To his free state enemies in 1850s Bleeding Kansas, and particularly in the village of Lawrence, he was called the “Bogus Sheriff” of Douglas County. To his proslavery political friends in places like Lecompton, Franklin, Douglas, Benicia, and Sebastian he was Sheriff Jones, the duly appointed sheriff of their county. To those with whom he dealt in legal and business affairs from his hometown of Lecompton, he went by Samuel J.. But to his personal friends, he was simply Sam. No matter how he was addressed, Samuel J. Jones is arguably one of the most recognized and most controversial characters in all of Kansas history. A free state reporter working for the New York Tribune in Lawrence on March 21, 1856 unflatteringly described Jones as: “the immortal bogus Sheriff Jones, a tall, muscular, athletic loafer, with a cruel Mephistophelean expression, clad in the Border Ruffian costume-blue military overcoat, large boots, skull cap and cigar in mouth.” Conversely, free state pioneer Lawrence settler Samuel Tappan had kinder words for his political opponent: “Permit me to refer to Samuel J. Jones, bogus sheriff of Douglas County, who in many ways was a remarkable man, as all the early settlers can testify. A man of undoubted courage, and what was not usual with his clan, chivalric and kind, while a most intense paritzan.”
Two known photographs Jones, both claiming to be the real Samuel J. Jones (although they bear little resemble each other) are in the possession of the Kansas State Historical Society (this is the one on display at Constitution Hall) and the Kansas Collections, Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas. The KU image, used in many Lawrence histories, features the Jones with beady eyes and scowling expression.
Thirty-five year old Samuel J. Jones arrived with his family in Westport, Missouri in 1854 from his native state of Virginia and quickly became friends with the leading proslavery men of Missouri, including Col. Albert G. Boone, the grandson of the famous pioneer. Jones was appointed postmaster of Westport that year. In May of that year, Kansas would enter the Union as a territory with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Jones was interested in the new territory of Kansas. He joined with other proslavery Missourians to make Kansas a slave state, although no records or accounts exist showing that Jones ever owned any slaves.
The location for Lecompton was selected in the fall of 1854 on a 640-acre Wyandotte Indian land claim. It was originally named Bald Eagle because of the many eagles that nested along the Kansas River. The name was changed later in 1854 to Lecompton to honor Samuel D. Lecompte, chief justice of the territorial supreme court. The Lecompton Town Company included Lecompte as President and Samuel J. Jones as secretary. The founders of Lecompton had great dreams for the town’s development. The territorial legislature in August of 1855 voted to make Lecompton the new, permanent territorial capital of Kansas Territory. Lecompton became a boomtown. Jones bought numerous lots and speculated heavily in the new town. His property holdings were broad. He was a real estate agent and land agent. He bought, sold and traded houses, city lots, farms, and land claim warrants. Jones also practiced law in Lecompton. He was a subcontractor when construction began on an elegant capitol in 1855 in Lecompton with a $50,000 appropriation from Congress. He constructed a six-room log house that was used in 1856 by Governor John Geary as the “Governor’s Mansion.” Nothing remains today of the mansion, once located west of the existing Democratic Headquarters on East Second Street, except a window shutter displayed at the Territorial Capitol Museum. An engraving of the mansion appeared in an 1857 edition of Harper’s Weekly. It also appears in the State Capitol murals in Topeka. Jones assembled a prefabricated house from pieces shipped to Lecompton via steamboat from an eastern factory. He owned 160 acres of woodlands along the Kansas River between Lecompton and Douglas. Here Jones and his workers harvested cottonwood, oak and walnut trees and produced lumber at a steam-powered sawmill he owned. Lumber from this mill was used to construct his finest building, Constitution Hall.
Jones began building Constitution Hall in mid-1856, known then as Samuel Jones’ commercial building, with the Lecompton Union newspaper reporting in November 1856, that, “the hall intended for the use of the lower house of the legislature was nearly complete and that the land office would open in about ten days. Jones built his hall purely as an entrepreneurial enterprise. During its period of greatest historical importance, Jones rented the hall to the U.S. land office; U.S. District and Territorial Supreme Court; as a meeting place for a series of territorial political events, which included gatherings of the proslavery second territorial legislature, a special session of the free state legislature, and a third session of the free state legislature; two Kansas National Democratic Party political conventions; and the Lecompton Constitutional Convention. Total annual rent of $1500 was received by in 1857 by Jones for his hall as reported by the Lecompton Kansas National Democrat newspaper.
Passing control of the territorial government from proslavery men to free state men in late 1857 marked the beginning of decline in Lecompton. The legislative sessions and much government business were removed to the free state communities of Lawrence and Topeka. Businesses in Lecompton closed and homes were left abandoned or hauled to Lawrence and to the surrounding countryside, while others fell into ruin. Lot and building values in the business district collapsed. Lots that had sold for as much as $1500 just a few years back, sold for as low as $25. Town shares were practically worthless. In January 1858, all county offices were moved to Lawrence the new county seat by an act of the territorial legislature. In 1861 the new state capital was placed at Topeka by the voters. Lecompton was no longer the capital. Lecompton withered away to a large extent and so did Samuel Jones’ wealth. The boom had become a bust for Lecompton and for Jones. Samuel Jones in Bleeding Kansas
Governor Reeder ordered the first territorial census completed in February 1855. Returns from eighteen districts showed a total population of 8,501 residents (excluding Indians) with only one-third of them declared as eligible voters. The remaining numbers were women, children, aliens, 172 free blacks, and 192 slaves. 2,905 white, twenty-one-year-old males were eligible to elect the first territorial legislature. Newspapers on both sides of the border appealed for an overwhelming turnout on election day. “Missourians, remember the 30th day of March, A.D. 1855, as Texans once remembered the Alamo,” exclaimed the proslavery Leavenworth Kansas Herald. On election day March 30th, a whopping 6,318 votes were tallied. A Congressional committee later determined that only 1,410 votes were legal and 4,908 were fraudulent. (The vast majority of voting fraud was committed by proslavery Missourians but, to be fair, abolitionists also cheated.) Polling places throughout the territory were forcibly overrun by armed waves of proslavery Missourians, who, after running off the election judges, illegally elected themselves a legislature. At Lawrence, 1,000 Missourians, fortified with two artillery pieces, set up camp on the evening before election day and prepared to vote en masse the next morning. This force being larger than deemed necessary for an overwhelming victory was split off and 500 to 600 Missourians, with white ribbons tucked in their buttonholes to distinguish them from abolitionist, headed on to outlaying districts. One detachment swept into Bloomington (Clinton) under the command of Westport Postmaster Samuel Jones. A practice mock election for governor was held. The Reverend Thomas Johnson won. With Bowie knives drawn and pistols cocked, Jones and company forced their way into the election judge’s cabin. All the judges were forced to resign. The proslavery mob stuffed the ballot box for proslavery candidates and an overwhelming victory. The deed was done. They rode east to Missouri with the ballot boxes and poll-books in tow. Outraged abolitionists and their free soil allies dubbed this new legislative body of thirty-nine members the “bogus legislature” and its statutes the “bogus laws.”
In August 1855 this “bogus legislature” organized into law a large number of counties; designated Lecompton as the permanent territorial seat of government; and made provisions that every officer in the territory, executive and judicial, be appointed by the legislature. Proslavery Douglas County commissioners in September 1855 appointed Samuel Jones sheriff. Jones swore to support the U.S. Constitution, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the Fugitive Slave Law. But to Lawrence abolitionists and free soilers, Sheriff Samuel Jones was a “bogus sheriff.”
Kansas Territory in 1855 had a proslavery delegate to the U.S. Congress, had a proslavery governor in Wilson Shannon (Reeder was fired by the president and fled for his life), had won an overwhelming victory in the first territorial legislature, had chosen the strongly proslavery town of Lecompton as its capital, had a chief justice, Samuel Lecompte, who would enforce its proslavery law, and had a proslavery president, Franklin Pierce, approving the actions of its government, backed up by the U.S. army led by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. Secretary Davis was pushing for congressional action to make Kansas the next slave state.
The free state men, though, did not stand idly by and submit to the proslavery government. They created their own extra-legal legislature and laws by adopting the Topeka Constitution in November 1855 and applying for admission to the Union as a free state. Kansas Territory was now governed by two rival governments. One was legal; the other was not. This period of anarchy, factional strife, disregard for property rights, and bloodshed became known as “Bleeding Kansas.”
One of the first incidents of “Bleeding Kansas” was the murder of free state settler Charles Dow by his proslavery neighbor Franklin Coleman in November 1855. The incident began over a claim dispute at Hickory Point located ten miles south of Lawrence. Proslavery cabins were torched by angry free state neighbors seeking revenge. Burned-out proslavery families fled for their lives back to Missouri. Old man Jacob Branson, who had lived with Dow, swore vengeance on Coleman. With a small posse, Sheriff Jones responded to the anarchy by arresting one of its leaders, Branson. Sheriff Jones on his way back to Lecompton with is prisoner that evening was bushwhacked and relieved of Branson by an armed rescue party of free staters led by Sam Wood at Blanton’s Bridge Crossing over the Wakarusa just south of Lawrence. This incident precipitated the December 1855 “Wakarusa War.” A proslavery force of 1,500 men and 600 Lawrence town defenders prepared for battle. Severe winter weather ended the bloodless “Wakarusa War” standoff.
After a long, cold winter hostilities erupted again in the spring between free state and proslavery settlers.
“Sheriff Jones—You are notified that if you make one more arrest by the order of any magistrate appointed by the Kansas Bogus Legislature, that in so doing you will sign your own Death Warrant. Per order. SECRET TWELVE ” This ominous letter did not deter Sheriff Jones from carrying out his duties. Sheriff Jones would repeatedly attempt to recapture Branson, arrest Wood and the other Lawrencians involved with his rescue. In April 1856, Jones went to Lawrence to arrest a man for breaking and entering. The sheriff was soon surrounded by an angry mob. The man’s enraged wife drew her revolver and fired point blank at his head, just grazing his temple and cutting off a lock of his hair. She pluckishly fired off four more times without effect as the sheriff galloped out of town with his prisoner. Jones again returned to Lawrence this time to arrest Sam Wood. A jeering crowd stole his revolver, knocked him to the ground which aided Wood’s escape. A few days later with an armed posse of four men, Jones returned to arrest a Branson rescuer. Once again, an angry mob intervened, swarmed around him, struck him in the face and knocked him to the ground. Finally, Governor Shannon requested military intervention to assist Sheriff Jones in serving his warrants in Lawrence. With an escort of eleven federal soldiers, Jones entered the town and made six arrests. That night while still in town Jones, standing inside a military tent, was shot in the back. News of the attack spread like wildfire. The headline from John Stringfellow’s proslavery newspaper, the Atchison Squatter Sovereign, bellowed,” ABOLITIONISTS IN OPEN REBELLION—SHERIFF JONES MURDERED BY THE TRAITORS&HE MUST BE AVENGED. HIS MURDER SHALL BE AVENGED. Even with a lead ball lodged near the spine, Sheriff Jones survived and was soon back to work, this time with a vengeance.
On May 21, 1856, the “sack of Lawrence” began. This incident stemmed from attempts this time by the U.S. marshal to serve warrants issued by territorial supreme court Chief Justice Samuel Lecompte in Lawrence. Lecompte had convened a grand jury which indicted Jim Lane, Charles Robinson (both had slipped out of the territory) and other free state leaders for treason. The jury recommended that the Free State Hotel, a defensive structure, and the two Lawrence free state newspapers be abated as public nuisances. 700 to 800 proslavery cavalry and infantry militiamen with four cannons swept into Lawrence. After the warrants had been served and arrests made, the militia was dismissed by the federal marshal. Sheriff Jones gathered up a number of these militiamen. They assisted him in battering and burning down the Free State Hotel; wrecking the offices of the Herald of Freedom and Kansas Free State; breaking, opening and looting stores, and burning the home of Charles and Sara Robinson to the ground. Sheriff Jones was allegedly heard to exclaim: “Gentlemen, this is the happiest day of my life. I determined to make the fanatics bow before me in the dust and kiss the territorial laws. I have done it, by God. You are now dismissed.” Senator David Atchison of Missouri, drinking and enjoying the day immensely, directed the artillery bombaredment on the hotel. Colonel Henry Titus commanded the cavalry. Judge Lecompte maintained that neither the jury nor he ever gave any such order. He hinted that the whole affair was Jones’ doing. The militia members called out by U.S. Marshal J.B. Donalson during the destruction of Lawrence were comprised of Southerners and Missourians more radical than those used during the “Wakarusa War.” Virtual civil war broke out in Kansas during the remainder of 1856.
In September the third governor, John Geary, who would reside in Lecompton in the “governor’s mansion” built and owned by Sheriff Jones, arrived in Kansas with instructions from President Pierce to bring civil strife to an end. Most proslavery men would have preferred Secretary and Acting Governor Daniel Woodson or Surveyor General John Calhoun over Geary. Geary realized a state of near anarchy prevailed in the territory. To smother it and restore order, he disbanded and sent home the territorial militia roaming the territory commanded by Sheriff Jones. The governor’s orders were ignored. He was finally forced into a face-to-face confrontation with Jones and his force of 2,700 men on September 13, 1856 a few miles outside Lawrence. Geary was successful in stopping an attack on Lawrence and disbanding Jones’ men. This action infuriated the proslavery party and politically alienated the governor. Governors in Kansas did not enjoy easy lives nor serve long tenure in that office. Ten men served as governor or acting governor in six and one-half years of territorial government.
Governor Geary was leaving a session of the territorial house inside Constitution Hall in February 1857, when his life was threatened by William Sherrard. Sherrard had been appointed Douglas County sheriff by the proslavery county court after the resignation of Jones. Governor Geary refused to certify his appointment. This enraged the hot-tempered, “fire-eater” Virginian. The situation escalated into a confrontation at Constitution Hall on the outside, second floor, staircase. Sherrard, armed with two revolvers and a Bowie knife, threatened, berated and spat upon the governor, but did no physical harm to him. Members of the legislature by now hated Geary so much that they refused to denounce Sherrard for this abuse of the governor.
Nine days after this incident came to a head. A public indignation meeting to discuss the insult to the governor was held on the construction grounds of the not yet completed capitol in Lecompton. Sherrard became upset when several speakers denounced his actions against the governor. An argument broke out between Sherrard and a man named Joseph Sheppard. Reports were that Sherrard drew first. Others said it was Sheppard. Regardless, Sherrard fired six loads at Sheppard, striking him three times and slightly wounding a bystander. All hell broke loose. A dozen or so more shots were fired by other parties. John Jones, Governor Geary’s secretary, rushed towards Sherrard and fired a single shot into his forehead. Sherrard lingered for a several days, then died. Sheppard survived his wounds. Samuel Jones noted that: “the shot fired at Sherrard took effect in the head, fracturing the skull bone as large as a ten cent pieces, or larger which were taken from his head by the physician. I also put my finger up to the joint in the wound, or hole made by the ball. I saw a portion of the brain, that had come from the wound.” (I wonder if he scrubbed his finger, first)
Money problems and a growing feeling against him had caused Jones to resign as sheriff in late 1856. His public career had only lasted about one year, but it ruined his name in Kansas. Money problems forced Jones to sell out all his real estate holdings in Lecompton, including Constitution Hall, to pay off debt. By 1859, he and his family had moved on to a new territory, New Mexico.
Records of Samuel Jones and his family in southern New Mexico Territory are sketchy. State archives and public records do yield these interesting tidbits about the Jones’. Using his old National Democratic Party connections in Washington and in Kansas, Jones was appointed in 1859 by the U.S. Treasury Department as Collector of Customs for the Paso del Norte District of New Mexico Territory. The family was counted in the 1860 New Mexico Territory census. The household consisted of Samuel J. age 32; his wife Mary age 32 and a son William age 12 and two male house servants, a Cuban named M. Barela age 25 and a Texan, A. Garcia age 35. The combined family real estate holdings totaled $37,000 with $2,500 in personal property.
At the beginning of the Civil War, Jones was listed as a lawyer under the Confederate administration in La Mesilla, the capital of the territory. By March 1862, Jones was nominated by President Jefferson Davis to the Confederate Senate from New Mexico and in the same year Davis also nominated him as Confederate Marshal of Arizona and New Mexico Territories. Jones was then commissioned in August 1866 a captain in the Confederate Army during its occupation of the New Mexico Territory and formed his own military company at Pinos Altos. He was also an army sutler at Ft. Fillmore, where he was “always in hot water with the Confederates, but not on account of political matters, however, as he was an unadulterated fire-eater &Jones was brought up in the guard house about once a month.” Jones and his brother William Claude, also a lawyer, who was described as a rabid supporter of the Confederacy and who proceeded Samuel to Las Mesilla, were both involved in a scheme to split off the southern half of New Mexico and Arizona Territories for the Confederacy. After the war, Jones was the Democratic candidate for the New Mexico territorial senate. He lost the race because of “fraudulent corruption.”
The Santa Fe New Mexican reported in February 1866 that Samuel Jones was a charter member of the Pinos Altos Mining Company and was sent back east to procure the necessary capital and machinery to successfully develop and work these valuable gold mines. “Col. Jones (‘I guess all Southerners are all eventually bestowed the rank of Colonel’) will represent the company in the east, as a gentleman of truth, honor, his statements can be most implicitly relied upon&” Pinos Altos Mining District, the paper claimed, “exceeded the best mines in California.” The town of Pinos Altos (Tall Pines) was founded in 1860 by several frustrated ’49-ers who stopped for water and discovered gold there.
By 1870 according to the census, the size and the fortunes of the Jones family had grown. Samuel is listed now as a farmer. Son William is 21, now a lawyer and married to Lurals age 20. Samuel and Mary now have an eight year old daughter named Ida Mary, two more sons, Samuel J. Jr. age 4 and Henry W. age 1. They also have two 40 year old male and female domestics from Mexico, Tomas Modrel and F. Ortega. Their real estate holdings now total $105,000 with $2,000 in personal property. By the 1880 census Samuel Jones is listed as a retired merchant with partial paralysis. The 1890 census was not found. By 1900 Mary appears as a widow. (This writer has found no account of when Samuel J. Jones died. I suspect that his paralysis may have been from the effects of the pistol ball lodged near his spine when he was shot in the back in Lawrence in 1856, and that he most likely died before he reached age 60. Just a guess, though. More research is required. A further investigation of New Mexico public records may yield an answer as well as lots of hours logged under a microfilm reader going through local newspapers.)
In the summer of 1879, an old foe from Kansas Territory, Colonel William A. Phillips, one of the Branson rescuers at Blanton’s Crossing, paid a courtesy visit to Jones at his hacienda in La Mesilla, (located on the outskirts of present-day Las Crues, just thirty miles north of Mexico.) Phillips wrote that he found the sheriff “surrounded by the comforts of life, though suffering from the effects of a stroke and the paralysis had sadly hindered his speech.” The two old enemies reminisced about earlier times in Kansas, with Jones “manifesting the kindliest interest in his old enemies.” It seemed as though Sheriff Jones had mellowed with age but, on being accused by Phillips of becoming a latter-day Republican, the old fire-eating Democrat, vigorously denied it, but laughed and admitted that his wife and son declared that they were Republicans!
The lone physical legacy left by Samuel J. Jones: the businessman, the speculator, the entrepreneur, the town promoter, and the builder during his brief stay in Kansas, is the commercial rental hall known today as Constitution Hall State Historic Site and National Historic Landmark. This hall was the location for one of the most significant political events in middle nineteenth century American history: the Lecompton Constitutional Convention. The Lecompton Constitution became a byword for political controversy. In the 1850s, it caused divisive national debate, paralyzed Congress, splintered the national Democratic Party, catapulted Abraham Lincoln onto the national political stage, further divided the Union, and hastened the country toward civil war. Not too shabby for a 147-year-old temporary rental. But, besides Constitution Hall, the only other recognition of Jones’ contribution to Lecompton or, for that matter, Kansas can be seen on a hill on the southeast corner of Lecompton. There is a truncated, dead end city street there on the scenic river road that offers a pleasing birds-eye-view view of the town. The street is identified by the sign post, Jones St..
Sheriff Jones’ legacy and his many exploits survive in numerous pages of Kansas history, although his reputation is not always portrayed in the most complimentary light.
John Gihon, private secretary to Governor John Geary, has this to say of his contemporary Samuel Jones from his 1857 book Geary and Kansas: “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 were 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 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-breathed’ 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 his spinal cord, 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 difficulties that have disgraced Kansas, as any other individual. He has led in bands of invaders to prevent the citizens from giving 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 instances 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 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 all 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.” Whew!
Former Kansas State Historical Society historian Dale Watts summarized Jones this way: “he has come down through history as “Sheriff Jones,” the evil enemy of all antislavery people. In truth, he was only trying to do his job. He had been ordered to enforce the territorial laws and he intended to do so. The antislavery party refused to obey the laws because they thought they were unfair. Jones was shown as blood-thirsty and without pity. He was accused of driving off antislavery settlers and burning their homes; he may have done this. He was certainly involved with the sack of Lawrence in 1856. But he thought he had been ordered by the court to take these actions. He was accused of always using the laws against the antislavery people. No doubt he tried very hard to protect the slave interests in Kansas. But he is not known to ever have harmed anyone physically. In fact, he was the one harmed. He was shot in the back in Lawrence in April 1856.”
This writer suspects the true character of Sheriff Jones lies somewhere between “a cruel Mepistophelean Border Ruffian,” and a “chivalric and kind partizan.”
The spirit of Sheriff Jones is kept alive today by Lecompton Reenactor playwright J. Howard Duncan and cast member Ed Hoover via his alter ego Sheriff Jones. If Samuel Jones could magically time-travel to the present to witness a performance of his character in the plays by the Lecompton Reenactors, this writer believes that he would be quite pleased and definitely amused by this duo’s efforts. Although, Jones might protest that Ed is better looking than those putative photographs of himself found in the archives at either KU or the Kansas State Historical Society.
. [Note: Some inconsistencies exist about the age of Jones. The 1855 Kansas Territorial census listed him as being 30; the 1860 New Mexico Territorial census listed him as being 32. but in his just released book, Kansas: The History of the Sunflower State, 1854-2000, University Press of Kansas, 2002, author Craig Miner lists him as being 28 years old in 1855. William H. Coffin in his article, “Settlement of the Friends in Kansas” published in the Transactions of the Kansas State Historical Society,Vol. 12, 1901-1902 lists him as “about” 35 in 1855.]