Two dead on the road and one dead on the ground

John Brown

While James Townsley, Oliver, and Frederick Brown stood nearby, and Theodore Wiener and Henry Thompson at more of a distance, John Brown and his sons Owen and Salmon hauled James Doyle and his two eldest sons, William and Drury out of their cabin and into the Kansas night. The old man spared a third son, aged sixteen, at his mother’s pleading. The antislavery men hauled the Doyles distance from the cabin and then Owen and Salmon took to them with artillery swords. The Doyles tried to defend themselves, but James and William fell quickly. The Brown boys hacked into them and got a slash or two in on Drury before he managed to run. As Townsley puts it:

One of the young Doyle’s [sic] was stricken down in an instant, but the other attempted to escape, and was pursued a short distance by his assailant and cut down.

Then John Brown put a bullet through James Doyle’s head, to make sure. None of the witnesses give enough information for us to know which of the Brown boys chased after Drury Doyle, but it would almost surely have been Salmon or Owen. In the morning, Mahala and John went to see what had become of their loved ones. She

found my husband and William, my son, lying dead in the road near together, about two hundred yards from the house. My other son I did not see any more until the day he was buried. I was so much overcome that I went to the house. They were buried the next day. On the day of the burying I saw the dead body of Drury. Fear of myself and. the remaining children induced me to leave the home where we had been living. We had improved our claim a little. I left all and went to the State of Missouri

The Doyles preferred slavery to freedom, but they remained human beings as capable of pain and loss as anyone. Overcome, Mahala went back inside. That left John to find Drury:

The next morning was Sunday, the 25th of May, 1856. I went in search of my father and two brothers. I found my father and one brother, William, lying dead in the road, about two hundred yards from the house; I saw my other brother lying dead on the ground, about one hundred and fifty yards from the house, in the grass, near a ravine; his fingers were cut off; and his arms were cut off; his head was cut open; there was a hole in his breast. William’s head was cut open, and a hole was in his jaw, as though it was made by a knife, and a hole was also in his side. My father was shot in the forehead and stabbed in the breast.

That kind of sight would stick with you.

Townsley, who has every reason to make the Browns look bad, insists that no intentional mutilation of the bodies took place; they hardly needed it. Cutting people apart makes a terrible mess, even if the injuries suggest they did die quickly. Drury probably lost his arms by raising them in defense, though that wouldn’t offer any comfort at all to the bereaved.


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