The Murder of Reese Brown

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Captain John Martin, of the Kickapoo Rangers, did all he could for Reese Brown. The mob at Easton, including some of his own men, had enough of talk about giving Brown over to the lawful authorities. They waited long enough while he, Edward Motter, and others questioned the free state man. They came for blood, not talk. Martin delayed the final confrontation by some time, but at last the proslavery rowdies burst in and refused to depart. With some parting imprecations, Martin mounted up and started back for Kickapoo. He left Brown to the mob.

 

On the way out, Martin managed to release Brown’s companions. Under the same roof, they could hear the mob laying into Brown. Brown himself had rather less luck. Eyewitness testimony drops off at this point. M.P. Rively gave a confusing and evasive version of events:

He [Brown] was then taken out of the store by some one, I do not recollect whom; and it was proposed by some person, I do not recollect whom, that Brown and Gibson should fight, which they did. Brown fought, and Gibson knocked him down with his fist; that I saw. While he was down, Brown Hallooed “Enough.” He then got up, and I led him to the wagon and put him in it, and he went home in the wagon. That is all I recollect of it. I went off in advance of the wagon, and the next day I heard Brown was dying. I did not see the fight between Brown and Gibson when it commenced. I saw Gibson knock him down, and saw Brown strike at him. Id id not see Gibson use any weapon at that time, though I saw Gibson have a hatchet as we were going out there that day. I did not see him have a hatchet at the time of the fight. I do not know that Brown was bleeding when I helped him in the wagon, for it was about dusk. Mr. Charles Dunn helped me to lead Brown to the wagon, and Brown got in himself. […] I did not see either Brown or Gibson, at the time of the fight, have any weapon. It was about dusk, and I should probably not have seen the weapons if they had had any.

Charles Dunn had a prior proslavery adventure at Leavenworth involving free state polls.

Rively managed to see and not see everything. We can only speculate, but it seems far more likely that Rively saw most everything and declined to recall on the grounds that he might incriminate himself. He admitted to the concern when he opened his testimony. It doesn’t take much reading between the lines when he spells it out for you. At some point in the attack, the proslavery men decided Brown had had enough and bundled him up in a wagon to go home.

David Brown, no relation to Reese, lived on the claim to the west of the other Brown’s. He saw Brown “three or four hours” after the proslavery men dropped him on his doorstep. A teamster in Brown’s employ asked him to find a doctor. David obliged, securing a promise to come before returning to Reese Brown’s home around three in the morning, where he

found him in a dying condition, lying upon a pallet on the floor, his clothes literally covered with blood. I sat down, took his head upon my lap, and examined the wound. I asked him how he was; he said he was dying, but should die in a good cause. I commenced opening his vest to ascertain if there were any further wounds in his body, and he told me they were all in his head.

David checked anyway, but Reese had it right. Other sources say that Reese Brown suffered numerous serious injuries, but none of them saw his body. All that blood came from a gash

on the left side of the head, cutting the inside of the ear, and extending perhaps two inches long to the left temple, cutting off a lock of hair.

Even in the full dark of night, we might expect Rively to have noticed such an injury. It claimed Reese Brown’s life soon thereafter, with his head laying on David Brown’s lap at the time of death.

Reese Brown’s brother engaged doctors to examine the body, which they exhumed for the purpose about a month after burial. The cold preserved Brown fairly well. Dr. James Davis testified that the wound

was in the left temple, severing the temporal bone to the length of about two and a half inches. I judge that the wound was made with one blod of a hatchet or tomahawk, or some weapon of that kind. The temporal bone was opened sufficiently to admit my finger anywhere along it for two inches. I ran my fore-finger into the wound up to its second joint. I have no doubt it was a mortal wound.

Dr. J.G. Park agreed, adding that it made

about a line from the outer end of the socket of the eye, and running along towards the ear […] I ran my finger through the squamous portion of the temporal bone, which is the thinnest part of the skull bone. The opening into the skull was sufficiently large to admit my fore-finger, which I ran into the brain. Fragments of bone were sticking on the inside into the brain[…] The wound was one that must have produced death, and the only wonder is that the person should have lived so long after he received it.

If Gibson, or anybody else, managed to deal Reese Brown such a wound without a weapon then they must have had metal hands. Probably Rively, and everyone else who stuck around, saw Brown take the hatchet to the head and decided that things had gone far enough. Best get him out of the area before he died surrounded by obviously guilty proslavery men.

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