“A score of bad men should die”

John Brown

Henry Thompson and Theodore Weiner killed Dutch Bill Sherman, probably. We can’t say with absolute confidence, like much in history, but the evidence points toward them. When Brown and his men came to Dutch Henry’s cabin, they took each man present out and questioned him: What did he think of the free state party? Did he mean them harm? Did they have any weapons about? All that made good, practical sense. Brown needed to know if he had proslavery militants on his hands and if they might pull a gun or knife on him while he had his attention on murdering someone else. Speaking of, Brown also asked if they knew of any other men nearby who might just drop in.

Brown wanted Dutch Henry, Bill’s brother and

he also hoped to find George Wilson, Probate Judge of Anderson county, there, and intended, if he did, to kill him too. Wilson had been notifying Free State men to leave the Territory. I had received such a notice from him myself.

Townsley doesn’t have much cause to make such a notice up, but we should probably not read too much into how he phrased it. If Wilson gave notice, it probably came in the form of informal threats. Free State men should get out of Kansas, or they would have some trouble. Had Wilson made a regular program of this, then he would fit the same profile that the Sherman brothers did: belligerent proslavery men who made threats against the safety of antislavery Kansans. Holding office with the bogus government in itself would hardly please Brown, and his victims did consist of such men, but the direct threats seem to have singled them out for killing.

Townsley explained as much, saying he had it from Brown himself:

I desire to say that I did not then approve of the killing of those men, but Brown said it must be done for the protection of the Free State settlers; that the pro-slavery party must be terrified, and that it was better that a score of bad men should die than that one man who came here to make Kansas a free state should be driven out.

With William Sherman, Brown ran out of men to kill. The company returned to their camp, about a mile off, where they had left Townsley’s wagon and horses. With them came Dutch Henry’s horse, which Salmon rode. They stayed in camp until noon of the next day, during which time Salmon recalled that

My brother Owen felt terribly conscience-smitten because he had killed one of the Doyles, and he cried and took on at an agonizing rate.

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