Geary and Kansas by John H. Gihon, M.D.



Murderous assault on a pro-slavery company.--Captain John Brown.--The Potawattomie murders.--Outrages of Captain Pate at Osawattomie.--Battle of Palmyra.--Fight at Franklin.--General Whitfield's army.--Colonel Sumner disperses the contending armies.--Murder of Cantral.--Sacking of Osawattomie.--The murder of Gay, an Indian agent.--Outrages at Leavenworth and on the Missouri River.

    AFTER the sacking of Lawrence, parties of free-state men were organized and armed with the determination to continue the war which had now begun in earnest. Some of these committed depredations upon their political opponents under the pretence of recovering horses and other property of which themselves and neighbors had been robbed. They attacked the pro-slavery men in the roads and at their dwellings, and committed most flagrant outrages. These organizations and their actions were condemned by the prominent and more respectable portions of the free-state party, and very few of the actual settlers of the territory had any lot or part in their proceedings. They were chiefly composed of men of desperate fortunes, who were actuated in many instances as much by a disposition to plunder as from a spirit of retaliation and revenge for insults and injuries they had received.

    A detachment of one of these parties, eight in number, secreted themselves in a ravine near the Santa Fe road, where they laid in wait for a company of eighteen pro-slavery men who they had understood were coming in that direction on a marauding expedition, and as they approached, a fire was poured into them from their ambushed enemies, killing three and wounding several more. The remainder, not knowing the strength of their assailants, fled in dismay. Other instances of the kind were constantly occurring. Indeed, it seemed as though each party was determined to vie with the other in the number of outrages it could commit.

    Captain John Brown, who lived near Osawattomie, was the leader of one of these free-state guerilla bands. He was a Vermonter by birth, an old soldier, and had served through the war of 1812. He was a resolute, determined and brave old man; but fierce, passionate, revengeful and inexorable. His hatred for the border-ruffians had reached so high a degree, that he could emulate the worst of them in acts of cruelty, whilst not one among them was his equal as a tactician, or possessed as much courage and daring. Hence his name soon became a terror, and not a few unsuccessful attempts were made to effect his capture.

    Old Brown, as he was familiarly called, is said to have been the leader of a band, who on the night of the 26th of May, attacked a pro-slavery settlement at Potawattomie, and cruelly murdered a Mr. Doyle and his two sons, Mr. Wilkinson and Wm. Sherman. The excuse given for this act, is, that the persons killed were there assembled to assassinate and burn the houses of certain free-state men, whom they had notified to quit the neighborhood. These five men were seized and disarmed, a sort of trial was had, and in conformity with the sentence passed, were shot in cold blood. This was doubtless an act of retaliation for the work done but a few days before at Lawrence.

    Captain H. C. Pate, who was in command of a predatory band of about sixty Missourians, called "Shannon's Sharp Shooters," resolved to capture Capt. John Brown, and with this intent visited Osawattomie on the last day of May. Old Brown was absent, and Captain Pate succeeded without resistance, in taking prisoners two of his sons, whom he found engaged in their peaceful occupations. Captain Pate's men burned the store of a German named Winer, who was supposed to have been in the Potawattomie affair, and also the house of young John Brown, the captain's son. After committing these and other depredations upon the free-state settlers, the most of whose houses they entered and robbed, Pate and his company left the place, taking with them their prisoners. These they delivered to a company of United States dragoons, whom they found encamped on the Middle Ottawa Creek.

    When Captain Brown learned of the visit of Pate, he gathered a company of about thirty men, and hastening in pursuit, overtook him on the 2d of June, near Palmyra, about fifteen miles from Lawrence.

    Pate was encamped when Brown appeared, and having been informed of his approach, had fortified his camp by drawing together some heavy wagons. Brown soon made his arrangements, and notwithstanding the disparity of their forces, commenced the attack, when a spirited battle ensued. This lasted about three hours, when Captain Pate sent out a flag of truce, and unconditionally surrendered. Some of his men had ridden off during the fight, as was also the case with some of Brown's command. Several were severely wounded on both sides, but none were killed. Brown took thirty-one prisoners, a large number of horses, some wagons, arms, munitions, and a considerable amount of plunder that had been seized at various places by Pate's men. Soon after the surrender of Pate, Brown was reinforced by a Captain Abbott, with a company of fifty men from the Wakarusa, who had come to his assistance.

    Whilst Brown was in pursuit of Captain Pate with the free-state men from Osawattomie, other parties from Lawrence and the Wakarusa were planning an attack on Franklin, where a number of the pro-slavery rangers had remained since the sacking of Lawrence. Franklin is about four miles from the latter town, near the Wakarusa, and on the road to Westport. It was a sort of Missouri head-quarters, where the forces were accustomed to assemble whenever a descent upon Lawrence was contemplated. Having settled the preliminaries to their satisfaction, a company of the attacking party entered Franklin about two o'clock on the morning of June 4th. The night was extremely dark, and everything in and about the town was wrapped in the most profound stillness. Yet the pro-slavery forces had been apprised of the intended visit, and were prepared to give the intruders a warm reception. The latter, numbering about fifteen men, proceeded directly to the guard house and demanded a surrender, which was answered by the discharge of a cannon planted in the door, that had been loaded heavily with every imaginable sort of missile that could be crammed into its muzzle. The noise of the explosion was like the loud roar of thunder in the very midst of the town: Fortunately for the assailants, the gun was not properly pointed, and its infernal contents passed harmless over their heads. Then came on the battle. A volley from the Sharpe's rifles of the free-state men was poured into the guard-room door, simultaneously with which, many shots came down from the neighboring houses. The attacking party threw themselves upon the ground, and without any regular order, kept up a random fire as rapidly as they could load their pieces, their enemies constantly returning their shots. In the meantime, reinforcements had entered the town, but in consequence of the extreme darkness and the uncertainty of the positions of the contending forces, they could take no part in the fight, not being able to distinguish their foes from their friends. They nevertheless made the best of their time, having broken into the stores and loaded their wagon, which had been brought for the purpose, with ammunition, rifles, guns, provisions and such other articles as they desired, the greater part of which were Buford's stores, previously captured from free-state people. The firing continued on both sides until nearly daylight, when the pro-slavery men retired, leaving their enemies in possession of the town. In this affair a pro-slavery man named Teschmaker was killed, and three or four wounded. One man had his ear shot off. The assailants received no injury whatever. One remarkable feature in all these Kansas battles, is, that although many persons were sometimes engaged, who fought with passions inflamed to the most violent pitch, the loss on either side was almost invariably quite insignificant. Those who suffered death were generally murdered, not in the heat of battle, but deliberately and in cold brood, when the fights were over.

    General Whitfield, in the meantime, had collected a large force, chiefly from Jackson county, Mo., with which, accompanied by General Reid, and other prominent members of his party, professedly to relieve Captain Pate, and attack and capture Brown, he entered the territory and encamped near Palmyra. Whilst this army was assembling, the free-state bands were also concentrating and moving towards the same neighborhood.

    These latter, says one of their own writers, "were a harum-scarum set, as brave as steel, mostly mere boys, and did not consider it a sin to 'press' a pro-slavery man's horse. At various times they have made more disturbance than all other free-state men together. They were under no particular restraint, and did not recognise any authority--military, civil, or otherwise--any further than suited their convenience. While they went around the country skirmishing, and carrying on the war against the pro-slavery men on their own hook, and in their own time and way, they were at the same time quite willing to lend a hand in more systematic and important fighting when there was an opportunity. These boys have been most bitterly maligned, and the free-state men, or conservative free-state men, were not slow to denounce them. Resolutions were passed by the sensitively moral free-state people, or the sensitively timid, declaring that these daring young guerillas were a nuisance, and that they, the conservative class, did not wish to be held responsible for them. To all this moralizing these young braves turned up their noses, ironically recommending all who were too cowardly to fight to 'keep right on the record.' For their own part, they regarded the war as begun, and would wage it against the pro-slavery men as the pro-slavery men waged it against their free-state friends."

    This was the state of affairs near Hickory Point on the morning of the 5th of June. Whitfield was encamped behind Palmyra with near three hundred men. The free-state camps mustered, or mustering, on that day, were about two hundred strong, and two companies were marching from Topeka with fifty more, who arrived the day after.

    The governor, in view of this condition of things, issued a proclamation on the 4th, "commanding all persons belonging to military companies unauthorized by law to disperse, otherwise they would be dispersed by the United States troops." Col. Sumner, at the head of a large force of dragoons, proceeded towards Hickory Point to enforce the order. He went directly to the camp of Brown, on Ottawa Creek, who consented to disband, but not until he was assured by Sumner that Whitfield's army should be dispersed. Pate and the other prisoners were then set at liberty, and their horses, arms, and other property restored. Captain Pate received a severe rebuke for invading the territory without authority, and especially for being in possession of the United States arms. Col. Sumner next visited the camp of Whitfield, who promised to return with his men to Missouri, and at once moved down the Santa Fe road, and encamped about five miles below Palmyra on the Black Jack.

    Early on the following morning, June 6th, this army separated into two divisions, one half of it under General Reid, with Captain Pate, Bell, Jenigen, and other prominent leaders, moving towards Osawattomie, whilst the others, under Whitfield, started for Westport. They had, in their march on the day previous, taken several prisoners, and before they divided, held a court among themselves and tried one of these, a free-state man named Cantral, whom they sentenced to death, carried into a deep ravine near by, and shot. His body was subsequently found, with three bullet holes in the breast. The executioner in this case is said to have been a man named Forman, of Pate's company, belonging to Westport, Missouri.

    On the 7th, Reid, with one hundred and seventy men, marched into Osawattomie, and without resistance, entered each house, robbing it of everything of value. There were but few men in the town, and the women and children were treated with the utmost brutality. Stores and dwellings were alike entered and pillaged. Trunks, boxes, and desks were broken open, and their contents appropriated or destroyed. Even rings were rudely pulled from the ears and fingers of the women, and some of the apparel from their persons. The liquor found was freely drunk, and served to incite the plunderers to increased violence in the prosecution of their mischievous work. Having completely stripped the town, they set fire to several houses, and then beat a rapid retreat, carrying off a number of horses, and loudly urging each other to greater haste, as "the d--d abolitionists were coming!"

    There are hundreds of well authenticated accounts of the cruelties practised by this horde of ruffians, some of them too shocking and disgusting to relate, or to be accredited, if told. The tears and shrieks of terrified women, folded in their foul embrace, failed to touch a chord of mercy in their brutal hearts, and the mutilated bodies of murdered men, hanging upon the trees, or left to rot upon the prairies or in the deep ravines, or furnish food for vultures and wild beasts, told frightful stories of brutal ferocity from which the wildest savages might have shrunk with horror.

    On the 21st of June, an Indian agent, named Gay, was travelling in the vicinity of Westport, and was stopped by a party of Buford's men, who asked if he was in favor of making Kansas a free-state. He promptly answered in the affirmative, and was instantly shot dead. Such was the only crime for which this soul was hurried into the eternal world.

    Whilst these events were transpiring on the south side of the Kansas river, Col. Wilkes, Captain Emory, and other prominent pro-slavery men, were actively employed in persecuting the free-state citizens of Leavenworth. Notices were served on them to quit the city; some were violently seized and imprisoned, and still others carried to the levee, having been deprived of all their property and the greater part of their clothing, placed on board of steamers, and thus compelled to leave the country. At the same time the steamboats coming up the river continued to be boarded at every stopping place, the free-state passengers insulted, their trunks broken open and robbed, and their arms taken from them; after which they were put upon return boats, and forced to go back.


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