Thursday last, I promised a some gunplay. A mistake and my regular schedule got in the way, but we have come to the gunfight at last. Stephen Sparks had his confrontation with the proslavery men at Easton. Reese Brown and his men came to his rescue. The two groups mingled and moved along, but parted at a fork in the road. Brown smelled trouble coming and urged Sparks, his son, and his nephew into the center of the free state group. It took three tries, but Sparks finally obliged. At the same time, Brown
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.
I don’t know what kind of conversation Brown had whilst walking backwards and shouting across a distance between sixty and eighty yards, but the proslavery men found it unpersuasive. They opened fire. The antislavery men returned the favor at Brown’s order and “a great many guns were fired.” This went on for some time, though Sparks understandably doesn’t have a clear sense of just how long. He had more pressing things on his mind, both in his personal safety and that of his loved ones:
My son was wounded and knocked down, within six or eight feet of men, at the second fire, but he raised again and fired. He would wounded in the arm and head slightly.
Sparks doesn’t say just how the gunfight ended, but it seems that his side prevailed as they “marched back to Minard’s” rather than fled or retreated while still under fire. Resounding victory or no, they chose to go back to Easton rather than take Sparks home and disperse.
Edward Motter, who had trailed behind the proslavery men at a distance, had a bit more to say. He hung back out of the expectation that hot lead would fly, though he pins responsibility on Brown’s men rather than his own side:
We arrived at the forks of the road, where an Indian trail led off, and they had got between 80 and 90 yards ahead of us, when there was a pistol fired from Brown’s party.
With all due respect to the Doctor, and fully cognizant of judging him too harshly before, I don’t buy this. It doesn’t make sense for the free state men. Who had what they came for and aimed to leave the area behind, would suddenly turn and open up. Sparks could hardly have missed a gunshot in close proximity to himself, and reports distinctly seeing the proslavery men shoot. Given the considerable distance and darkness, with everything happening past midnight, he must have seen the muzzle flash. He could have lied on behalf of his rescuers, but his version fits better with the situation than Motter’s.
Motter might have told a stretcher. People in the past, just like people today, lied often. He leads with the implication that he saw the first shots, but continues to indicate the opposite:
I came up while the firing was still going on. I stepped behind a stump, and as I did so, a man I took to be Mr. Sparks fired at me with both barrels of a double-barreled gun, loaded as I thought with buck-shot, from the way they rattled against the fence. While I remained behind the stump, there were four rifles shot into the stump, of course by some of Mr. Brown’s men.
Quite how Motter would identify Stephen Sparks in the dark and dozens of yards distant, I have no idea. He admits some doubt on the point, but clearly wanted the Howard Committee to think he had good reason to suspect it.
Motter, like Sparks, doesn’t go into how the exchange ended. He had more to say about the proslavery casualties:
One man named Richardson, on the pro-slavery side, was shot in the leg, the ball penetrating the anterior portion of the leg, striking the tibular bone, and glancing off, and lodged in the posterior portion of his leg.
After the shooting, Motter retired to his office and got word
that Mr. John Cook was shot; I went over to see him and rendered services as a surgeon. He was shot, the ball entering the groin, and passing out in the upper portion of the hip-bone. I proved the wound, and found it had cut the posterior portion of the colon; striking the spine, and passing up and cutting off the posterior portion of the right kidney. I remained with him until, through fear, I left the place about 3 o’clock that night, and did not come back until the next day between 12 and 1 o’clock.