“The fire was opened upon us,” Trouble at Easton, Part Seven

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

We left Stephen Sparks, son Moses, and unnamed nephew in the corner of a fence, surrounded by a proslavery mob armed and demanding their surrender. Sparks, himself armed, declined to oblige. When they tried to force the issue, one making a go for Moses’ gun, Stephen intervened and wrestled it back. He would come quietly over his dead body, literally telling the proslavery men that if they meant their threats they must shoot him. Whether Sparks’ bravery or the close quarters decided the issue, no one fired.

No one left either. What happened next depends on whether or not one believes Edward Motter. He told the Howard Committee that he and Mr. Kookogey

immediately ran down to where Sparks had stopped, and got on the fence and made a speech, that they should let the old man go on home; that it would not do to commit any violence on him. Ten or twelve of the men were about leaving, when Sparks commenced cursing and swearing about something-I could not tell what. I went to him, and tried to persuade him to go home, and he refused to go.

In Sparks’ version, Motter doesn’t make an appearance. They could both be right. Motter doesn’t mention the fence corner and Sparks refers to a few times when his adversaries withdrew and consulted amongst themselves. Motter’s speech might have taken place during one of those times. We can’t know whether Sparks said something that goaded the mob into further bedeviling him, but Motter previously went out of his way to make Sparks look bad on the matter of choosing his route home and probably invented a first insulting note to justify his own threats against the polls. On the balance, I think it more likely Motter invented Spark’s belligerence.

According to Sparks, the standoff lasted “some fifteen minutes.” Then Reese Brown arrived. According to J.C. Green, they got word from a Clark Tritt, who left with Sparks but apparently parted ways with him before the confrontation. Sparks doesn’t name him, but does refer to a man who was riding his horse and went back to share the news.

The first I saw of Brown he was near by, and his party afoot, stretched across the road, and inquired if I was there. I answered that I was. He told me to march to him. I started and was about halfway when Sam. Burgess caught hold of my shoulder. I told him to let me go, and prepared for defence, and he did let me go. He marched forward around me, and my son and nephew also came into the ring.

On close reading, the “he” in the last sentence must mean Brown, not Burgess.

Brown told his men to march back, and all did so, friend and foe going together in a crowd, I being in the centre. Then we went to the forks of the road; there the other party took the straight-forward road, and we, with Brown’s party, turned to the left.

With the exception of likely warning shots, the more intense phases of this affair happened at relatively close range. As the parties diverged, that range opened and the risk of friendly fire ebbed. Brown appreciated the fact keenly:

About forty or fifty yards, Brown urged me to walk in, as they were going to shoot. This he told me three times distinctly. The last time, I told him I would obey him. He was marching backwards looking towards the other crowd, conversing with them not to fire, and told them that if they did, he would return fire. When we were about sixty or eighty yards off, the fire was opened upon us.

 

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