John Brown’s New Neighbors

John Brown

We left John Brown, his son Oliver, and his son-in-law Henry Thompson just over the Mississippi. They hadn’t gotten their guns on time in Chicago, which delayed them. Otherwise, they had a reasonably decent trip with much shooting of chickens. On the morning of October 7, Brown rode into Brown’s Station. Oliver and Henry went ahead the night before. He found Kansas with more timber land than expected and his sons in dire straits.

The Browns lived in tents, or something a generous person might call a tent. They shivered through the bitter winds. Sickness laid up everyone except Wealthy Brown and John III, to the point where they couldn’t harvest their crops. Most had malaria, which Brown also suffered recurrent bouts with, but Salmon nearly died of a colic. Their livestock roamed freely. Constant thunderstorms, high winds, scarce food left everyone in Kansas little better. Emigrant Aid Company promotional literature left those facts out. Brown set to tending everyone while Oliver and Henry unloaded the guns, swords, and other provisions. They also brought out Austin Brown’s body, which John dug up on his way across Missouri to return to his parents.

I can’t say I’ve heard of more awkward surprises, but Junior and Ellen had to bury Austin in a hurry and leave him behind. The chance to do it right improved their spirits to the point where she agreed to remain in Kansas and Junior started thinking about orchards and vineyards again after so much misery. Junior also gave Brown the skinny on recent events: The free state party had elections set for only a few days out. The antislavery side had its strengths and failings, the latter most notably in their general loathing of black Americans, but proslavery neighbors must have loomed larger in Brown’s mind.

Dutch Bill (Sherman), -a German from Oldenburg, and a resident of Kansas since 1845, -had amassed considerable property by robbing cattle in droves and emigrant trains. He was a giant, six feet four inches high

Sherman and his brother ran a tavern and general store on the California Road since that year, first squatting illegally. Whether or not they bolstered their income by theft or not, they were loud proslavery men. The rumors went around that, in addition to pilfering, they hated Native Americans but didn’t pass up the chance to keep a Native woman for their “criminal purposes” now and then. we have only the rumor-mongering of hostile witnesses to support all that, but none of it would put the Shermans far out of pace with normal white colonists on the frontier. If Brown heard such things from his son -we have the account from one of his later co-conspirators, August Bondi- then he probably believed it. Either way, it’s likely that the Shermans at least made occasional threats against antislavery whites. Bondi has them

frightening and insulting the families, or once in a while attacking and ill-treating a man whom they encountered alone.

Allen Wilkinson had a greater distinction than that of local bully with a reputation for rape and theft: he served as a postmaster and illegal votes made him into a member of the Bogus Legislature. Wilkinson didn’t get his own hands dirty, but Bondi put him forward as a local leader of the proslavery faction who always got advance notice of Missourian invasions. Rumors cast him as a wife beater, which his wife would later deny. She would know.

 

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