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

TERRITORIAL HISTORY, Part 33

THE POTTAWATOMIE MURDERS.

THE CROWNING HORROR.

The news of the trouble at Lawrence, and her threatened destruction by the Southern soldiery, came to Osawatomie on the evening of May 21. Immediately, on receipt of the information, the Pottawatomie Rifles, a Free-state company under the command of John Brown, Jr., set out for the scene of disturbance. The Osawatomie company, Capt. Dayton, joined them, and together they reached "Ottawa Jones" on the morning of the 22d. There they first heard of the sack of the town, and the arrest of Deitzler, Brown and Jenkins. They, however, continued their march toward Lawrence, not knowing but their assistance might still be needed, and encamped at night "up the Ottawa Creek, near the residence of Capt. Shore." They remained in the vicinity until afternoon of the 23d, at which time they decided to return home. About noon on the 23d, Old John Brown, whose indignation was at fever heat, selected a party to go with him on a private expedition. They separated from the main party, ground their sabers, and having completed their preparations, left the camp together. Capt. John Brown, Jr., objected to their leaving his company, but, seeing his father was obdurate, silently acquiesced, with the timely caution to him to "do nothing rash." The company consisted of Old John Brown, four of his sons - Frederick, Owen, Watson, Oliver - Henry Thompson, his son-in-law, Thomas Winer and James Townsley, whom Old John had induced to carry the party in his wagon to their proposed field of operations.*
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* For Townsley's statement and a more detailed history of this expedition, see the history of Franklin County, elsewhere in this volume.
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They left the camp at about 2 o'clock in the afternoon of the 23d. They were met toward sundown of that day between Pottawatomie Creek and Middle Creek, and but a few miles from the Doyle settlement, by Col. J. Blood, then on his way from Osawatomie to Lawrence.** The party halted on meeting Col. Blood, and a conversation ensued between him and John Brown, none of the other members of the party speaking. Brown gave him an account of the sacking of Lawrence, and the arrest of the Free-state men, denounced the members of the non-resistant committee as cowards, and seemed in a frenzied state of excitement. As they parted, he requested Col. Blood not to mention the meeting, "as they were on a secret expedition, and did not want any one to know that they were in that neighborhood."
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** The statements concerning this meeting are given on the authority of a letter from Col. Blood to G. W. Brown, dated November 29, 1879. See "Reminiscences of Old John Brown," by G. W. Brown, M. D., page 70.
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They encamped that night between two deep ravines on the edge of the timber, some distance to the right of the main traveled road, about one mile above "Dutch Henry's crossing." There they remained unobserved until the following evening (Saturday, June 24). Some time after dark, the party left their place of hiding and proceeded on their "secret expedition." Late in the evening, they called at the house of James P. Doyle, and ordered him and his two sons, William and Drury, to go with them as prisoners. They followed their captors out into the darkness. They next called at the house of Allen Wilkinson and ordered him out. He also obeyed; thence, crossing the Pottawatomie, they came to the house of Henry Sherman (Dutch Henry). He was not at home. They, however, arrested and took along with them William, his brother. They returned to the ravine where they had previously encamped, and there spent the quiet Sabbath morning, then broke camp and rejoined the Osawatomie company some time during Sunday night, it being at that time encamped near Ottawa Jones' The secret expedition was ended. Was it successful? Where were the prisoners? Had they escaped? Old man Doyle and his sons were left in the road a short distance from their house. They were cut, mangled, stabbed - some say shot - it didn't matter to the Doyles - they were dead. Sherman was left in the creek, near his brother's house. He was hacked upon the breast and hand, his skull split open, and, from the wounds, the brains oozed out into the muddy water. It did not matter to Sherman - he was dead. Yes, the secret expedition had proved successful. The persons who had thus suddenly gone to their long account were all believed to be Pro-slavery men of the most violent and intolerant type, of whom the Free-State settlers stood in constant dread. The news of the horrid affair spread rapidly over the Territory, carrying with it a thrill of horror, such as the people, used as they had become to deeds of murder, had not felt before. Hitherto, in most cases ending in homicide or murder, the Free-State man had proved the victim. The crimes had been perpetrated in open day, and were often the outcome of an angry encounter or brawl between men of equal nerve and determination, both armed, or in the company of armed companions. Under these circumstances, these unavenged murders, numerous and atrocious as they were, lacked the ghastly horror of this silent, stealthy, midnight massacre of defenseless men. The news of the event had a deeper significance than appeared in the abstract atrocity of the act itself. It meant that, when Gov. Shannon, to the committee, pleading for the safety of Lawrence, replied, "War, by ----," there were men outside of Lawrence, and beyond the control of the committee of public safety, who had taken him at his word. It meant that the policy of extermination or abject submission, so blatantly promulgated by the Pro-slavery press, and proclaimed by Pro-slavery speakers, had been adopted by their enemies, and was about to be enforced with appalling earnestness. It meant that there was a power opposed to the Pro-slavery aggressors, as cruel and unrelenting as themselves. It meant henceforth, swift retaliation - robbery for robbery - murder for murder - that "he who taketh the sword shall perish by the sword." It meant that the merciless and implacable spirit of retributive vengeance, hitherto held in restraint, had broken its leash and begun its dreadful work. The aggressive warfare thus begun, was not in accordance with the plans or purposes of the leaders of the Free-State movement; on the contrary, it was in direct opposition to their counsel, and had been persistently decried and successfully restrained up to this time. For the disorders that ensued, the Free-State organization was in no manner responsible. The aggressive movement at that time begun, was an uncontrollable outburst of rage long pent up, under the stress of suffering, intimidation, insult, humiliation, and unredressed outrage, such as, by hot-tempered men of courage, could no longer be unresistingly endured. Upon those high in authority and wielding powerful influence, who, with deliberate purpose, counseled, planned, and executed the outrages, which at last culminated in all the horrors of anarchy, the responsibility rests for all time to come; to them, history accords the infamous distinction which their deeds merit.