Geary and Kansas by John H. Gihon, M.D.



The Kansas Legion.--Patrick Laughlin.--The murder of Collins.--Outrages upon J. W. B. Kelley.--Rev. Pardee Butler set adrift in the Missouri River on a raft.--Disputes about land claims.--The murder of Dow.--Portrait of Sheriff Jones.--Arrest and rescue of Jacob Branson.

    IT is not to be presumed that all the outrages and crimes committed in Kansas Territory were the work of the pro-slavery party. That party will have a terrible catalogue for which to account; but in the great day of retribution their political opponents will not entirely escape condemnation. The pro-slavery men were doubtless the original aggressors; but their unworthy example was too eagerly followed by many claiming to be the advocates of freedom. The one party burned houses, and robbed and murdered unoffending people; and the other, in retaliation, committed the same atrocities. Buford collected a regiment of men in Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia; and Jones, Whitfield and others, bands of desperadoes in Missouri, which they brought into Kansas to pillage and destroy; whilst Lane marched in his famous "Army of the North," whose path was also marked with desolation and ruin. The slavery faction established its "Blue Lodges," and their opposers organized their "Kansas Legion," both of which were secret associations, bound together by solemn oaths, and having signs and pass-words of recognition. The only difference was, that the largest and most respectable portion of the free-state party condemned the "Kansas Legion," and took no part in its operations; whilst the "Blue Lodges" originated with, and received their chief encouragement and support from the most prominent, wealthy and leading pro-slavery men, not only in the territory, but in various states of the Union.

    In the summer of 1855, an Irishman, named Patrick Laughlin, who had formerly lived in Missouri, pretended to have become a convert to the free-state principles, and was received into the fellowship of the "Kansas Legion." He became a very active member, and was deputized to open encampments in sundry free-state towns After acquainting himself with all the mysteries and thoroughly understanding the working of the entire machinery, Patrick returned to the pro-slavery party and made an exposé of the whole affair, telling perhaps all the truth and adding much of his own invention. He also became an active persecutor of the free-state men, towards whom he exhibited the most violent hostility. This led to a personal altercation between Laughlin and a man named Collins, both of whom resided at Doniphan.

    They met in the vicinity of Collins' saw-mill, where himself, sons and nephews were at work, Laughlin having with him several friends. All the parties were armed. After a wordy quarrel they were about separating, upon which Laughlin reiterated some offensive language, and Collins turned toward him. One of the pro-slavery men fired, hitting Collins, who returned the shot without effect, upon which Laughlin fired his pistol at Collins and killed him instantly. A general fight then ensued, in which bowie-knives and pistols were freely used. Several on both sides were wounded, and Laughlin seriously. He was carried to Atchison, and has entirely recovered. This scene occurred on the 25th of October.

    The pro-slavery residents of Atchison had previously resolved to rid that place of all free-state settlers, and accordingly, on the 8th of August, they seized Mr. J. W. B. Kelley, and after having beaten and otherwise abused him, they drove him from the town.

    Soon after this occurrence, Rev. Pardee Butler, a preacher from Missouri, visited Atchison, and having expressed himself rather freely in condemnation of the outrage upon Kelley, he was forthwith disposed of in a summary and somewhat novel manner. The following is the Squatter Sovereign's relation of this affair:--

    "On Thursday last one Pardee Butler arrived in town with a view of starting for the East, probably for the purpose of getting a fresh supply of free-soilers from the penitentiaries and pest-holes of the northern states. Finding it inconvenient to depart before morning, he took lodgings at the hotel and proceeded to visit numerous portions of our town, everywhere avowing himself a free-soiler, and preaching the foulest of abolition heresies. He declared the recent action of our citizens in regard to J. W. B. Kelley, the infamous and unlawful proceedings of a mob; at the same time stating that many persons in Atchison, who were free-soilers at heart, had been intimidated thereby, and feared to avow their true sentiments; but that he (Butler) would express his views in defiance of the whole community.

    " On the ensuing morning our townsmen assembled en masse, and, deeming the presence of such persons highly detrimental to the safety of our slave property, appointed a committee of two to wait on Mr. Butler and request his signature to the resolutions passed at the late pro-slavery meeting held in Atchison. After perusing the said resolutions, Mr. B. positively declined signing them, and was instantly arrested by the committee.

    "After the various plans for his disposal had been considered, it was finally decided to place him on a raft composed of two logs firmly lashed together; that his baggage and a loaf of bread be given him; and having attached a flag to his primitive bark, emblazoned with mottoes indicative of our contempt for such characters, Mr. Butler was set adrift in the great Missouri, with the letter R legibly painted on his forehead.

    "He was escorted some distance down the river by several of our citizens, who, seeing him pass several rock-heaps in quite a skilful manner, bade him adieu, and returned to Atchison.

    "Such treatment may be expected by all scoundrels visiting our town for the purpose of interfering with our time-honored institutions, and the same punishment we will be happy to award all free-soilers, abolitionists, and their emissaries."

    Butler states that Robert S. Kelley, the junior editor of the Squatter Sovereign was one of the most active members of the mob that committed this disgraceful act, and that he assisted to tow the raft out into the stream, where he was set adrift, with flags bearing the following strange inscriptions: "Eastern Emigrant Aid Express. The Rev. Mr. Butler for the Underground Railroad." "The way they are served in Kansas." "For Boston." "Cargo insured--unavoidable danger of the Missourians and the Missouri River excepted." "Let future emissaries from the north beware. Our hemp crop is sufficient to reward all such scoundrels."

    Many of the personal rencontres in Kansas, grew out of the unsettled condition of affairs in regard to the possession of lands. Most of the "claims" had been staked out by persons living, in Missouri, who, paying no proper regard to the requirements of the pre-emption laws, had no possible right to the property they assumed to own. These claims were, beyond all question, legally open for the actual settler. Such was the condition of a large tract of valuable woodland, at Hickory Point, bordering on the Wakarusa, on the Santa Fe road. A free-state man, named Jacob Branson, occupied a claim in this vicinity, upon which he was living, was improving, and his right to which was not disputed. The adjoining claim was vacant, and Branson invited a young man from Ohio, named Dow, to take it up, which he did, and commenced making improvements.

    The pro-slavery squatters in the neighborhood determined to drive off these free-state settlers, and sent an anonymous letter to Branson, filled with threats of violence, and ordering him to leave; whilst they maintained that Dow's claim belonged to a William White, of Westport, and persisted in cutting timber from it and otherwise annoying Dow, with the obvious and avowed purpose of creating a difficulty. Dow at length gave them notice that he would not longer submit to these abuses, but would adopt measures to defend his rights.

    The principal aggressors in this matter were three pro-slavery men, named Franklin M. Coleman, Josiah Hargis, and Harrison W. Buckley. On the 21st of November, Dow had an errand to a blacksmith shop in the vicinity, to which place he was followed by these three men, who there provoked a quarrel with him about the claim, in the course of which Buckley cocked his gun and presented it at Dow, who entreated him not to shoot. He then left the shop and proceeded along the Santa Fe road toward the house of Branson, at which he boarded. Coleman followed, and soon overtook him, the other two keeping a short distance behind. Upon reaching Coleman's house they separated, Dow walking slowly on. As soon as he reached his house, Coleman raised his gun, and aiming at Dow's back, pulled the trigger. The noise of the exploding cap, the gun not discharging, startled Dow, who suddenly turned towards Coleman, and threw up his arms imploring him not to fire; when Coleman deliberately put on a new cap, raised his gun and discharged a heavy load of buckshot and slugs, which entered the breast and heart of Dow, killing him instantly. The other two parties to this atrocious murder, soon joined Coleman, and the three appeared to rejoice over the fiendish deed. The body of Dow lay in the road, where it fell, during the whole afternoon, when Branson, hearing of the affair, had it removed to his own dwelling. This occurrence was witnessed by a man named Moody and a wagoner.

    The authorities took no action in the matter, and on the 26th of the month, a meeting of settlers was held at Hickory Point to take it into consideration. This meeting was conducted with the utmost propriety, simply passing resolutions condemning the murder, and appointing a committee to take the necessary steps to bring the criminals to punishment. A proposition was made to burn their houses, but this act was almost universally condemned and deprecated by a resolution.

    Meanwhile, Coleman had fled towards Westport, and thrown himself upon the protection of the renowned Sheriff Jones, whom he met near Shawnee Mission, and who it is time should be properly introduced to the reader.

    Samuel J. Jones is, perhaps, over thirty years of age, and about six feet in height, though not stoutly built. His hair is light, his complexion cadaverous, and his features irregular and unprepossessing. His eye is small, and when in repose, dull and unmeaning. He seldom looks those with whom he is conversing full in the face, though his eye constantly wanders about as if he was apprehensive of some unknown danger. His conversation is in short and broken sentences, always well interspersed with oaths, and generally relates to his own exploits against the free-state people, of whom he has been one of the most relentless persecutors. He delights in conveying the impression that he bears a "charmed life," and in proof of his many ''hair-breadth 'scapes," will occasionally exhibit a broken watch chain or a hole in his garment, effected by a ball aimed at him by some unseen enemy. He is now suffering from a pistol ball, lodged somewhere about the spinal column, which he received at night while in a tent at Lawrence. Every attempt, in which the free-state men were most active, to discover the perpetrator of this outrage, proved futile, and even the most rabid friends of Jones failed to make any great capital out of the affair. He seems to have pretty well understood the case, for he has since asserted that he believes the shot was fired by a man with whose wife he had been fooling.

    Sheriff Jones is one of the most zealous of the pro-slavery men, and has done as much to create and perpetuate the difficulties that have disgraced Kansas, as any other individual. He has led in bands of invaders to prevent the citizens from giving a fair expression of their opinions at the ballot-box; interfered with the elections on every possible occasion; assisted in the destruction of property; and done everything in his power to harass and distress free-state people, by whom he is generally held in detestation. In none of the outrages in which he has taken an active part, however, has he exhibited evidences of that bravery his friends attribute to him; for in no instance has he ever interfered with, or shown fight to his political opposers, excepting when the odds were decidedly in his favor, as respected arms and physical and numerical strength. Jones is held in the highest estimation by his party, and is always consulted when there is any mischief in contemplation. He owns some real estate, all of which is encumbered to nearly if not its full value, and his name stands upon the bail-bonds of some of the worst men that have yet been indicted for crime by the grand juries.

    When Coleman told his story to Jones, the sheriff accompanied him to Shawnee Mission, where by advice, he surrendered himself to Governor Shannon, and then accompanied Jones towards Lecompton, to be examined. Upon reaching Franklin, this party were joined by Hargis and Buckley, when a most interesting scheme was concocted. Buckley was induced to swear that his life was in danger from threats made by old Jacob Branson, the friend of young Dow, and to effect the arrest of Branson, Jones induced a justice of the peace, named Hugh Cameron, to issue a peace-warrant for Branson's arrest, which was given to the sheriff for execution. A party of fifteen was then obtained as a posse, including Jones and the two accessories to the murder of Dow, who reached Branson's house toward midnight of the 26th, the same day upon which the meeting at Hickory Point was held. The door was burst open, and Branson arrested while in bed.

    In the meantime, the free-state settlers in the neighborhood, ascertained what was going on, and hastily forming a company, posted themselves at Blanton's Bridge, where they knew Jones must pass with his prisoner. Here the parties met about two hours after midnight, and the free-state men demanded the surrender of Branson. Jones first swore terrifically, and then coaxed the rescuers to allow him to proceed, as he was the sheriff of Douglas county, and in discharge of his official duty. The opposite party were inexorable and demanded that Jacob Branson should be delivered into their hands. The sheriff then declared he would fire into them if they persisted, to which he received the reply that he might fire and be d--d; that at that game both parties might take a hand. Branson then left the sheriff's party, and, without any attempt at violent detention, joined his friends who, leaving Jones mad with anger, and loudly vaporing in the road, marched triumphantly toward Lawrence, which town they entered before the sun had risen.

    A number of affidavits were made in regard to the arrest and rescue of Branson, by Hargis, Buckley, and Jones, of the pro-slavery, and sundry individuals of the free-state party, all of which substantiate the above relation, the principal difference being in the unimportant fact, that the rescuing company, agreeably to the account of the sheriff and his friends, were exaggerated to the number of thirty or forty, while themselves claim, which seems to be the true state of the case, only fourteen men.

    Coleman was taken to Lecompton, where he was discharged from custody upon entering bail in the sum of five hundred dollars. Just before the murder of Dow he had been commissioned as a justice of the peace by Governor Shannon.


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