When August Bondi met Dutch Sherman

John Brown

John Brown, his son who was also a John Brown, and the Pottawatomie Rifles walked away from Dutch Henry’s tavern on April 21, 1856 with most of what they came for. They knew for a fact that Judge Sterling Cato, holding court there, would enforce the bogus legislature’s laws against being Kansas and antislavery…mostly. Cato secured no indictments against Kansans who declared against slavery, or even formed antislavery militia companies like Brown and his son. He did indict only free state Kansans, but only for regular offenses. The next day he closed up shop with those settled and moved a county over to indict another free state Kansan, this one for assault. The junior Brown made a big show of telling his band of armed men that they would meet immediately right where everyone in court could hear him, but all they did present Cato with a copy of the resolutions recently voted on to resist enforcement of the proslavery code by force if necessary. He left no record of Cato’s reaction.

All of that didn’t amount to much, really. The free state men came out of it with the knowledge that the proslavery party would not stage an immediate crackdown, but the machinery of Kansas government had lurched further to life. What didn’t happen at one court session could happen at the next. For that matter, Missouri threatened to invade Kansas yet again. Across the territory’s political divide, the proslavery men around Osawatomie had parallel anxieties: among them lived a band of armed militants sworn to wage war against the forces of law and order. The implied threat to Cato’s court had to strike close to home for the Shermans (who hosted it), Allen Wilkinson (district attorney), Thomas McGinn (grand jury foreman), William Doyle (bailiff), James Harris and James Doyle (William’s father, both jurors). The Doyles also affiliated themselves with the Law and Order Party. Wilkinson served in the bogus legislature.

Not that they had behaved well before the threat. Sanborn relates that August Bondi arrived in Kansas almost a year before all this and went to check up with his fellow Germans. Dutch Sherman told him

“he had heard that Bondi and Benjamin [another German who had come with Bondi] were Freesoilers, and therefore would advise him to clear out, or they might meet the fate of Baker,” – a Vermont man whom the Border Ruffians had taken from his cabin on the Marais des Cynges, whipped, and hanged upon a tree, but had cut him down before death, and released him upon his promise to leave Kansas.

Sandborn worshiped Brown and Bondi told him all this years later, probably while they clambered about Kansas trying to find where Bondi and Brown camped out in the spring and summer of 1856. He might have invented it as a handy way to tell how he came to meet the Brown family, though Frederick’s promise that if the Shermans caused trouble they could come to his rescue. But proslavery and antislavery Kansans often had poisonous relationships and the proslavery side in particular seems inclined to make violent threats, even if most of them didn’t go all the way to committing murder. Nothing that Bondi has Sherman threaten him with would depart from the norms established elsewhere.

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