Instructions for the Army, Part One

Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis

On May 8, 1856, Marcus Parrott went up to Fort Leavenworth and had a talk with Colonel Edwin Sumner, in command, about the brewing invasion from Missouri. Since the Wakarusa War’s muddled end, Franklin Pierce had granted Wilson Shannon the authority to call out Sumner’s men to preserve law and order in Kansas. Pierce’s proclamation made only fig leaf gestures to neutrality, casting antislavery agitation as the more serious threat. But Pierce’s orders to Sumner (PDF), by way of Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, charged the Colonel with aiding the territorial government against both “insurrection” and “invasive aggression.” Davis’ orders focused entirely on the things that antislavery Kansans had done, reducing the threat of Missourian invasion to a single reference in passing. In that he followed the lead of the President, or the President followed his. We don’t know exactly how things worked out between them, but at least some of the time Davis seems to have had practical control of the executive branch.

Sumner noticed the omission and wrote back to the War Department. Did they mean for him to intervene also if Shannon called on him to stop invaders from Missouri? The Governor had tried just that back in December, but Sumner had demurred for lack of authority to comply on his own. He also seems to have asked about an invasion from parts more distant, whether Jefferson Buford’s men or some sort of armed Emigrant Aid formation. Jefferson Davis wrote back via the Adjutant General’s office on March 26:

in reply to the question as to where the men may come from, or whether armed or unarmed, is not one for the inquiry or consideration of the commanding officer. It is only when an armed resistance is offered to the laws and against the peace and quiet of the Territory, and when, under such circumstances, a requisition for military force is made upon the commanding officer by the authority specified in his instructions, that he is empowered to act.

Colonel Sumner had no authority to act against border ruffians. Should Shannon call on him, he must act in concert with them. Thus Sumner visited Lecompton on May 12, a few days after promising Marcus Parrott that he would look into things. He had bad news, which he shared with the Adjutant General:

Great excitement is prevailing in the country at this moment in consequence of the Marshal and Sheriff summoning large posses, without reference to the Governor, as they say to maintain the law.

Sumner informed Shannon that he would follow his instructions when called upon, to

arrest and hold subject to the orders of the civil authorities any men in the territory against whom writs were issued; and further, that in order to preserve the peace of the country, I would place my entire regiment immediately at any point he might designate.

Shannon, Sumner thought, wanted that badly to keep the peace. He had said as much back in December and now faced a situation much the same, down to the cast of characters. But Shannon didn’t think it proper to “assume the responsibility of controlling them under civil officers”. All of this sounds like Shannon wanted Sumner to go out on a limb face the consequences of intervention against the proslavery party.

“Such neighborly considerations and eloquent innuendoes”

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

Once again, Gentle Readers, please note that I have transcribed Parrott’s letter from his handwritten original and, despite the generous and extensive help of AskHistorians’ Caffarelli, I might have gotten some points wrong.

After informing his brother about the great affairs of Kansas, Marcus Parrott holed himself up in his law office with a gun and hoped for the best. He had some further thoughts about Kansas’ future. He relayed news of James Lane’s challenge to Stephen Douglas, which he called

a good trick of Lane’s. The Col is [one] excellent good shot & understands the duello. There will be no fight, but I think Lane will [rearrange or ravage] “Dregs” Southern swarth & mollify his rampant spirit, which is much delighted in metaphors drawn from the profession of arms.

Marc had heard that Lane had gotten back to Lawrence in time, which gladdened him. I don’t know who would have had charge of the town at just this point, with so much of the leadership fled. Either way, he though Lawrence could use someone who would answer Southerners in a language they understood and respected: honor and violence.

But our author also had personal news. His law practice had not gone well and Marc now hoped to make a fortune for himself in real estate:

If the impending troubles should blow over, I shall start on a trip to the Neosho river, 100 miles south to look at a town title in which I am offered an interest on good terms. […] I wrote to Father yesterday a proposition to let me have money enough to keep a good bargain when I get it. It would relieve me a great deal. If more happens that I struggle along with just enough to keep my head above water from one month’s end to another. Further the proposition with such [neighborly] considerations and eloquent innuendoes as the humble [theme] may inspire.

Marcus Parrott’s money troubles don’t change the course of history, but they do offer us a look into the day to day lives of people in territorial Kansas. Parrott came in as a professional, expecting to do well in law. His practice had not taken off, probably not helped by the disabilities the slave code put on white men who refused to declare for slavery. He wanted to try land, always a good bet in a new territory, but that required capital he didn’t have. His father apparently did, so would dear Edwin kindly lean on the old man a bit?

I don’t know Marc’s terms or the land in question, but he may have had a good deal. Undeveloped land, especially if bought at preemption rates, would almost surely rise in value in the short to medium term as Kansas filled up with land-hungry white colonists. Many a middle class man had staked a claim in a new territory, seen it develop for a few years, then sold it at a tidy profit and moved west to repeat the process.

 

More Leavenworth News from Marc

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

As before, Gentle Readers, please note that I have transcribed Parott’s letter from his handwritten original and, despite the generous and extensive help of AskHistorians’ Caffarelli, I might have gotten some points wrong.

We left Marcus Parrott telling his brother, Edwin, that the second proslavery company headed for Lawrence passed by his window just as he wrote. The timing might come more from Marc’s flair for the dramatic than actual events, but Parrott lived at Leavenworth and proslavery forces had come through there often enough before. The Missouri interfered with the most direct route for many and it had only so many ferries available.

Marc feared what would come. He himself spent time as a prisoner of a proslavery army back in December. Back then, the free state party feared that Wilson Shannon, Governor of Kansas, would summon the 1st Cavalry from Fort Leavenworth against them at Lawrence. Shannon tried at least half that, but without orders from Washington Colonel E.V. Sumner turned him down. Since then, Shannon had gotten the authority from President Franklin Pierce to summon Sumner’s men at will to preserve law and order in the territory. Concerned about all this, Marc reported that he went to the fort that morning, May 9, 1856, and informed Sumner about the proslavery movements. The Colonel told him “he would go over tomorrow”. Marc doesn’t elaborate, but it seems from further context that Sumner promised to look into things on behalf of the antislavery party:

The pro-slavery n[illegible] are now clamorous to have Sumner Removed from the Army – they charge him with being a free soiler. It is doubtless true. It is good for us that if he is. I dare not say that they may regret having him removed.

This would square with John Speer’s account that the garrison generally leaned antislavery. Marc wouldn’t put sacking Sumner past Pierce, who had dismissed Andrew Reeder at the request of Kansas’ proslavery men.

Rumors also flew about that someone had shot Wilson Shannon, which Marc didn’t believe. He did think

Reeder & Robinson are probably at this time under arrest. […] Their arrest is equivalent to their death.

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

At the time of Parrott’s letter, Robinson had probably left Lawrence. Reeder waited until well into the night. Both men had good cause to fear for their lives in proslavery custody, though ultimately only Robinson got captured and he survived. Bringing things closer to home, Marc informed Edd that, “One or two attempts have been made to waylay me at night, but failed.”

Proibably Marc couldn’t count them because he had seen men he suspected of tailing him or setting an ambush, but managed to get away. He may have succumbed to ordinary paranoia, but proslavery Kansans and Missourians really did want to get antislavery militia leaders like Marcus Parrott. Consequently, he armed himself and holed up in his office.

Leavenworth News from Marc

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

It wold take an especially obtuse reader of the May 10, 1856 Herald of Freedom to miss the point: the cause of freedom in Kansas stood on a precipice. Its leaders, facing arrest, had fled. Its semi-official organ, the paper itself, had a grand jury judgment for its suppression. Ordinary Kansans, like Pardee Butler, and low-level free state operatives, like J.N. Mace faced mortal peril. Proslavery men roamed the countryside, harassing travelers and trying to settle old scoresJefferson Buford’s army, a few hundred strong, had come to destroy the free state party. In response to the shooting of Samuel Jones, a new invasion from Missouri seemed in the offing.

That new invasion appears to have turned from fear to reality in the few days prior to the Herald’s edition. The night Andrew Reeder fled Lawrence, he remarked on

Picket guards posted a mile on the road to Lecompton. Reports that they have 300 men assembled.

That number would about match the size of Buford’s expedition. During his flight and long sojourn hiding in a Kansas City hotel, Reeder noted several groups passing through on their way to Kansas. Marcus Parrott, living in Leavenworth, saw more. A lawyer and free state militia leader, Parrott appeared previously as the man that Patrick Laughlin accused of telling him to engage in election trickery. He had also stood for governor against Charles Robinson, on the more conservative Young America ticket.

Gentle Readers, you may also remember Parrott as the author of a letter that I lacked the ability to read a few weeks ago. I got some help from a fellow flair over at Reddit’s AskHistorians, Caffarelli. She kindly donated some of her lunch time to the task and between the two of us (mostly her) I have a fair transcription. Some best guesses remain; I’ll mark them in the quotes with brackets.

Parrott put pen to paper on May 9, writing his brother Edwin. In the customary manner of nineteenth century correspondents, he opened by saying he had just received the latest from “Edd”, complete with $200, but

We are again unfathomably deep in the matter of territorial trouble.

During the last [two] days, arrived men, have been [horsing] toward Lawrence. The town is again investe[d]. Before this reaches you, the telegraph will relieve your suspense. To me, the moment looks big with fate. A Company reached from here at day light this morning, unarmed, or it is said by Shannon who having found the regulars unmanageable, has turned again to his favorite militia.

Wilson Shannon had tried and failed to get the 1st Cavalry to move from Fort Leavenworth to suppress a proslavery invasion in the past, but he could have just as easily used them to suppress the free state movement. That fear didn’t pass when he brokered a tense peace back in December. Since then, Franklin Pierce had placed the Army officially at Shannon’s disposal for the preservation of law and order.

Moreover, at the very moment Parrott wrote, “a company -the second- marched past my window for the scene of strife.”

An Escape: More Trouble at Leavenworth, Part Two

Pardee Butler

Pardee Butler

Back in December, a free soil man in the company of the subsequently murdered Reese Brown took part in defending the free state polls at Leavenworth. Just across the Missouri from town, the border ruffians got together for another filibustering. They couldn’t leave the proslavery Kansans to have all the fun, after all. Alas, the ferry remained docked on the Kansas side until someone cut it loose and sunk it. At the end of April, a proslavery man found our nameless protagonist and blamed him for that. He tried, at knife point, to make an arrest. Such an arrest had ended with Reese Brown dead back in January. The unknown free stater may have liked and admired Brown, but declined to follow that particular example. Instead he drew his pistol and ordered the proslavery man to let go of his horse or catch a bullet to the face.

Having brought a knife to a gunfight, the proslavery man delivered some threats and let go. The anonymous -to us, but probably not to the Herald of Freedom- antislavery Kansan went on and completed his business in Leavenworth. Around sundown, he started for his home. He didn’t get far before coming to a ravine. There,

he was overtaken by eight or ten men on horseback, led on by the Ruffian. They made him halt, took his arms from him, hit him with their whips, flourished their hatchets over his head, and threatened to hang him on the first tree they came to.

Cooler heads prevailed over all that, with the group settling for incarceration in advance of a trial for larceny. Our hero had stolen the ferry boat and he ought to answer for it, now that the boys had some fun with their whips. They jailed him “in an isolated place near Delaware” toward midnight. Durance vile lasted through the day, when it seems that no one bothered to see to the prisoner’s needs. The next night, the antislavery man

heard a key turn in his door, and footfalls outside the house. he waited some fifteen minutes, and then went to the door, which he found open. Walking out on the prairie, he heard his horse neigh in a clump of trees some distance off and immediately went to him. He found his horse, saddle-bags, and overcoat covered with mud, and soaked through and through.

One doesn’t look a getaway horse in the teeth; our hero mounted up and got out of there before someone had second thoughts.

This all sounds a bit too neat, and I suspect the details benefit from some embroidery in the editorial office, but plausible all the same. The escape raises more questions to me than the capture, but both fit the range of proslavery behavior. Even angry mobs bent on murder sometimes had leaders who would let the victim off with some painful humiliation rather than a murder. Pardee Butler faced men who wanted him dead twice and survived it both times. Furthermore, a group of men with their blood up might talk themselves into something that none of them would do alone. One of Nameless’ captors may have had second thoughts. The proslavery men might even have imposed on a settler who agreed with their politics but didn’t want the risk of getting so personally involved. In any event, letting him go through subterfuge offered a face-saving way to resolve the situation without further violence.

 

“I’ll burn gun powder in your face.” More Trouble at Leavenworth, Part One

 

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

The Herald of Freedom trumpeted proslavery violence in expectation of new horrors in the near future. With Lecompte’s grand jury ordering the apprehension of the free state leadership and a new invasion from Missouri in the offing, they had plenty of reason to fear. Thus the May 10, 1856 issue reported a series of attacks, from a highway robbery attempt that might have happened, to the easily confirmed shooting of J.N. Mace. For the most part, this all happened in the recent past. Another item took the paper further back, to December before coming up to the present.

At Leavenworth, a place

infested with a gang of outlaws, who, if they had their deserts, would swing on every suple sapling in the woods. Their chief business is to harrass and persecute Free State settlers. They butchered Brown-tarred and feathered Phillips-incarcerated McCrea, in a close and unhealthy prison, for doing that which he would have been a coward not to have done. They have destroyed a printing press, driven families from claims, and insulted and abused women.

I don’t know about abusing women, but Leavenworth had killed Reese Brown. A separate item relates that people back in Illinois had taken up a collection to fund the purchase of a claim for his wife and children. They tarred and feathered William Phillips, though not the William Phillips who reported for Horace Greeley. A proslavery mob destroyed the Territorial Register there. The shoe fit.

Samuel Lecompte

Samuel Lecompte

The proslavery men also came for the Leavenworth ballot box. That occasioned the story that the Herald proceeded to tell, courtesy of and starring a free state comrade of Reese Brown’s, “whose name we withhold for good reasons.” Anonymous stories like this deserve heightened scrutiny, but this one has the sound of more to it than the highway robbery account. Brown and our protagonist aided in the defense of the polls and judges of election at Leavenworth. Soon thereafter, a large band of proslavery men gathered across the river in Missouri. They must have meant to cross and join the fight.

Fortunately, the ferry-boat was on the Kansas side; and by accident it was cut loose from its moorings and sunk.

Accidents do happen. The proslavery men went home cruelly disappointed. On the Kansas side, things settled down about Leavenworth with the murder of Brown until a week prior, when our nameless protagonist again went to Leavenworth. One of Brown’s murderers chatted him up. The paper reports a dialog we should treat with some skepticism, but its content doesn’t seem too out of order. The proslavery man remarked that Andrew Reeder had come back to Kansas and he “would like to see the d—-d scoundrel.” Brown’s compatriot called Reeder “a perfect gentleman.”

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

The proslavery man took the free stater’s horse by the bridle to hold him and continued:

No doubt all such d—-d abolitionists as you think he is a gentleman. You are a d—-d robber, and will catch h-ll; you stole the ferry-boat last winter, and I now arrest you for it.

Our hero asked under what authority his opposite number proposed to make the arrest, at which point the border ruffian produced “a large bowie-knife.” Alas, he brought a knife to a gun fight. Brown’s fellow drew a pistol and offered his regrets. If he could not go free at once, he would “burn gun powder in your face.”

Blame Andrew Reeder, Part One

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

John Hale and Franklin Pierce did not get on. That Pierce had drummed him out of the New Hampshire Democracy can’t have brought the two men together, but come 1856 they had more bad blood between them. In his annual message, Pierce laid into antislavery politicians. Those enemies of the Constitution had done all in their power to wreck the Union, bedeviling a prostrate South that gave up concession after concession incompatible with its honor or status as an equal partner in the American nation. Nothing would please antislavery fanatics, the president said. Hale, an antislavery politician, understood that this all meant him and his. He shot back with an impressive tirade in the Senate, which concluded with his foreboding that in short order a rupture may come. Hale hoped that it could wait until Pierce left office, as a master of the art of capitulation ought not helm the ship of state in such a time. The Senator’s kind words so moved Pierce that, according to James Rawley, turned his back on Hale at a White House reception. Clearly, Pierce had declared for slavery in Kansas.

Things didn’t necessarily look quite so dire in Kansas. From the beginning, free soil Kansans thought they might have a friend in Franklin Pierce. Well-connected men like James Lane told them so. The president hailed from New Hampshire, hardly a hotbed of proslavery sentiment. If he rose up through the Democracy, then that didn’t necessarily bother a majority of antislavery Kansans. Many of them, though certainly not all, leaned democratic. The charitable among them might even dismiss Pierce’s annual message for 1855, delivered on the last day of the year, as directed more at outside politicians than themselves. Yes, Pierce dismissed their concerns as the ordinary imperfections of government and, anyway, not something he could help. Yes, Pierce refused to send the army to protect them from Missouri’s invasions. But if you really wanted to, you could read all of that as indifference or poor information. Nothing the president said, contra Hale, necessitated that he had it in for free state Kansans.

On January 24, nine days after the free state pools opened everywhere save Leavenworth, and exactly a week after Leavenworth’s election belatedly took place in Easton and occasioned the murder of Reese Brown, the president sent a special message to the Congress. The House still didn’t have a Speaker, but Pierce had given up waiting on that fiasco back at the end of December. Why it took him so long to chime in again has puzzled historians. With the exception of the free state elections, nothing all that noteworthy had happened in Kansas since the annual message. Proslavery men killed Reese Brown, but all of a month before that Pierce had stood idly by while actual, if small and makeshift, armies had gathered in the territory and came near to blows. What changed?

In the second volume of his Ordeal of the Union, Allan Nevins suggests that Pierce had a divided Cabinet. The Interior Department leaned as far antislavery as the War Department, under Jefferson Davis, did proslavery. At State, William Marcy refused to give any opinion at all. Bereft of a clear consensus, in an era when presidents often shared more decision-making power with the Cabinet than we might expect, Pierce might have floundered about. Nichole Etcheson speculates that Pierce meant the message to undermine Andrew Reeder. In the endnotes, she also points to Pierce’s biographer, Roy Nichols. Nichols thought that the entire message aimed at swinging southern Know-Nothings into voting for the administration’s man as Speaker of the House. I doubt we’ll ever know.

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

But when Pierce did set pen to paper, he displayed made himself very clear: Andrew Reeder, who the free state Kansans had named their delegate to Congress, screwed it all up. He dragged his feet getting to the territory, delaying from the end of June until the beginning of October before setting foot within his new domain. Then he declined to conduct the census that he ought to have begun immediately, delaying the first legislative elections until the end of March as a consequence. Then Reeder took until the start of July to summon the legislature.

So that for a year after the Territory was constituted by the act of Congress and the officers to be appointed by the Federal Executive had been commissioned it was without a complete government, without any legislative authority, without local law, and, of course, without the ordinary guarantees of peace and public order.

I have yet to find a historian who will defend Andrew Reeder’s performance as governor. He appears genuinely unfit for the task, an inexperienced lawyer jumped up to head a territory for the convenience of the Democracy in his part of Pennsylvania. He might have done his very best, but Kansas needed more. And who had put such an incompetent novice in charge of the nation’s newest, and surely most fraught, territory? What kind of fool would look at the obvious challenges facing Kansas and decide to seat an undistinguished lawyer into the governor’s chair?

Franklin Pierce.

Understanding the Kickapoo Rangers, Part One

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

We left George Taylor not quite the victim of axe murder. One of the Kickapoo Rangers, Gibson, set to the unarmed Taylor with the aforesaid axe but suffered the cruel disappointment of intervention by Henry Adams and a fellow proslavery man. Even the sort of person keen to join a proslavery militia had some limits, through Gibson clearly had fewer scruples than some of his comrades.

Their motivations could stand further investigation. We can generalize from other proslavery groups and expect similar concerns about the preservation of white power and slave property. The Rangers probably understood the free state movement as an insurrection that warranted extraordinary measures in opposition. But the Howard Report includes testimony from two Rangers present that day, the M. P. Rively that Henry Adams recognized and Captain John W. Martin himself. We don’t have the good fortune to hear from Gibson, and we do know that not all the party felt precisely as he did, but they give us our best approach to understanding why he felt George Taylor needed a gruesome death.

The Kickapoo Rangers rode for Easton on January 18, 1856 without a full knowledge of the confrontations the night previous. Indeed, they almost didn’t come at all. Martin received word from Edward Motter that Easton’s proslavery men required his services, but the news did not impress him:

I answered his note by telling him I apprehended no danger, and he had better go on until they commenced to fight.

According to Motter, he wrote for the Rangers to come after the gunfight. Maybe the Doctor didn’t communicate as clearly as he wanted to so soon after hearing bullets whistle by. He could also have just told the Howard Committee that he summoned help after the fight, but really done so before. Martin dates his receipt of Motter’s letter to about eleven at night on the seventeenth. We must take such times as approximate, but it still seems likely Motter wrote sometime that night rather than in a panic over the free state party’s effrontery in simply holding an election.

“About sunrise,” Martin heard from Motter again:

saying that one of their men named Cook had been killed by the free-soilers the night before. I then went down to Kickapoo, and told the men what had happened, and showed them the notes, and we concluded, a good many of us, to go out to Easton and see what was up.

Here Martin stresses that he did not call out the Kickapoo Rangers, but rather that some random citizens of Kickapoo chose to come along instead. He just had people from Kickapoo, or within a decent range thereof. One might call them the Rangers from Kickapoo, but certainly not the Kickapoo Rangers. Maybe to his mind, the distinction mattered. I have yet to find a historian who agrees. If anything, Martin might have drawn such a line to deflect responsibility from himself given what transpired later on.

M.P. Rively began his testimony with evasions:

I first saw Mr. R.P. Brown near Easton on that day, with a number of men with him, whose names I do not recollect. He was walking, but I do not recollect whether by his wagon or not. As that was some time ago, I do not recollect much that took place; not much took place while I was there. Some men had him, but I don’t know whether they were Kickapoo Rangers or not.

You can almost see him sweating in front of the committee. He told them that he came with the understanding that they had questions about elections, “not in regard to any little difficulties that have occurred in the Territory.” Rively didn’t know anything, didn’t see anything, nothing happened, if anything happened he wasn’t there. If he was there, he didn’t remember what happened. He just saw Brown hanging out, you know?

The committee informed Rively of their purpose and John Sherman, William’s then more famous brother, cut to the heart of the matter:

Q. Will true answers to questions as to what was done that day by the persons you have spoken of to R.P. Brown, tend to criminate you personally?

A. Upon due reflection, I think they might in some degree.

Rively went on to tip his hand a bit further by counting himself among the proslavery party, making his claim to ignorance preposterous, and named many names. For a man with a faded memory, he did very well. He even remembered why the Kickapoo Rangers chose to come that day:

We had no warrant to stop these men. We heard that Mr. Brown, with a number of others, had been out holding an illegal election at Easton; that there had been some misunderstanding between Brown and his party and some gentlemen who lived at Easton, and that Mr. Brown was the leader of the party who fired upon those gentlemen, killing a gentleman by the name of Cook, a pro-slavery man

All of that sounds downright plausible. None of the Rangers appear to have lived in Easton, where they could have seen events firsthand. If they did, Motter would surely have gone to them for help directly rather than write Martin. They hadn’t reached Easton before meeting Brown’s party and so probably had no other source of information. They knew that free soil men had done murder and came to find them.

Trouble at Easton, Part Eleven

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

On the morning of January 18, 1856, Reese Brown and his free state compatriots started for home. They came to Easton to defend the polls, but the number of defenders proved sufficient that save for two incidents the day prior involved mostly drinking. They lined up outside the polls to answer a proslavery charge that never came and, about midnight, rode to the rescue of Stephen Sparks when he tried to leave and the proslavery men cornered him against a fence. The latter incident brought about a short gunfight, with both sides taking cover at nearby houses and exchanging fire at long range in the dark. Sparks’ son suffered minor wounds. Two proslavery men did worse, one of whom would later die. The shootout ended with the free state men retiring back to the polling place, at the house of a Mr. Minard.

While they retired to Minards’, Dr. Edward Motter sent word to Kickapoo. He feared for his life, as people lately shot at often do, and begged help in the person of the Kickapoo Rangers. The Rangers came, meeting Brown and his party on the road. They got on both sides of the party and charged forward, surrounding them. Shouting chaos ensued, where their leader temporarily lost control. He regained it only to find free state man George Taylor on the ground, a proslavery man with an axe poised above.

Taylor explained how he got into such a position:

When we got to the top of a knoll, we saw another party-I should think of a hundred men-who were at a double log-house. We walked on up the road to where they were. Directly one of them came to me and told me he wanted my rifle. I gave it to him. I was standing among the crowd about five minutes, and the man who took my rifle came up to me and knocked me down, and several hit me while I was down. he caught hold of my hair, and when I raised up I saw him trying to hit me with a hatchet. I raised up and pulled away from him. I dodged about then for some time, and he followed me with his hatchet.

Taylor made for a priority target because, according to Joseph Bird, he alone held a Sharp’s rifle. Henry Adams and an unnamed proslavery man came to Taylor’s rescue:

I sprung there and caught the hatchet in time to prevent its hitting Taylor. Some person on the other side of Taylor caught Gibson [the attacker] about the same time, and pulled him round out of my reach. It was one of his own party, trying to prevent his killing Taylor, which he seemed bent on doing. Gibson made a second blow at Taylor’s head, and one of his own party caught the hatchet. He then commenced hacking Taylor’s cap to pieces, which was on the ground.

Gibson had to endure the cruel disappointment of murdering only a hat just then. He really wanted to do in Taylor. Plenty of proslavery men talked a big game about such things. Some meant it quite sincerely. Gibson makes for the first I’ve seen so committed that he aimed to hack to death an unarmed man. He sounds frankly unhinged. Adams advised the proslavery leader, Captain Martin, to put a guard on Gibson lest he take another crack at murder.

Adams thought others in the group more of Gibson’s mind than Martin’s and convinced the Captain to separate his captives from the more dangerous sorts before they headed back into Easton as prisoners.

“A man who had a hatchet struck at his head” Trouble at Easton, Part Ten

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Reese Brown and his company had quite a time. Through they passed hours of general inactivity with drinking during the election of January 17, 1856, they finally got the expected fight when proslavery men attacked Stephen Sparks. The immediate rescue didn’t bring exchange of fire, but one came as soon as proslavery and antislavery men could separate far enough for it. They exchanged rounds at long range, in the dark of night, and took cover within some nearby houses. In the exchange Sparks’ son suffered minor wounds. Two proslavery men did worse. One of the latter, a man named Cook, would die from a gut shot.

Fearing for his safety, Dr. Edward Motter sent to Kickapoo for help. The Kickapoo Rangers came, trapping Brown and some of his men on their way home from Easton. Brown tried to warn them off, but the Rangers had numbers on their side. J.C. Green described the encounter in rather retrained, summary terms. Henry Adams provided the Howard Committee more detail:

When we were about half way from Easton to Leavenworth, we met two wagons loaded with men, and one of the wagons was drawn by four animals-mules, I think. They hailed us to know where we were from, and wanted us to stop. There was a double track, and Mr. Brown drove by them without stopping. Shortly after we passed them, we saw another and a larger party in front of us, two wagons, and about thirty on horseback. The party in the wagons we already met, shouted to those in front of us, and they answered by shout, and then all rode around and surrounded us.

Green’s account broadly matches that, but the way he tells it you could almost think that the men from Kickapoo executed some kind of smooth battlefield evolution and, after some consternation, Brown surrendered. Adams speaks to the genuine chaos of the moment, with men not just maneuvering but also charging forward to fully envelop the group.

Brown’s party dismounted and raised arms as the proslavery men rushed forward, “levelling their guns and shouting.” Adams inquired, amid “a great deal of noise and disorder,” as to who had charge of the Rangers and Pierce Risely pointed him to a Captain Martin. Martin heard his name and rode over. Adams asked if he could get control of his men. Guns brandished or not, no one on the free state side seemed keen to fight it out just then. Martin obliged, “partially succeeded,” and the crowd settled enough that Adams

turned round and saw George Taylor, one of our party, on the ground, and two or three men were around him, and partially over him, and he was making an effort to get up. As he got up, his head came in sight, and a man who had a hatched struck at his head.