Behind the Jones Raid on Lawrence on May 21, 1856, was the growing clash between Free State and pro-slavery advocates. Samuel J. Jones, postmaster of Westport, Mo., (now part of Kansas City) was appointed sheriff of Douglas County, but he continued to hold his postmastership. He was objectionable to the people of Douglas County (or at least of Lawrence) because he had been one of the leaders of the 1,000 Missourians who participated in the Lawrence election of March 20, 1855.
Difficulties began to take form when he arrested Jacob Branson near Hickory Point (south of Lawrence) on a charge of disturbing the peace. The charges grew out of Branson's denunciation of the slaying of his cabin-mate, Charles Dow, by Franklin Coleman, a pro-slavery advocate.
About 15 of Branson's friends stopped Jones' posse near Blanton's bridge and rescued Branson after a parley of nearly an hour. Jones sent for troops in Missouri to assist in making arrests, and Lawrence became besieged by pro-slavery advocates. A safety committee was formed Nov. 29, 1854, with Charles Robinson and James Lane in command.
Travelers were stopped and wagons searched, but the only fatality was the killing of Thomas Barber near Bloomington (four miles southwest of Lawrence) in a clash between the two factions. Due to the intervention of Gov. Shannon, the difficulties died down by Dec. 10, and the militiamen returned to their homes.
However, the hard feelings continued, especially stemming from the wounding of Sheriff Jones on one of his trips to Lawrence to serve warrants.
Arrests add to trouble
Severe penalties had been imposed by the Legislature of 1855 for aiding slaves to escape, or for plotting to encourage any escape of slaves, or to free blacks or mulattos and under these laws, warrants were issued for men who had declined to assist Sheriff Jones in serving warrants.
On the night of May 20, 1856, U.S. Marshal I.B. Donaldson, with 200 militia, came to Lawrence and set up camp on Mount Oread, overlooking the little town. In the morning, with 10 deputies, he entered the town, served the warrants and returned to camp where he dismissed the posse.
Sheriff Jones at once requested the same militiamen to assist him in serving warrants, and with the whole posse entered the town, going to the recently completed Free State Hotel, which was the headquarters of the defense committee. He demanded any arms and ammunition the town had, and the committee surrendered a small cannon, but declared the Sharpe's rifles and other small arms were private property, and could not be surrendered. The sheriff declared he had indictments of the Douglas County grand jury, ordering the destruction of the Free State, or "Big Rock" hotel. The two newspapers also were under indictment for publishing seditious articles -- seditious in the light of the laws of the 1855 Legislature -- and no less a personage than David R. Atchison, at one time vice president of the United States, was with the Jones band, urging that the orders of the courts be carried out and the buildings designated be destroyed.
Free State Hotel burned
After obtaining the cannon, Sheriff Jones announced his intention of destroying the hotel and gave Col. Shalor W. Eldridge until 5 o'clock to remove his belongings. When cannon shots failed to break down the walls, a keg of powder was exploded inside, and then attempt made to tear down the walls. Then the building was set on fire and destroyed. The presses of the two newspapers were thrown into the Kansas River, the type scattered in the streets and the building burned. Members of the posse robbed and destroyed many places other than those specified by the court's order.
The only fatality was among the posse, one being killed. Newspaper accounts at the time agree on the death, but disagree as to the method. One story in the New York Tribune said one of the invading posse dropped a brick on the head of a fellow, killing him instantly. Another story was that one of the posse, attempting to dislodge bricks from the building, brought down one which struck him on the head, inflicting a fatal injury. A third, more fanciful story, said an American flag, whipped by the Kansas breeze, dislodged the brick that gave the fatal blow.
Eastern newspapers were filled with the stories of the burning of Lawrence. The Lexington, Mo., Express and the Chicago Tribune issued extra editions when the news was received, and for days the New York Tribune carried "scare" heads on the stories from Kansas.
-- Reprinted from the Official Souvenir Program of the 75th Anniversary, printed by the Journal-World in 1929.