The Hunt for Stephen Sparks

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Reese Brown’s lifeblood spilled out from the gash in his head. He died in the early morning hours of January 19, 1856. Though free state sources often declare that he suffered numerous wounds, David Brown (no relation) found only the one. That doesn’t preclude Brown suffering quite a pummeling beforehand, of course. Most probably, his proslavery captors roughed him up fairly thoroughly. They may also have given him many solid kicks when he fell down. Neither would be particularly out of character, as George Wetherell could tell us, nor necessarily likely to leave marks for David to find later on.

Brown earned the wrath of the Kickapoo Rangers and Easton’s proslavery party by coming to the rescue of Stephen Sparks. Some may have also mistaken Reese Brown for George Washington Brown, editor of the Herald of Freedom, and objected to his living on the grounds that he ran for the free state legislature, but mainly Brown led an armed group of free state men in a battle that left a proslavery man mortally wounded. By the time of Brown’s capture, he and Sparks had parted company. The proslavery mob hadn’t forgotten him.

On the afternoon of January 18, the day after Spark’s rescue, two men outside the Sparks home got news of Reese Brown’s plight. According to Esseneth Sparks, who apparently had yet to hear of her husband’s ordeal, Francis Browning and Richard Houcks resolved to go to Brown’s rescue.

Just as they started, two men rode up and called for Mr. Sparks. I told them he was out on business. They said they had private business with him.

While Esseneth and the proslavery men spoke about her husband, Browning spotted a larger party on a rise. Understanding the threat in a large group of armed men, particularly near a known and undefended free state household, he turned back and asked them what had transpired.

They said “they did not know; there was a great excitement at Dawson’s, they had heard, but they had not been there.” They then gave the sign by firing two pistols in the air, and motioning to the party with their hands. The party then came riding on as fast as they could, shouting. When they came up, they all joined in pursuit of Browning and Houcks, shouting “kill them,” “kill them,” “kill the damned abolitionists,” and firing upon them; but they divided one going one way, round the hill, and the other the other way, and escaped.

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