Guns, Chickens, and Checks: The Journey to Kansas, Part 5

John Brown

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4

John Brown had letters on hand from three of his sons when he started for Kansas. Junior told him the general situation and advised him against expecting to make money raising livestock or land speculating. He did suggest that antislavery men in the territory should arm themselves, though. Jason wrote of his and his wife’s depression at the death of their son. Salmon wanted food and summer clothes. Further correspondence kept Brown up to date on the political situation  and asked if he could raise some money to send guns to Kansas. In better news, Junior also wrote that while all the territory’s surveying had all been contracted out it went so slowly that Brown stood a chance of getting work at it all the same.

All of this goes to the elder Brown’s motivation in coming to Kansas. John Brown went to Kansas to fight slavery and help his sons. He also wanted some means of support while doing so and took a keen interest in money making opportunities, inquiring about prices and the feasibility of various agricultural operations. When Brown got news that he would probably not make piles of money and an at best qualified endorsement of his plan to work as a surveyor, he still went. A person driven entirely by pecuniary interest would have looked elsewhere. Much later, sitting in a Virginia jail, Brown told Clement Vallandingham essentially the same thing:

Vallandingham. How long have you been engaged in this business?

Brown. From the breaking out of the difficulties in Kansas. Four of my sons had gone there to settle, and they induced me to go. I did not go there to settle, but because of the difficulties.

Vallandingham then asked why Brown came to Virginia. Brown gave an answer that would fit his trip to Kansas just as well:

We came to free the slaves, and only that.

Brown made his arrangements. From Chicago, he wrote explaining the progress of his journey since leaving North Elba. He picked up a good horse for $120

but have so much load that we shall have to walk a good deal-enough probably to supply ourselves with game.

Brown traveled with his son Oliver and son-in-law Henry Thompson. He continued on this theme on September 4, by which time they had reached just into Iowa. They tarried longer in than expected in Chicago because “our freight” hadn’t arrived. That freight included guns, of which Brown had a crate from Cleveland as well, and some artillery swords. In further firearms news, he told the family that Oliver turned out to have a good aim and had brought down many free-roaming chickens for the party. Brown closed with instructions for Watson, left in charge back in New York, on how to cash a check for some cattle Brown ordered sold.

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