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Chapter 3: Fleshing the sword.

In order to understand the reason of John Brown's movements during this his third visit to the Territory, it is first necessary briefly to review the history of Kansas from September, 1856, when the old man and his sons left Lawrence, up to the date when the reminiscences of my friend report him at the village of Ossawatomie.

Northern Kansas.

In Northern Kansas there were no further disturbances or outrages committed from the date of the retreat of the Twenty-Seven Hundred Invaders, under General Reid, who, on their return to Missouri, burned the village of Franklin, a Free State hotel, and a number of private houses, stole four hundred head of cattle, and sacked, plundered and devastated the Free State settlements in every direction. Abandoning the agency of force in Northern Kansas,--for the immense emigration of the spring of 1857 placed the pro-slavery party there in a hopeless minority,--the South and the Federal Administration directed their energies to the formation of a fraudulent Constitution, which, by various [208] devices,--excluding, for example, by test oaths, the majority of the people from voting, and using the names of the Cincinnati Directory for the purpose of increasing the vote in favor of slavery,--they pretended to adopt, and then carried up to Congress. Its history there is well known. In August, 1858, this Constitution, on being submitted to the vote of the people of Kansas, was voted down by an unprecedented majority. From John Brown's defence of Lawrence, therefore, in the autumn of 1856, up to the present hour, the history of Northern Kansas has been a mere record of political intrigues and counter-intrigues, and of a rapid progress in material wealth, population, and civilization.

Southern Kansas.

In Southern Kansas, also, there were no difficulties until the winter of 1857-8--until shortly after John Brown paid his visit of three days to Lawrence for the purpose of bringing out his young followers to drill them.

In the summer of 1856, the entire Free State population of Lynn and Bourbon Counties had been driven from the cabins and claims by organized marauders from Arkansas and the Indian Territory, under the command of General Clarke, a Federal office-holder, and the murderer of Robert Barber. The emigrants thus expelled began to return to their homes in the spring, summer, and autumn of 1857. They found their houses and farms occupied by the Southern ruffians. Instead of driving them out, or hanging them, as, in strict justice, by the squatter code, they would have [209] been justified in doing, the Free State men built other cabins on their claims thus feloniously occupied, and avowed their willingness to abide by the decision of the Land Office, of which the real chief was General Clarke, but from whose decision there was an appeal to Washington. Fort Scott, at this time, was the headquarters of the ruffians in Southern Kansas; among them, the Hamiltons, the Littles, and Brockett, all of whom had been members of the Lecompton Constitutional Convention; Brockett, the Hamiltons, and Clarke having attested their devotion to slavery by murdering Free State citizens in cold blood. In the expectation that the Lecompton Constitution would be passed by Congress, and enforced by the hireling legions of the United States, these leaders formed the plan of renewing the disturbances in Southern Kansas, for the purpose of securing to their Missouri friends the farms and cabins they had stolen, facilitating the reconquest of the soil to slavery, and preventing the stream of Northern emigration from overflowing into the Indian Territory. In November this plan was carried into operation by organized bands of pro-slavery ruffians, who, issuing from Fort Scott, stole cattle, arrested men under false charges, and in. other ways annoyed the Northern settlers. A Free State Squatter's Court was formed in November for the trial of these ruffians by the process of Lynch law. In order to inspire terror, the judge of this organization was called Old Brown; and, although the Captain was in Iowa at one time, the deception was not discovered for many months. It was at this time that Captain James Montgomery, called on [210] by the people, took the field. Little, one of the chief ruffians, acting as a deputy United States Marshal, attempted, with a posse of eighty well-armed men, to arrest this Court. Major Abbott,1 with ten Sharpe's riflemen, drove them back in disgrace to Fort Scott. The United States forces marched to their rescue; Jim Lane went down to call out the Free State militia; and between these hostile fires the cause of the ruffians fell temporarily to the ground. Neither force fought, but Lane's men frightened; and the Missourians staid at home. General Lane returned; but the United States troops remained, and then joined the ruffians. Many of the soldiers, dressed in civilians' clothes, participated in their midnight forays. Montgomery organized a force to resist them. Brockett, in one of these nocturnal excursions, murdered two Free State men, and wounded two others.2 These events occurred in February and March, 1858. The disturbances continued [211] with varying success until the month of April, when Montgomery and his men were pursued by a force of forty dragoons, who were acting with the ruffians of Fort Scott. He had eight men only, but, posting them in a good position, resisted the charge of the soldiery, and drove them back-killing one man, wounding four or five others, and leaving a number of horses dead on the field. This was the first time in American history that the Federal troops were resisted by citizens. “Old Captain Brown,” we are told by Montgomery's biographer, “when he learned the particulars of the engagement, said that the like had not happened before in the Territory, and that the manner of his availing himself of the strong position that offered, and the skill with which he conducted the engagement, stamped him as one of the first commanders of the age.”

The news of this engagement exasperated Denver, and he declared that Montgomery should be arrested. At this time one of Montgomery's men stopped a messenger from Fort Scott, and found a letter on his person addressed to the Governor. Montgomery opened it, found an account of the plans laid for his arrest, and then enclosed in it a note to Denver, in which he stated that if the Governor wanted him, he had only to do justice to the Free State men, and recall the troops from Fort Scott. This double letter was then forwarded to Lecompton!

About this time Hamilton marched into the Territory at the head of twenty-five men, and committed the hideous massacre of the Marais-des-Cygnes. This act aroused the most terrible passions. The whole Free [212] State population took up arms. It needed only a leader and a provocation to create a revolution. The leader was there — the troops were coming. But, alarmed by these symptoms of a rebellion, Governor Denver recalled the soldiery; and, accompanied by a prominent Free State politician, went down and made a treaty with Montgomery. He agreed that all bygones should be forgotten, and that the troops and obnoxious civil officers should be removed. This treaty restored peace.

Arrival of John Brown in the South.

Up to the middle of September, the movements of John Brown have been given in the preceding chapter. At this time it was reported that he had left the country, and the ruffians began to take courage. The volunteer militia company was dissolved. Now began a new disturbance, created by the Free State democrats; who, jealous of Montgomery's political influence, desired to annoy him by prosecutions until he should leave the country. Up to this time, he had been quietly working on his farm; but he was the real Governor of all the Southern country, nevertheless. On the 11th of October, a packed Grand Jury was impanelled at Fort Scott--the Marshal and Prosecuting Attorney being bitter personal enemies of Montgomery. On the 21st, learning that he and a number of his men had been indicted, in violation of the treaty with Governor Denver, Montgomery visited Fort Scott with a small party, took the Court and Grand Jury prisoners, quietly adjourned it, and made a bonfire of the indictments! John Brown was not present at this postponement, but “acted as an adviser.” Several of [213] the men who fought at Harper's Ferry were there. This proceeding shocked the politicians in Northern Kansas, who were ever ready to indorse any wickedness if the words Free State preceded it. These men, who had sworn resistance “to a bloody issue” with the Usurpation, but, as soon as they got offices under it, indorsed and defended it, were naturally indignant at this translation of their Big Spring resolutions into Fort Scott actions.

Early in November, Montgomery's little cabin was surrounded and fired into by a party of marauders. The buck slot from their guns fell on the clothing of the bed in which Mrs. Montgomery was sleeping. She shouted, “we're going to have a fight!” The marauders heard her, and, supposing from the expression that a number of men were inside, turned about and fled — fired at, as they ran, by Kagi, who had been lying in another bed.

During this period Captain Brown, expecting a renewal of disturbances, was busily engaged in building fortifications ; which may still be seen on the Little Osage and Little Sugar Creeks. One of them was a cabin near the Little Sugar Creek, in which the old man and his followers lived. They show great military ability.

In the month of November, the politicians began to exert themselves to incite a feeling of dissatisfaction among the people against Montgomery and Brown. On the 25th of that month, a meeting for this purpose was held at Mapleton ; but the friends of the two chieftains appeared in great force, and adjourned it to the 30th. [214] On the same day one of Montgomery's men was arrested, in violation of the treaty, taken to Fort Scott in chains, and imprisoned in a filthy cell.

Attack on John Brown's house.

On the 29th, Captain Brown left his house for Ossawatomie, and Captain Montgomery for Osage City; and, at the same time, the Sheriff called out a posse of pro-slavery settlers, Missourians and Free State Democrats, for the purpose of arresting the old mall and his boys. On the 30th, the posse assembled at Paris, one hundred strong, and marched to the cabin of John Brown, on the Little Sugar Creek. Stevens and Kagi were its only occupants. As soon as it was known that this posse was approaching, a messenger was sent for Montgomery, who arrived at midnight with thirteen men. They had previously been reinforced by thirteen neighbors. In the morning their number was still further increased, although they still numbered only thirty-four men. The Sheriff's posse approached within a quarter of a mile, about one hundred and twenty strong. Stevens and Kagi went out to meet the officer, who had ridden up within a few rods of the cabin.

They asked him what he wanted.

He replied, “To disarm them and demolish their fort.”

Kagi told him to produce his authority.

“You are an illegal body, and it is my right to disperse you,” said the Sheriff. “I have no writ, but I must disperse you, as you are more than five armed men ; and if I don't do it, I'll be covered with shame, and have to leave the country.” [215]

“We can't help that,” retorted Kagi; “it is no business of ours; there is no use having any nonsense about this; if Paris 3 wants peace, the whole Treaty, amnesty and all, must be observed; if not, there must be war.”

At this time, the officer could not see more than five armed persons, not knowing that there were thirteen squatters in the cabin, or that Montgomery lay in ambush in a ravine close by, covering the whole wing of the posse, with twenty-one picked men, who were eager for the fight. He was so placed, that, in ten minutes, he could have swept the entire posse from the face of the earth.

“But you can't resist,” said a politician, who accompanied the Sheriff; “look at our force opposed to you.”

Stevens stretched his manly form to its full height, and, raising his right arm, with a defiant glance, in a ringing tone, gave a reply, every word of which the followers of the Sheriff heard, and which evidently made a great impression on them:

“But, believing we are right, before God, we will resist if the whole Universe is against us ”

The posse retired without firing a shot! On the same day, the Sheriff and his companion were disarmed by two men who fell at Harper's Ferry.

“Do you know who we are?” asked the Sheriff. “I am the high Sheriff of this county.”

“To the devil with the high Sheriff of Lynn County!” said Kagi. “Hand over that gun.” [216]

John Brown returned from Ossawatomie as soon as he heard of the attack on his house. The pro-slavery men, and Free State sycophants of the Federal Administration, had just again sent for United States troops; for they now saw that it was impossible to subdue the earnest Republican squatters, or with impunity break treaties made with anti-slavery men. John Brown and James Montgomery, foreseeing further trouble, prepared for a formidable defence; being resolutely determined to fight all comers, whether troops, pro-slavery ruffians, invaders, or Free State Democrats, who should endeavor to “crush out” the defenders of freedom. John Brown resolved to invade Missouri, and stop at once the incursions from that State, which were now the sole reliance of the friends of Slavery in Kansas.

Montgomery marched on Fort Scott, on the 15th of December, with one hundred and fifty men, officered by John Brown's followers,--Kagi, among others, and Anderson, and rescued his friend whom the ruffians had incarcerated.4

Governor Medary ordered down four companies of [217] United States dragoons; called out four bodies of militia, consisting chiefly of invaders and pro-slavery settlers; the Missourians began to assemble on the borders; every thing gave promise of a renewed civil war; when, unexpectedly, the aspect of affairs changed by the recall of the troops by order of the Cabinet, and the successful attack, on a Missouri force, by a party of Free State men, led by Captain Snyder, the blacksmith, whose name is inseparably associated with the history of the massacre of the Marais-des-Cygnes. This cabin was the Headquarters of these ruffians. When they saw the Free State men coming they offered fight; a conflict ensued; they refused to surrender; the cabin was fired, and four of the murderers perished in its flames.

At this time John Brown and his men were at Bain's cabin, in Bourbon County, preparing for any emergency that might demand their aid. Two hundred Missourians had assembled at Fail's store, eight miles distant, in Missouri, for the purpose of invading the Territory; but, hearing that Old Brown was recruiting his forces to attack them, they withdrew fifteen miles farther from the borders.

While John Brown was stating his plan of following them, and, by invading Missouri and carrying off slaves, teaching the citizens of that State to attend to their own affairs, a negro man named Jim came over; and, stating that he and his family and a friend were about to be sold South, implored assistance and deliverance.

The poor that cried for deliverance from oppression never appealed in vain to the heart of John Brown,

1 The Major was a spiritualist and peace man when he came to Kansas, but soon took up carnal weapons, and did heroic service in the cause. He deserves honorable mention in every history of Kansas.


“ On the night of the 27th of March, 1858, the ruffians of the fort made a drive on the Free State settlements on the Little Osage, being informed by their spies that the river was unguarded. They first rode up to the house of a Mr. Denton,--an inoffensive Free State man,--called him out, and after asking a few trifling questions, deliberately shot him. Some five shots were fired at him, two of which took effect. He expired in two hours. Before his death he charged his assassination to two men by the names of Brockett and Hardwick. They then proceeded to the residence of a Mr. Davis, a neighbor of Mr. Denton's, and demanded entrance. Suspecting then of being enemies, Mr. Davis refused to open the door. The ruffians fired several times through the door; one of their shots took effect in his hand, but he was not seriously injured by any of their discharges. The next place visited was the house of a Mr. Hedrick. They arrived there about two o'clock. Mr. Hedrick was up, waiting on his sick wife. The attending physician was also present and up at the time. A call was made for admittance, and as soon as Mr. Hedrick opened the door and stepped into the opening. he was shot down, five buck shot entering his side just below the breast. He never spoke, but fell dead upon the threshold of his dwelling. All these dark deeds were committed in one night.

William Tomlinson's Kansas in eighteen hundred and fifty-eight

3 The lesser Headquarters of the ruffians and Democrats.

4 Among the prisoners taken were Epaphroditus Ransom, a very portly Federal official, who had been a Governor of Michigan, and was now a dignitary in the Land Office. On hearing the noise, (it was early in the morning.) he came to the door in his drawers and night dress; when a boy of seventeen years, carrying a musket longer than himself, shouted, “Come out here; you're my prisoner.” “What do you mean, sir?” said Ransom; “I am a Federal. Officer, sir.” “Federal officer, eh?” said the boy; “who the devil cares? Come out here!” Ransom showed no willingness to do so; whereupon the boy cocked his musket, and the “Federal officer” came out. He ordered him to march to the middle of the square, obliging him to walk — dressed as he was — at a sharp trot, in order to keep clear of the bayonet, which the boy held in dangerous proximity to his body. The wiggling gait of the portly dignitary, and the ludicrous contrast between captive and capturer, were long afterwards described by all who saw them. as one of the most ludicrous of Kansas incidents. When Ransom reached the place appointed for him, “See what we sons of Freedom can do, old fellow!” said the boy.

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