“We will take the house; shoot Capt. Sparks at sight.”

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Angry proslavery men at the Sparks home sought Stephen Sparks, who Reese Brown had rescued the night before. They arrived at Sparks’ home before their fellows in Easton murdered his rescuer and before the man himself made it back. On arrival, they clashed with a pair of free soil men resolved to go rescue Reese. The antislavery Kansans, Francis Browning and Richard Houcks, bolted and separated. Esseneth Sparks, Stephen’s wife, saw it all.

With their quarry of opportunity gone, the proslavery men turned around and returned to the house. After an awkward moment, someone asked for orders. A Captain Dunn, the same fellow involved in the violence at the Leavenworth election the month prior and also present at Easton for some part of Reese Brown’s ordeal, gave those orders: “take the house; shoot Capt. Sparks at sight.”

Esseneth Sparks had no real defense against a band of armed men. Short of a similarly armed and numerous group; few do. She had only her son, her white skin, and the proslavery mob’s consciences to defend her. Nineteenth century chivalry could extend far enough to be some help to her. Even while besieging Leavenworth, proslavery men treated the town’s women more gently than they did the men. Whiteness provided certain immunities as well, but that sentiment could run even less than skin deep when proslavery sorts caught a whiff of antislavery in the air.

One must use the tools one has, rhetorical, or otherwise. Hearing that her unwelcome callers aimed to shoot her husband dead, and seeing them push through into the building, gambled on their pity. She told them that she had only “an afflicted son” who they might throw “into spasms right at once” and another son only twelve. Anyway, Stephen hadn’t come home. Not every proslavery American ran around in a black cape, twirling a mustache and toasting evil at every turn. Molesting a white woman and her ill child might very well prove more than they could countenance.

When I stepped to the door and looked in, I saw Captain Dunn, with a six-shooter presented at my son’s breast. I did not hear the question asked, but heard my son’s answer-“I am on the Lord’s side, and if you want to kill me, kill me; I am not afraid to die.”

Or perhaps they could countenance some violence against invalids, children, and women after all.

Incidentally, this makes the second member of the Sparks family in less than twenty-four hours to deal with a gun pointed at him by daring its owner to shoot. Stephen’s son did as his father had the night prior in Easton.

The afflicted Sparks son might not have feared death, but Dunn neglected to take him up on the matter. Instead, the proslavery captain

left him, and turned to my little son, about twelve years old, and put the pistol to his breast, and asked him where his father’s Sharpe’s rifle was, and my son told him he had none. Dunn asked him where those guns were, pointing to the racks, and told him if he did not tell the truth, he would kill him; and my son told him the men-folks generally took care of the guns.

Surely frustrated, Dunn came out. Esseneth pressed him for an explanation and

[h]e answered that they had “taken the law into their own hands, and they intended to use it.”

Intentions or not, they got no guns and no Stephen. Whether moral qualms, practical fears that some armed free state men might soon appear, or simple realization that Sparks might not risk coming home so soon moved them, the proslavery party left. They didn’t all have to go far. Esseneth knew two of the party on sight, one who lived in Leavenworth and another “raised within a mile or so of where we lived, in Platte county, Missouri.”

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The Trial of Reese Brown

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The Kickapoo Rangers had Reese Brown and his free state men in their custody. A Ranger named Gibson made a go at an unarmed George Taylor with hatchet but one of Brown’s men and one of the other Rangers pulled him off. Gibson didn’t take that laying down. After a second try, he settled for destroying Taylor’s hat. This in mind, the Rangers’ captain, John Martin, felt quite anxious for the safety of his captives. He put reliable guards on them, as much to protect them from his others as to prevent escape or rescue. Everyone then rode back into Easton, where Martin put his prisoners in Dawson’s store.

The people of Easton did not greet Brown’s return with unanimous joy. M.P. Rively described them as “very much exasperated.” Despite that, Captain Martin insisted on a more formal exercise of frontier justice. He wanted facts before considering any serious punishment and so chose to examine Brown. The interrogation took place in Dr. Edward Motter’s office and it seems the doctor took the lead. According to Martin:

Dr. Motter questioned him as to what he (Brown) had done the night before. Brown went on to state that they had come to Easton to the election to vote, and to defend the polls if necessary; that he had understood that the Kickapoo Rangers, or the pro-slavery party, were coming there to take the ballot-box away from them. he stated the cause of the difficulty the night before, to have grown out of the fact that Mr. Sparks was going from Mr. Minard’s house home, and the news came to Mr. Minard’s that Sparks had been taken prisoner, and he went down with some 30 or 40 men to rescue him.

 

All true enough. According to Motter, Brown also admitted doing some wrong that night, though the Doctor said that Brown wouldn’t elaborate on the point and he judged the free state captain more concerned with the election’s legality than the gunfight. Neither sounds entirely plausible, but knowing himself in the power of potentially murderous enemies, Brown might have said as much of what they wanted to hear as he felt he could get away with.

Brown confessed to the exchange of gunfire, at which point Martin and company had to decide what to do next.

Myself and Mr. Elliot, Mr. Grover, and Mr. Burgess advised them to bring Brown back to Leavenworth city, and place him in the hands of the proper authorities here. There were others in the room at that time; and I went out, and the crowd asked what conclusion we had come to, and I told them. They swore that would not do, because Brown would get away as McCrea had, and they were determined to have Brown or shoot him.

Cole McCrea killed Malcolm Clark at a public meeting some time earlier. The less famous William Phillips earned his lynching from the belief that he provided the gun. Martin, and probably everyone in Kansas by this point, knew the reference. He wouldn’t have any of this unlawful execution, though:

I told them that would be wrong and cowardly, as Brown was a prisoner, and that I would be responsible for him-would take him back myself, and he should not get away. Several other men promised the same thing, and then went back into the house to get some other steady men to go out and talk with the crowd, and try to pacify them; and they did so.

Martin had every reason to paint himself as the sensible, moderate one who wanted nothing to do with needless violence. On occasion his testimony comes across as the words of a man trying too hard to defend himself. But he and hostile witnesses to the same events agree that Martin had trouble controlling his men. The man on the other side standing up for a vulnerable enemy makes for a romantic image, but our natural hostility to the proslavery party shouldn’t convince us that every one of them considered violence equally appropriate in every situation. They too had their relatively dovish and hawkish members.

 

Understanding the Kickapoo Rangers, Part Two

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The Kickapoo Rangers, or a group near enough that it makes little difference, rode to the rescue. They had word of free state Kansans murdering a proslavery man and they would see justice done. The Rangers found their quarry, Reese Brown’s band of free state men, on the road outside Easton. According to the proslavery commander, John Martin, their capture occasioned

a good deal of excitement, and some questions were raised as to what we should do with them. Some of them got into a fight with one young man who had been taken in the wagon, by the name of Taylor.

Martin differs from George Taylor and Henry Adams, both of whom paint the fight as a one-sided affair that ended with Adams and a proslavery man pulling Ranger called Gibson and his descending axe away from the unarmed, prone Taylor. But Martin’s invocation of excitement implies he might have had trouble restraining his men.

That subtext runs through his testimony. Per Martin, the Rangers looked to him for advice on what to do with their prisoners. He doesn’t say it in so many words but, given the context, the options likely included letting Gibson have his way. Henry Adams testified that Martin lacked full control over his men and chose two trustworthy ones to guard them as much from their fellows as to prevent escape. Martin agreed that he did so:

They asked me if I would protect them, and I said I would, so far as I could. I requested Mr. D.A.N. Grover and Mr. Williams to get into the wagon with them, to protect them from injury, they being sober, discreet men.

Maybe Martin saw the guard as a chivalrous act designed entirely to appease his over-frightened captives, but in that case any man bar Gibson might have done. That he chose with some care, cognizant of the excited state of his company, suggests that he understood in the moment that he had a bigger problem than one malcontent.

All of this left the question Martin’s band posed to him not entirely answered. Now that they had their prisoners, what would the Rangers do with them? Martin decided they must go on to Easton, taking Reese’s people with them, in order to determine just what exactly had happened. Once back in town, Martin put the free state men

into Mr. Dawson’s store for protection against some of the men who had got to drinking and had become excited. Some were excited before we got there, and belonged to the party who had been there the night before.

I said before that none of the Rangers had firsthand knowledge of what happened with Stephen Sparks the night prior to their arrival. I stand by that. Nothing in Martin’s account of his gathering up a band of men and riding for Easton mentions firsthand knowledge. If someone knew something back at Kickapoo, I can’t imagine opting for silence and instead hoping that Edward Motter’s second letter of the night would carry the day. Someone may have met the party on the way and Martin neglected to mention them. Or he might have meant only to add the threat from Easton residents to that of his own more unruly elements and not phrased himself as clearly as one would hope. For the most part, Howard Committee testimony seems to have been given verbally. A clerk could have made a mistake in transcription or Martin might not have spoken as precisely as one would hope.

Pointing toward a fresh local menace, Rively testified that when the group arrived in Easton, they found

The citizens were very much exasperated, and it is not to be wondered at that they should retaliate; I fully expected they would.

However Martin came to understand it, he had more to worry about than his prisoners escaping or posing a threat to their captors. His men, the proslavery men of Easton, or a combination might well set aside his prudence and do something drastic. One had already tried.

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.

“They had got us and were going to hang us” Trouble at Easton, Part Nine

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

The gunfight at Easton on the night of January 17-8, 1856 ended inconclusively, with the free state men returning to the site of the late polls at Minard’s house rather than heading home. Stephen Sparks’ son suffered minor wounds. Two proslavery men had more serious injuries, one shot through the leg and the other in the stomach. Dr. Edward Motter tended him for some time that night, but “through fear” left at three in the morning. Motter did more than go into hiding, though:

Believing that our place was in danger, I sent an express to Kickapoo. Mr. Kookogey sent an express to Messrs. Johnson & Lyle, of this city.

Kickapoo served as the home base for the Kickapoo Rangers, a proslavery militia who the free state party took seriously. Reese Brown, Stephen Sparks, and the other guards at the Easton polls came with the expectation that they would try something. Motter set out to prove them retrospectively right. Kookogey’s missive would bring, among others, J.M. Lyle. He served an official in the bogus legislature and played a role in the lynching of the more obscure William Phillips. Given the already warm relations between armed proslavery and antislavery Kansans in the area, what could go wrong?

On the other side of the dispute, J.C. Green came into Easton with Reese Brown. He didn’t join the others in rescuing Stephen Sparks, but after Brown left his company heard the “considerable firing.” Brown, Sparks, and company returned to Minards and there stayed until morning. They had some breakfast and started out.

After riding about six miles, we met two wagons filled with men, who told us to stop. Mr. Brown told the driver to go on, and we passed them; and then their two wagons turned about and followed us. Some of them jumped out of their wagons, and said they would see if we would not stop. We then jumped out of our wagon, and Mr. Brown, I think, told them if they wanted anything to come on. We then saw in the road in front of us some forty or fifty more men armed, some with horses and some with wagons. They had stopped at a house near there. We kept walking along until we came up to them. They began cursing us, saying that they had got us, and were going to hang us.

Brown, Green, and company had met the Kickapoo Rangers, and probably some men out of Leavenworth too, that Motter and Kookogey summoned. Green doesn’t name them as such, but none of the witnesses I’ve seen mentions another large band of proslavery men coming into Easton on the eighteenth. He recognized Lyle among their number.

At its most, Brown’s company boasted around twenty men. By the time they met with the Rangers, Sparks and probably others had separated from them. The proslavery men had the advantage in numbers and superior positions, both ahead of and behind the party. Whatever else one might say about the shortcomings of free soil Kansans, they knew how to count and understood their precarious situation. The Rangers insisted that everyone hop into a wagon and come with them back to Easton. Brown’s men objected, but on the grounds of safe transport rather than out of a desire to hazard a fresh gunfight. The Kickapoo men conceded the point and divided Brown’s company between two wagons.

The Kickapoo Rangers remained mindful of their own safety too. One of them spotted Green’s revolver and asked its surrender:

I told him I would give it to the captain of their company, if they had any captain. He said they had, and that his name was Martin. Presently Martin came along on horseback by the side of the wagon, and I gave him two revolvers. I had one in a belt, and the other I had in my pocket.

In short order, Brown’s party found themselves back in Easton. This time they ended up in Dawson’s store, which connected to Dr. Motter’s office.

“My son was wounded and knocked down” Trouble at Easton, Part Eight

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Thursday last, I promised a some gunplay. A mistake and my regular schedule got in the way, but we have come to the gunfight at last. Stephen Sparks had his confrontation with the proslavery men at Easton. Reese Brown and his men came to his rescue. The two groups mingled and moved along, but parted at a fork in the road. Brown smelled trouble coming and urged Sparks, his son, and his nephew into the center of the free state group. It took three tries, but Sparks finally obliged. At the same time, Brown

was marching backwards looking towards the other crowd, conversing with them not to fire, and told them that if they did, he would return fire.

I don’t know what kind of conversation Brown had whilst walking backwards and shouting across a distance between sixty and eighty yards, but the proslavery men found it unpersuasive. They opened fire. The antislavery men returned the favor at Brown’s order and “a great many guns were fired.” This went on for some time, though Sparks understandably doesn’t have a clear sense of just how long. He had more pressing things on his mind, both in his personal safety and that of his loved ones:

My son was wounded and knocked down, within six or eight feet of men, at the second fire, but he raised again and fired. He would wounded in the arm and head slightly.

Sparks doesn’t say just how the gunfight ended, but it seems that his side prevailed as they “marched back to Minard’s” rather than fled or retreated while still under fire. Resounding victory or no, they chose to go back to Easton rather than take Sparks home and disperse.

Edward Motter, who had trailed behind the proslavery men at a distance, had a bit more to say. He hung back out of the expectation that hot lead would fly, though he pins responsibility on Brown’s men rather than his own side:

We arrived at the forks of the road, where an Indian trail led off, and they had got between 80 and 90 yards ahead of us, when there was a pistol fired from Brown’s party.

With all due respect to the Doctor, and fully cognizant of judging him too harshly before, I don’t buy this. It doesn’t make sense for the free state men. Who had what they came for and aimed to leave the area behind, would suddenly turn and open up. Sparks could hardly have missed a gunshot in close proximity to himself, and reports distinctly seeing the proslavery men shoot. Given the considerable distance and darkness, with everything happening past midnight, he must have seen the muzzle flash. He could have lied on behalf of his rescuers, but his version fits better with the situation than Motter’s.

Motter might have told a stretcher. People in the past, just like people today, lied often. He leads with the implication that he saw the first shots, but continues to indicate the opposite:

I came up while the firing was still going on. I stepped behind a stump, and as I did so, a man I took to be Mr. Sparks fired at me with both barrels of a double-barreled gun, loaded as I thought with buck-shot, from the way they rattled against the fence. While I remained behind the stump, there were four rifles shot into the stump, of course by some of Mr. Brown’s men.

Quite how Motter would identify Stephen Sparks in the dark and dozens of yards distant, I have no idea. He admits some doubt on the point, but clearly wanted the Howard Committee to think he had good reason to suspect it.

Motter, like Sparks, doesn’t go into how the exchange ended. He had more to say about the proslavery casualties:

One man named Richardson, on the pro-slavery side, was shot in the leg, the ball penetrating the anterior portion of the leg, striking the tibular bone, and glancing off, and lodged in the posterior portion of his leg.

After the shooting, Motter retired to his office and got word

that Mr. John Cook was shot; I went over to see him and rendered services as a surgeon. He was shot, the ball entering the groin, and passing out in the upper portion of the hip-bone. I proved the wound, and found it had cut the posterior portion of the colon; striking the spine, and passing up and cutting off the posterior portion of the right kidney. I remained with him until, through fear, I left the place about 3 o’clock that night, and did not come back until the next day between 12 and 1 o’clock.

A Vindication of Edward Motter

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

 

Gentle Readers, I’ve made an error and I’d best correct it before continuing. I previously said that Stephen Sparks’ version of the night of January 17-18, 1856 made no mention of Dr. Edward Motter and his attempt to defuse the situation. It turns out that he does, though he tells that part out of chronological order, in response to cross-examination, and in a page of testimony that your author managed to misplace while rifling through the multiple witnesses in the Howard Report. I print lengthy materials for ease in marking passages and transcription. Their page numbers help, but testimony on a subject often comes out of order or with significant gaps for other matters so a missing page doesn’t immediately raise any red flags.

For the record, Sparks says this about Motter:

Dr. Motter came to me in Dawson’s there, when more than twenty-five or thirty men were standing around me making threats, and said to the company, “as Mr. Sparks is on his way home and has got thus far, let him go.” He requested that of the company, and then went round between me and home, and the last I saw of him was standing there in the lane.

With both men agreed, I see no reason to retain any doubts about Motter’s testimony on the point. The doctor came forward and urged the other proslavery men to let Sparks be.

Sparks also commented on another part of Motter’s testimony that I found dubious. In Motter’s version, the free state men challenged him and then he wrote back. The doctor frames it as a personal matter between him and some drunken antislavery hooligans. Sparks doesn’t quite confirm or deny that narrative:

I do not know as any messages were sent by the men at Minard’s down to the men at Dawson’s to provoke them. I heard nothing of any challenge being sent down to the pro-slavery men to come up and fight. I sent none myself, and I never heard of any, though there might have been.

Stephen Sparks didn’t see anything, but wouldn’t rule out some kind of provocative note. This makes for far from a definitive statement on the existence of a note prior to Motter’s challenge, and Motter still suspiciously left the ballot box out of his version of events, but that he thought the scenario plausible bears notice.

One last thing: Motter found Sparks’ route home very suspicious, as it took him right past the proslavery men who he knew hated free state types and had spent all day fuming and drinking over the election. Sparks’ later testimony explains the path:

I could have gone from Mr. Minard’s house on a bee-line home, which would have been nearer home than the way I went, but it would have been over rocks and drifts. I went down the road I usually go-and go yet.

That doesn’t sound like Sparks went off in some display of machismo, or deliberately trolling for a fight. He just took the longer, but easier, path. Motter knew enough to find the choice suspicious, or at least reckless, but might not have appreciated the rough ground that Sparks would have to negotiate in the dark.

I don’t think that any of these points alter the narrative a great deal, but they do reflect somewhat better on Edward Motter than my previous read did and I do my best to keep these posts as accurate as I can.

 

“The fire was opened upon us,” Trouble at Easton, Part Seven

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

We left Stephen Sparks, son Moses, and unnamed nephew in the corner of a fence, surrounded by a proslavery mob armed and demanding their surrender. Sparks, himself armed, declined to oblige. When they tried to force the issue, one making a go for Moses’ gun, Stephen intervened and wrestled it back. He would come quietly over his dead body, literally telling the proslavery men that if they meant their threats they must shoot him. Whether Sparks’ bravery or the close quarters decided the issue, no one fired.

No one left either. What happened next depends on whether or not one believes Edward Motter. He told the Howard Committee that he and Mr. Kookogey

immediately ran down to where Sparks had stopped, and got on the fence and made a speech, that they should let the old man go on home; that it would not do to commit any violence on him. Ten or twelve of the men were about leaving, when Sparks commenced cursing and swearing about something-I could not tell what. I went to him, and tried to persuade him to go home, and he refused to go.

In Sparks’ version, Motter doesn’t make an appearance. They could both be right. Motter doesn’t mention the fence corner and Sparks refers to a few times when his adversaries withdrew and consulted amongst themselves. Motter’s speech might have taken place during one of those times. We can’t know whether Sparks said something that goaded the mob into further bedeviling him, but Motter previously went out of his way to make Sparks look bad on the matter of choosing his route home and probably invented a first insulting note to justify his own threats against the polls. On the balance, I think it more likely Motter invented Spark’s belligerence.

According to Sparks, the standoff lasted “some fifteen minutes.” Then Reese Brown arrived. According to J.C. Green, they got word from a Clark Tritt, who left with Sparks but apparently parted ways with him before the confrontation. Sparks doesn’t name him, but does refer to a man who was riding his horse and went back to share the news.

The first I saw of Brown he was near by, and his party afoot, stretched across the road, and inquired if I was there. I answered that I was. He told me to march to him. I started and was about halfway when Sam. Burgess caught hold of my shoulder. I told him to let me go, and prepared for defence, and he did let me go. He marched forward around me, and my son and nephew also came into the ring.

On close reading, the “he” in the last sentence must mean Brown, not Burgess.

Brown told his men to march back, and all did so, friend and foe going together in a crowd, I being in the centre. Then we went to the forks of the road; there the other party took the straight-forward road, and we, with Brown’s party, turned to the left.

With the exception of likely warning shots, the more intense phases of this affair happened at relatively close range. As the parties diverged, that range opened and the risk of friendly fire ebbed. Brown appreciated the fact keenly:

About forty or fifty yards, Brown urged me to walk in, as they were going to shoot. This he told me three times distinctly. The last time, I told him I would obey him. He was marching backwards looking towards the other crowd, conversing with them not to fire, and told them that if they did, he would return fire. When we were about sixty or eighty yards off, the fire was opened upon us.

 

“God damn you, I could smash you” Trouble at Easton, Part Six

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Around midnight, on the night of January 17-18, 1856, Stephen Sparks decided that the proslavery men would make no attack on the ballot box at Easton, Kansas. He, his son Moses, and his nephew started for home. Their path took them by where the proslavery men had nursed grudges and drinks for hours. They rushed out and surrounded the Sparks party, taunting them but letting them proceed for a time. Moses advised that they give it up and go with the proslavery men, but Stephen thought better of it and kept along.

The Sparks’ path turned to the south, at which point it seems the proslavery men fell back and consulted amongst themselves. Sparks “got several rods ahead of them.” For a moment, he might have thought the worst behind him. Then the proslavery men

burst loose with a good many threats and cursings, and followed me. I kept on my usual pace, and kept the boys close by me. They again stopped to consult, and then the crowd came on and made a heavy charge on me, and their common expressions were, God-damn him, shoot him! kill him! damned abolitionist! There were then two guns fired.

Sparks wheeled and brought up his own gun, but Moses “dissuaded” him. They started again. Sparks doesn’t give a clear sense of the distance involved, but it seems considerable despite that heavy charge. Maybe they ran up a certain distance, and stopped short while someone fired warning shots. If he saw a man take aim and fire deliberately at him and his family, one imagines Spark would have said so.

Another turn brought Sparks about on the road leading to, and I presume past, Dawson’s house. There

part of the crowd formed a line across the lane, so that I could get neither way, and were making towards me. My son and nephew, at my suggestion, got into a corner of the fence-a rail fence, staked and ridered. We were there at bay, and were prepared to make the best defence we could. I reasoned with them, and said there were plenty of my old neighbors in Platte county with them; that I knew I would not surrender to a drunken mob. Benjamin Foster then fetched his fist in my shoulder, and said, God damn you, I could (or would) smash you. I then told him to stand back, and told him if he laid his hands on me again he would regret it.

Sweet reason did not move Spark’s old neighbors or the rest. They insisted on “general surrender” and that the group go back to the grocery in their custody. In the very unlikely event that Sparks missed their armament previously, they brandished guns and pistols. If Sparks declined to surrender, they would put the weapons to good use.

I told them to shoot. No gun was fired there. I said they must shoot me, as I would not give up to a drunken mob. David Large then took hold of my son’s gun and demanded that he should give it up. He refused, and in their struggling I presented mine, and told him to let go. He did so. They then, with threats, hallooed several times

So far, proslavery men have harrassed Stephen Sparks, fired guns at him, threatened him with further gunfire, and cornered him and two children in the corner of a fence. They closed to within arm’s reach. At this point, ballistic reticence makes good sense no matter what the mob’s intentions. In a mixed up brawl, they could end up shooting, or shot by, a friend.