“God damn you, I could smash you” Trouble at Easton, Part Six

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Around midnight, on the night of January 17-18, 1856, Stephen Sparks decided that the proslavery men would make no attack on the ballot box at Easton, Kansas. He, his son Moses, and his nephew started for home. Their path took them by where the proslavery men had nursed grudges and drinks for hours. They rushed out and surrounded the Sparks party, taunting them but letting them proceed for a time. Moses advised that they give it up and go with the proslavery men, but Stephen thought better of it and kept along.

The Sparks’ path turned to the south, at which point it seems the proslavery men fell back and consulted amongst themselves. Sparks “got several rods ahead of them.” For a moment, he might have thought the worst behind him. Then the proslavery men

burst loose with a good many threats and cursings, and followed me. I kept on my usual pace, and kept the boys close by me. They again stopped to consult, and then the crowd came on and made a heavy charge on me, and their common expressions were, God-damn him, shoot him! kill him! damned abolitionist! There were then two guns fired.

Sparks wheeled and brought up his own gun, but Moses “dissuaded” him. They started again. Sparks doesn’t give a clear sense of the distance involved, but it seems considerable despite that heavy charge. Maybe they ran up a certain distance, and stopped short while someone fired warning shots. If he saw a man take aim and fire deliberately at him and his family, one imagines Spark would have said so.

Another turn brought Sparks about on the road leading to, and I presume past, Dawson’s house. There

part of the crowd formed a line across the lane, so that I could get neither way, and were making towards me. My son and nephew, at my suggestion, got into a corner of the fence-a rail fence, staked and ridered. We were there at bay, and were prepared to make the best defence we could. I reasoned with them, and said there were plenty of my old neighbors in Platte county with them; that I knew I would not surrender to a drunken mob. Benjamin Foster then fetched his fist in my shoulder, and said, God damn you, I could (or would) smash you. I then told him to stand back, and told him if he laid his hands on me again he would regret it.

Sweet reason did not move Spark’s old neighbors or the rest. They insisted on “general surrender” and that the group go back to the grocery in their custody. In the very unlikely event that Sparks missed their armament previously, they brandished guns and pistols. If Sparks declined to surrender, they would put the weapons to good use.

I told them to shoot. No gun was fired there. I said they must shoot me, as I would not give up to a drunken mob. David Large then took hold of my son’s gun and demanded that he should give it up. He refused, and in their struggling I presented mine, and told him to let go. He did so. They then, with threats, hallooed several times

So far, proslavery men have harrassed Stephen Sparks, fired guns at him, threatened him with further gunfire, and cornered him and two children in the corner of a fence. They closed to within arm’s reach. At this point, ballistic reticence makes good sense no matter what the mob’s intentions. In a mixed up brawl, they could end up shooting, or shot by, a friend.

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