A dead dog, tears, the report of pistols, and a wild whoop

John Brown

We left John Brown’s small band fleeing a dark cabin somewhere near Mosquito Creek. They stole up to it and someone -maybe Brown himself- knocked at the door. A gun stuck out through the wall and everyone embarked on a spirited chase for the better part of valor. Retreat failed to produce rout, though. Brown and his men continued on through the night, coming in short order to the Doyle claim. It was around eleven o’clock, May 24, 1856.

Townsley, who remained with the group despite a possible attempt to flee when they all scattered, has John Brown, three of his sons, and his son-in-law Henry Thompson all to go the door. Frederick Brown and Theodore Weiner stayed back with him. As they approached,

a large dog attacked us. Frederick Brown struck the dog a blow with his short two-edged sword, after which I dealt him a blow on the head with my sabre and heard no more from him.

Townsley maintains that he took part in all of this under protest once he learned of Brown’s true intentions. Apparently Brown found his protests so convincing and troubling that he armed the Marylander. Salmon Brown didn’t miss the point when he gave his own version:

Old man Tousley [Townsley] went after the dogs with a broadsword and he and my brother Fred soon had them all laid out. Tousley then went in without being asked and worked with all his might, but not as a prisoner as he afterwards claimed.

One can’t begrudge a person for defending himself against a hostile animal; that Townsley killed a dog doesn’t implicate him in murdering people. The fact that he did it with a sword supplied by John Brown, which Brown let him keep despite his protests, suggests strongly that he participated under rather less duress than he might have wanted posterity to know.

As the dogs died, Brown and his companions knocked at the door of the Doyle cabin. Within it lived James P. Doyle, his wife Mahala, and their children: William (22), Drury (20), John (16), Polly Ann (13), James (10), and Charles (8). Mahala and John later made statements under oath as to what happened. All had retired to bed by this time, but the people at the door asked for James and he got up to answer them. They wanted to know where to find Allen Wilkerson. James opened the door to give them directions, at which point Brown and company burst in. They declared they had come “from the army” and that they took the Doyles prisoner. They said also that if the older male Doyles surrendered, they would suffer no harm. Brown made no threats against Mahala, her daughter, or James Junior and Charles. He wanted James the elder, William, Drury, and John.

According to Salmon Brown, this prompted a fiery response from Mrs. Doyle, who

gave them a terrible scoring as they were being taken from the house. She said, “I told you you would get into trouble for all your devilment; and now you see it has come.”

Mahala and her son remember things differently. She might well have said something like that out of sincere feeling, panic, or to make herself more sympathetic to the Browns as she pleaded for her loved ones. Either way, they took out James first, then came back for William, Drury, and John. She pleaded through tears for John to stay with her, which Brown agreed to.

In a short time afterwards I heard the report of pistols. I heard two reports, after which I heard moaning, as if a person was dying; then I heard a wild whoop.


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