Understanding the Kickapoo Rangers, Part Two

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The Kickapoo Rangers, or a group near enough that it makes little difference, rode to the rescue. They had word of free state Kansans murdering a proslavery man and they would see justice done. The Rangers found their quarry, Reese Brown’s band of free state men, on the road outside Easton. According to the proslavery commander, John Martin, their capture occasioned

a good deal of excitement, and some questions were raised as to what we should do with them. Some of them got into a fight with one young man who had been taken in the wagon, by the name of Taylor.

Martin differs from George Taylor and Henry Adams, both of whom paint the fight as a one-sided affair that ended with Adams and a proslavery man pulling Ranger called Gibson and his descending axe away from the unarmed, prone Taylor. But Martin’s invocation of excitement implies he might have had trouble restraining his men.

That subtext runs through his testimony. Per Martin, the Rangers looked to him for advice on what to do with their prisoners. He doesn’t say it in so many words but, given the context, the options likely included letting Gibson have his way. Henry Adams testified that Martin lacked full control over his men and chose two trustworthy ones to guard them as much from their fellows as to prevent escape. Martin agreed that he did so:

They asked me if I would protect them, and I said I would, so far as I could. I requested Mr. D.A.N. Grover and Mr. Williams to get into the wagon with them, to protect them from injury, they being sober, discreet men.

Maybe Martin saw the guard as a chivalrous act designed entirely to appease his over-frightened captives, but in that case any man bar Gibson might have done. That he chose with some care, cognizant of the excited state of his company, suggests that he understood in the moment that he had a bigger problem than one malcontent.

All of this left the question Martin’s band posed to him not entirely answered. Now that they had their prisoners, what would the Rangers do with them? Martin decided they must go on to Easton, taking Reese’s people with them, in order to determine just what exactly had happened. Once back in town, Martin put the free state men

into Mr. Dawson’s store for protection against some of the men who had got to drinking and had become excited. Some were excited before we got there, and belonged to the party who had been there the night before.

I said before that none of the Rangers had firsthand knowledge of what happened with Stephen Sparks the night prior to their arrival. I stand by that. Nothing in Martin’s account of his gathering up a band of men and riding for Easton mentions firsthand knowledge. If someone knew something back at Kickapoo, I can’t imagine opting for silence and instead hoping that Edward Motter’s second letter of the night would carry the day. Someone may have met the party on the way and Martin neglected to mention them. Or he might have meant only to add the threat from Easton residents to that of his own more unruly elements and not phrased himself as clearly as one would hope. For the most part, Howard Committee testimony seems to have been given verbally. A clerk could have made a mistake in transcription or Martin might not have spoken as precisely as one would hope.

Pointing toward a fresh local menace, Rively testified that when the group arrived in Easton, they found

The citizens were very much exasperated, and it is not to be wondered at that they should retaliate; I fully expected they would.

However Martin came to understand it, he had more to worry about than his prisoners escaping or posing a threat to their captors. His men, the proslavery men of Easton, or a combination might well set aside his prudence and do something drastic. One had already tried.

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