“They had got us and were going to hang us” Trouble at Easton, Part Nine

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The gunfight at Easton on the night of January 17-8, 1856 ended inconclusively, with the free state men returning to the site of the late polls at Minard’s house rather than heading home. Stephen Sparks’ son suffered minor wounds. Two proslavery men had more serious injuries, one shot through the leg and the other in the stomach. Dr. Edward Motter tended him for some time that night, but “through fear” left at three in the morning. Motter did more than go into hiding, though:

Believing that our place was in danger, I sent an express to Kickapoo. Mr. Kookogey sent an express to Messrs. Johnson & Lyle, of this city.

Kickapoo served as the home base for the Kickapoo Rangers, a proslavery militia who the free state party took seriously. Reese Brown, Stephen Sparks, and the other guards at the Easton polls came with the expectation that they would try something. Motter set out to prove them retrospectively right. Kookogey’s missive would bring, among others, J.M. Lyle. He served an official in the bogus legislature and played a role in the lynching of the more obscure William Phillips. Given the already warm relations between armed proslavery and antislavery Kansans in the area, what could go wrong?

On the other side of the dispute, J.C. Green came into Easton with Reese Brown. He didn’t join the others in rescuing Stephen Sparks, but after Brown left his company heard the “considerable firing.” Brown, Sparks, and company returned to Minards and there stayed until morning. They had some breakfast and started out.

After riding about six miles, we met two wagons filled with men, who told us to stop. Mr. Brown told the driver to go on, and we passed them; and then their two wagons turned about and followed us. Some of them jumped out of their wagons, and said they would see if we would not stop. We then jumped out of our wagon, and Mr. Brown, I think, told them if they wanted anything to come on. We then saw in the road in front of us some forty or fifty more men armed, some with horses and some with wagons. They had stopped at a house near there. We kept walking along until we came up to them. They began cursing us, saying that they had got us, and were going to hang us.

Brown, Green, and company had met the Kickapoo Rangers, and probably some men out of Leavenworth too, that Motter and Kookogey summoned. Green doesn’t name them as such, but none of the witnesses I’ve seen mentions another large band of proslavery men coming into Easton on the eighteenth. He recognized Lyle among their number.

At its most, Brown’s company boasted around twenty men. By the time they met with the Rangers, Sparks and probably others had separated from them. The proslavery men had the advantage in numbers and superior positions, both ahead of and behind the party. Whatever else one might say about the shortcomings of free soil Kansans, they knew how to count and understood their precarious situation. The Rangers insisted that everyone hop into a wagon and come with them back to Easton. Brown’s men objected, but on the grounds of safe transport rather than out of a desire to hazard a fresh gunfight. The Kickapoo men conceded the point and divided Brown’s company between two wagons.

The Kickapoo Rangers remained mindful of their own safety too. One of them spotted Green’s revolver and asked its surrender:

I told him I would give it to the captain of their company, if they had any captain. He said they had, and that his name was Martin. Presently Martin came along on horseback by the side of the wagon, and I gave him two revolvers. I had one in a belt, and the other I had in my pocket.

In short order, Brown’s party found themselves back in Easton. This time they ended up in Dawson’s store, which connected to Dr. Motter’s office.

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