Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Massacre at Pottawatomie Creek

Eastern Kansas Territory, 1856

On Thursday, May 23, 1856 John Brown, his sons Owen, Frederic, Oliver, and Salmon, along with three local anti-slavers, Thomas Weiner, Henry Thompson and James Townsley set out by wagon on the south road along Pottawatomie Creek.  In their waistbands his sons toted the army surplus broadswords that Brown purchased a few months earlier on his way to Kansas. Brown the others armed themselves with pistols and knives. The swords contained a hollow bore filled with quicksilver. When brandished the quicksilver slid from the handle to the blade. The shifting weight added force to a blow. They were cruel weapons designed to mutilate and maim. The swords were ideally suited to Brown's purpose - to strike terror into the hearts of pro-slavers.

    Three days earlier a posse of 800 pro-slavers ransacked the anti-slavery town of Lawrence Kansas. The "Border Ruffians" from Missouri destroyed two anti -slavery newspaper offices; they leveled the house of anti-slavery leader Charles Robinson with cannon fire, and they burnt the Free State Hotel to the ground.  Despite an earthworks fortification and a trained militia the citizens of Lawrence stood by and did nothing to defend their town. Their inaction sacrificed the town but avoided bloodshed.  No one was killed.

    When the news of the attack reached Brown's encampment south of Lawrence he was outraged that the citizens of Lawrence did nothing to resist the pillaging of their town. He branded them cowards and he vowed pro-slaver violence would be answered in kind. As in many of his deliberations he leaned on Biblical verse for justification and an "eye for an eye" precisely fit his mood. He ignored his son John Brown Jr.'s warning, not to do anything rash.  Brown was set on revenge and no argument would dissuade him. Their response to the sacking of Lawrence, he said, must be swift and dramatic.  After a brief consultation with the members of anti-slavery militia the Pottawatomie Rifles Brown selected a small enclave of pro-slavers who lived in Shermanville for his revenge.  Pleasant Doyle, "Dutch" Henry, and Allen Wilkerson did not own slaves themselves, but they were active pro-slavers who hunted and captured run-away slaves. They also provided information "Border Ruffians" used to bully, rob and terrorize free-state people. John Brown had his targets.
    Clouds scudded by the three-quarter moon. The wagon was left behind at the previous evenings campsite. In single file Brown and his men trudged north along a seldom used wagon road that cut through woods. They moved quickly.  There was no talk, only the sounds of the night and the crunching of their boots. Each man was alone with his own thoughts. None had killed before, but before the night was over they all would have blood on their hands.  They crossed Mosquito Creek, a small tributary of Pottawatomie Creek and climbed an embankment.  In a clearing they spotted an outline of a cabin.  Brown held up his hand and the company halted two hundred yards from the home of Pleasant Doyle.  Crouched in the shadow Brown whispered his orders. He directed Townsley and his son Frederick to stand guard by the road.  He told Weiner and Henry Thompson to reconnoiter the road in the direction of their next target Allen Wilkinson.  Then Brown motioned his three sons to follow him across the clearing.  Suddenly a large dog sprang out of the brush. It halted barking, growling and snapping a few feet from the intruders  Frederick swung his broadside and killed the animal with one deep gash alongside the neck.

    The ruckus awakened Doyle and his wife, Mahala.  His three sons asleep in an adjacent room also were awakened.  Brown moved quickly to the door of the cabin and knocked.  Doyle jumped from his bed and grabbed a poker from the fireplace.  "Who is it?" he asked.  Brown replied that he was lost and needed directions to the Wilkinson house.  Doyle cracked the door to get a glimpse of the stranger.  Brown and his boys shoved the door and forced their way inside the cabin.  Brown pointed his pistol at Doyle and ordered him and his three sons outside. who had been asleep in an adjacent room, outside.  Mahala Doyle pleaded with Brown to release her youngest son who was fourteen.  Brown agreed.  Doyle and his two oldest sons twenty-two year old William and twenty year old Drury marched down the road towards the Wilkinson house.   When they were outside shouting range from Doyle's house Owen, Salmon and Oliver drew their swords and attacked the Doyles. In a matter of minutes Doyle's two sons were hacked to death. Doyle lay in a pool of blood, mortally wounded.  Brown aimed his pistol and shot him in the head.

    The band of men continued down the road to the house of Allen Wilkerson.  Brown knocked on the door and asked for directions to Dutch Henry.  The ruse did not work with Wilkerson and he refused to open the door.  Then Brown declared himself an officer in the anti-slave Northern Army.  Either come out of the house, Brown said, or we will come in to get you.  Wilkerson's wife was sick was measles.  He opened the door and walked into the gloom. A short distance from the cabin Weiner and Thompson cut him down with broadswords.

    Next Brown and his men crossed the Pottawatomie and headed for Dutch Henry's Tavern.  Several men were sleeping in the tavern. At gunpoint Brown forced them outside and interrogated them about their proslavery activities.  His primary target, Dutch Henry, was not among them.  Earlier in the day Henry had ridden out onto the plains to search for lost cattle. Brown released all the men except for William Sherman.  They marched Sherman down to the creek and where Thompson and Wiener split his skull with their broadswords.  After killing Sherman Brown and his men confiscated pistols, knives and saddles they found in the tavern.  They took several horses from Dutch Henry's stable and headed back to their encampment.  Along the way they washed the blood and gore from their hands and clothes in the Pottawatomie.  Owen Brown wandered off a short distance and began to sob. When they arrived at their camp Owen Brown looked at Townsley with red rimmed eyes and said, "There should be no more work such as that." Owen Brown's hope went unfulfilled. The violence that was to give the territory the name "Bleeding Kansas" was just beginning.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Execution of John Brown

John Brown, 1859

December 2, 1859 was a clear, unseasonably warm day in Charlestown, Virginia.  The bright blue sky infused the surrounding Shenandoah Valley with a warm and dreamy haze. On such a delightful day the shops lining the main thoroughfare, George Street, should have been bustling with activity.  But on the day John Brown, the leader of a bloody attempt to capture the federal arsenal in Harper's Ferry Virginia, was to be executed the shops were closed and shuttered.  Women and children were nowhere in sight; General George Taliaferro commander of the Virginal militia had ordered them to stay in their homes. About a hundred yards from the red brick Jefferson County jail small groups of men milled about whispering and pointing.  Their view of the building was obstructed by a phalanx of six companies of infantry. The soldiers formed a cordon from the jail up George Street to a 40 acre field southeast of town. Amid the rye and corn stubble 2,000 Virginia militia with bayonets fixed formed two concentric squares.  On a small rise in the center of the formation a single trap door gallows struck a hideous pose.

     At 11:00 AM a farm wagon with two white horses in harness pulled up to the front steps of the jail.  In the back of the wagon a fine oak coffin rested inside a large  pine box. The front door of the jail opened. Abolitionist and convicted traitor John Brown appeared in the doorway.  He wore a wrinkled black suit over a white shirt. On his feet he wore faded red bedroom slippers. A slouched black hat, its brim turned up, gave him a strange jaunty look. His hands tied in front of him, Brown paused. With a quick glance his dark eyes surveyed the soldiers, the street, the wagon and the coffin.  Then with deputy sheriff John Avis on his left and sheriff John Campbell on his right he descended the stairs and climbed into the wagon. His long white beard billowed in a puff of breeze as he sat on the coffin. Avis and Campbell took up positions on either side of him. With a flick of the reins the wagon driver slowly guided the horses towards the field.  A file of 300 armed soldiers marched alongside the wagon. 

   Brown showed no emotion as the wagon trundled towards its destination.  The undertaker, seated in the front of the wagon, turned to him and remarked, "Captain Brown, you are a game man."  Brown replied, "Yes, I was so trained up; it was one of the lessons of my mother, but it is hard to part with friends though newly made." As the wagon passed through the field Brown gazed at the undulating farmland and gentle hills around him. The Blue Ridge Mountains shimmered in the distance.  He turned to Sheriff Avis and said, "This is beautiful country, I have never had the pleasure of seeing it before."  For the next few minutes they rode in silence.  Then the wagon stopped in front of the gallows. Escorted by Avis and Campbell, Brown climbed the steps and stood on the  trapdoor. Avis tied Brown's arms behind him and placed a hood over his head.  Sheriff Campbell placed a cotton noose around Brown's neck. No minister tended the condemned man. Avis asked Brown if he had anything to say. "I am ready", Brown replied, "but don't keep me waiting more than necessary."  However all the troops were not yet settled in their formations. Brown stoically stood on the trapdoor for 15 minutes while officers barked orders and soldiers rushed to their positions. A Virginia officer, Colonel Preston, watched Brown from behind the gallows.  Preston hoped to see signs of fear or cowardice. There was none.  Once he thought he saw Brown's knees tremble, but it was only the wind blowing his loose trousers.

    When the troops were settled Campbell descended the stairs. He walked behind the gallows, hefted the hatchet, and cut the rope that held the trap door in place.  Brown dropped three feet. The noose jerked. His  hands clenched and his body went rigid. After a few minutes his body relaxed and began to sway in a gentle breeze.  John Brown, leader of a bloody, ill conceived raid on the Harper Ferry Virginia arsenal was dead. No one cheered. No one jeered.  No one spoke.   Then Colonel Preston's voice rang out, "So perish all such enemies of Virginia!  All such enemies of the Union! All such foes of the human race!"

     Like many other Southeners Colonel Preston believed the execution of  John Brown was a righteous example for those who would free the slaves and in the process cleave the cultural and economic fabric of the south.  An editorial in the December 21 in the North Carolina Raleigh Register made it clear that for the South there would be no compromise on the issue of slavery.

    "The affair at Harper's Ferry marks a new and most important era in our country's history. It will bring to an immediate solution the question as to whether the Union can be preserved, and the right of the South to hold property in slaves be maintained. This is the issue to be tried now. The trial can no longer be deferred. The issue has been forced upon the South, and let the result be what it may, her skirts will be clear of all responsibility. There has been one gratifying fact developed by the Harper's Ferry raid. The promptness and ease with which large numbers of troops were brought together from different quarters of Virginia, and the alacrity with which the call to arms was obeyed, will prove to the Abolitionists at the North that although they make an occasional foray into a Southern State, and commit a few murders and arsons, they can never maintain a foothold on Southern soil for more than forty-eight hours. Virginia has showed conspicuously that she was able to take care of herself. Had she not been, had she stood in need of aid from her sister States of the South, she would have received it to an amount more than equal to her necessities, as the prompt tender of aid from all quarters of the South most abundantly proves."

To be continued

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Happy Fourth of July

Iva and Fred Toguri

Iva Toguri was born on the Fourth of July, 1916

Iva Toguri's story is a captivating tale of isolation, persecution, and patriotism.  Throughout her "Tokyo Rose" ordeal she was steadfast in the belief that someday she would be vindicated.
Iva's story in total will appear in my soon to be released book "Scoundrels Who Made America Great".  I will post the publication date on this blog.  If you are disappointed that I am not continuing with Iva's story post a comment at the bottom of this page.  If I don't hear from my readers I am going to begin blogging the story of another "scoundrel" who made America great - his name is John Brown.  He was an abolitionist and one of the most controversial figures in American history. 
So let me know about your preference.  Iva Toguri "Tokyo Rose" or John Brown, the mystical abolitionist.