“The most terrible shock that ever happened to my feelings in my life”

John Brown

John Brown, four of his sons, his son-in-law, Theodore Weiner, and James Townsley went into the Kansas night and took five lives with broadswords. Satisfied, the antislavery terrorists returned to their camp. There Owen Brown, who got his own hands bloody at least with the Doyles, wept. Around dawn, he came up to Townsley and told him that the group had finished killing proslavery men in the night.

Sunday afternoon, barely twelve hours after killing Dutch Bill Sherman, Brown and his band rode out of their camp and down the California Road. They rejoined the Pottawatomie Rifles at the home of Ottawa Jones, a member of that nation on good terms with the Browns, around midnight. Rejoining the Rifles reunited Brown with his sons John Junior, in command, and Jason. News of the murders beat them to the camp, complete with word that Old John Brown did the deed.

Jason recalls word of the killings as “the most terrible shock that ever happened to my feelings in my life; but brother John took a different view.” The Rifles, outraged, demanded explanations from Junior. He first claimed the murders as “good news” and then later insisted he could neither endorse nor repudiate them; he believed the old man must have some good reason. This did not impress his command one bit, however much we might understand disbelief and confusion at the news that a dear loved one committed a grievous crime. His compromised position, plus earning the ire of his men by freeing a few slaves, made Junior’s captaincy untenable and he resigned it the next morning. The company, under instructions from the US Army, thereafter dispersed from Jones’ place.

On the way home, just east of Middle Creek, Jason raised the issue with his father.

I did not, but I stood by and saw it.


Someone else in the party, who Jason didn’t name, argued self-defense and defense of others. Jason didn’t buy it and said his piece:

I did not fully understand the cause of it then, and told him I was very sorry the act had been done. I said to him: ‘I think it was an uncalled for, wicked act.’

Jason recalled that this

seemed to hurt father very much; but all he said was, ‘God is my judge, -we were justified under the circumstances.’

Hurt or not, John Brown didn’t back down. He did what he thought right, end of story. Jason didn’t think so and asked Frederick if he knew who did the killing. Frederick did, but refused to tell him. Jason pressed: had Frederick done it?

No; when I came to see what manner of work it was, I could not do it. The tears rolled down Frederick’s face as he spoke.

The group broke up soon after crossing Middle Creek, with Brown and his band going to Junior’s cabin. John and Jason, who had his own cabin nearby, went to Samuel Adair’s instead to collect their wives and sons.



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