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John Brown Jr. Recollections of Kansas

"During the years 1853 and 1854 most of the leading Northern newspapers were not only full of glowing accounts of the extraordinary fertility, healthfulness, and beauty of the Territory of Kansas, then newly opened for settlement, but of urgent appeals to all lovers of freedom who desired homes in a new region to go there as settlers, and by their votes save Kansas from the curse of slavery. Influenced by these considerations, in the month of October, 1854, five of the sons of John Brown,- John, J., Jason, Owen, Frederick, and Salmon, - then residents of the State of Ohio, made their arrangements to emigrate to Kansas. Their combined property consisted chiefly of eleven head of cattle, mostly young, and three horses. Ten of this number were valuable on account of the breed. Thinking these especially desirable in a new country, Owen, Frederick, and Salmon took them by way of the lakes to Chicago, thence to Meridosia, Ill., where they were wintered; and in the following spring drove them into Kansas to a place selected by these brothers for settlement, about eight miles west of the town of Osawatomie. My brother Jason and his family, and I with my family followed at the opening of navigation in the spring of 1855, going by way of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to St. Louis. There we purchased two small tents, a plough, and some smaller farming-tools, and a hand-mill for grinding corn. At this period there were no railroads west of St. Louis; our journey must be continued by boat on the Missouri at a time of extremely low water, or by stage at great expense. We chose the river route, taking passage on the steamer 'New Lucy,' which too late we found crowded with passengers, mostly men from the South bound for Kansas. That they were from the South was plainly indicated by their language and dress; while their drinking, profanity, and display of revolvers and bowie-knives - openly worn as an essential part of their make-up - clearly showed the class to which they belonged, and that their mission was to aid in establishing slavery in Kansas.

"A box of fruit-trees and grape-vines which my brother Jason had brought from Ohio, our plough, and the few agricultural implements we had on the deck of that steamer looked lonesome; for these were all we could see which were adapted to the occupations of peace. Then for the first time arose in our minds the query: Must the fertile prairies of Kansas, through a struggle at arms, be first secured to freedom before free men can sow and reap? If so, how poorly we were prepared for such work will be seen when I say that, for arms, five of us brothers had only two small squirrel rifles and one revolver. But before we reached our destination other matters claimed our attention. Cholera, which then prevailed to some extent at St. Louis, broke out among our passengers, a number of whom died. Among these brother Jason's son Austin, aged four years, the elder of his two children, fell a victim to this scourge; and while our boat lay by for repair of a broken rudder at Waverley, Mo., we buried him at night near that panic-stricken town, our lonely way illumined only by the lightning of a furious thunderstorm. True to his spirit of hatred of Northern people, our captain, without warning to us on shore, cast off his lines and left us to make our way by stage to Kansas City, to which place we had already paid our fare by boat. Before we reached there, however, we became very hungry, and endeavored to buy food at various farm-houses on the way; but the occupants, judging from our speech that we were not from the South, always denied us, saying, 'We have nothing for you.' The only exception to this answer was at the stage-house at Independence, Mo.

"Arrived in Kansas, her lovely prairies and wooded streams seemed to us indeed like a haven of rest. Here in prospect we saw our cattle increased to hundreds and possibly to thousands, fields of corn, orchards, and vineyards. At once we set about the work through which only our visions of prosperity could be realized. Our tents would suffice for shelter until we could plough our land, plant corn and other crops, fruit-trees, and vines, cut and secure as hay enough of the waving grass to supply our stock the coming winter. These cheering prospects beguiled our labors through late spring until midsummer, by which time nearly all of our number were prostrated by fever and ague that would not stay cured; the grass cut for hay mouldered in the wet for want of the care we could not bestow, and our crop of corn wasted by cattle we could not restrain. If these minor ills and misfortunes were all, they could be easily borne; but now began to gather the dark clouds of war. An election for a first Territorial Legislature had been held on the 30th of March of this year. On that day the residents of Missouri along the borders came into Kansas by thousands, and took forcible possession of the polls. In the words of Horace Greeley, 'There was no disguise, no pretence of legality, no regard for decency. On the evening before and the morning of the day of election, nearly a thousand Missourians arrived at Lawrence in wagons and on horseback, well armed with rifles, pistols, and bowie-knives, and two pieces of cannon loaded with musket balls. Although but 831 legal electors in the Territory voted, there were no less than 6,320 votes polled. They elected all the members of the Legislature, with a single exception in either house, - the two Free-Soilers being chosen from a remote district which the Missourians overlooked or did not care to reach.'

"Early in the spring and summer of this year the actual settlers at their convention repudiated this fraudulently chosen Legislature, and refused to obey its enactments. Upon this, the border papers of Missouri in flaming appeals urged the ruffian horde that had previously invaded Kansas to arm, and otherwise prepare to march again into the Territory when called upon, as they soon would be, to 'aid in enforcing the laws.' War of some magnitude, at least, now appeared to us brothers to be inevitable; and I wrote to our father, whose home was in North Elba, N. Y., asking him to procure and send to us, if he could, arms and ammunition, so that we could be better prepared to defend ourselves and our neighbors. He soon obtained them; but instead of sending, he came on with them himself, accompanied by my brother-in-law Henry Thompson, and my brother Oliver. In Iowa he bought a horse and covered wagon; concealing the arms in this and conspicuously displaying his surveying implements, he crossed into Missouri near Waverley, and at that place disinterred the body of his grandson, and brought all safely through to our settlement, arriving there about the 6th of October."

Source: F. B. Sanborn, ed., The Life and Letters of John Brown. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1891., pp. 188-91


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