came on the "guard was mounted," and every approach to the town had its sentinel. These sentinels were posted in the outskirts and sometimes reached almost down to the enemy’s line. It was not uncommon for the pickets of the two armies to meet. William A. Phillips, in his "Conquest of Kansas," gives an instance of this kind:

     "One night when the free-state patrol approached the forks of the road where they were ordered to go, they met the enemy’s patrol about twenty strong. One or two officers of the general’s staff had volunteered that night, and General George W. Dietzler was in command of the guard. As they approached the place the leader of the enemy's guard shouted,

     "'Halt!  Who goes there? Give the countersign.'

     "‘We have no countersign for you. We are the Lawrence guard.’

     "‘The Lawrence guard will file to the left,’ said the border ruffian chief, and his own command drew off the road while we filed by them. The two companies thus passed each other, there being little more than the road between them."

     The guards were under strict orders to avoid a conflict. If there was to be any fighting, the other side must take all the responsibility of it. As the border ruffians tried every way to provoke a quarrel, this policy was sometimes quite exasperating. But it was evidently the wiser as well as the more humane policy.

     In the day time there was less strictness. People came and went very much as they pleased. Many members of the other camp came into town at different times. Sheriff Jones himself was often in town, and was never interfered with. He made no attempts to make any arrests. He doubtless would have been glad if there had been violence offered him, as that would give him a new occasion for calling in his friends from Missouri to help him. There was policy in thus allowing these officers free access to the town. The excuse Sheriff Jones gave for calling out the militia was that he could not serve a writ in Lawrence, and that he needed three thousand men to assist him. Yet he and other officers could come into the town freely, and never were molested. The troops had been given him for a specified purpose, to aid him in making arrests. But there was no thought of resisting any arrest he might attempt to make. If he could only provoke the freestate men to violence he would have a case. But they steadily refused to be provoked, so they spoiled his case every time.

     During the progress or the "siege" it was learned that a twelve pounder howitzer had arrived at Kansas City for Lawrence. Captain Thomas Bickerton and two young men named Buffam went to Kansas City with teams to bring it up. When they arrived at Kansas City they found the commission merchant cross and unaccommodating. He wanted to know what was in the boxes before he would let them go out of his warehouse. One of the Buffam boys took an axe and broke into one of the boxes and said he believed it was a carriage. The merchant looked into the opening and saw the wheels, and was satisfied. The men then loaded their wagon with the "goods," and started for Leavenworth across the Delaware reserve. When they had crossed the Kansas river, they found the bluff leading up to Wyandotte very steep, and their heavily loaded wagons were "stuck." A company of border ruffians passed by, and they asked them to help. They said they were on their way to Leavenworth with goods, and the hill was too steep for their teams. Leavenworth being a good pro-slavery town all suspicion was removed, and the men put their shoulder to the wheels, and helped the Yankees up the hill with their cannon. As soon as they were well out of the Delaware reserve, they turned up the Lawrence road and made the best time they could towards the beleaguered city. When they drew near, word was sent to the free-state leaders, and twenty armed men were sent out to meet them, and the whole outfit was brought safely into town.

     About the same time it was feared the ammunition would run short. There was a lot of powder and ammunition for Sharpe's rifles at the house of a free-state man on the Santa Fe road. The problem was how to get it into town. At last two ladies, Mrs. S. N. Wood and Mrs. G. W. Brown, offered to get it. They went out in a buggy and were not molested. After reaching their destination they stowed the powder and caps and other things among their clothing and started back. The ruffians pickets were too gallant to molest ladies, and allowed them to pass the lines, and they brought their load triumphantly into town. The ladies helped in many other ways besides feeding the multitudes. Thus the whole population joined in the defense. There was nothing else to be done, and nothing else was done. The siege began about December 1st and continued about a week. The general response of free-state men everywhere to "help Lawrence" was very encouraging. They did come from all parts and in every conceivable manner, on foot, on horseback and in wagons; singly and in squads and companies. Companies came in from Bloomington, Palmyra, Ottawa Creek, Osawatomie and Topeka. The coming of a well armed company from Topeka was the occasion of great enthusiasm and a source of much encouragement. Localities were forgotten in the common danger. To let Lawrence fall was to expose all these settlements to a similar fate. It was one of those events which helped to bind the free-state men together, and prepare them the better for the long conflict that was coming. No matter where they lived they were all here for a common purpose, and they worked together to a common end. They began to understand the gravity of the conflict, but no one was inclined to draw back. The more serious the conflict the more firm was their resolve. "Their courage rose with danger."

rich brown textured divider line

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