Trouble at Easton, Part Five

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The dispute over the ballot box at Easton, Kansas on January 17, 1856, had gone from armed threats to passing notes. The proslavery side, in the person of Dr. Edward Motter, held that the free state men under Reese Brown sent him an insulting note and dared him to come answer it. He wrote back that he would come in due course. According to the free state side, they sent no such note but Motter and company sent an anonymous one demanding the ballot box held at the house of a Mr. Minard. On receiving that, Minard and company declined to give an answer unless someone signed a name to it. The free state men tell the more plausible story, though it seems reasonable enough that some of them might have insulted Motter. Under what sounds like close questioning, Motter later on admitted that all the day’s trouble arose out of the election.

Henry Adams, one of the free state men who turned out to defend the polls that day, told the Howard Committee that after the affair with the notes things largely subsided. A few men came by and talked with Minard, one for “about an hour” but nothing came of it. Stephen Sparks, another of the defenders, testified that the note named him and Minard. He agrees with Adams that proslavery men called at Minard’s house thereafter, naming a Mr. McAlear that Adams also mentioned:

Mr. McAlear then came up, and Kookogey with him, to reason with us, and said it would better for us to give up the ballot-box, or it would turn out worse.

Threats or no, the expected clash did not come. Sparks, like Adams, decided “there would be no difficulty.” Motter certainly hadn’t come up armed and demanding satisfaction. The proslavery men had tried intimidation. When it failed, they declined to take on the large band of free state men who stood ready to meet them. With the hour nearing midnight, Sparks, his son Moses, and his nephew chose to start for home. The path through Easton took Sparks past Dawson’s store.

The proslavery men saw him coming. As Motter told it,

About 12 o’clock Mr. Sparks came down, and instead of going directly home he walked at least a quarter of a mile to come down where our men-the-pro-slavery party- were. He knew that his most bitter enemies were there and intoxicated at the time. I was sitting in the office, in company with Mr. Samuel J. Kookogey, Samuel Burgess, and Dr. Kennedy, when he passed by. I heard some one outside exclaim, “there goes old man Sparks, with his rifle on his shoulder.”

Sparks doesn’t mention going out of his way and without a period map I can’t say if he did. Motter could have mistaken the directions or Sparks might have erred in his navigation. He could also have chosen to walk by just to show that proslavery men didn’t frighten him. Either way, he didn’t get the warmest reception:

When getting near Dawson’s store, I saw several men, and heard several say, “God damn him, there he is,” and called old man Sparks, and said they had got me now. There was a great deal of talk, and the men had been drinking. I walked on and came near the store door; several men threatened me very heavy, and demanded that I should surrender. They were then all round me, some in front and some behind, and on each side.

Something like a drunken, gun-toting playground taunting session seems to have ensued, as Sparks says they surrounded him but let him keep moving on his way for a while. Among the taunts, they invited Sparks to have a drink with them. None of this makes for an easy time for children, as your author knows from experience, particularly with enemies on every side. To look at one means losing track of another who could do anything to you. Adding guns and alcohol can’t have made it more pleasant. Nor would Sparks’ concern for his son and nephew have lightened the load.

Moses Sparks

wanted me to surrender, but I spoke to him low, and told him to keep near me and close by my side.

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