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Samuel J. Jones

First Douglas County Sheriff. Born: April 16, 1827, Fluvanna Couty, Virginia. Died: December 10, 1883, Doña Anna County, New Mexico.

Samuel J. Jones was born in the southern state of Virginia in 1827. He moved west with his family, settling in Westport, Missouri, in 1854. Kansas Territory had just opened,  and popular sovereignty allowed voters to determine whether Kansas would become a free state or a slave state. Jones supported the proslavery cause.

Jones was appointed postmaster of Westport.  On March 30, 1855, Jones and a group of proslavery men destroyed the ballot box at Bloomington, Douglas County. The proslavery government, led by acting governor and fellow Virginian, Daniel Woodson, appointed him as the first sheriff of Douglas County on August 27, 1855. As sheriff Jones not only fostered an atmosphere of distrust, but also suppressed the rights of free-state men.

Violence was prevalent during his time as sheriff. Freestaters were alarmed by the murder of one of their men, Charles W. Dow, by a proslavery man and the arrest of Dow’s friend Jacob Branson. They began to fortify the free-state town of Lawrence and form a militia. The Wakarusa War erupted when proslavery militia supporting Jones and the governor attacked the city.  After a week, a truce was established between Governor Wilson Shannon and James H. Lane and Charles Robinson. The war came to an end in December 1855. A free-state man, Thomas Barber, was killed during the conflict.

It didn’t take long for violence to again erupt. On May 21, 1856, Sheriff Jones and his group of proslavery followers entered Lawrence with intent to destroy the free-state newspaper offices. They dumped the press type into the Kansas River, looted several businesses, and burned the Free State Hotel.

Jones’ time as sheriff came to an end on January 7, 1857. The new free-state government did not support his harsh punishment toward his adversaries. Jones chose resignation over more lenient approaches.

He left the territory and moved to New Mexico. In September 1858 Jones accepted an appointment as collector of customs at Paso del Norte. He eventually purchased a ranch near Mesilla, New Mexico, where he resided until his death years later.

Entry: Jones, Samuel J.

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: July 2016

Date Modified: December 2023

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.