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


[TOC] [part 34] [part 32] [Cutler's History]


On Wednesday, May 21, all was ready for the grand consummation to which all previous work had tended, and for which the Administration, the United States Senate, the Court, the Territorial Governor, the Southern States, and the Law and Order party of Western Missouri and Eastern Kansas had wrought unitedly, to wit, the silencing of the Free-state press, the destruction of the Free-state organization, and the vindictive chastening of Lawrence, as the citadel of insubordination against the laws they sought to force upon an unwilling people.

The story has been oftener told than any other in the history of Kansas, and with less of contradiction as to the details. It would be but the repetition of a household tale to elaborate.

Early in the morning, the hostile forces gathered closer about the doomed town. A large force was stationed on Mount Oread, and cannon planted so as to cover and command the place. Gov. Robinson's house was taken as headquarters for the Marshal and the officers of his army. On every road leading to the town and on the opposite side of the river detachments of troops were posted to prevent the escape of fugitives from such justice as the Marshal and Sheriff Jones were now prepared to mete out. The forces mustered under two flags. The blood-red flag, on which was inscribed "Southern rights," floated side by side that day with the "stars and stripes." It was not so a few years later. There was no flag floating in Lawrence save an American flag, which fluttered lonesomely from its staff over the Free State Hotel.

Streets were unusually quiet. Nearly half the able-bodied men were absent - some were prisoners, some were hiding from arrest, and many ardent citizens, who had opposed the non-resistance policy of the Committee of Safety, had left in bitter disgust, scorning to witness, unresistingly, the humiliation that their enemies had prepared for them. The arms were hidden away, and the remaining citizens were quietly in pursuit of their daily avocations. The Committee of Safety were in session in their room on the second floor of the Free State Hotel, which had for the first time since its completion been open to guests on that day.

At 11 o'clock A. M., Deputy Marshal Fain, who had made two arrests in town the evening previous without resistance, again appeared with an unarmed guard of ten men. He drove directly to the hotel, where he summoned to act as his posse in serving his writs: Dr. Garvin, John A. Perry, C. W. Topliff, S. W. Eldridge and T. B. Eldridge. They readily, if not cheerfully, obeyed the summons. He arrested G. W. Deitzler, G. W. Smith and Gaius Jenkins, three of the Free-state men indicted by the grand jury for treason. No disturbance occurred and no resistance was made. Fain and his guard dined at the Free State Hotel, and shortly after departed with his prisoners without paying the bill. While in Lawrence, he was presented with a letter form the Committee of Safety, directed to his superior, which should have convinced him and all others who had doubt, that the Pro-slavery victory was complete. It read as follows:

LAWRENCE, K. T., May 21, 1856.


WE, the Committee of Public Safety for the citizens of Lawrence, make this Statement and declaration to you, as Marshal of Kansas Territory,

That we represent the citizens of the United States and of Kansas, who acknowledge the constituted authorities of the Government, that we make no resistance to the execution of the law - National or Territorial - and claim it as law-abiding American citizens.

For the private property already taken by your posse, we ask indemnification, and what remains to us and our citizens we throw upon you for protection, trusting that under he (sic) flag of the Union, and within the folds of the Constitution, we may obtain safety.


* Messrs. Babcock, Prentiss, Mallory and Grover repudiate the letter, and are reported as denying their signatures thereto attached.

On the return of Marshal Fain, with his prisoners, to headquarters, at Mount Oread, he announced to the soldiers the peaceful and successful issue of his work, that he had made his arrests, and that, as a posse in his service, their duties were at an end; but, he added, "Sheriff Jones, has writs yet to be served, and you are at liberty to organize as his posse, if you desire to do so."

Sheriff Jones, quite recovered from his fright and his wound, now rode forward, greeted by cordial congratulations and loud cheers, which assured him without further formality that the posse had cheerfully transferred its allegiance to him, and were ready and impatient to do his bidding. Leaving the main body at Mount Oread, Jones, at the head of twenty armed men, entered Lawrence at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. At the hotel he halted, called for Gen. Pomeroy, who speedily presented himself and shook hands with him. Recognizing him as a leading citizen, and as one who could act for the people of Lawrence, he demanded that the arms be given up. Five minutes were given to decide upon the proposition, and thirty minutes to stack the arms in the street. Failing to comply with the demand, he threatened to at once bombard the town. After a hurried consultation with members of the committee, still in session, Pomeroy offered in their name to surrender the cannon, but declined to give up the rifles, as they were private property, in the hands of individual owners, and in no manner under the control of the committee. Jones thereupon, under the direction of Mr. Pomeroy and others of the committee, was led to the spot where the cannon had been secreted (buried under the foundation of a house). It was unearthed and surrendered, together with a few muskets not in possession of individual owners. With these Jones left the town. Meantime the soldiers had marched down toward the village to the foot of the hill, and being formed in a hollow square, were listening to a drunken, maudlin harangue from ex-Senator Atchison, which began: "Boys, to-day I am a Kickapoo Ranger, by ----." Following this remarkable exordium, Atchison proceeded to inspire the boys with a just idea of the importance of the work they had in hand. As the ideas floated through his muddled brain he delivered them to his appreciative hearers, without order or coherence. He inculcated gallantry to the ladies, but, in case one should be found with arms in her hands, "trample her under foot as you would a snake." As the people of Lawrence had shown no resistance, it would not do to attack them, but should there by the least show of resistance, "show them no quarter." His speech was interrupted by the return of Jones, who, on the announcement that the cannon had been surrendered and the city was defenseless, was received with enthusiastic cheers. Atchison resumed: "And now, we will go in with our highly honorable Jones, and test the strength of that d--d Free-State Hotel. Be brave, be orderly, and if any man or woman stand in you way, blow them to ---- with a chunk of cold lead."

The motley force then formed in line, and marched, under the lead of Jones, into the city, and commenced abating the indicated nuisances, by virtue of, and in obedience to, an order of the United States Court, issued by Chief Justice Samuel D. Lecompte. The two printing offices were first gutted, the presses destroyed, and the types thrown in the river. The semi-legal work was finished by destroying the Free State Hotel. The first shot fired at it from a cannon plated on the opposite side of Massachusetts street, was aimed by the tipsy Atchison, but failed to hit the building. About fifty shots were afterwards fired, with but little effect, upon the solid walls. Next it was attempted to blow it up. Several kegs of gunpowder were exploded within, with no appreciable damage to the walls. Its destruction was finally effected by the torch of the incendiary, and in the early evening it stood a roofless and smoldering ruin. The legal work was done. It was followed by petty robberies all through the defenseless and half-deserted town. Late in the evening the curtain fell, the last act being the burning of Gov. Robinson's private dwelling on Mount Oread, by the now irresponsible and lawless marauders, who had been released from all restraint when dismissed by the Sheriff.

Jones revenge was complete. As the work of destruction went on, he was in ecstasy. "This," said he, "is the happiest moment of my life. I determined to make the fanatics bow before me in the dust and kiss the Territorial laws." As the walls of the burning hotel fell, he ejaculated, "I have done it, by ----, I have done it." Turning to the soldiers, he said, "You are dismissed, the writs have been executed."

The loss to the citizens of Lawrence and the Emigrant Aid Company, who owned the Free State Hotel, was estimated at $150,000. The loss of the outside settlers in the vicinity of the invaders from the forced requisitions made upon them for subsistence of the army, and the robberies committed, was in some cases well-nigh ruinous. The aggregate loss to the citizens of Douglas County could not have fallen short of $200,000.

The loss of life was summed up in the murder of two Free-state men, Brown and Stewart, and in the death of one Law and Order man, who was accidentally killed by a brick or stone which fell from the burning hotel. Two other members of the posse were wounded; one, by the accidental discharge of his own gun; the other, by being thrown from his horse while in pursuit of a Free-state man whom he had mistaken for Gov. Reeder.

On the following day, the main body of troops began to disperse. Some companies marched to Leavenworth and Atchison; a part of the force returned to Westport and the Missouri towns from whence it had come. Many stragglers, who had been attached to no particular organization, hovered about the vicinity, stealing from the farmers horses, cattle, and whatever else was required to satisfy their not over frugal wants. A small force remained at Lecompton for the ostensible purpose of guarding the prisoners against any possible attempt at rescue on the part of their friends.

That the non-resistant attitude of Lawrence during the trying seasons was voluntary, and not incited by abject fear or actual defenselessness, is evinced by the fact that there were ready to march to her assistance, from Topeka and many other towns, well-organized and well-armed companies of Free-state men, in sufficient numbers to be formidable to the invading force in the open field, and to have successfully defended Lawrence from within. All such proffered aid was refused, and, at the close of the siege, despite the loss of property and the humiliation, a moral victory had been won. Lawrence had offered no resistance to the laws, and had thus robbed the outrageous affair of all possible justification in the eyes of a civilized and liberty-loving people. She had not been conquered, for she had not resisted. Her people were not subdued, but oppressed and outraged for opinion's sake. They bided patiently their time. Would that others with burdens less grievous might have shown like patient restraint. The anti-slavery press was silenced; the Free-state leaders imprisoned; and Lawrence humbled and unresistingly subservient to all behests of the Territorial authorities. Nevertheless, those conditions, so ardently desired by the Law and Order party, brought not even momentary peace to the distracted country; on the contrary, it proved the beginning of aggressive warfare on the part of the Free-state settlers, who, up to that time, while boldly denying the validity or binding force of the Territorial laws, had studiously avoided open conflict with the authorities by passively ignoring them. As a means of establishing peace, the determined efforts of those in authority to force the citizens of Lawrence into a position of abject allegiance, although a seeming success, proved a dismal failure.

Besides those who remained at Lecompton, and straggling parties not identified by any known commander, Capt. H. Clay Pate, and Coleman, the murderer of Dow, with quite a numerous force of Westport rowdies, known as the Shannon Sharp-shooters, remained encamped on the Wakarusa, between Franklin and Fish's store. Fish was a Free-state man, and it was believed he kept gunpowder to sell or give to his friends. Although the war was over, the company camped near by, prowled about the vicinity threatening to destroy the store, stopping and insulting Free-state men, supplying their wants by theft or forced contributions from the inhabitants. On the second day after their encampment, they were somewhat astonished and disgusted at a raid made into their camp by some parties, evidently not entirely friendly to them, who succeeded in capturing and making off with three valuable horses; on the next night a party from the camp going up the California road were fired into from a thicket and several wounded. They retreated precipitately to camp, leaving several horses and some arms as booty for their unseen assailants. On the same or the succeeding night a Pro-slavery man who kept a store in the log house on the California road, was robbed by a party of Free-state men of his goods and horses. It was evident that reprisals were being made on the Pro-slavery men, and that a regular guerrilla war had begun. A party attacked a house in Lecompton where some of the arms taken at Lawrence had been stored, together with some powder and other articles belonging to the Pro-slavery men. The occupants made no resistance, and the raiders made off with their booty. In three days after the great Law and Order victory at Lawrence, the whole surrounding country seemed infested with Free-state guerrillas who robbed and plundered the Pro-slavery settlers, and harassed the Law and Order troops without mercy. Between the two sets of marauders, the unarmed inhabitants, whether Pro-slavery or otherwise, stood equal chances of being plundered.

Even Gov. Shannon did not escape. Two valuable horses were stolen from him, and pressed into the Free-state service, whereupon His Excellency waxed wroth, and ordered the United States Dragoons, then stationed at Lecompton and at Lawrence, to patrol duty in the surrounding country. They rode the country up and down, but made no captures. He took the field himself, and, in company with his friend, Col. Titus, and members of his force, made a reconnoissance(sic). He visited the residences of both Free-state and Pro-slavery settlers on the line of his march, threatening the one and reassuring the other in his official capacity. His efforts only served to show to both his friends and enemies his utter demoralization and incompetency as Governor of the Territory at that time. Henceforth, until the time of his removal, he was entirely under control of the Pro-slavery element, making the prevailing confusion worse confounded by the imbecility of his administration.



The news of the trouble at Lawrence, and her threatened destruction by the Southern soldiery, came to Osawatomie on the evening of June 21. Immediately, on receipt of the information, the Pottawatomie Rifles, a Free-state company under the command of John Brown, Jr., set out for the scene of disturbance. The Osawatomie company, Capt. Dayton, joined them, and together they reached "Ottawa Jones" on the morning of the 22d. There they first heard of the sack of the town, and the arrest of Deitzler, Brown and Jenkins. They, however, continued their march toward Lawrence, not knowing but their assistance might still be needed, and encamped at night "up the Ottawa Creek, near the residence of Capt. Shore." They remained in the vicinity until afternoon of the 23d, at which time they decided to return home. About noon on the 23d, Old John Brown, whose indignation was at fever heat, selected a party to go with him on a private expedition. They separated from the main party, ground their sabers, and having completed their preparations, left the camp together. Capt. John Brown, Jr., objected to their leaving his company, but, seeing his father was obdurate, silently acquiesced, with the timely caution to him to "do nothing rash." The company consisted of Old John Brown, four of his sons - Frederick, Owen, Watson, Oliver - Henry Thompson, his son-in-law, Thomas Winer and James Townsley, whom Old John had induced to carry the party in his wagon to their proposed field of operations.*

* For Townsley's statement and a more detailed history of this expedition, see the history of Franklin County, elsewhere in this volume.

They left the camp at about 2 o'clock in the afternoon of the 23d. They were met toward sundown of that day between Pottawatomie Creek and Middle Creek, and but a few miles from the Doyle settlement, by Col. J. Blood, then on his way from Osawatomie to Lawrence.** The party halted on meeting Col. Blood, and a conversation ensued between him and John Brown, none of the other members of the party speaking. Brown gave him an account of the sacking of Lawrence, and the arrest of the Free-state men, denounced the members of the non-resistant committee as cowards, and seemed in a frenzied state of excitement. As they parted, he requested Col. Blood not to mention the meeting, "as they were on a secret expedition, and did not want any one to know that they were in that neighborhood."

** The statements concerning this meeting are given on the authority of a letter from Col. Blood to G. W. Brown, dated November 29, 1879. See "Reminiscences of Old John Brown," by G. W. Brown, M. D., page 70.

They encamped that night between two deep ravines on the edge of the timber, some distance to the right of the main traveled road, about one mile above "Dutch Henry's crossing." There they remained unobserved until the following evening (Saturday, June 24). Some time after dark, the party left their place of hiding and proceeded on their "secret expedition." Late in the evening, they called at the house of James P. Doyle, and ordered him and his two sons, William and Drury, to go with them as prisoners. They followed their captors out into the darkness. They next called at the house of Allen Wilkinson and ordered him out. He also obeyed; thence, crossing the Pottawatomie, they came to the house of Henry Sherman (Dutch Henry). He was not at home. They, however, arrested and took along with them William, his brother. They returned to the ravine where they had previously encamped, and there spent the quiet Sabbath morning, then broke camp and rejoined the Osawatomie company some time during Sunday night, it being at that time encamped near Ottawa Jones' The secret expedition was ended. Was it successful? Where were the prisoners? Had they escaped?

Old man Doyle and his sons were left in the road a short distance from their house. They were cut, mangled, stabbed - some say shot - it didn't matter to the Doyles - they were dead.

Sherman was left in the creek, near his brother's house. He was hacked upon the breast and hand, his skull split open, and, from the wounds, the brains oozed out into the muddy water. It did not matter to Sherman - he was dead.

Yes, the secret expedition had proved successful.

The persons who had thus suddenly gone to their long account were all believed to be Pro-slavery men of the most violent and intolerant type, of whom the Free-State settlers stood in constant dread.

The news of the horrid affair spread rapidly over the Territory, carrying with it a thrill of horror, such as the people, used as they had become to deeds of murder, had not felt before. Hitherto, in most cases ending in homicide or murder, the Free-State man had proved the victim. The crimes had been perpetrated in open day, and were often the outcome of an angry encounter or brawl between men of equal nerve and determination, both armed, or in the company of armed companions. Under these circumstances, these unavenged murders, numerous and atrocious as they were, lacked the ghastly horror of this silent, stealthy, midnight massacre of defenseless men. The news of the event had a deeper significance than appeared in the abstract atrocity of the act itself.

It meant that, when Gov. Shannon, to the committee, pleading for the safety of Lawrence, replied, "War, by ----," there were men outside of Lawrence, and beyond the control of the committee of public safety, who had taken him at his word. It meant that the policy of extermination or abject submission, so blatantly promulgated by the Pro-slavery press, and proclaimed by Pro-slavery speakers, had been adopted by their enemies, and was about to be enforced with appalling earnestness. It meant that there was a power opposed to the Pro-slavery aggressors, as cruel and unrelenting as themselves. It meant henceforth, swift retaliation - robbery for robbery - murder for murder - that "he who taketh the sword shall perish by the sword." It meant that the merciless and implacable spirit of retributive vengeance, hitherto held in restraint, had broken its leash and begun its dreadful work.

The aggressive warfare thus begun, was not in accordance with the plans or purposes of the leaders of the Free-State movement; on the contrary, it was in direct opposition to their counsel, and had been persistently decried and successfully restrained up to this time. For the disorders that ensued, the Free-State organization was in no manner responsible. The aggressive movement at that time begun, was an uncontrollable outburst of rage long pent up, under the stress of suffering, intimidation, insult, humiliation, and unredressed outrage, such as, by hot-tempered men of courage, could no longer be unresistingly endured.

Upon those high in authority and wielding powerful influence, who, with deliberate purpose, counseled, planned, and executed the outrages, which at last culminated in all the horrors of anarchy, the responsibility rests for all time to come; to them, history accords the infamous distinction which their deeds merit.

[TOC] [part 34] [part 32] [Cutler's History]