This page contains archived entries from the "This Month in Legal History" column published in 2007 in the Michael J. Malone Douglas County Law Library E-Mail Newsletter and on the Home page of this website. Each month, the column features a different event from the history of law and jurisprudence of Douglas County, Kansas, that occurred during the month.
January 28, 1907 - The United States Court of Claims decides against the University of Kansas on its claim for damages resulting from the destruction of the Free State Hotel in 1856 - The New England Emigrant Aid Company owned the Free State Hotel in Lawrence, Kansas, when it was deliberately destroyed on May 21, 1856, by a posse of pro-slavery men lead by Douglas County Sheriff Samuel Jones. For years after the event, the Company tried to get the United States Congress to recognize their claim that Sheriff Jones was acting as a Deputy United States Marshal under orders from the United States District Court in Kansas at the time of the attack, and as such, the federal government owed the Company $25,000 in damages. In February of 1897, the stockholders of the by then defunct Company voted to transfer their claim for the destruction of the Hotel to the University of Kansas. The University filed a claim with the United States Court of Claims in 1903 seeking damages for the loss. On January 28, 1907, the court denied the claim finding that when Sheriff Jones and his posse destroyed the hotel, "it does not appear that the said Sheriff had any official connection with the United States." It was true, the court said, that Jones had announced that he was a deputy United States marshal, that he was acting under an order of the "United States Court for Douglas County," and that he had a writ from the court, but all those announcements were untrue. Not satisfied with the ruling, the University continued to seek legislative relief for their claim off and on until 1934 when it finally abandoned the effort. (Excerpted from The University of Kansas and the Sack of Lawrence: A Problem of Intellectual Honesty, by C. S. Griffin, Kansas Historical Quarterly, Winter, 1968 (Vol. XXXIV. No. 4), pages 409 to 426. Published 1/07.) Back to top of page
February 20, 1858 - The charter for the City of Lawrence, Kansas, is accepted and city officers are elected - In July of 1857, citizens of the Free-State stronghold of Lawrence, Kansas, attempted to establish a charter for the city as part of organizing a city government. In response, Kansas Territorial Governor Robert J. Walker declared that Lawrence was trying to establish an illegal government and so was in rebellion against the then pro-slavery territorial legislature. Three months later in the October 1857 territorial election, and after a number of "bogus" elections in the preceding three years, Free-State partisans gained control of the Kansas territorial legislature for the first time. One of the first things the new legislature did was to consider a charter for Lawrence. On February 11, 1858, a bill was passed legalizing the original Lawrence city charter of July 1857. On February 20, 1858, the charter was accepted by the citizens of Lawrence and city officers were elected. (Excerpted from Wonderful Old Lawrence, by Elfriede Fischer Rowe and Territorial Kansas Timeline, by Dale E. Watts. Published 2/07.) Back to top of page
March 30, 1855 - Approximately one thousand Missourians arrive in Lawrence, Kansas, to vote in the election of members to the Kansas territorial legislature - Charles Robinson, destined to become the first governor of the State of Kansas in 1861, described in an April 2, 1855, letter to Eli Thayer in Worcester, Massachusetts, about how the March 30, 1855, election for the territorial legislature had been conducted in Lawrence. He began by reporting that about a thousand Missourians had assembled in Lawrence on the day of the election. In a separate writing, his wife, Sara Robinson, noted that the Missourians "were armed with guns, pistols, rifles, and bowie-knives [, and that] [t]hey brought two cannon loaded with musket balls." In his letter to Thayer, Robinson reported that the Missourians took possession of the polls and threatened to hang one of the election judges, who was formerly from Missouri but known to be an opponent of Kansas being admitted to the Union as a slave state, if he refused to take their votes. Given that choice, he refused to serve at all, and a proslavery man was put in his place, leaving only one of the three judges supporting the Free-State cause. The lone Free-State election judge was overruled on every question and finally refused to continue participating, thereby leaving total control of the election in Lawrence to the Missourians. No Free-State supporter could get near the polls till late in the day when a few were finally able to vote. Similar events occurred at many other polling places in Kansas, resulting in a pro-slavery legislature being elected. That First Kansas Territorial Legislature, commonly called the "Bogus Legislature," convening at Pawnee on July 2, 1855. The manner in which the election was conducted and the subsequent actions of this legislature sparked much of the violence known as "Bleeding Kansas." (Excerpted from Kansas State Historical Society - This Day in Kansas History, Charles Robinson Letter - Facsimile, and Charles Robinson Letter - Text. Published 3/07.) Back to top of page
April 24, 1862 - The cavalry comes to the rescue of Mrs. Alphonso Wolfe - On April 24, 1862, Mrs. Alphonso Wolfe left her home in Lawrence, Kansas, on a stagecoach bound for Topeka. She was from a highly respected family in Illinois and had become tired of being mistreated by her husband, so she was leaving him for a job in the capitol city. Mr. Wolfe got word of her leaving and decided to do something about it. He got a wagon and some liquor and went to the camp of the 7th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. He told a group of the soldiers that he wanted a few men to "go for a drive in the country to have a good time." Several agreed to join him and they hurried off west in pursuit of the stagecoach. They caught up to it two miles east of Lecompton, where Wolfe got the stagecoach to stop and ordered his wife out. She refused, and he drew a pistol and threatened to kill her. She pushed the gun away and the other stagecoach passengers drew their guns to protect her. Wolfe called for the soldiers to help him saying that his wife was trying to abscond. With the help of the soldiers, he was able to get her into the wagon and away from the stagecoach. Wolfe brought her back to Lawrence, arriving late. He told the soldiers that he had no more need of them and that they should leave, but they decided to remain close by the couple who were standing in front of the Eldridge House. Wolfe told his wife they needed to go to a boarding house, but she refused. He grabbed her and shook her violently, drew a knife, cut her throat, and kicked her several times as she lay bleeding on the ground. The soldiers seized Wolfe and were going to kill him right there, stopping only because he begged them to spare him for an hour. The soldiers agreed and took Mrs. Wolfe into the Eldridge House for treatment. Her injuries proved not to be life threatening and she survived. Wolfe managed to escape and was never seen again. (From: Incidents of Reports of Violent Crimes from the Lawrence Area from 1861 to 1865, by Sarah Martin. Unpublished manuscript, 2002. Published 4/07.) Back to top of page
May 1868 - Injunctions prohibiting Douglas County, Kansas, from issuing and maintaining bonds for building the Leavenworth, Lawrence, and Galveston Railroad are dissolved - In the spring of 1868, Phineas Adams, a resident of the state of New Hampshire, had filed suit in the circuit court of the United States for the district of Kansas to enjoin Douglas County from issuing $300,000 in bonds to the Leavenworth, Lawrence, and Galveston Railroad. The bonds were to be used by the company to build that portion of the railway that would be in Douglas County. He also filed a separate suit to enjoin the county from collecting taxes to liquidate a coupon on a $300,000 bond already issued. Similar suits had been filed in the Kansas state court to restrain the Douglas County Board of Commissioners from issuing the bonds and thus subscribing to the capital stock of the company. Mr. Adams was extending that effort to the federal courts. Judge Delahay of the United States Circuit Court, District of Kansas, heard the arguments. Among other things, he found that Mr. Adams did not pay taxes in Kansas sufficient to enable the court to have jurisdiction and grant him redress. He wrote that this would be enough to dispose of the case, but went on to find that even though Mr. Adams may have been a non-resident taxpayer of Douglas County, his status as taxpayer did not make him a legal voter of the county and so was not entitled to judicial redress from the results of the county election on September 12, 1865, in which a large majority of voters approved the issuing of $300,000 in bonds to the railroad company. Judge Delahay went on to dissolve the injunctions, with costs. (From: Adams v. Douglas County; Adams v. Beach - Case No. 52 - Circuit Court, District of Kansas - May 1868 Term. Kansas Reports, v. 1, p. 627. Published 5/07.) Back to top of page
June 20, 1861 - The Durham/Coxson fight - As reported in the Kansas State Journal, Rhoda Durham and John Coxson were involved in a middle-of-the-street "fracas." Rhoda gave John a "side-winder" for telling stories about her, which were calculated to injure her character. John retaliated by "dipping" into Rhoda's hair with his "bunch of fives" and flooring her. He was continuing his action against her when other people on the street intervened and separated them. The incident was observed by a local judge who called the two into court. It was determined that the couple lived un-peacefully together because each wanted to "be the boss." John was fined $10, which was then increased to $20. The reason for the increase was not reported. He was unable to pay the fine and was sent off to jail. Rhoda was fined $5. The newspaper reporter left the courtroom before he found out whether she paid her fine. (From: Incidents of Reports of Violent Crimes from the Lawrence Area from 1861 to 1865, by Sarah Martin. Unpublished manuscript. Published 6/07.) Back to top of page
July 4, 1903 - Cornerstone laid for the new Douglas County, Kansas, courthouse - Douglas County was one of the first counties organized in Kansas, and for many years, it was one of the most populace and wealthy counties in the state, but at the close of the 19th century, it still did not have a courthouse. Steps were take to remedy this, and in 1899 voters approved levying additional real estate taxes to pay for a courthouse. Local banker J.B. Watkins offered to donate four lots for the construction of the courthouse. The lots were on the southeast corner of Massachusetts and Quincy (now 11th) Streets, diagonally across from the Watkins National Bank building. The County Commissioners accepted the deed to the land on March 29, and subsequently organized a building design competition. The Commissioners were unable to decide on one single architect, so they asked architects J.G. Haskell and Frederick C. Gunn to work together on the project as associates for a fee not to exceed 5% of the gross amount expended on construction. Haskell and Gunn began drafting detailed plans that would permit construction to begin early in 1903. Eight bids for the construction of the Douglas County Courthouse were received, and a contract was awarded to the firm of Cuthbert and Sargent of Topeka for $62,181. Excavation for the building began on March 13, 1903, with actual construction starting about April 1. The cornerstone of the building was laid on July 4, 1903, during a ceremony conducted by the Masonic orders. Construction progressed, and in March of 1904, vaults were ordered from the Art Metal Construction Company. On August 4, Sol Marks, a local jewelry store owner, was awarded a contract to provide a Seth Thomas clock with four dials for installation in the courthouse tower. Construction was completed sometime in late 1904 and in January of 1905, county officers began to move in without fanfare. No evidence has been found that the Douglas County Courthouse was ever officially dedicated. (From: Douglas County Courthouse History - Douglas County, Kansas. Published 7/07.) Back to top of page
August 20, 1857 - Charles Robinson acquitted on charge of usurpation of office - In January 1856, Charles Robinson was elected governor of Kansas Territory under the Free-State constitution that had been adopted by the 1855 Topeka Constitutional Convention. He attempted to avoid conflict with federal authorities who did not recognize the legitimacy of the Topeka Constitution, but he incurred their wrath by ignoring laws passed by the "Bogus" proslavery territorial legislature that had been elected in 1855. After taking office, Robinson left on a trip back east to promote the Free-State cause. On May 10, 1856, he was arrested while in Lexington, Missouri, and was brought back to Kansas. Robinson was indicted for treason and usurpation of office, and taken to Camp Sackett, a military encampment near Lecompton. He was held there, along with several other men, pending trial set for September 8. On the day set for trial, neither judge nor jury, clerk nor marshal appeared, so the proceedings had to be postponed until their arrival the next day. After their arraignment, the prisoners' council pressed Judge Samuel Lecompte, chief justice of the Kansas Territorial Supreme Court, for an immediate trial. The prosecuting counsel argued for a postponement, basing their arguments on the grounds that a jury could not be obtained and that important witnesses were absent, due to the Territory's being in insurrection. Judge Lecompte denied all motions for postponement. The next day, September 10, Charles Robinson was arraigned for trial, separately, on a charge of usurpation of office. Reversing his decision of the previous day, Judge Lecompte decided to continue all the defendants' cases because "the great excitement prevailing in the country was such as to prevent a fair trial of the prisoners." Robinson was granted bail of $500 on the charge of usurpation of office. He and the other prisoners were then arraigned again for treason, granted bail of $5,000 each, had their new cases continued, and were released. It was speculated that the real reason for Judge Lecompte's granting a continuance was the supposed imminent arrival of Kansas Territorial Governor John Geary, who was known as sympathizing with the Free-State cause and who might have influenced the trial in the defendants' favor. The treason charges against all the defendants, including Robinson, were dropped prior to Robinson's trial. In August 1857, he was brought before Judge Sterling G. Cato, associated justice of the Kansas Territorial Supreme Court, on the charge of usurpation of office. Judge Cato, who was well know as a proslavery activist, did his best to get a conviction, but the jury acquittal Robinson of the charge on August 20, 1857. His council had convinced them that, owing to the Topeka Constitutional Convention being illegitimate, all offices created under it were void, and there could be no usurpation of an office that did not exist. (From: William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas, Territorial History, Part 41. Published 8/07.) Back to top of page
September 15, 1855 - John Speer's "Defy" - The first Kansas Territorial Legislature, known as the Bogus Legislature, passed numerous laws to promote slavery in the Territory. One of these laws provided that any person who wrote, printed, or published "any denial of the right of persons to hold slaves in this Territory," would be subject to imprisonment at hard labor for not less than two years. The law was to take effect on September, 15, 1855. John Speer, editor of the Kansas Tribune, a Free-State newspaper in Lawrence, Kansas, was enraged by this obvious violation of freedom of the press guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution. He determined to assert his rights against this "gag law." On September 15, 1855, the effective date of the law, Speer published a full page article in the Kansas Tribune that became known as "John Speer's Defy." The article, titled "The Day of Our Enslavement!!," attacked the Legislature and purposely violated the law by quoting word-for-word the very language that the law banned. He had printed, in large type, "Now we do assert and we declare, despite all the bolts and bars of the iniquitous Legislature of Kansas that persons have not the right to hold slaves in this territory. And we will emblazon it upon our banner in letters so large and language so plain that the infatuated invaders who elected the Kansas legislature, as well as that corrupt and ignorant legislature itself, may understand it…." Speer was indicted for violation of the statute, but he was never brought to trial. The unconstitutionality of the "gag law" troubled many Kansans, and despite it being pro-slavery, the 1857 Territorial Legislature reconsidered and then repealed the offending statute. (Kansas History Online, KansasBogusLegislature.org, and Kansas: a Cyclopedia of State History, Volume II. Standard Publishing Company, Chicago, 1912. Published 9/07.) Back to top of page
October 25, 1855 - Mr. Hancock's family retrieves his remains - Some weeks prior to October 25, 1855, a man named Hancock had drowned in the Kansas River, and his body had only recently been discovered on a sand bar by a person hauling wood. Relatives of Mr. Hancock came to Lawrence, Kansas, on the evening of the 25th to take charge of his remains and bring them to his parents, who lived near Lecompton, Kansas. No effort had be made to recover his body sooner because, "Everyone seemed to regard him as a criminal, and of course not worthy looking after." The events of his drowning were described in the October 29, 1855, edition of the Kansas Free State newspaper. "It will be recollected that he was drowned by being in charge of some pretended officials, who were taking him to Leavenworth as a criminal, but acted very rash in crossing the river, which resulted in turning the wagon over and came near drowning the whole crew." There was no explanation of what was meant by "pretended officials." (From: Murders Occurring in the City of Lawrence, Douglas County, Kansas, from 1854 to 1859, by Margaret Dandurand. Unpublished manuscript, 2002. Published 10/07.) Back to top of page
November 27, 1855 - Jacob Branson is rescued from the Sheriff - In 1855, Charles Dow and Franklin Coleman occupied adjoining claims at Hickory Point, about ten miles south of Lawrence, Kansas. Dow was a supporter of the free state cause and Coleman was a pro-slavery man. They frequently quarreled about their claims and, on November 21st, Dow was at Coleman’s cabin, talking over the subject. 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 there. Jacob Branson, another free-state supporter who was a friend of Dow and who shared a cabin with him, was overheard by a friend of Coleman's saying that if he could get Coleman in his sights he would shoot him. The man swore out a warrant for Branson’s arrest, saying that he felt threatened by Branson. On the night of November 26, 1855, Samuel Jones, the pro-slavery sheriff of Douglas County, took some fifteen men and went to Branson’s house to arrest him, arriving there around 11:00 PM. Some of Branson's neighbors got word of the action and banded together at the house of their leader, Major J. B. Abbott, to attempt to rescue Branson from the pro-slavery posse. At around 1:00 AM, as the posse approached Abbott's house, the men poured out of the house and got into the road ahead of them. After the two sides exchanged threats, Branson was told by one of Abbott's men, "If you want to be among your friends come over here." When he did so, guns on both sides were cocked, but no one fired. Jones then identified himself as Sheriff of Douglas County and said he had a warrant for Branson's arrest. The rescuers replied that they did not recognize any sheriff named Jones. S. N. Wood, another of Abbott's men, identified himself as Branson's attorney and demanded to be shown the warrant, which Jones refused to do. Wood asked if the warrant had been read or shown to Branson. Jones said no. Jones was then told that unless he produced the warrant, Branson would not go with him. The two sides talked for at least an hour before Jones and his men rode off, leaving Branson with his rescuer. They then took him to Lawrence. Many of the citizens there thought that the arrest was a trick to get the town involved in an act of insurrection that would be used to justify an attack by the pro-slavery government. To them, the arrest seemed to have been too casual and the rescue too easy. Many feared that the free-state men had played into the hands of the pro-slavery men. Their concern may have been valid, because when Jones led several hundred proslavery men in an attack on Lawrence on May 21, 1856, he justified his actions by saying that the city was in insurrection against the government. (From: A History of Lawrence from the earliest settlement to the close of the rebellion, by Richard Cordley, E. F. Caldwell, Lawrence, Kansas, 1895. Published 11/07.) Back to top of page
December 22, 1855 - Who burned the Coleman and Buckley houses? - The December 22, 1855, edition of the Herald of Freedom newspaper reported that the recent burning of the houses of Franklin Coleman and H.H. Buckley had been carried out by pro-slavery men with the purpose of stimulating attacks on Free State men. The newspaper, which supported the Free State cause, claimed that all the facts that had come to light on the incidents supported that contention, and that "It is the opinion of every person well informed on the subject in Kansas…" Coleman and Buckley were both pro-slavery men, and a month earlier, Coleman had killed Charles Dow, precipitating the rescue of Jacob Branson from the custody of pro-slavery Sheriff Sam Jones. It would be logical that some Free State men might seek revenge on Coleman by burning his house and suspicion for such an attack would fall on Free State men, making attacks on them by pro-slavery men more likely. (From: Murders Occurring in the City of Lawrence, Douglas County, Kansas, from 1854 to 1859, by Margaret Dandurand. Unpublished manuscript, 2002. Published 12/07.) Back to top of page
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Created: February 7, 2008; Revised: September 2, 2014