William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas



By the "Pottawatomie Massacre" is meant the killing of James P. Doyle, and his two sons--Drury and William Doyle--Allen Wilkinson and William Sherman, by John Brown and a party of men under his command. The massacre occurred on the night of the 24th and morning of the 25th of May, 1856, not far above the junction of Mosquito Creek with the Pottawatomie. The object of the massacre was to protect the Free-state settlers, by terrorizing in the most effectual manner the Pro-slavery men, settlers and non-settlers.

For the truth of history it is important that the facts connected with this massacre, concerning which there has been so much controversy, and to which attaches a peculiar interest, should be obtained as nearly as practicable. To this purpose we obtained on August 3, 1882, in the presence of Judge Hanway, one of the sons of Hon. James Hanway, the following statement from James Townsley, the only surviving, communicative, eye-witness of the tragedy.*

*This statement is essentially the same as that made by him to Judge Hanway, which was published several years since, and is corroborative testimony rather than new, as Mr. Townsley reiterates and affirms the truth of his former statement, with what modifications and additions he might choose to make.

"I joined the Pottawatomie Rifle Company at its re-organization, in May, 1856. At that time, John Brown, Jr., was elected Captain.

On the 21st of this month, Lawrence was sacked by a Pro-slavery mob, under Sheriff Jones, and on the day of the sacking, information was received that a movement to that end was in progress. The company was hastily called together, and a forced march to aid in its defense immediately determined upon. We started about four o'clock in the afternoon. About two miles south of Middle Creek, the Osawatomie Company, under Captain Dayton, joined us. Upon arriving at Mount Vernon, we halted for two hours, until the rising of the moon. After marching the rest of the night, we went into camp, near the house of John T. Jones, for breakfast. Just before reaching this place, we learned that Lawrence had been destroyed the day before, and the question arose whether we should go on or return. It was decided to go on, and we proceeded up Ottawa Creek to within about five miles of Palmyra. We remained in camp undecided over night, and until noon the next day. About this time, Owen Brown, and a little later, old John Brown himself, came to me and said information had just been received that trouble was expected on the Pottawatomie. The old man asked me if I would go with my team and take him and his boys down there, so that they could watch what was going on. I replied that I would do so, my reason being that my family was then living on the Pottawatomie, in Anderson County, about one mile west of Greeley. Making ready for the trip as quickly as possible, we started about two o'clock in the afternoon. The party consisted of old John Brown, and four of his sons--Frederick, Oliver, Owen and Watson--Henry Thompson, and his son-in-law, Mr. Winer and myself. Winer rode a pony; all the rest rode in the wagon with me. We camped that night between two deep ravines about one mile above Dutch Henry's crossing.

After supper, John Brown first revealed to me the purpose of the expedition. He said it was to sweep the Pottawatomie of all Pro-slavery men living on it. To this end, he desired me to guide the company some five or six miles up to the forks of the creek, into the neighborhood where I lived, and point out to him on the way up, the residences of all the Pro-slavery men, so that on the way down, he might carry out his designs. Horrified at his purpose, I positively refused to comply with his request, saying that I could not take men out of their beds and kill them in that way. Brown said, 'Why don't you fight your enemies.' To which I replied, 'I have no enemies I can kill in that way.' Failing to prevail upon me, he decided to postpone the expedition until the following night, when they would go, as the old man himself said, where they knew Pro-slavery men to be. I then proposed to him that he take his things out of my wagon and allow me to go home; to which he replied, that 'I could not go, that I must stay with them; there was no other way of getting along.' We remained in camp that night and all the next day. During the morning of this day, the 24th, I tried to dissuade him and his boys from carrying out the expedition, and to this end talked a great deal. Brown said it was necessary to 'strike terror into the hearts of the Pro-slavery party,' and taking out his revolver, said to me, 'Shut up! You are trying to discourage my boys. Dead men tell no tales.' From the last remark, I inferred that I must henceforth keep still or suffer the consequences. Shortly afterward I stepped down into the ravine, when Owen Brown and Henry Thompson each picked up his rifle and, without saying a word, walked down the banks of the ravine on either side of me. When I returned, they returned. But little more was said during the day.

Sometime after dark we were ordered to march, and went northward, crossing Mosquito Creek above the residence of the Doyles. Soon after crossing the creek, one of the party knocked at the door of a cabin, but received no reply. I do not know whose cabin it was. We next came to the residence of the Doyles. John Brown, three of his sons and son-in-law, went to the door, leaving Frederick Brown, Winer, and myself a short distance away, ostensibly to see that no one escaped from the house, but really, as I believe, that Brown and Winer might act as guard over me. About this time a large dog attacked us. Frederick Brown struck the dog with his short two-edged sword, after which I struck him, also, with my saber. I do not know whether or not the dog was killed, but we heard no more of him.

The old man Doyle and his sons were ordered to come out. This order they did not immediately obey, the old man being heard instead to call for his gun. At this moment, Henry Thompson threw into the house some rolls or balls of hay in which during the day wet gunpowder had been mixed, setting fire to them as he threw them in. This stratagem had the desired effect. The old man and his sons came out, and were marched one-quarter of a mile in the road toward Dutch Henry's crossing, where a halt was made. Here old John Brown drew his revolver and shot old man Doyle in the forehead, killing him instantly; and Brown's two youngest sons immediately fell upon the younger Doyles with their short two-edged swords. One of the young Doyles was quickly dispatched; the other, attempting to escape, was pursued a short distance and cut down also. We then went down Mosquito Creek, to the house of Allen Wilkinson. Here, as at the Doyle residence, old John Brown, three sons, and son-in-law, went to the door and ordered Wilkinson out, leaving Frederick Brown, Winer and myself in the road a little distance east of the house. Wilkinson was marched a short distance south and killed by one of the young Browns with his short sword, after which his body was dragged to one side and left lying by the side of the road.

We then crossed the Pottawatomie and went to Dutch Henry's house. Here, as at the other two houses, Frederick Brown, Winer and myself were left outside a short distance from the door, while old man Brown, three sons and son-in-law went into the house and brought out one or two persons with them. After talking with them some time they took them back into the house, and brought out William Sherman, Dutch Henry's brother and marched him down into Pottawatomie Creek, where John Brown's two youngest sons slew him with their short swords, as in the former instances, and left his body lying in the creek.

It was Brown's intention to kill Dutch Henry, also, had he been found at home, as well as George Wilson, Probate Judge of Anderson County, had he been found at Dutch Henry's house, as it was hoped he would be.

The killing was done with swords in order to avoid alarming the neighborhood by the discharge of fire arms. What mutilation appeared upon the bodies was consequent upon the manner in which the men were killed.

I did not then approve of the killing of those men, but Brown said it must be done for the protection of the Free-state settlers, that it was better that a score of bad men should die than that one Free-state man should be driven out. It was my refusal to pilot the party into the neighborhood where I lived that caused us to remain in camp all night, May 23, and all day May 24. I told him I was willing to go to Lecompton and attack the leaders, or to fight the enemy anywhere in open field, but that I could not kill men in that way. The deeds of that night are indelibly stamped upon my memory.

In after years my opinion changed as to the wisdom of the massacre. I became, and am, satisfied that it resulted in the good to the Free-state cause, and was especially beneficial to the Free-state settlers on Pottawatomie Creek. The Pro-slavery men were dreadfully terrified, and large numbers of them soon left the Territory. It was afterward said that one Free-state man could scare a company of them.

Immediately after the killing of William Sherman, the two sons of John Brown who had done all the killing, except the shooting of the old man Doyle, washed their swords in Pottawatomie Creek. I did not wash my sword, having done nothing with it but strike the dog.

Soon after midnight we went back to where my team and the other things had been left, and remained there in camp until the next afternoon. Just before daylight Owen Brown came to me and said 'There shall be no more such work as that.'

In the afternoon we started back to join the Pottawatomie company under John Brown, Jr. We reached them about midnight, in camp near Ottawa Jones' place. When daylight had come, some members of the company noticing the blood and hair upon my sword, picked it up, and after examining it, remarked, 'There is no human blood upon that saber!'

This was the end of the expedition."

As to old John Brown's connection with this affair, there is, without James Townsley's statement, abundant evidence, although he himself may, at certain times have positively denied it, as Redpath and Sanborn in their lives of him state that he did repeatedly. At other times when interrogated in regard to it, he said, "I never shed the blood of a fellow man except in self-defence, or in promotion of a righteous cause." In a speech, at Cleveland, Ohio, March 22, 1859, he said he "had never killed anybody, although on some occasions he had shown the young men with him how some things might be done as well as others, and they had done the business ." Hon. James Hanway, who was a member of the Pottawatomie Rifle Company under Capt. John Brown, Jr., and present with the company at the time old John Brown, with his party of seven men, started off on his Pottawatomie expedition, wrote a letter under date of March 12, 1860, to James Redpath, from which we quote:

"They started in the afternoon, and three cheers were given to the success of Capt. Brown and his men. Now, sir, what I am going to relate to you I have never mentioned to but one man living, and that is, one of the party made a proposition to me to join the company, and also, gave me such information in regard to their contemplated enterprise as to satisfy my mind that they were the chief actors in the Pottawatomie tragedy."

In a letter published in the Kansas Monthly, for January 1880, Judge Hanway wrote: "I ventured to approach one of the eight, and from him I learned the programme contemplated. In fact I received an invitation to be one of the party, and being unwilling to consent before I learned the object, I was made acquainted with the object of the expedition; it shocked me," etc.

Judge Hanway also says, in his letter to Redpath, that after the return of the party. "That portion of the company who resided near the Shermans on Pottawatomie Creek recognized several horses which belonged to the ruffians, and several of our men remarked that they hoped they would not take them (the horses) in the neighborhood of the Osawatomie, because they were well known. A few days after the massacre two of Judge Hanway's neighbors, Dr. Gilpatrick and Elbridge Blunt, called on him and made particular inquiries "about the dress of old John Brown--his leather cravat, light coat," etc., etc. These neighbors had started for Kansas City on the morning after the massacre, and had called at Wilkinson's for their mail, he being Postmaster. Mrs. Wilkinson was sick in bed, and told them she feared her husband had been killed. She also gave them a description of the "old man who appeared to be the leader of the party" who had taken her husband out of the house during the night. His dress was also described by other women and men at Sherman, and in summing this part of the testimony up Judge Hanway says: "All I have to say is that my recollection is that it agreed precisely with that worn by John Brown, Sr. Of this there is no doubt."